The Apple Pay Japan Ad Juggernaut

Why are you so slow? Don’t you have Suica Apple Pay?

The Japanese ad blitz that kicked off for the Apple Pay New Life campaign is shaping up as something unprecedented for Apple in Japan. The closest thing in scope, frequency and reach is the famous iPod dancing silhouette campaign at its pre-iPhone peak.

This is much bigger. Think of iPod ad intensity with ten more companies each contributing their own iPod ads. Since the October 29 Apple Pay Japan kickoff, ads have wrapped Yamanote trains, plastered train stations and escalators and that was just for JR East’s Suica Apple Pay.

Now we have Apple Pay ads from Docomo iD, JCB QUICPay, ORICO, Mitsui Sumitomo, Saison/UC, View and of course Suica. Lots more Suica Apple Pay advertising than ever: more wrapped trains, station posters, ticket gate stickers and six ads featuring hot actor Ryuhei Matsuda (son of Black Rain’s Yusaku Matsuda) using Suica Apple Pay on Apple Watch, looking at the camera saying “Let’s Go!” These ads loop endlessly on the Yamanote line train info-screens.

The JR East Suica Apple Pay ads in particular feature Apple Watch Series 2 in action and are enormously effective in a way that Apple’s own Apple Watch ads are not. The Apple Pay ‘ka-ching’ sound going through the ticket gate is the one single killer feature everybody gets instantly. It’s the perfect pitch to Tokyo commuters on the go.

Enjoy the ad gallery.


Ticket Gate Stickers

McDonald’s Japan Adding Full Apple Pay Support


The new ‘World Ready’ Panasonic NFC JT-R600CR Reader
スクリーンショット 2017-03-23 11.25.45
The full spport list

Mono-News Net reports that McDonald’s Japan is adding Apple Pay support in “the latter half of 2017.” The thing is, McDonald’s already supports Apple Pay Japan payments if you have an iD compatible card loaded.

The robust support coming later to all 2,900 stores nationwide is detailed on the McDonald’s Japan press release and includes Suica, QUICPay and, surprise, NFC A/B. In short this means McDonald’s will support Apple Pay across the board for all, from abroad and Japan. It just works.

The reason? Look carefully at the picture and you will see that McDonald’s is rolling out those fancy new Panasonic NFC  JT-R600CR readers announced in February that can do it all: NFC A/B/F (FeliCa) and the accompanying payment systems.

Panasonic is gunning to capture business from the card payment infrastructure investment frenzy related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Looks like they made their first big catch.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

With less than 24 hours to go until Moritomo Gakuen school principal Yasunori Kagoike appears as special witness before the Japanese Diet, Japanese media is waiting breathlessly to report the resulting brouhaha and political fallout. Then again it could all turn out to be an early April Fools.

The New York Times reporting from Tokyo is dismal as usual, reporting only what NYT Japan operator Asahi Shimbun wants written, calling everybody Asahi doesn’t like ‘far right’, ‘ultra right’, ‘nationalist’, etc. Most of the English language reporting out of Tokyo these days is, unfortunately, the same.

Much more fun, fascinating and spot on are the tweets from the mysterious, elusive and super globally connected Nekokumi-cho.  A former top financial officer of the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza, Nekokumi-cho knows how the Japanese political, business and media worlds are hard-wired and  has a firm finger on the pulse of Japanese current events.

If you want to know what’s really going on in Japan, read @nekokumicho

Dear Apple Maps, Your Japanese Map Data From IPC is Rotting

IPC Maps.pngNot many people bother to blog about Apple Maps anymore so it’s refreshing to read a different user’s point of view. A Japanese blogger by the name of Train, a train enthusiast I think, posted an interesting take of Apple Maps Japan.

He notices that despite the addition of Google level quality transit info provider Jourdan, the embarrassingly out of date map data from IPC still ruins the party. His barrel-full of shot up fish includes:

  • The Missing: new roads such as the 2015 extensions to the Ken-O Expressway and 2016 extensions to Age-O  Route 17.
  • The Unburied Dead: various towns and train stations that no long exist, some dating all the way back to 2010.
  • The Stupid: The Akabane~Ikebukuro section of the Saikyo Line is not the Shonan~Shinjuku line, also the Tokyo Bay Aqua-line is not free but the route labels make it look like it is.

Some of this is Apple not updating the IPC date they have, but IPC’s data itself is pretty bad. My own favorite IPC goof is the Great Shibu Hot Spring Data Cutoff (zoom all the way in). The IPC motto says it all: Feel The Space!

