Cash dependence reveals paradox of Japanese society

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Most small shops in Japan — a country with over 200,000 ATMs — only take cash to avoid high transaction costs. (AFP)
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A notice for payment via PayPay outside a Koguma restaurant in Tokyo. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2019

Cash dependence reveals paradox of Japanese society

  • YouGov pan-#Arab study finds high awareness of relative size of #Japan's economy
  • Continued reliance on cash said to reflect #Japan's combination of tradition and modernity

LONDON: Many Arabs have an accurate view of the size of Japan’s economy, a recent poll by Arab
News and YouGov has discovered, but many also underestimate the country’s reliance on cash, revealing the paradox that lies at the root of that reliance.
The wide-ranging poll, which asked residents across the MENA region for their views on a host of questions related to Japan, found that awareness of the size of Japan’s economy — the world’s third-largest — was generally high, with 63 percent of respondents identifying it as being in the top five globally.
Awareness is higher among the older generation, with 68 percent of those over the age of 40 placing the country’s economy in the top five, compared to 58 percent of those aged 16 to 24.
Interestingly, the poll’s findings suggest that Arabs who have visited Japan are more likely to misjudge the size of the country’s economy. Only 48 percent of respondents who had previously been to Japan — four percent of all those surveyed — identified the country as having one of the world’s five largest economies.
The poll found that 67 percent of respondents correctly identified Japan as a member of the G20, but only 59 percent recognized Japan as a member of the G7 — a smaller group of the world’s largest economies.
In the latter case, there was a strong divergence between age groups, with 69 percent of those aged over 40 placing Japan in the G7 compared to only 48 percent of those aged 16 to 24.
However, by far the greatest misconception that Arabs have about Japan’s economy is its reliance on cash. Cash is still the most common form of payment in Japan, accounting for four out of every five purchases, but the majority of Arabs did not know this — with only 10 percent of the poll’s respondents identifying cash as the most common form of payment in Japan. By contrast, 46 percent of respondents said credit cards were the prevalent form of payment, and more thought that cryptocurrency was most common — 12 percent — than chose cash.
In many ways, these results are unsurprising. As Anne Beade wrote recently in the Japan Times, the continued dominance of cash payments in Japan sits oddly with its “reputation as a futuristic and innovative nation,” especially given the speed with which other technologically advanced countries have adapted to the cashless society. As Beade notes, 90 percent of transactions in South Korea are now digital.
But Japan’s reliance on cash is also typical of one of the country’s central paradoxes — its combination of tradition and modernity. The reasons for the country’s continued reliance on cash are manifold — from Japan’s low crime rates to the ready availability of ATM machines. But, as Beade makes clear, a significant factor is Japan’s aging population, who are slow to adapt to change. According to data from the CIA World Factbook, almost a third of Japan’s population is over the age of 65. In Saudi Arabia, that figure is just 3.32 percent.
If Japan’s continued dependence on cash illustrates the tension that can exist between its aging population and its futuristic aspects, then there are also examples of the two forming a more harmonious relationship. At the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport on October 15, Toyota announced its intention to transform into a mobility company with an example of how new technology could help solve the challenges of Japan’s aging population.
Speaking of the island of Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, where railway services catering tothe island’s aging population have shut down, Madali Khalesi, Vice President of Automated Driving at the Toyota Research Institute for Automated Driving Development, advanced self-driving cars as a solution.
“As time goes on you become more elderly, you are feeling less comfortable to drive your own vehicle, and in Japan in many cases, you have to hand in your driving licence,” he said.
“So think about it: You don’t have a mode of transportation publicly, you can’t drive a vehicle, (but that) does not mean something has to give, right? And we believe the technology at least can help support that change.”
Arabs’ misconceptions about Japan’s relationship with cash are widespread but understandable, given the nation’s hi-tech image. But, in bringing to the fore these issues of tradition and modernity, such misconceptions unintentionally shine a light on one of Japan’s most beguiling paradoxes.

