Who’s afraid of big bad code payments?

I have lots of respect Bloomberg reporter Gearoid Reidy, but a recent Twitter exchange he had with Craig Mod about code payment apps vs NFC reminded me that no matter how long westerners reside in Japan and appreciate the culture, our western cultural ‘winner or loser’ take on things too often gets in the way of truly understanding what’s going on. The Japanese take complexity in stride and are very adept at dealing with situations that drive us westerners crazy.

This is especially true when the debate is about that contentious intersection of contactless payments and technology: EMV is the winner FeliCa the loser, code payments are the winner NFC is the loser, and so on. As fun as that debate can be at times, the black and white distracts westerners, and even some Japanese from analyzing the gray to find out what’s driving the narratives and why.

My take has always been that Japan is the best place to observe trends first before they happen elsewhere. This is what Gearoid half jokingly calls ‘j a p a n i f i c a t i o n’. It’s real and has nothing to do with liking or disliking Japan. Either way, too many dismiss the opportunity to learn ahead of the curve. My take has also been that the crazy kaleidoscope of Japanese payment choices is coming to your country too. We got a taste of that with the announcement of the Australian national QR payments and rewards platform called eQR.

The standard Japanese market debate point of code payments vs NFC assumes the China Alipay model. China didn’t have the mobile NFC contactless payments infrastructure that Japan had, so the Alipay code payment model makes sense there. In Japan it does not, which is why Gearoid and Craig are scratching their heads in public. Code payments in Japan are all about leverage, big data, and carriers. Leverage in that carriers like NTT docomo keep the dBarai accounts in-house and use the float for their own purposes instead of letting banks and credit card companies earn interest on dCard accounts. That’s why they encourage users to use dCard to recharge the code payment dBarai account instead of using the card directly.

It’s a similar situation for SoftBank and PayPay, though I suspect it has more to do with deficit financing funnery that SoftBank Holdings is so adept at. Heaven help us, and all those Vision Fund supporters, if it comes crashing down. PayPay has been helpful though at shining a bright light on Japanese payment networks and the various service fee structures from CAFIS on down. VISA JP has suddenly seen the light and proposes to do something about it…perhaps.

Code payments are just a tool in the swiss army knife payment wallet app, like Toyota Wallet, insurance and leverage. We saw that in action when Apple Pay first launched in America and Walmart answered with CurrentC. We’re seeing again with eQR in Australia and it will keep happening when merchants or banks or payment service players need a tool to bargain a better percentage. Heck even Apple Pay is flirting with the idea of adding code payments to Wallet, though I think their hesitancy to do so means…it’s just a bargaining tool for Apple too.

So you think this is a Japanese only phenomenon? Think again.

The YouTube JP Zeitgeist: boobs, butts, celebrities and gossip gurl Heraiza

Oh dear, Heraiza sez boobs are out, butts are in

I have no idea who the top Japanese YouTuber is right now but Heraiza is the ‘it girl’, the zeitgeist of our Japanese COVID state of emergency moment. Not only is this 17 year old high schooler way smarter and wicked funnier than the tired recycled Japanese ‘tarento’ on YouTube, she’s also hyper aware of the fleetingly silly perilous nature of the floating world she inhabits. Like she says, ”it’s just YouTube…YOUTUBE!”

Her machine gun rapid delivery takedowns of Japanese entertainers by drily analyzing their YouTube rankings and hit counts are hilarious. She’s also generous and hilarious ranking the ‘Best Boob Phishing‘ Japanese YouTubers for her mostly male ( I assume) audience: “it’s a gross topic but here are the good natured quality sites.” Other standouts include a withering satirical Kuroyanagi Tetsuko impersonation that references 70’s cultural moments (she does her homework), and a hot take of former Johnny’s Jr. group member Nakamura Riku’s scandalous breakup with idol R-Chan (“Do you really think an ex-Johnny’s guy is gonna make it as a YouTuber? Forget it!”).

There are things you can only do at 17, like saying what you want with attitude and still get a free pass, things you can’t do at 20, let alone 18. Enjoy the fun while it lasts. As Heraiza san says with her trademark sign off: Te-koto!

“Whatever!”

UPDATE
Heraiza is under stealth attack from somebody claiming to be Dentsu (they contacted her via a gmail account). Dubious and purposely vague copyright claims are a well known YouTuber attack vector. You would think grownups have better things to do than pick on a 17 year old high school student YouTuber. She now has 2 strikes under the YouTube 3 strikes policy and has temporarily removed most of her previous content until the issues are resolved.

Abandoned Tokaido Line

Suit Train posted a wonderful video with his patented narration style. For a college guy he’s already way more professional, and much better than many TV announcers, and has that rare talent of talking with a instantly prepared script in his head.

This particular video covers a section of the Tokaido line between Shizuoka and Yaizu, very close to where I lived from 1987 to 1997, and a section of history I was completely unaware of. The original Shinkansen plan from 1940 bored the famous Nihonzaka tunnel between Shizuoka and Yaizu, through the steep Ōkuzure seacoast. The Tokaido line was then realigned through the unused Shinkansen Nihonzaka tunnel and abandoned the older dangerous Meiji era Sekibe Tunnel route which skirted along the shoreline.

When the Shinkansen plan was revived and built, the Tokaido line was realigned again through a newer tunnel in 1962 which it uses today. Suit Train follows the 1943 alignment, the 1962 alignment and ends with a spectacular hike to the Sekibe tunnel ruins. In all the time that I lived there I wanted to see it but never knew there was a trail. Lost opportunity. Suit Train’s video is the next best thing.

The Art of Train Announcements

This morning the conductor made an announcement as the Yamanote train pulled into Meguro station: “This train is not a waste basket, kindly fold newspapers and take reading material with you when you leave,” and went on to kindly remind passengers to hold backpacks in the front, put them on the rack or on the floor.

Train announcements used to be an human art that has largely been replaced with recorded machine announcements. It takes great skill to convey important information on the fly in an easy to understand way. There’s pitch, speed, volume and clarity delivered in a focused train of thought, channeled with personality and humor. Surprisingly there are a few JR East conductors on the Yamanote line who go out of their way to practice this lost art, and a rare select few who manage to combine those qualities in magical voice announcements for train manners and other gentle reminders. It’s a treat to hear a lovely low clear live voice announcement calmly cutting through the clutter of noise, calling out the next station and reminding us to be civil to our fellow passengers.

Un-worry

I didn’t learn how to un-worry until I lived in Japan a few years and saw how the Japanese do it. Un-worry is not the same thing as not worrying, the get out of bed late, don’t give a damn about others self centered variety I found too much of in American life. Un-worry is do what you have to do and do your best for yourself and others at any given moment…but don’t worry about the outcome. It’s going to be what it’s going to be.

To that end I always find the Japanese cultural fine art of compartmentalization amazing and extremely useful. No matter what happens there’s enough dry disattachment to switch gears and do…something else, something constructive. It’s the Sho-ga-nai spirit that westerns see as negative that I see as positive gear shift. I secretly think it’s the thing that got Japan from WWII defeat to the world’s 2nd largest (recently 3rd largest) economy. I cannot imagine the American psyche suffering a similar sized defeat from the outside and sifting gears so adroitly, too much hanging on hysteria. Life is tough but it doesn’t have to be tough on you. Sho-ga-nai.