Seriously though, I suspect that the poor state of IPC road data is the reason why Traffic is still missing from Apple Maps Japan.

A Shinkansen Trip with Suica Apple Pay

apple-pay-japan_inline-01The iPhone Suica app lets you purchase Shinkansen express tickets and reserve seats. I love using Suica Apple Pay but have not yet had the chance to try it on the Shinkansen. Fortunately Japanese blogger macgeek takes us on a his Suica Apple Pay Shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Ueno with a side trip to a his favorite Chinese restaurant.

His video walks you through the Shinkansen ticket purchase in the iPhone Suica app and his journey from Yokohama, Tokyo and Ueno. He uses Suica Apple Pay on his Apple Watch Series 2 and it is slick. If there is a reason to buy Apple Watch, this is it.

Currently Suica Apple Pay Shinkansen ticket purchases only work for travel on the JR East rail network. JR East is working with JR Central (Tokkaido Shinkansen) and JR West (Sanyo Shinkansen) to rollout complete smartphone compatibility, including Suica Apple Pay, in September 2017.

That Warm Fuzzy Feeling When Puppets Use Apple Pay in Japan

NTT Docomo TV ads are running in connection with the Apple Pay Japan New Life campaign. I never understood the appeal of the d CARD bird mascot puppets but the in-joke that puppets don’t have finger prints to use Touch ID and Apple Pay is clever.

The Docomo iD Apple Pay posters in Shinjuku are also appearing in Tokyo trains. That gold wrapped Docomo iD Apple Pay Yamanote train should be hitting the rails soon.

Japanese Typography, Apple Maps and the Art of Using Color Kanji

Virtual Body vs. Baseline
To understand the basic differences between Japanese and Western typography, you have to go back to elementary school. Think back to second grade when you were just learning cursive; the teacher gave you a piece of paper with lines. This was the bottom line, that was the top line. She taught you to write along the bottom line.

In Japan, the students get a piece of paper with rows of little boxes. The teacher tells the kids to write Kanji characters in the centers of the boxes. Japanese typographic layout is exactly the same; it is all based on little boxes, known as virtual bodies. It is also called the grid system, because the middle of each box is one center point on a grid. Everything is calculated from the center; there is no baseline. The whole system makes sense when you realize it all comes from the days of block type; the virtual bodies are exact uniform blocks of metal type set end to end. The vocabulary, the measurements and the aesthetics all evolved from that.

top image@2x
The red line is the outline of the virtual body, the blue line is the type face boundary. The standard size virtual body comes from the era of moveable type.


Unlike DTP layout, which is graphics-driven, traditional Japanese text composition, called kumihan, is driven by how much text will fit in a given space. Designers know how many characters (virtual bodies) are supposed to be on a line and on a page before they start composition, and this is how they discuss layout with writers and editors. Western composition is calculated from margins, a wholly different concept.

kanji box 3
A virtual body Kanji with approximate baseline overlay red line.

Character spacing and tracking are different concepts in Japanese typography as well.
Kumihan character spacing is the amount of space measured between outer virtual box boundaries, the 10% red area shown below.character spacing@2x

On the other hand tracking, ji-tsume in Japanese, is the amount of space measured between type face boundaries and virtual body boundaries, the blue area show below:ji-tsume@2x

In traditional Japanese composition it is very important for operators to know the number of characters on each page but it was very difficult to work that way with baseline-only western developed DTP software such as PageMaker and Quark XPress and is still that way with Illustrator. PostScript Japanese fonts (OCF, CID, OpenType) have no virtual-body information whatsoever, and as explained above, there is no baseline in Japanese kumihan.

But since OpenType and TrueType fonts have only baseline information, that’s how all DTP software developed.The problem for Japanese operators is that because Japanese fonts have different baseline positioning if they change the font, the line breaks change.

With a traditional grid system, so as long as the operator kept the same size, any font line breaking stayed uniform. And even if they did change the size, the grid made it very easy to make adjustments.

If an operator tries to calculate grids with software that does not support it, any software outside of InDesign J basically, the point system doesn’t match well so the page invariably ends up with too few or too many characters. The designer compensates by incrementing in 01-point values which is overkill and wastes precious production time.

Character and Line Processing
Another basic Japanese kumihan function to know is called Ji-Dori-Gyo-Dori. In traditional systems the priority is:

  1. Calculate additions to the previous line, if the first character of the next line is a punctuation mark.
  2. Calculate the shift kana so the first character of the next line is not a punctuation mark.
  3. Calculate the average spacing of each kana.

