Don’t say Apple Pay: what to say at checkout in Japan with Apple Pay

Japan has the longest history of mobile payments on a large scale thanks to the early cooperation of NTT Docomo and Sony to create Mobile FeliCa and the Osaifu Keitai mobile payment platform adopted by all Japanese carriers. This standard was in place 10 years before the EMV contactless standard for credit cards came together that was the basis for Apple Pay released in 2014. The long history and pre-EMV FeliCa standard means that the Japanese mobile payments landscape is richer and more complicated than anywhere else, and is growing even more complicated with QR Code payment app choices that have proliferated over the past 2 years.

The addition of Apple Pay and Google Pay logos in the mix confuses things even more. What do they mean and what exactly does one say to the checkout staff? Apple Pay, iD, QUICKPay, or Suica? It comes down to 2 basic factors: the POS checkout system and the skill of the store staff. Suica, iD and QUICPay are standard for contactless checkout but the ‘Apple Pay’ logo only indicates that contactless payment is available, it doesn’t specify ‘which one’. What you say to the checkout staff or tap on the checkout touchscreen is another matter.

Don’t Say Apple Pay
Visitors to Japan, and even many Japanese expect they should say ‘Apple Pay’ but that’s not what Apple says on it’s own support pages: Learn where to use Apple Pay and How to use Apple Pay. The support pages used to say ‘Say Apple Pay’ but not anymore, anywhere, especially not in Japan. ‘Say Apple Pay’ is dead and gone, it was just a marketing tool. Street reality is a different story.

The reason for the change boils down the growing complexity of Apple Pay Wallet choices and options. Only Japan has Apple Pay Express Transit Mode for store purchases. No other Apple Pay region has it (except for Hong Kong when it added Apple Pay Octopus in June 2020). When using Apple Pay at checkout say the payment network you want to use: FeliCa flavored iD, QUICPay, Suica, etc., or EMV flavored ‘Touch’ or ‘Credit’.

Apple Pay makes everything work seamlessly on the iPhone side thanks to global NFC and NFC switching. However the store reader cannot choose the Wallet card for you automatically, that’s why you have to say Suica, iD, QUICPay, etc. That’s why saying Apple Pay doesn’t work.

The Contactless Point Card Difference and Inbound Apple Pay
When checking out at a store with all the pieces in place: full spec POS system, trained staff, EMV, FeliCa, VAS, which is only at Lawson convenience stores, the ‘Apple Pay’ option here is for using PONTA or dPoint contactless reward cards with a convenient single tap operation. The Express Transit catch remains however; saying Apple Pay when Suica is your default Wallet card means you don’t get Express Transit checkout, you get Face/Touch ID authentication Apple Pay. If you want Express Transit checkout you have to say Suica.

There’s also the inbound angle to consider. Many stores have EMV contactless support and this means visitors can use their Apple Pay cards from home directly. However Apple does not cover inbound use in their support page, only domestic JP options. The problem here is there’s no magic catch-all checkout word like Suica, PASMO, iD, QUICPay, WAON and nanaco. The current EMV usage seems to be saying ‘credit’ or ‘Touch’.

If the staff hasn’t been properly trained (and be sure to check if they have a ‘trainee’ ID badge, usually a sign of trouble), they can’t understand what payment option you are asking for and match it with the right checkout button on the POS screen. Saying ‘touch’ or ‘credit’ at checkout works best for contactless credit cards, but Visa wants you to say ‘Visa Touch’, Mastercard wants you to say ‘mastercard contactless’, and so on. It’s a marketing mess.

Blame the mess on selfish card companies that can’t get their act together and come up with a EMV checkout word for the common good. If you get in a jam, point at the payment acceptance mark you want to use at checkout (VISA, mastercard, etc.). Last but not least, keep in mind that the EMV mark on the reader tap area has nothing to do with what works for POS checkout. Always check the payment acceptance marks.

NFC Pay in action on terminal, note the acceptance marks for Visa and Mastercard contactless, the NFC Pay/EMV logo on the reader tap area does not mean the store accepts NFC Pay