Monk’s Trail Race overcomes a tough run

Poor Minobusan cannot catch a break. The Shugyoso Monk’s Run Trail Race profiled in 2014 was cancelled in 2018 due to major typhoon inflicted damage on the Minobusan~Shichimensan trail. Denied use of the full course, race organizers made do with mini races covering usable parts of the trails. This year’s challenge was greater than ever: the COVID crisis almost cancelled it altogether.

To keep it alive Rev. Yuji Komatsu of Takeibo and the resourceful Shugyoso organizers opted for a 17 km ‘mini course race’ up and down Shichimensan this year, limited to 50 runners each on November 21, 22, 28, 29 with COVID protocols in place to limit crowding. It’s an encouraging sign that all race slots sold out.

The first race on November 21 went very well. The weather was clear and warm. Organizers did a good job taking care of the race and racers. Everybody was relaxed and enjoyed a good time. Final race results ranking the best times of all 4 race days are posted on the Shugyoso FaceBook page (Japanese).

If all goes well the road linking Minobusan and Shichimensan will be completely repaired and once again open for Monks Trail Race event.

The course this year is half of what it usually is, up the Omotesando trail of Shichimensan and down the Kitasando trail

Suica linked My Number MaaS and JRE POINT for Off-Peak Suica Commuting

My Number Card linked with Suica for MaaS in Maebashi

JR East announced some interesting services today: Suica linking with My Number ID cards (aka Individual Number Cards) and a JRE POINT campaign for off-peak Suica commuting.

The off-peak commute campaign starts March 1 and runs for an entire year. JR East wants to encourage commuting without COVID risky crowding with off-peak commuting rewards. On my own daily commute I have noticed a sharp increase of people with the colder weather in the morning peak commute hours.

Peak-hours are 7:00~8:30 am, off-peak is defined as ‘early commute’ 6:00 am~7:00 am that earns 15 JRE POINT and ‘easy commute’ 8:30 am~9:30 am which earns 20 JRE POINT. In my case the ‘easy commute’ reward works out to about 500 JRE POINT a month. This is in addition to the regular monthly JRE POINT transit rewards. I wish I could be in the top earning ‘easy commute’ bracket but ‘early commuter’ will be my only choice. Such is life.

A second reward for non-commute plan Suica fare regardless of time or route offers a free fare in JRE POINT with 10 transits with an additional 10% of fare rewards for each additional transit. Mobile Suica earns more than plastic Suica, so think of this as a kind of ‘welcome to Suica Suica’ run up campaign.

The My Number Card linking scheme, via NFC tags, is designed to drive local MaaS services for local residents by linking age and local residence confirmation to Suica. Local transit discounts for elderly and children are the start point, the press announcement also highlights shopping discounts and local government services. It’s proof of age and local residency just by using a linked Suica. The MaaS service area is scheduled to start from December in Maebashi.

It’s an intriguing service that finally promises to deliver some of the features that My Number Card was designed to do. But in this case I think the service needs some kind of on the spot hook, like a instant cash-back PayPay kind of gimmick to get people to really use it. People like instant gratification. Looking at a monthly Suica or JRE POINT transaction list to find the rebate just isn’t sexy enough for most people to try something new.

Mobile PASMO Device Support

FeliCa Dude points out that Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5 devices use the latest Mobile FeliCa 4.1 but are not yet qualified for Mobile PASMO even though they run Suica just fine. PASMO support lists them as in the works.

Worse than that however is that OEMs are still releasing Osaifu Keitai devices with older Mobile FeliCa 3.x/4.0 factory fixed firmware that either forces the user to choose between installing Mobile PASMO or Mobile Suica, or doesn’t work with Mobile PASMO at all. It’s a real snapshot of the Android hardware dilemma.

Apple Pay PASMO is supported in iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later. iPhone 7 JP model users are not happy about that but the writing was on the wall with the Apple Pay Octopus ‘iPhone 8 and later’ configuration. Going forward, iPhone 8 and two-factor authentication Apple ID will be the base configuration for using Mobile ICOCA, Super Suica and other mobile transit IC cards.

App Clips at Kitasando Coffee

Kitasando Coffee was one of the Japan debut sites for App Clips. I finally had time to check it out today. The overall experience was similar to the Starbucks app mobile order and pay. Regulars would use the full blown Coffee App but I wanted to see how fast the App Clip ‘point and pay’ experience would be.

My iPhone 11 NFC reader mode kicked in and launched the Coffee App Clip, I ordered and paid with Apple Pay, all just under a minute even with first timer ‘what do I do now’ pauses, then waited for the order to be filled. There was no ‘Sign in with Apple ID’ step, just point, order, pay, pickup. The video shows the whole process with the order wait time edited out.

App Clips does a very good job of utilizing NFC reader mode and loading time with 4G LTE was also good. I still have doubts about the experience in a marginal WiFi environment (the WiFi Assist factor) and hope to test different places as App Clips gain traction. Bottom line: if NFC with reader mode is this slick, why would anybody bother with QR or App Clip Codes?

UPDATE
iOS 14.3 beta has support for Apple designed App Clip Code scanning. Here is a quick screen recording of the scan process and animation. The App Clip Code is a photo of the ExxonMobile gas pump stickers that launched October 22. The App Clip does not load because the ExxonMobile App is not available in Japan.

Apple One Japan Math

Apple One is available in Japan but only if the iCloud Storage Plan attached to Apple ID is 200GB or less. If you have the 2TB plan, Apple One is not available. This makes sense because Apple One is supposed to be cost effective and signing up with Apple One Individual or Family with the 2TB iCloud Storage Plan isn’t cost effective. Apple One Premier isn’t available in Japan but I think it will be around the 2,500~2,600 mark when, and if, it arrives. Here’s my scenario:

Apple One Premier would be worth it for me just for iCloud storage and Apple Music for the family. The other services are nice extras. Until then Apple One isn’t cost effective for a 2TB iCloud user like myself, at least not with the current pricing and configurations. Your mileage may vary.