This sounds easy to do, but it’s not, for two reasons. First, as noted above, everything is calculated from the virtual body’s central grid point. Second, there are special sets of punctuation characters and Kanji known as “Classes.” Traditional systems had these highly specialized line-breaking rules and Class settings built in, and would automatically calculate and adjust the spacing very quickly. They were also very good with mixed Japanese and English, which is half-width: two Roman characters equal the width of one Kanji.

Line processing and mixed Japanese/English is easy to get wrong. One example of poor Japanese typography is Apple’s recent transition from Myriad to San Francisco J web font branding on their Japanese site. The Japanese Industrial Standard typesetting and composition specification JIS X405 is the bible of Japanese composition and the only truly complete specification for vertical text composition in the world.

Adobe InDesign J was the first, and to date the only, western layout software to fully implement the X405 specification. One of the neat tricks that InDesign J has is that it creates virtual body Japanese font information on the fly using proprietary Adobe technology. These are the reasons Quark XPress lost the Japanese market to InDesign ten years ago.

JIS X405 has never been formally translated from Japanese but major portions are in the W3C Working Group English language document: Requirements for Japanese Text Layout. Some of the Japanese terms are loosely translated, virtual bodies are translated as Imaginary bodies, but it is a good overview in English.

Kanji in the Box
Study Kanji and the first basic principle you learn is strokes: the number or strokes and stroke order. The more strokes, the more you have to fit in a fixed space. The maximum number of Kanji style ‘strokes’ for a western character is four while a Kanji can easily be more than ten. Here is an example:

Watanabe big@2x-100It is important for designers to understand the difference and keep it in mind when working with Japanese typography. Unless the designer takes careful steps, Japanese text quickly becomes unreadable at smaller sizes especially when overlaid on colored backgrounds.Watanabe small-100The  best example for keeping Japanese text legible against a varied background is the humble, lowly supermarket chirashi: the supermarket ads inserted in the daily newspaper that end up as kitty litter box liner. Supermarket chirashi are the meat and potatoes of Japanese printing companies big and small and the first work that new to the job employees and designers cut their teeth on.


As seen above there is lots of text and color going on but the Japanese typography is legible even at small sizes. It has to because the local grandma brigade is going to stampede the supermarket with this chirashi in hand to get those specials.

Look carefully and you’ll see two simple design rules are strictly followed:

  • High contrast maintained between Kanji and background in all cases even when the Kanji characters or background are colored.
  • Shira-nuki extensively used to make sure Kanji text retains high contrast when overlaid on widely colored backgrounds. Shira-nuki is the white outline reversed text effect.

These are basic typography practices used by designers around the world. Let’s compare the big three Japanese map services: Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps and see how they apply these basic typographic principals in their cartography.

Yahoo Japan Maps
It is no surprise that the native product Yahoo Japan Maps has the best Japanese typographic design. High contrast is maintained at all times with colored Kanji use reserved for important transportation name labels: stations, expressway, airports, etc. Even the color Kanji maintain a high contrast with an appropriately thick white shira-nuki outline. The only poor color Kanji choice is the light blue used for intersection names.

Yahoo Japan Maps Japanese Rating: O (maru/good)

Google Maps
Google has a good reputation but they don’t always get things right. For the most part Google uses high contrast black Kanji on white-ish background, but when they use color Kanji they get it wrong in a big way: the light blue low contrast Kanji station name is poor typographic design and very odd because important station names are the very thing that should stand out from the surrounding sea of details. The station name here is illegible.

A closeup view shows weak, thin shira-nuki, another poor design choice that does nothing to increase the contrast. The other color Kanji, reddish tint for hospitals and clinics, also suffer from the same poor design choice.

Google Maps Japanese Rating: ∆ (sankaku/meh) 

Apple Maps
Apple uses color Kanji everywhere and gets it very wrong. All the Kanji text is low contrast with weak shira-nuki. On the plus side the Apple Maps public transit team has improved Kanji labels in the public transit view. I hope Apple continues to fix and polish the Japanese typography and cartography across their entire map product.

Apple Maps Japanese Rating General View: X (peke/fail)
Apple Maps Japanese Rating Transit View: 
∆ (sankaku/meh)

I created some simple Kanji text labels with shira-nuki using the Apple Maps color label scheme: red for medical services, orange for stores, brown for public buildings, etc. Note the legibility difference between black Kanji and color Kanji against the various backgrounds at different text sizes. Shira-nuki can really help improve contrast but it will not save you from bad design choices.

small text@3xsmall text@2x

Good typography, and good cartography, is all about making text as simple and clear as possible. Do that and you’ll never go wrong. The fine art of using color Kanji is not using them at all.