Tokyo Cashless 2020: Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program

With less than a year to go until the Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a periodic look at all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo

A reader asked if I knew of any comprehensive English guide for the various Japanese point systems: Rakuten, T Point, JRE POINT, etc. It’s a good question, and a timely one. Unfortunately the short answer is no, a guide like that does not exist.

It took me a year to put together a good Apple Pay Suica ecosystem guide (at least I think it’s good for covering the basics, if not let me know). It’s impossible to intelligently catalog the various Japanese card and payment app ecosystems into English less than two weeks before the consumption tax CASHLESS rebate program kicks off.

Instead of a broad useless sweep, I have updated my JRE POINT guide that covers the JR East ecosystem of Apple Pay Suica and View Card, and how they work with the CASHLESS rebate program. The basic concepts apply to all CASHLESS rebate program qualified cards and app systems. Hopefully this post and the JRE POINT guide will give you enough information to find the right setup for your card/app payment system of choice.

You may not have to do anything to get ready. As the rest of this post shows, credit card users don’t need to do anything more than use a Japanese issue credit card. And don’t feel bad if this all seems arcane, language is no barrier for feeling lost, some Japanese feel lost too.

The JAPAN CASHLESS Rebate Program

The Japanese Government CASHLESS rebate program, CASH=LESS get it?

In tandem with the 10% consumption tax starting October 1, the Japanese government is launching a CASHLESS rebate program that offers a 5% or 2% rebate with cashless purchases at participating stores and online shopping sites like Amazon JP, Rakuten JP and Yahoo Japan Shopping. The idea is to ween Japanese society away from its infamous “cash addiction”.

The CASHLESS program is run by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and will be valid for all cashless purchases from October 1, 2019 until June 30, 2020 at qualified participating stores. A METI outline of the CASHLESS program is available in PDF (Japanese only). The CASHLESS web site is informative and constantly updated, hopefully with English at some point.

How do you get the rebate? This part is easy: make purchases at any store displaying the red 5% or 2% CASHLESS logo with:

  • Japanese issue credit/debit cards, either plastic or on Apple Pay (iD/QUICPay)/Google Pay
  • Japanese e-money cards (Suica, nanaco, WAON, etc.) either plastic or Apple Pay Suica/Google Pay
  • Japanese QR Code smartphone payment apps (PAYPAY, Origami Pay, Rakuten Pay, etc.)

There are 3 basic rebate models related to the type of transaction:

  • Credit (post pay): CASHLESS program rebate amount calculated by the card company at billing and automatically deducted from your monthly credit card bill. Credit card CASHLESS rebates are not tied to point systems.
  • Debit (instant pay): CASHLESS program rebate amount calculated by the card company at end of the month and automatically refunded to your bank account, or instantly deducted from the purchase amount at transaction. Debit card CASHLESS rebates are not tied to point systems.
  • Prepaid (stored value): CASHLESS program rebate amount is calculated at the end of the month and refunded as points. The point system depends on the type of e-money prepaid card: JRE POINT for Suica, Rakuten point for Rakuten EDY, etc. The point rebate model also applies to QR Code systems like PayPay. Prepaid e-money rebates are tied to point systems, QR Codes are tied to the user account be sure to check the CASHLESS details of your QR Code payment system.

The CASHLESS web site maintains comprehensive lists of qualified credit/debit cards, and prepaid e-money cards/QR Code Apps. The site is constantly updated with direct links to all participating payment system CASHLESS rebate information pages. Search your payment system, and it will link you with the CASHLESS rebate information for your payment system. All pages are in Japanese language, there is no English.

Surprisingly Easy
Japanese credit card users have it easy and this is good: credit cards are the cashless platform that has been around the longest and most people have one. All they need to do is use their credit card at any store displaying the red CASHLESS logo, that’s it. Credit cards will have the widest footprint in the CASHLESS rebate problem because they are not tied to point systems. Debit cards are straight forward too but users should check how the rebate/refund is handled for the card. QR Code systems sign up users with an account and should be automatic but be sure to check the rebate/refund method.

Prepaid e-money card users enjoy the most security and privacy. Anybody can buy a Suica at a train station or a nanaco at 7 Eleven, but unless you take time to register the card to its matching point system, either online or in an app, you will not get a CASHLESS rebate. Register your prepaid e-money card with the appropriate point system. For Apple Pay Suica users this is covered on the JRE POINT guide.

