MIA Google Pay Suica

Google Pay Suica.png

The Android Police “Google Pay v1.57 prepares support for Suica” news didn’t generate much interest in Japan. Osaifu-Keitai e-wallet service has been around since 2004 on NTT Docomo phones. All 3 major Japanese carriers have offered Osaifu-Keitai and Mobile Suica on carrier branded Android phones since 2011.

As the Japanese Tweet points out, installing Google Pay v1.57 doesn’t enable Mobile Suica in Google Pay, just the same EDY and nanaco cards that Android Pay had.

Google Pay JP
It’s weird that Google Pay JP uses the EMV contactless acceptance mark instead of the FeliCa one. Is this stealth marketing?

Why doesn’t Google Pay v1.57 support Suica out of the box? It’s complicated because Android FeliCa support is just one part of the complex Android hardware jungle. A quick review of Mobile FeliCa support basics is helpful. Most of what follows is compiled from Reddit user FeliCa Dude’s posts, his comment posts are the best Mobile FeliCa English language information source on the web. Abide in the Dude!

NFC-A and NFC-F support is required for NFC Forum certification for a device. NFC means NFC-A + NFC-F. NFC-B is optional. Apple uses NXP chipsets that support NFC A-B-F

Three ways to do FeliCa
FeliCa Level 1: Basic read and write, no secure element support. All phones with NFC certification implement this.

FeliCa Level 2: The above, plus support for a FeliCa-enabled SIM that embeds a secure element to handle mutual authentication. This is what is used in Hong Kong for Octopus Mobile. A similar NFC-SIM approach is used by EZ-Link which used to be FeliCa but migrated to CEPAS (NFC B) technology in 2009.

FeliCa Level 3: Osaifu-Keitai/Mobile FeliCa. This requires an embedded secure element in the phone itself (Mobile FeliCa), with specific per-device keys issued by FeliCa Networks. Using the Osaifu-Keitai system also requires payments to NTT Docomo who co-developed the Mobile FeliCa software stack with Sony.

Three ways to embed a FeliCa secure element in a device are:

  • A “Mobile FeliCa” IC from FeliCa Networks.
  • A “Mobile FeliCa” SWP SIM card with applet from FeliCa Networks
  • A custom vendor-specific implementation approved by FeliCa Networks (Apple Pay, Smart Octopus for Samsung Pay)

As far as I know, Apple is the only smart device maker that has licensed the entire FeliCa technology stack and ships it on every iPhone 8/X and Apple Watch 3 sold worldwide. Any user with those devices can add Apple Pay Suica and more right out of the box, a testament to Apple owning both hardware and software. Other smartphone makers choose to ship fully enabled Mobile FeliCa carrier locked models only in specific markets like Japan or Hong Kong, similar to what Apple did with iPhone 7 and Apple Watch 2.

You would think that Google’s Pixel 2 would be Global NFC ready but Google’s FeliCa HCE-F API  for Android Pay is severely limited and does not support most FeliCa payment systems. The Pixel 2 does not have a FeliCa compatible embedded secure element and Google crippled NFC-SWP on the device for some reason ruling out a ‘FeliCa SIM’ approach. My money says Google did this to keep Japanese carriers happy selling full bore carrier locked Osaifu-Keitai e-wallet Android phones from Sony, Samsung, HTC, etc. Pure market politics.

Android Pay in Japan was basically a thin wrapper over the existing Osaifu-Keitai stack, a marketing trick that confused Android users into thinking they could install Android Pay on a ‘global’ Android device and get the full suite of FeliCa services: QUICPay, iD, Mobile Suica, and all. This was not the reality.

Android Pay in Japan was limited and so far it looks the same for Google Pay in Japan too. If and when Google Pay Suica arrives it will likely be on Osaifu-Keitai /Mobile FeliCa enabled Android devices from Japanese carriers. Global FeliCa iPhone-like out-of-the-box Mobile Suica on ‘global FeliCa’ Android devices from anywhere looks to be a long way off.


