Japan’s tourism trade embraces portable credit card terminals

Kyodo

Restaurants, souvenir shops and even temples and shrines are hoping to cater to foreign guests with an international custom yet to be fully adopted in Japan: letting customers pay their bills with credit cards at portable terminals instead of paying at cash registers.

As the country braces for further tourism in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, major credit card companies are providing businesses with portable devices so foreign customers can pay at the table — a practice customary in many of their home countries.

In mid-September, a customer from Sweden seated at the bar at The Rigoletto, a restaurant serving Southern European cuisine in Tokyo’s busy Shibuya district, swiped his card at his table. He said the convenience reminded him of being back home.

The format, in which customers simply enter their PIN numbers for verification into portable devices after a waiter presents the bill on a tablet computer, was introduced at the restaurant in April.

“More cards are being used, and these terminals are convenient for foreign guests who are used to paying at their table,” said a restaurant employee.

Card company Mitsubishi UFJ Nicos Co. launched the system at affiliated stores nationwide in November last year. Simply by downloading the app, customers can exchange data wirelessly with the portable device.

A company official who works in systems development said there has been high demand for a payment method “which can be used anywhere inside shops,” particularly at restaurants.

The government is aiming to see the rate of cashless payments via credit cards and other means double in the next 10 years to about 40 percent within the country.

Tourist spots including traditional places such as temples have slowly come to accept plastic.

Kongobuji, the head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism, on Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture, began in April to accept credit cards for admission fees.

Card payments are becoming popular also at ski resorts in Hokkaido and Nagano prefectures, which attract many international skiers.

Domestic tourist spots have been reluctant to accept credit cards until now because customers usually only pay a small amount on admissions or souvenirs, not making it worth the investment.

Square, Inc., a U.S.-based IT company, uses a small device to connect to mobile devices such as iPhones so credit card payments can be accepted without using cash registers.

The company, which launched its business in Japan in 2013, says the system has proven popular especially among small shops.

In the last few years, the company has seen a steady increase in stores adopting the system. Its Japanese arm said it expects to a see a further expansion of the system toward the 2020 Tokyo Games.