Prepaid e-money cards are generally at a disadvantage compared to credit cards because they are tied to point systems and have a smaller footprint: Suica for example, can only get CASHLESS rebates at stores displaying both CASHLESS and JRE POINT logos:

The CASHLESS + SUICA JRE POINT logo

JAPAN CASHLESS will be releasing iOS and Android map apps for finding stores near you participating in the CASHLESS rebate program. I will update this page as new information becomes available.

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Apple Global NFC Lineup 2019

With the removal of iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2, the new 2019 iPhone and Apple Watch lineup on the Apple Store is finally global NFC across the board. The Apple Watch Series 5 S5 chip did not gain ‘Express Card with power reserve’ or NFC background tag reading this time. The former would be a very welcome addition for the eternally battery challenged Apple Watch, while the later is necessary at some point if Apple wants to use the ‘yet to be formally unveiled’ NFC Tag Apple Pay to kick QR Code payment systems to the curb.

There is something missing in the lineup however: a low cost entry level global NFC iPhone that’s even lower than the price cuts Apple implemented with the 2019 lineup. As Ben Thompson of Stratechery explains in a great post:

That means that this year actually saw three price cuts:
•First, the iPhone 11 — this year’s mid-tier model — costs $50 less than the iPhone XR it is replacing.
•Second, the iPhone XR’s price is being cut by $150 a year after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done.
•Third, the iPhone 8’s price is also being cut by $150 two years after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done.

The rumored A12 chip iPhone SE2 may well be pie in the sky, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t market appeal for an inexpensive global NFC iPhone for places like Japan and Hong Kong. Those markets have highly integrated transit networks coupled with highly evolved transit card systems like Suica and Octopus. With both of these on Apple Pay there’s a good opening for a small SE size inexpensive global NFC iPhone, it would do very well.

UPDATE: What’s the best iPhone for Suica?
A reader asked for my recommendation of a good Suica use iPhone in the 2019 lineup. I do not recommend iPhone 8. The superior NFC and Suica performance, plus the Express Card with power reserve and background tag reading features of A12 Bionic and later is a huge leap over previous models. These enhanced NFC functions are important for new Apple Pay features yet to come. I think it comes down to a choice between iPhone XR and iPhone 11, and how long you plan to use it in Japan.

It’s also helpful to remember that 2019 is the last lineup of 4G/LTE only iPhone. I think iPhone 11 is better optimized for 4G in the long run as Japanese carriers start to switch over bands to 5G. There is also the much better camera to consider. Last but not least is battery. The power optimization of A13 Bionic is going to deliver much better battery performance over a longer period of time.

It boils down to this: if you plan to use the iPhone for 2 years iPhone XR is a good choice, if you plan to use iPhone for 3~4 years iPhone 11 is the better choice.

Ride the Rails with Apple Pay Suica and Earn JRE POINT

The enhanced NFC functions of iOS 13 could not have come at a better time for the Japanese market. The great 10% consumption tax cashless experiment begins October 1 when the tax hike becomes effective and the Japanese government starts giving 2%~5% refunds for cashless payments via established card point systems. The ‘My Number‘ Japanese Individual Number card will be a centerpiece for getting those point rebates and the Japanese government has already announced iOS 13 support for My Number card. The whole rebate/refund thing is clear as mud but exciting too. Suica is listed as one of the many e-money cards eligible for consumption tax refunds/rebates. Suica consumption tax point refunds will be delivered via JRE POINT.

JR East added to the excitement today with the announcement that starting October 1 Suica users can earn JRE POINT simply by riding the rails. Mobile Suica transit users (Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica, Osaifu Keitai Suica) earn 1 JRE POINT per 50 yen of IC transit fare, plastic Suica cards earn 1 JRE POINT per 200 yen of IC transit fare.

That’s a huge incentive to drive transit users from plastic Suica to Mobile Suica. The same JRE POINT rates apply to Green Car Seat purchases. And get this, only Mobile Suica Commuter Plan purchases and renewals are eligible for JRE POINT with 1 JRE POINT per 50 yen of the purchase/renewal. This is a sweet deal if your company sponsors your commuter pass. They give you the money, you get the points. Ugh, now I have to hold off renewing my Apple Pay Suica Commute Plan until October 1 but the points are worth going without my commute plan for a few days. JR East’s big push for Mobile Suica over plastic is remarkable and will become a shove when the next generation ‘Super Suica’ format arrives in April 2021.

