Japan Cashless 2020 Retrospect

As we look back on 2020 there are 2 big divides: COVID and cashless. We suddenly found ourselves in a world where all human contact is conducted behind face masks and sheets of clear plastic. Not touching anything not ours is the rule of daily life.

The year started with the Japanese Cashless tax rebate in full swing but the real value of the program, helping smaller merchants to add cashless payments, became clear when the Diamond Princess brought the COVID crisis to Japan big time and real cash suddenly become suspect fomite material. More than anything, COVID fears attached to handling cash drove cashless use in 2020 but are we there yet? Back in July, I said we are. It will be months before official 2020 cashless trend numbers are in, but you don’t need anything more than to ask yourself one simple question:

How much has changed since the October 25, 2016 Apple Pay Japan launch?

Junya Suzuki correctly predicted Apple Pay would be the ‘Black Ships‘ inflection point catalyst for cashless payments in Japan that would change everything. And everything has changed. Cashless is now the first choice that most people want, that most stores want you to use. Cash is the fallback. If grandma want to use it at the supermarket checkout she can take all the time she wants feeding bills and coins into a checkout payment machine. Just one more choice in the every growing payment option menu.

There were other cashless developments in 2020, such as the Yucho Bank security scandal that hit the Docomo Account first, then other online payment services. The end result was that QR Code players (PayPay, Line Pay, etc.) took a hit and for the time being cannot recharge from a bank account. It knocked the wind out of QR Code payment mania that I don’t see returning.

On the transit front the biggest news was the Mobile PASMO Android and Apple Pay PASMO launch. Geographically these only cover the Kanto region but Suica and PASMO combined represent 80% of the Japanese transit IC card market. As Mobile PASMO turned out to be recycled Mobile Suica under the hood, I see it as part of the overall JR East next generation Super Suica that is formally launching in March 2021.

2021 should be an interesting year for contactless payments with Super Suica and VISA Japan finally signing on with Apple Pay. We will see more transit IC card service announcements similar to the Mobile ICOCA one, and if Apple Pay QR Code Payments launch we could see developments in that segment, but 2020 will always be known as the year that Japan finally went cashless.

Huawei Pay Octopus: global NFC = custom eSE

Huawei Pay Octopus launched on December 9, the second digital Octopus 2020 launch after Apple Pay Octopus on June 2. The device list is interesting: Huawei Mate 40 Pro, P40, P40 Pro, P40 Pro+, P30, P30 Pro, Mate 30, Mate 30 Pro, Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro, Mate RS Porsche, Mate Xs, Nova 7 5G. A wide range of Huawei models sold in Hong Kong have global NFC support, at least on the smartphone side but does not include the G2 Pro smartwatch.

In Japan the only Huawei models with global NFC/Mobile FeliCa/Osaifu Keitai support are the P20 and P30 and only with a Docomo sim. Huawei Pay is not supported in Japan. The Huawei Pay Octopus device list tells us what we suspected all along: Huawei Pay is global NFC capable but Huawei kneecaps it so they can sell devices via Docomo. Huawei Pay can turn things on and off because, just like Apple Pay, Huawei has a custom embedded Secure Element (eSE), so does OPPO and so will Xiaomi in 2021.

The gist of all this is that Google’s Android Pay era HCE and HCE-F technology lost out to eSE long ago. As FeliCa Dude said, ‘it’s all eSE or nothing now,’ to which I would add, ‘it’s all custom eSE + XX-Pay or nothing now.’

So where does Google Pay fit in this scheme? It doesn’t. And it could be one of the things Google hopes to address with their own SoC, but a custom eSE is probably a long shot. That is unless Google is serious about making global NFC Google Pay work seamlessly on Pixel and Fitbit devices by dumping Osaifu Keitai and going all in with a custom eSE. If Google persists in wanting it both ways, limited NFC Google Pay for everybody and global NFC Google Pay in Pixel for Japan only, expect more of the confusing Android global NFC support mess we have now.

Super Suica 2 in 1 Region Cards

JR East Super Suica 2 in 1 card announcements are coming regularly and we should hear more as March 2021 approaches. Instead of separate posts I’m listing all cards here and will update the table as new cards are announced.

