Tokyo Cashless 2020: Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?

1️⃣ Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ >Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo


iOS 13 is not a software release. It’s a mission statement of what Apple hopes to achieve by the end of the iOS 13 life cycle. iOS 13 will be peaking out just as the Tokyo Olympics take place between 24 July – 9 August 2020. There will be a huge influx of inbound smartphones using all kinds of apps for transit, navigation and payments. Apple has told Japanese journalists that Apple services will be ready. How will peak iOS 13 Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri stack up with the competition? How useful will they really be? Let’s find out, starting with the strongest contender.

Apple Pay
Apple has put a tremendous effort into creating a global NFC platform that incorporates all the key NFC technologies (EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.) into one seamless package sold worldwide. This is still unique and unmatched. Inbound visitors with iPhone have the option of adding Suica to Wallet and instantly gaining all the benefits of using Japan’s famous tap and go transit and making contactless payments nationwide.

Apple Pay with Suica makes iPhone a great transit and payment solution for the Tokyo Olympics and Apple Pay Suica will be the inbound star player for all things transit and payments. iPhone and Apple Watch are so perfectly matched for using contactless payments in Japan during the Olympics that I can only wonder if Apple has been planning for this opportunity all along. Make no mistake, Apple Pay is going for the gold.

In addition to Suica support, merchant support is growing for inbound Apple Pay cards as well

Apple Maps
Apple Maps Japan is one of those players with great unfulfilled potential that is never realized. Apple has vowed that Maps will be ready for the Tokyo Olympics. This means that Apple Maps 2.0 for Japan will be ready with new detailed maps, Look Around, and, one hopes, indoor maps that include stations, not just airports and shopping malls.

The biggest use case for Apple Maps during the Olympics is transit directions and local walking area navigation in station areas. Apple Maps is still a very ‘America centric’ app in that default map views and the UI are geared for driving, not transit and walking. iOS Google Maps has a more intelligent approach that layers transit over the current map view that eliminates the transit view/map view UI toggling of the chunky Apple Maps UI. Google Maps is a much more smoothly integrated collection of services.

Even with the addition of better map detail of Apple Maps 2.0 and Look Around however, Apple Maps must absolutely clean up and completely revamp its cluttered cartography and Point of Interest (POI) layers and remove the bolted on transit functions with improved integration to be a serious contender in the Tokyo Olympics Navigation contest. I don’t see that happening: there’s no way 7 years of bad habits and ‘Where’s Wally’ can be magically fixed in the 10 month run up to the Olympics.

Siri
Bringing up the rear, Siri is the ‘Cool Runnings’ contender in the wrong Olympics. With Google Maps you can ask Google Assistant “when’s the next train to Shinjuku” and Google Maps will give you a list of transit options. Google Maps Transit also gives you platform guidance, optimum car positions for the destination station, and ground truth yellow exit numbers:

Siri and Apple Maps offer none of this. In fact Siri is not even programmed at this point to provide transit information and politely declines all such requests (and when did Japanese Siri’s speaking rate speed become so SLOOOOOW?). Even a manual Apple Maps Transit search does not provide the same level of Google Transit information: no platform guidance, no car positions, no crowd conditions, etc. Meanwhile JR East just announced an agreement with Google to offer Google Assistant Shinkansen transit information. This isn’t even a contest.

Quick Summary and Tokyo Olympics iPhone Guidance
Given the current state of Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri, I offer the following suggestions.

  • For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries with Apple Pay availability:
    • Add Suica to your iPhone and recharge it with your Apple Pay card from home
    • Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit
  • For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries without Apple Pay availability:
    • Purchase a regular plastic Suica card from a JR East station kiosk and transfer it to your iPhone (Welcome Suica cards cannot be transferred), you cannot recharge it with a credit card but Apple Pay Suica can recharged with cash at any convenience store checkout register, any 7 Eleven ATM, or JR station smart kiosk. The advantage of Apple Pay Suica over plastic Suica is that you always know what the balance is and when it needs recharging. You can avoid long queues at station recharge kiosks.
    • Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit
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JR East Price Changes with October 1 Consumption Tax Increase

JR East announced price increases that take effect with the 10% consumption tax on October 1. The increases apply to basic fares, regular express train fares and Shinkansen fares. There are downloadable PDF files of the price changes in English and Japanese.

There a few Mobile Suica changes too. Mobile Suica eTicket refund fees are rising from 310 ➡️ 320, Mobile Suica re-issue fees are rising from 510 ➡️ 520. Green Seat Upgrades are also rising, I will update those changes to my Suica App page in a day or two.

Even though the JAPAN CASHLESS rebate program does not cover transit purchases, you can ease the pain by registering your Apple Pay Suica with JRE POINT. Not only can you get JRE POINT with Suica transit use from October 1, and you also get JAPAN CASHLESS rebates as JRE POINT with Apple Pay Suica purchases, which you can then use for free Suica Recharges. Details on the Tokyo Cashless 2020 rebate page.

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

1️⃣ Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ >Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo


Note: CASHLESS rebate program details are constantly updating, new information is consolidated here instead of separate posts, check for updates at bottom

Apple Pay Japan Cashless Rebate page

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 for the CASHLESS rebate program in a short time.

Instead of a broad sloppy sweep, I updated the JRE POINT guide that covers the entire JR East ecosystem of Apple Pay Suica and how it works with the CASHLESS rebate program. The basic concepts apply to all CASHLESS rebate program qualified e-money cards. Hopefully this post and the JRE POINT guide will give you enough information to find the right setup for your card/app payment/point 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.

