In high-tech Japan, cash is king

Most small shops in Japan — a country with over 200,000 ATMs — only take cash to avoid high transaction costs. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2019

In high-tech Japan, cash is king

  • Four out of five purchases are still made with cash as the ‘super-aged’ society shuns plastic

TOKYO: Once a pioneer in cashless transactions, Japan is now lagging behind as the world’s biggest economies increasingly embrace electronic payments — because its ageing population still prefers physical money.

Four out of five purchases are still made with cash in Japan, despite its reputation as a futuristic and innovative nation. In South Korea, some 90 percent of transactions are digital, while Sweden aims to be a cashless society as early as 2023.

But in Japan, where crime and counterfeiting is virtually non-existent so people feel more comfortable carrying cash, consumer response has been sluggish.

At Katsuyuki Hasegawa’s bike repair shop customers are invited to settle their bills using PayPay — a tie-up between Softbank and Yahoo — using a QR code via their smartphones. But only “two or three” people a week are using the service, Hasegawa said.

“In a place like this, everything is very slow. We get lots of old people who like to chat while getting out their money. They don’t need quick transactions,” says the 40-year-old shopkeeper.

“Personally, I prefer cash. With PayPay, you don’t keep track of your money,” he added.

With Japan becoming the first “super-aged” society, with more than 28 percent of people 65 or over, it is harder to persuade consumers to take up new technology, according to Yuki Fukumoto, an analyst at the NLI Research Institute. “The challenge from now on is how to motivate people” to change their habits, said Fukumoto.

This is a serious challenge in a country with more than 200,000 ATMs and where most small shops will only take cash to avoid high transaction costs.

Many were also put off when retail giant Seven & I Holdings suffered a hacking attack immediately after launching a new QR-code payment system and was forced to scrap the scheme.

Yet it was way back in the 1990s that Japanese firm Denso Wave developed the first QR codes now frequently used in cashless payments, while Sony has offered a chip used on public transport and for payments since the 2000s.

Payment cards for transport systems in Tokyo and other cities are also often used for small purchases from vending machines or convenience stores, but cash remains preferred for other transactions.

The Japanese government is hoping to seize on a wave of tourists expected to flood in for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to double the amount of electronic payments to 40 percent by 2025.

It also plans to introduce a points system to partially reward customers paying by cashless means as a way to mitigate a controversial hike in consumption tax from eight percent to 10 percent from October. Tokyo perhaps has an eye on the costs of such a dependence on cash, estimated by a Boston Consulting Group survey at two trillion yen (SR70 billion) to maintain ATMs and transport money around securely.

Companies too are doing their best to promote a cashless society — earlier in the year, mobile company Rakuten started “100 percent cashless” stadia for its baseball and football teams.

Akiko Yamanaka, who runs a chic restaurant called Koguma, said a 10 percent discount introduced by PayPay for diners who settle the bill using their system had attracted several people.

“The more campaigns there are like this, the more people will convert to cashless,” said the 54-year-old.

And Rakuten boss Hiroshi Mikitani is convinced that the future is cashless, even in Japan.

“One day soon, money as we know it — notes and coins that we carry with us — will be as outdated and collectable as vinyl discs are now,” he said in a recent blog.

Nevertheless, he admitted that “security has to be improved” for this to happen, especially in the wake of the QR hack.


Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

Updated 19 October 2019

Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

  • Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive
  • Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009

WASHINGTON: Blacklisted Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei is in early-stage talks with some US telecoms companies about licensing its 5G network technology to them, a Huawei executive told Reuters on Friday.
Vincent Pang, senior vice president and board director at the company said some firms had expressed interest in both a long-term deal or a one-off transfer, declining to name or quantify the companies.
“There are some companies talking to us, but it would take a long journey to really finalize everything,” Pang explained on a visit to Washington this week. “They have shown interest,” he added, saying conversations are only a couple of weeks old and not at a detailed level yet.
The US government, fearing Huawei equipment could be used to spy on customers, has led a campaign to convince allies to bar it from their 5G networks. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claim.
Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive.
In May, Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment provider, was placed on a US blacklist over national security concerns, banning it from buying American-made parts without a special license.
Washington also has brought criminal charges against the company, alleging bank fraud, violations of US sanctions against Iran, and theft of trade secrets, which Huawei denies.
Rules that were due out from the Commerce Department earlier this month are expected to effectively ban the company from the US telecoms supply chain.
The idea of a one-off fee in exchange for access to Huawei’s 5G patents, licenses, code and know-how was first floated by CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei in interviews with the New York Times and the Economist last month. But it was not previously clear whether there was any interest from US companies.
In an interview with Reuters last month, a State Department official expressed skepticism of Ren’s offer.
“It’s just not realistic that carriers would take on this equipment and then manage all of the software and hardware themselves,” the person said. “If there are software bugs that are built in to the initial software, there would be no way to necessarily tell that those are there and they could be activated at any point, even if the software code is turned over to the mobile operators,” the official added.
For his part, Pang declined to predict whether any deal might be signed. However, he warned that the research and development investment required by continuously improving the platform after a single-transfer from Huawei would be very costly for the companies.
Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009.