When it comes to credit, the Japanese have a cleaner conscience than most nationalities. If you’re talking about everyday purchases, then most would chose cash over credit cards. It’s a healthy attitude that runs counter to the “buy now, pay later” philosophy so rife in my native country (the U.K. in case you’re wondering). That’s not to say that plastic is not in fashion. In recent years there has been a huge rise in the popularity of IC cards and cell-phone chips that can be used to pay for items in place of cash by swiping them through a device at the checkout – users charge up their devices with cash (or credit) before they buy.
The popularity of this method of payment has been growing. According to the Wall Street Journal the number of electronic purchases in the first half of 2010 grew by 39 percent when compared to the same period last year and the most popular electronic money provider continues to be Edy, who, according to a recent survey by Rakuten, enjoys a healthy 29 percent share of the e-money market.
Though Japanese consumers are beginning to enjoy the benefits of carrying around a lighter cashless wallet, there is a downside. Unless you keep a mental track of your balance, you won’t know how much money you’ve got left on your card before you swipe, which can lead to embarrassment at the checkout.
This month a solution was introduced by Sony who has made a free downloadable program called FLO:Q available to users of Japan’s four major e-money providers: Edy, Suica, nanaco and WAON. The program allows users to track the balance of their cards and payment history, which is an attractive function for many housewives who traditionally keep records of household accounts on paper.
The downside is that you have to invest in Sony’s e-money reading device PaSoRi in order to scan the information into your computer from your card or cell phone. The PaSoRi costs nearly ¥4,000 on Amazon, making it a bit pricey for those on a budget. Sony do plan to offer users special discounts in the future based on their age, gender and location, making the investment look a little bit more attractive.
Rakuten’s survey indicates that Japanese are fully embracing e-money and would like to see more places accepting this form of payment, indicating that the future looks bright for a cash-free debt-free future.