A Middle East online tutoring startup eyes Saudi Arabia’s market

Updated 46 min 3 sec ago

A Middle East online tutoring startup eyes Saudi Arabia’s market

  • Platform allows parents and students to find qualified tutors after filtering for price, location or ratings
  • GCC countries tipped to account for 15 million students this year, with increase in demand for tutoring

DUBAI: Hunting for a tutor online? The web is a great place to explore for its dizzying number of options, but as you click and consider each option, their very abundance can at times be confounding.
What should you choose and what should you ignore, especially when the outcome can affect your future?
To take the stress out of this task, Audrey Nakad came up with the idea of Synkers, an app that helps parents and college students find experts for the extra coaching the latter require.
The educational enterprise co-founded by Nakad, a Lebanese-Canadian national, provides information on qualified tutors after filtering for price, location or ratings.

Synkers, an app that helps parents and college students find experts for the extra coaching the latter require. (Supplied)

The tutors are screened and their qualifications verified — they can be professionals or senior students who have scored 95/100 on the courses or subjects they offer.
A separate B2B business model gives educational institutions the option to adopt the entire platform for their own students and access detailed insights and reports.
“Synkers was founded to ease a major pain point for parents: The ability to find qualified and experienced private teachers for their kids,” said Nakad, 28.
The idea was born from personal experience. As an undergraduate in Montreal, she worked as a private tutor and teaching assistant but had a hard time finding students.
At the same time, her sister Sibylle was struggling to find a qualified tutor to help her with her study material.

That led the siblings and their friend Zeina Sultani to found Synkers in Lebanon in September 2017. They began with 40 tutoring hours and 80 tutors.
Initial funding came from the Lebanese government, with Beirut-based technology accelerator [email protected] providing $30,000.
“With $30,000, we were able to build our first prototype, go to market and acquire our first paying customers within three months,” said Nakad.
“Soon after, we closed a seed round of $700,000 from Phoenician Fund I (a venture capital firm). This round allowed us to build a stronger product and team, reach product-market fit and, most importantly, expand to a new market, the UAE.”
By the end of 2019, the educational technology startup had partnered with Lebanon’s Ministry of Education.



Revenues generated by private tutoring by 2026. (Source: India-based Zion Market Research)

Over the last four years, Synkers has gained more than 60,000 students, over 1,000
vetted tutors, given 90,000 tutoring sessions, and achieved a 21 percent student improvement rate, according to Nakad.
Worldwide, demand for private tutoring has been growing rapidly. Zion Market Research, an India-based firm, projects that global revenues in the sector will reach $177.6 billion by 2026, up from $96.2 billion in 2017.
The Middle East currently accounts for $3.1 billion of total revenue, Synkers research shows. “With innovation and technology, our world is evolving so fast that our jobs and the skills needed to do them are constantly changing,” said Nakad.
“This makes it very difficult for schools to continually adapt their curriculum and way of teaching to prepare their students for the future.”
As the Gulf alone is expected to account for 15 million school students this year, Synkers hopes to scale up quickly to capitalize on the region’s market growth.

Audrey Nakad came up with the idea of Synkers. (Supplied)

In 2017, the company joined a Dubai Future Accelerators international program that paired innovators with government organizations to solve contemporary challenges.
The resulting collaboration with Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) led to Synkers partnering with the American University in Dubai and Lebanese and French private schools in the UAE.
The next steps for Synkers include expansion into Saudi Arabia, ideally by 2021. Egypt, the region’s largest market by population, will follow in 2022, with Jordan and Bahrain after that.
“We are very excited to announce that we are closing a pre-series A round with strong VCs from the region and Europe in order to grow in the region and enter Saudi Arabia,” said Nakad.


READ MORE: Startup sets the pace in Middle East’s virtual-currencies business


“In the next five years, we are looking to grow our user base from 60,000 learners to 2 million across the region.
“Our vision is to develop the largest community of knowledge exchange, and empower any knowledge holder to influence and teach the world.”
What sets Synkers apart from other online tutoring companies? Beyond the personalized adaptive learning plans and a significant investment in its tutors, Nakad pointed to the academic and socioeconomic benefits of Synkers’ peer-to-peer system, inspired by Harvard University.
“Students connect with people who are just like them,” she said. “They have the same background and experiences, which allows them to connect on an individual level and work together to mutually succeed.”

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.