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 overseen by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and will be valid for certified 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.

It’s important to understand that from October 1 the consumption tax is 10%. The rebate program effectively reduces the tax rate until June 30 depending on the kind of purchase (food vs household items, etc.) and how it is paid for (cash vs cashless). After June 30 the consumption tax will be 10% across the board.

2% rebate convenience stores calculate the rebate and instantly deduct the amount from the cashless transaction, effective tax rates are shown on the right of the chart

No matter what item you buy, or the tax rate, all items are eligible for CASHLESS rebates when purchased at stores displaying the 5% or 2% CASHLESS banner. How do you get the rebate? This part is easy: make purchases at any store displaying the 5% or 2% CASHLESS banner 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.).

2% instant CASHLESS rebate at convenience store checkout
When you make a cashless purchase with any of the certified methods (credit card, Suica, QR, etc.) at CASHLESS certified 2% rebate independently owned convenience store franchises for 7-Eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart, MiniStop, the 2% rebate is instantly calculated and deducted from the transaction, and shown on the store receipt. Only franchise locations are certified, large O&O locations are not eligible. Be sure to check for the CASHLESS banner on the store front.

Note: Any Apple Pay Suica card you add to iPhone/Apple Watch is considered “Japanese issue” and qualifies inbound Suica users for the 2% instant rebate at convenience stores. No signup or registration required. Just use Apple Pay Suica, it doesn’t care which country you come from.

2% or 5% post-transaction CASHLESS rebate
When you make a cashless purchase with any of the certified methods (credit card, Suica, QR, etc.) at CASHLESS certified 2% or 5% rebate stores, the rebate is calculated but not shown on the store receipt, then processed and refunded at the end of the month according to the type of card:

  • Credit (post pay): CASHLESS program rebate amount totals are 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 totals are 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 totals 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, however prepaid e-money rebates are tied to point systems while QR Codes are tied to app user accounts. 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
The 2% instant convenience store rebate is a no-brainer. All anybody needs to do is use one of the certified cashless payments at certified convenience stores displaying the 2% CASHLESS banner, that’s it.

The 2% or 5% post-transaction rebate for all other rebate stores is easy too. All Japanese issue credit card users need to do is use their card at any store displaying the CASHLESS logo, that’s it.

Debit cards are also straight forward but users should check how the rebate is handled for their card account. QR Code systems sign up users with an account and should be automatic as well but be sure to check the rebate method.

Prepaid e-money card users need to register their prepaid e-money card with the appropriate point system to get 2% or 5% post-transaction CASHLESS rebates. For Apple Pay Suica users this is covered in the JRE POINT guide.

The nice thing about CASHLESS + Apple Pay Suica is that users are not chained to Green/Yellow logo JRE POINT locations to get JRE POINT CASHLESS rebates. Any store participating in the CASHLESS rebate program that offers Suica for payment is good to go. Check for stores displaying CASHLESS and Suica banner logos on the store front or at checkout.

CASHLESS + SUICA JRE POINT logos

JR East also has a bonus JRE POINT campaign for Suica purchases running concurrently with the CASHLESS rebate program. Keep your eye out for campaign logo marks and details in JR station retail areas and NewDays stores.


9/20 UPDATE: The CASHLESS iOS map app has been released. Download it and get ready to find stores around you offering rebates with cashless purchases. There is also a CASHLESS online map version to search and find rebate stores with filters.

9/30 UPDATE: The number of CASHLESS rebate stores for the October 1 start up is capped at 500,000. There are many more CASHLESS rebate stores to come, however in order not to overwhelm payment systems, stores will be added in waves: launch wave @ 500,000, wave 2@ 500,000, and so on every 10 days until all 2 million participating stores are up and running with the CASHLESS rebate program.

10/1 UPDATE: The CASHLESS rebate program has kicked off and the field experiences show: convenience stores offer instant 2% rebates deducted from the transaction.

10/3 UPDATE: The CASHLESS iOS map app and CASHLESS online map are not reliable. Japanese media news reports say that settlement companies uploaded the wrong data sets to the maps database. MiniStop convenience stores for example give the instant 2% rebate with cashless purchases, but are not listed yet. The most reliable way is to check for the CASHLESS banner on the store door or at checkout. Until CASHLESS maps are fixed forget the smartphone app and stick with the ground truth.

10/4 UPDATE: Apple Pay Japan launched a new web page promoting CASHLESS Rebates

10/7 UPDATE: Be careful, not all 7-Eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart, MiniStop convenience store locations are certified and offer instant 2% rebates. Always check for the CASHLESS banner on the store front or at checkout. I have yet to find an in-station convenience store that offers CASHLESS rebates such as Kintetsu Family Mart.

10/9 UPDATE: the CASHLESS iOS map app and web site have been updated. The database seems fixed now. Some locations are still missing, like MiniStop, but listings now show the correct store payment information. The next Cashless store wave of 500,000 is due to join the program on October 10. At that point MiniStop should finally be listed.

10/16 UPDATE: Finally solved the ‘some convenience stores have 2% discounts, some do not’ mystery: independent owner franchise stores are eligible in the CASHLESS rebate program, directly owned and operated locations are not. This explains situations such as why Kintetsu FamilyMart in-station locations don’t have rebates while FamilyMart stores near stations do.

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

1️⃣ >Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo

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 forgot that JR East already 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.