If there is one thing that will change the most when you live in Japan from 2019 to 2021, it is the fact that you can go out without or with less yen cash. Until 2019, the most popular payment methods in Japan will be cash and credit card payments, with cash being the most mainstream of all. Although convenience stores, large supermarkets, and some common chain stores can pay by credit card, the small specialty stores and some 100 yen stores on the street can only pay by cash.
It would be fine if only banknotes were used, but all denominations under 1,000 yen (1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen, and 500 yen) are coins, adding an unnecessary burden to your wallet.
So what is the state of mobile payment/electronic payment in Japan now in 2021? Will it still be difficult to get around in Japan without cash?
Payment before 2019 ……
As we said before, until 2019, Japan is in the era of cash-based payments, credit card payments, and almost no electronic payments. If you didn’t bring cash with you when you went out, you were always in a situation where you couldn’t pay at some point. Even Japanese language schools that taught Japanese to foreigners taught the following conversation
Waiter: Hello, the total is 3,000 yen.
Customer: Oh no, I don’t have any cash with me. Is there a bank near here? I’ll get some money from the bank, can I?
Waiter: Yes, there is a bank on the left outside the door.
The main reason for the predominance of cash in Japan is that cash is the most liquid and there is a specialized process for making Japanese currency, making it almost impossible to see counterfeit yen notes. In addition, Japan’s security is stable and there is no danger of carrying large amounts of cash, so people are less worried or concerned about cash transactions.
However, in 2019, the Japanese government has set a clear policy to increase the proportion of non-cash transactions in Japan to 40% by 2025. This move is also for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to be in line with international standards and to promote the development of the Japanese economy.
Changes to electronic payment in 2020
Originally, according to the normal transaction market situation in Japan and the Japanese people are more willing to continue to use their own habitual lifestyle, the status quo of cash-oriented is not easy to break. But who would have thought that the spread of the new pneumonia epidemic in Japan in early 2020 would have a huge impact on the increase in the proportion of non-cash transactions in Japan.
As a result of the epidemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed for a year and Japan’s international travel industry came to a halt; however, because of the government’s control of travel and the forced cessation of face-to-face contact transactions in the midst of the epidemic, non-cash transactions, which had facilitated foreigners’ payments in Japan, became popular in Japan.
In the year since the first emergency declaration in April 2020, Japan’s cash flow rate has been low, but demand for online shopping services has skyrocketed. Also, the risk of eating out has been a fatal blow to Japan’s food and beverage industry, as many restaurants have closed down due to the epidemic and others have started take-out services in order to survive – something that will be almost non-existent in 2019.
The mainstreaming of takeaway has also boosted competition among takeaway platforms. In just two years, take-out platforms led by Uber Eats and Demaekan have sprung up, with more than seven such platforms in Tokyo’s suburbs alone. According to data, the growth rate of takeaway platforms in 2020 is 50%, 10 times higher than in 2019.
Whether it’s the rise of online shopping or take-out services becoming the mainstream of dining, there is no shortage of electronic payments in between. Therefore, despite such an extraordinary period as the epidemic, the proportion of non-cash transactions, which was originally not favored, has actually gone against the wind, jumping from about 27% in 2019 to 36%, and the target of 40% in 2025 is within reach.
Japan has also gradually entered the era of barrier-free travel by carrying a smartphone.
Common electronic payment methods in Japan in 2021
Here are some of the most common mobile payment/electronic payment methods in Japan. If you are coming to Japan in the future, you may want to choose a preferred method of electronic payment.
Credit Card/Financial Card (Debit Card)
Most stores in Japan support Visa/Master Card credit card payments. However, if you are using a credit card that is not from Japan, you may incur exchange rate conversion fees or fees for foreign purchases. Please check with your credit card company in advance for this.
Many convenience stores in Japan also support direct cash withdrawal from credit cards, but there will be a handling fee as well, so it is recommended that you swipe your card instead of withdrawing money.
Transportation IC card: suica/pasmo
Anyone who has been to Japan before has probably used a Suica or Pasmo card to take the train. However, this type of transportation IC card can also be used to pay for purchases, which is very convenient.
Compared to credit cards, which may have exchange rate conversion fees and foreign purchase fees, transit IC cards can save you money. All you need to do is follow the instructions at the ticket machines at the stations. The machines at all major stations in Japan now support Chinese, so it is not difficult to apply.
However, you will need to pay a deposit of 500 yen to apply for a Suica or Pasmo card. If you are leaving Japan in the future, you can return the card at a human counter and the deposit will be returned to you when you return the card. If you are visiting Japan in the future, you can consider applying for the Welcome Suica card. However, Suica may charge a handling fee when you return the card, so it is recommended that you use the card at a store where you can use Suica and then refund the card, so that the handling fee is zero.
paypay is a new electronic payment method launched by Yahoo! and Softbank, which supports payment by QR code/barcode. Currently, there are more than 32,000 stores in Japan that support payment using paypay.
Paypay also supports inter-account transfers, so if you are going out with friends for a meal, paypay is a good helper for AA meals.
However, to use paypay, you need to register an account first, and you need a Japanese cell phone number to register, so it is probably not suitable for tourists traveling to Japan (although some paypay QR codes also support Alipay to scan the code for payment. If you have an Alipay account, you can also pay directly by scanning the QR code at these merchants without the need to register for an additional paypay account).
line can be used to communicate with friends and family, sending messages and calls for free as long as you have internet access. In addition to being a communication tool, line can also be used as an electronic payment by opening a linepay account. Once you agree to the linepay agreement and tie up a bank account, you can use it immediately and then get a virtual membership card that can be added to it. If you want a physical card, you can also apply for a free physical card to use when paying offline.
However, the linepay card is not a credit card, but a card that needs to be reloaded. There is a convenient feature called “auto-deposit”, which allows you to set an amount, and when it is less than this amount, it will be automatically added to the specified amount from the bound bank account.
If you have a non-Japanese line account, there is no way to use it in Japan after opening linepay. Therefore, if you want to use linepay in Japan, you must register and open it in Japan.
iD/Apple Pay/Google Pay
These three are actually different types of electronic payments, but since they have a very convenient enhancement, they are mentioned together.
Among all the above-mentioned payment methods, IC card and credit card need to carry the card out of the house to make payment, and paypay/linepay/rakuten pay need to scan the barcode or QR code to complete the payment. With iD/Apple Pay/Google Pay, you only need to bring your smartphone or smartwatch close to the terminal and pay by wireless sensor. Especially in this time of epidemic, it is worth to use such a contactless payment method.
In addition, when you tell a shopkeeper in Japan that you want to pay with Apple Pay/Google Pay, you may encounter some shopkeepers who don’t know how to do it, so when you use these three types of electronic payment in Japan, just tell the shopkeeper to use iD payment.
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