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.

Oil world tries to read Chinese post-pandemic demand

Updated 25 October 2020

Oil world tries to read Chinese post-pandemic demand

  • The economic outlook for Asia will help decide some pretty pressing short-term policy issues
  • China’s refineries are getting back in top gear, and are looking to increase crude purchases in anticipation of economic recovery

DUBAI: While all eyes are on the US presidential election, the energy sector is keeping a watchful scrutiny on what is happening on the other side of the world, in China and the rest of Asia. Who the Americans choose will of course have enormous influence on energy policy for years to come, not least because Donald Trump versus Joe Biden is, in many ways, a runoff between the traditional oil and gas industry and the alternative renewable future.

But policymakers in the Middle East and in the broader OPEC+ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia are looking eastward to determine more immediate priorities. The economic outlook for Asia, and of China in particular, will help decide some pretty pressing short-term policy issues.

At what official selling price should big producers such as Saudi Aramco and Adnoc mark their exports to China in the coming weeks? What stance should OPEC+ take toward compliance and compensation for the rest of this year? And, crucially, should it press ahead with plans to put an extra 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil on global markets in January, as the historic April cuts deal envisaged?

An added variable has been thrown into the works with higher-than-expected output from Libya, which has resumed production and exports from its war-torn facilities and could, according to some energy experts, be producing another 1 million barrels by the end of the year.

That is hardly a deluge of crude by global standards, in a world that consumes above 90 million bpd, though it is enough to complicate the already-delicate calculations of OPEC+ analysts.

But the big imponderable is China. The country blew hot and cold on oil imports since the April crisis, snapping up cheap oil one month and easing back on imports the next. It was hard to read the signals coming out of China.

Were the pauses in imports due to a slower rate of recovery from the pandemic economic lockdowns? Or was China simply chock-full of crude, to the extent that it had filled its strategic reserve and had nowhere else to store it?

Evidence of the latter came in the form of the flotilla of crude tankers waiting to unload off the coast of the Shandong oil terminal. At one stage, there were as many as 60 million barrels afloat awaiting discharge off China’s coast.

The people who make a living from tracking these things say that there has recently been evidence of a slow unloading from these ships, but that there is still an awful lot of crude afloat, waiting to come onshore.

There have also been signs that China’s refineries are getting back in top gear, and are looking to increase crude purchases in anticipation of economic recovery. One of the biggest, Rongsheng Petrochemical, recently snapped up 7 million barrels through Singapore, in a move taken by some to be the starting gun on an aggressive Chinese buying spree.

The economic logic suggests that if that is going to happen, it will take place pretty soon. According to the International Monetary Fund’s latest review, China — the only major economy forecast to grow in 2020, with 1.9 percent growth — will soar to 8.2 percent expansion next year. The country’s early and rigorous lockdown, and high levels of economic stimulus since then, are clearly paying off.

Whether the Chinese lift-off comes in time to affect OPEC+ calculations over the planned January increase remains to be seen. From where oil policymakers are looking at it at the moment, it looks like a good bet that China, at least, will need plenty of crude next year to fuel its post-pandemic recovery.