Unlocking the Suica Lock

The Mobile Suica user agreement shopping rules section states that the card can be ‘locked’ if not used for set period of time “as determined by the company (JR East).”  Although the period of time is not stated this means that if you do not use Apple Pay Suica for 6 months it locks and cannot be used for shopping and transit until you unlock it.

This is inconvenient for occasional inbound visitors to Japan who might not know about the 6 month Suica lockout and try to use it. There are 2 ways to unlock a Suica that has not been used for 6 months.

  1. Recharge Suica with Apple Pay (any small amount will suffice)
  2. Ask a station agent to unlock your Suica: put your iPhone in Service Mode then hand it to the agent

From the Apple Using Suica page :

You might need to have a station agent service your Suica card in Apple Pay. If you do, put your device into Service Mode before you hand it to the station agent:

On your iPhone, open Wallet, tap info icon, then open Service Mode.

For your Apple Watch, remove it from your wrist, enter the passcode to unlock it, and double-click the side button. Then, select your Suica card, firmly press the screen, tap Service Mode, and ask the station agent to hold your Watch with the display facing down.

Update: a reader reports says that you do not have to put the device in Service Mode, just hand it to the JR East station agent and they’ll unlock your Suica.

Suica Platform Market Info Update

JRE Points

JR East released some more Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica market data via Payment Navi. Suica market basics as of February 28 2018:

  • Suica cards issued to date (plastic and Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica) : 68 million
  • Stores that accept Suica e-money payment: 450,190
  • Suica compatible NFC store terminals: 814,680
  • Highest recorded daily Suica transactions (August 25, 2017): 6.64 million

That might not sound impressive at first but considering that 7-Eleven has 2,600 stores in Tokyo, you begin to appreciate the scale that is the Suica Platform.

On the Mobile Suica side JR East recorded 140,000 new Mobile Suica users the first full month that Apple Pay Suica was online (November 2016) , a 700% YOY increase compared to November 2015. Longer term Mobile Suica growth was 20% the first year of Apple Pay Suica service @ 990,000. Total Mobile Suica membership as of December 31, 2017 was 5.2 million.

It’s not clear if the JR East numbers include Apple Pay Suica users who are not Mobile Suica members: users who just add a Suica card to Apple Pay but don’t use the Suica App. I suspect not as JR East reported slightly different Mobile Suica user growth numbers previously.

Even after more than 10 years of Mobile Suica service and 1 year of Apple Pay Suica service, less than 10% of the Suica install base use Suica on mobile devices. There’s plenty of growth potential but as I pointed out in Apple Pay Japan One Year Mark, the next stage of Mobile Suica growth depends on JR East’s ability to negotiate commuter pass agreements with other transit companies that allow Mobile Suica commuter passes in non-JR East regions such as Nagoya or Osaka. That would let Suica, especially Apple Pay Suica, break out of the Tokyo region box.

JR East is building up the Suica Platform in other ways: a streamlined loyalty point system and inexpensive easy to deploy thin client POS terminals.

Goodbye Suica Points, Hello JRE Points
The different JR East loyalty point systems were confusing. We had Suica Points and View Card Points that were not easily exchanged or converted. Starting in late 2017 JR East rolled out yet another point system, JRE Points, that will replace and merge everything into one thing. Suica Points have already been rolled into JRE Points, View Points will be rolled in starting in June 2018.

If you have ever used the JRE Point App you already know that JR East has a lot of work to do if they want JRE Points to be easy to use as Apple Pay Suica. JRE Point App is the kind of app that screams to be a NFC tag thing instead of forcing users to use a plastic card to get those JRE loyalty points. The current JRE Point App does let you convert JRE Points into a Suica Recharge but that’s about it. Also be careful to turn off JRE App background GPS use, it’s a real battery suck.

The JRE Point marketing rocket is just getting off the ground. Once View Points are rolled into the new system I think we’ll see some interesting JRE Point campaigns from JR East as summer gets into high gear. If they work out the NFC tag thing, it could all be great.