To earn points the Suica card must be registered to a JRE POINT account. The JRE POINT account setup process has gotten a little more streamlined, and the iOS JRE POINT App a little less clunky over the past year. Mobile Suica and JRE POINT systems are now dynamically linked so you don’t need to worry if the Apple Pay Suica card ID number changes.

Today’s announcement only applies to regular train travel but JR East will be adding a lot more in 2020~2021 as the Super Suica start date approaches: JRE POINT for Touch and Go Shinkansen travel starts with the new JR East eTicket system in April 2020, Round trip fixed travel route coupon-like JRE POINT is due December 2020. And finally, with Super Suica in place, the regular express train/Shinkansen ‘EkiNet‘ ticketing and point system will be rolled into the JRE POINT system. Travelers can then earn and use JRE POINT to purchase regular express train and Shinkansen eTickets and upgrade seats. It will be Apple Pay Super Suica eTicket bliss.

Tokyo Cashless 2020: Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App

With less than a year to go until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics I’m kicking off a new series: Tokyo Cashless 2020, a periodic look at all things cashless as Tokyo gears up for the big event.

Now that iOS 13 with supercharged Core NFC is almost here, it’s time for JR East to junk the old Suica Charge app for Sony PaSoRi FeliCa reader combo on life support until the plug is pulled in September 2020, and create a new Core NFC supercharged app for iOS 13. Since any iPhone 7 and later has the ability to Read/Write FeliCa cards build a whole new app around iPhone as the NFC read/write device. Here are some other helpful suggestions:

  • Make the app multilingual, or at least support English in addition to Japanese
  • Cooperate with the other major transit card companies to support all compatible Japanese transit IC cards for recharging, not just Suica
  • Support international issue credit/debit card registration in the app so that anybody from anywhere can recharge plastic transit IC cards with their bank card
  • Support In-App Apple Pay for recharging
  • Support the app on Non-Osaifu Keitai Android phones that can read/write NFC-F, there are lots of them out there coming to Tokyo in 2020, support Google Pay for In-App recharging too

There is an ocean of plastic Japanese transit IC cards out there. There are lots of Android users, and even iPhone users, who cannot use Apple Pay Suica or Google Pay Suica. A handy Suica recharge app that lets inbound travelers recharge plastic transit cards on the go with just a smartphone is screaming to be born, it would be an essential tool in alleviating station recharge kiosk lines during the Tokyo Olympics. JR East, please make it happen.

Update: I had forgotten that JR East had announced the end of “Suica Internet” services in September 2020. Suica Internet is a set of internet based services for online shopping and recharging Suica cards with the Sony PaSori reader and a Windows PC. JR East is pruning legacy services as they prepare for the next generation Super Suica rollout in April 2021.

Dear Apple: We need a Global NFC iPad

Now that iOS 13 is almost here, it’s time to sit down and think about the enhanced Core NFC Read/Write functionality and what it means for iOS/iPadOS. Core NFC “requires a device that supports Near Field Communication.” Theoretically this means iPhone and Apple Watch, but the reality is that only iPhone iOS supports Core NFC, NFC Tag Read/Write and new services like NFC Tag Apple Pay that use Background NFC Tag reading.

Until now nobody has discussed the need for a NFC capable iPad. Without the enhanced Core NFC functions of iOS 13 which limited NFC to Apple Pay Wallet card, there wasn’t a reason. After all who would want to use iPad for Apple Pay Suica transit in Tokyo, you’d look as silly as watermelon man (watermelon in JP = suika…get it?).

But iOS 13 Core NFC changes all this: sure you still don’t want to use an NFC iPad at the checkout line, but businesses would love an NFC iPad loaded with all kinds of enhanced Core NFC apps to do all kind of work as all-in-one mobile POS systems, factory inventory NFC tag read/write systems, and much more. Imagine how an NFC iPad bundled with Recuit’s AirPAY would appeal to Tokyo area businesses as they gear up for the 2020 Olympics. The possibilities are interesting and not insignificant.

What is the optimum global NFC iPad hardware configuration? Background NFC tag reading ability is an absolute must which means A12 Bionic is the minimum support configuration. Outside of that I would say: iPad Air and iPad mini, not iPad Pro, a NFC + cellular model, and a WiFi only model. The NFC iPad needs to be as inexpensive as possible with A12 Bionic and Touch ID. I think it could do well.