2 in 1 Region Card List
As of November 30, 2020, we have 6 Super Suica 2 in 1 Region Cards.

RegionTypeAnnouncedLaunchPartners
UtsunomiyaBus & Light Rail2019-7-9March 2021 (Bus)
March 2022 (Rail)
Kanto Transportation
JR Bus Kanto
Utsunomiya Light Rail
Iwate PrefectureBus2020-1-16March 2021Iwate Kotsu Co. Ltd.
Iwate PrefectureBus2020-10-20March 2021Northern Iwate Transportation
Hachinohe CityBus2020-10-21March 2022Northern Iwate Transportation
Hachinohe City Bus
Aomori CityBus2020-11-19March 2022Aomori City Bus
Akita CityBus2020-11-30March 2022Akita Chuo Kotsu Co. Ltd.

Details are spare but from the announcements so far we can expect:

  • Local Branding: Super Suica 2 in 1 Region cards will have their own branding, commuter passes and reward points. I suspect local reward points can be exchanged with JRE POINT as well. There will also likely be special services and discounts for local area residents linked to Ny Number Card.
  • Suica benefits: Though they have different branding, local region 2 in 1 cards are Suica cards with all the Suica infrastructure benefits including Mobile Suica, Shinkansen eTickets, Transit IC compatibility, eMoney, etc.
  • Contactless: eliminating paper tickets and hard cash in areas without Transit IC cards in the COVID era is a good thing though credit card companies are marketing the hell out of it too. More on the subject in a this post.

Super Suica offers the benefits of Suica infrastructure to local transit agencies within the JR East area who don’t have the resources to launch or maintain their own Transit IC card system. Plugging orphaned regions into the wider transit network with the same infrastructure is the sensible thing to do, I wish JR East had done this years ago. We should see more announcements in the coming months and Japanese press coverage as the first services prepare to launch in March 2021.

All 2 in 1 Region Card announcements so far have been for new cards. The next and bigger challenge for JR East will be incorporating existing and important region transit cards inside the JR East transit region such Niigata Kotsu Ryuto and Sendai City Transportation Bureau icsca.

Related Posts
Road to Super Suica: cloud integration and the transit card push to mobile
Road to Super Suica: 2 in 1 shared infrastructure and mobile transit card expansion update
Smells like Super Suica: next generation FeliCa

SEIYU Stores finally add NFC payment support for Apple Pay Suica • PASMO

That didn’t take long. The announcement Walmart was selling majority control of SEIYU over to KKR and Rakuten was made November 16. And what was the first new management move? Adding Suica and Transit IC payment support which means Apple Pay Suica • PASMO and Google Pay Suica can finally, finally be used for paying at checkout. QR Code PayPay has been in place for awhile already. SEIYU also rolled out a new system recently for self checkout and EMV IC chip payments for SEIYU brand Saison cards (other cards have to be signed…yuck). NFC anything has been entirely missing from the SEIYU payments lineup despite the COVID crisis and a huge push for all things cashless, but Walmart has a long antagonistic history with NFC digital wallet payments.

I only noticed the change this evening when I heard the store announcement over the PA. Sure enough Suica signs were plastered at every checkout. It’s weird but somehow fitting that SEIYU is soft launching long overdue NFC contactless payments with Suica. More will come. I’m sure Walmart leaving town had nothing to do with it. Yeah, nothing at all. SEIYU stores were much better under the pre-Walmart Seibu management. Hopefully this marks a return to better service and clean modern stores.

Mobile Suica launches on wena 3

Suica on Sony wena 3 launched today according to a JR East press release. The service was announced in October. In addition to Suica, wena 3 also supports iD, QUICPay and Rakuten Edy payments.

wena 3 Mobile Suica is very similar to Garmin Suica with the same Google Pay recharge backend and limitations: no commute plans, etc. Apple Watch Suica is still king of the wearables with a full feature set and PASMO support too, nevertheless Android users, and some iPhone users, will enjoy using Suica on a cool looking device. No word about PASMO support though I expect it will come eventually.