Android Thin Client Suica Payment Terminals
Up until now Suica Payment terminals have been ‘rich clients’ that processed payments locally. JR East feels confident enough with the robust Japanese Internet and 4G infrastructure to offer a low cost ‘thin client’ POS payment terminal, the same yet-to-be-named Android smartphone based POS terminals that JR East installed along the Joban line in February. JR East developed it with Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co. Ltd. based on mobile Suica reader technology created for Shinkansen food service carts and vending machines.

This simple and easy to use device communicates with the Suica payment processing cloud service and works out of the box. It’s an easy choice for small shops who don’t want to bother with the complexity or cost of a CARDNET or Rakuten Pay.

Last but not least JR East said they are “considering” English language versions of Suica App (iOS) and Mobile Suica (Android) for inbound visitors to Japan in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I can understand why JR East is taking time on this. It will be a big support cost because they’ll have to setup an English help desk in addition to localizing the apps, all for a tiny part of their customer base who love to complain.

One more thing, last week Goldman Sachs rated JR East stock a buy.

Apple Pay Suica Super Smart Points

The BIC CAMERA JCB View Card is the best credit card for Apple Pay Suica. It you live and work in Tokyo and commute on any JR East line, here is the smart setup for getting maximum points you can exchange for free Apple Pay Suica recharging and purchasing goods at BIC CAMERA.


  • Add a Suica Commuter Pass or regular Suica card to Apple Pay
  • Get a BIC CAMERA Point Card at the nearest BIC CAMERA if you do not already have one
  • Apply for a Bic Camera JCB View Card either online or at a BIC CAMERA Store and register your point card number on the application
  • Download the BIC CAMERA App, create an online account and register your BIC CAMERA Point Card number in the App
  • Add the BIC CAMERA JCB View Card to Apple Pay Wallet
  • Create a Mobile Suica account in Suica App if you don’t have one
  • Create an online View’s Net account for your BIC CAMERA View card

Earning Points

  • Always use your BIC CAMERA JCB View card for Suica Recharge and Suica Commuter Pass renewal
  • Use Apple Pay Suica for store purchases as much as possible
  • When shopping at BIC CAMERA or Kojima Denki stores use the BIC CAMERA App bar code to earn points when paying with cash or Apple Pay Suica. Using the BIC CAMERA View plastic card automatically earns points.

Bic Camera JCB View Card and Apple Pay Suica

As the graphic shows BIC CAMERA JCB Card earns you two kinds of points: BIC points and View Points. Point earnings are as follows.

  • Shopping at BIC CAMERA: ¥1,000 earns 100 BIC Points (1 point = ¥1)
  •  Regular Shopping: ¥1,000 earns 5 BIC Points (¥5 Yen) and 2 View Points (1 point = ¥2.5)
  • Apple Pay Suica Recharge/Commuter Pass Renewal: ¥1,000 earns 6 View Points (¥15)


  • Use BIC Points at BIC CAMERA with the iPhone App. Show the bar code at purchase time and the clerk will scan it. I never pay for iPhone cases and Apple accessories, I always use points.

Use VIEW Points
View Points can be used 2 ways: exchange points for goods or coupons via the View Online Store, or exchange points to recharge Apple Pay Suica.

Apply for a free Suica Recharge
To recharge Apple Pay Suica with View Points log into View Net and follow the screen shots and captions below:

When completed View’s Net sends you a confirmation email. It takes 3 business days for the View Point exchange to be processed and you will receive a ‘process completed’ email from Mobile Suica.

Receive your free Suica Recharge
Go to Suica App and follow the screen shots below to receive your free Suica Recharge.

Receive free Suica Recharge 5
Apple Pay Notification of your Suica Recharge

It may look complicated but once the setup is complete you have a great system to put your e-money to good use. If your company reimburses transportation expenses, and what Japanese company doesn’t, you are leaving  money on the table. Take time to make that money work for you. You’ll be glad you did.