I hate cash. Money is wonderful, but in paper form, not quite so. I hate having to fidget with notes and coins, trying to get exact change keep my wallet from becoming too bulky. I visited China recently and the level of technology and implementation when it comes to mobile payments is just next level.

After experiencing such a smooth system, I can’t help but start to feel that Japan simply pales in comparison. While Japan is moving forward with new mobile payment providers, there are still merchants the refuse to move forward. So, I want to share with you how I go about being as cash and card-free as possible in my daily life.

Cash

First off, you cannot go completely cashless in Japan yet and probably not anytime soon. The main difference between China and Japan is that WeChat’s adoption is aided by the government, where in Japan, although different sort of payment solutions are available, adoption remains the biggest barrier to going completely mobile. 



Many restaurants, especially the smaller ones, choose not to offer even credit card payment as an option. Since they are being charged a small percentage each time card payment is used, even restaurants that usually offer credit card payment don’t allow it during lunch time to minimize overheads. Some places don’t even offer receipts unless you need one for work expense, in which case they would give you a hand-written official receipt.

If you are trying to spend less, using cash is good way to do so as a small deterrence, but I prefer the simplicity of a smooth transaction. For splitting bills, while there are apps that have features to help with that, most have handling fee when transferring the money, so cash remains the most viable method for personal transactions. Probably for that reason, the most famous one, Paymo, ended their service recently.

Card

About 50% of merchants in Japan accept card payments, but if you go to old-style or low-cost restaurants, do not expect to be able to pay by card. This is fine if they pass on the savings to the customer, but even better if they can absorb the cost and think of it as a form of good service.

I try to keep my wallet minimal.

Also, loyalty cards are a huge thing here. You tend to amass a sizable collection living in Japan. I have more than 40 loyalty cards. Since you need to build a system to support digital-based rewards, most merchants just default to the analog cards and stamps. I leave most of them at home and just put the ones I need in my wallet before heading out.

Mobile Payments

Now that you know the situation, this is where I show you what works and what doesn’t. Here are a list of apps that you can use to make mobile payments.


Apple Pay/QuicPay

Instead of the usual Apple Pay mark, I usually look for the QuicPay mark instead to use Apple Pay. QuicPay is the payment service that Apple decided to partner with to provide their mobile payment solution in Japan. It’s pretty cool, being able to just scan your phone and hear the robotic “QuicPay” sound each time. QuicPay is probably the most adopted provider of mobile payments.

Also, the fact that you can use Suica with Apple Pay is one of the reasons that make this method the best of this list.


Rakuten Pay

This is very similar to how WeChat works using a QR Code. Like I mentioned previously, the main problem is with adoption. I mainly used this in Lawson before I finally upgraded my phone. But once you are able to use Quicpay, the need for Rakuten Pay soon diminishes. The only advantage in some cases, is that you get to rack up Rakuten Points without having to take out another card.


Origami

I personally like the design of the app and the branding of the company. But like I mention each time, adoption rate is key. I downloaded the app, found that I couldn’t use it in most places, and then deleted it. There are features within the app to locate shops that accept Origami, but I often just look for the mark when making payment and it doesn’t make sense for me to be looking for ways to use the app.


PayPay

PayPay started recently with a bang, offering a 20% cashback campaign that of course, ended quickly. I haven’t used it personally, but it’s basically similar to Rakuten Pay. It comes down to adoption rate at the end of the day.

LINE Pay

This maybe my least favorite one of the list. It’s hard to setup since you can’t use a credit card (for Japan) and have to connect to your bank. To do so, your verified name in LINE has to be same as your bank account. I had to go through a whole lot of hassle to make it work. The adoption for this is maybe the lowest of the list too.

Digital Loyalty Programs

Now that we’ve gone through ways you can make payment, how loyalty cards to rack up those points? These are a few apps I use personally. 


Ponta Card

Mainly used for racking up points at Lawson. 


T-Point

Following in Ponta footsteps, Family Mart has also upped their game and allow users to get points by flashing a bar code in their app. Note that not all shops that support T-Point supports the app, some shops, like Maruetsu, still requires you to flash the card. 


d Point Club 

d Point is a loyalty program run by telecom company, Docomo. I mainly use it at Yamaya, a liquor store near my home. Some apps even offer the feature to flash the d Point card within their own app, such as Ikinari Steak or McDonalds.

Ikinari Steak

I am a big fan of the Ikinari Steak franchise, which offers huge slabs of meat at good value. Apart from the loyalty program, you can also charge it with “niku” money to pay for your meals at a small discount.


Starbucks

As expected of the coffee giant, they have an app that lets you make payment and get points to redeem free drinks. You can also have the stored value charge automatically when it runs low, kinda like Suica in the Apple Wallet.

Others

While I don’t use any of these since I don’t patronize them often, the following are some of the popular brands that offer mobile loyalty cards.

What doesn’t work

Any kind of app that let’s you scan and store loyalty cards, such as Stocard or Smartphone Wallet (スマホサイフ), in general, won’t work well. You can technically store all kinds of loyalty cards, but store assistants would just get confused when you try to use it with an unsupported loyalty program. It’s no wonder apps like Poica had to end their service. 

Conclusion

While you can’t go completely cashless or cardless just yet, I see progress happening compared to when I first arrived 4 years ago. I’m always on the lookout for a new way to get rid of my wallet completely. Know any better ways to go completely mobile? Let me know in the comments below.

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