Why are contactless payment cards so popular in Japan?

I listened to an episode of the BBC Radio programme Digitial Planet in which they expressed amazement at the use of contactless payment cards like the JR East Suica cards, and could only come up with the Japanese love of technology as an explanation. Although that might be a factor, what is much more important is that Japan is still a cash society, with debit cards rare and credit cards needing to be paid back in full every month. A scheme that is basically cash but also a card is therefore perfect for Japan, and if people think a similar scheme will take off in London and so replace debit cards, I think they might be disappointed.

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6 Comments

  1. March 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Well, I don’t know. My husband uses a contactless payment card to take BART every day (the San Francisco Bay Area light rail/subway system). It also works with some other local transit systems, but it can’t be used for anything else except transit (no eating or drinking allowed in the trains here, so there aren’t any kiosks). That card is fairly popular, because saving a few moments when you’re running for a train and not having to juggle different cards is valuable to commuters. If only it could be combined with the contactless credit cards that are starting to spring up (which we have never used except as a conventional card–it’s just a chip built into a card with a regular magnetic strip). That way we wouldn’t have to remember to recharge it…I don’t know, I think such a thing could take off.

  2. Ruben said,

    March 10, 2010 at 3:27 am

    Hong Kong has had Octopus Card since 1997
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopus_card

  3. April 16, 2010 at 4:16 am

    Most Japanese young people do not like to schlep around with much more than their seasonal outfit, a mobile phone and a pocket of pre-paid cards. With this last function being integrated into the mobile phone, expect these too to disappear. One thing that helps keep the ‘cash-based’ society here going is simply the ability to do basic ‘banking’ transactions at not only banks/credit unions/etc. but as P.O.s and convenience stores as well.

  4. LovelyL said,

    July 17, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    err not sure what you mean… in London we’ve got the Oyster card, which sounds like it’s basically the same thing as this Suica card. It’s taken off because for one you get cheaper bus fares and you can just use it to get on the tube and it’ll calculate the kind of fare you needed (depending on which zones you travelled in) at the end of the day. Perfect for commuters (no messing around with paper tickets) and clueless people (no deciding which ticket you need)

  5. alexcase said,

    July 18, 2010 at 4:46 am

    The difference with most other countries is that many Japanese people use a contactless payment card as we would use a debit card or credit card. For example, I’d stick 20,000 yen on my Suica at the beginning of the month, and half of that would be used for transport and the rest for shopping of all kinds. In fact, some (admitedly less popular) contactless payment cards have no connection to travel and are only used for those kinds of payments. Can’t remember the names right now, but many convenience stores have a touch point for paying with them

  6. Wintersweet said,

    July 18, 2010 at 5:00 am

    Wish they’d just merge here–there’s the contactless transit payment card that my husband uses, and you can now use many debit/credit cards by tapping/touching them at convenience stores and fast food places, but you can’t use the debit/credit cards on transit and you can’t use the transit cards at the retail/food shops. Sigh.


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