Foreign-language signs are increasingly common along streets, cashless payment is becoming available at more shops and restaurants and ashtrays are vanishing from public spaces. Change is afoot in Tokyo.
The capital is rapidly transforming into a “global standard” city with these moves ahead of the 2020 Olympics.
The use of digital signs is spreading at train stations and commercial facilities in the capital. A Mitsukoshi department store in the Ginza district has adopted two digital sign units that can display information for visitors in four languages.
East Japan Railway Co., better known as JR East, has experimented with a digital sign system combined with artificial intelligence, with the view to its full-fledged introduction in time for the 2020 Games. On a trial system installed at Tokyo Station, an AI-based female character called AI-Sakura who is fluent in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean answered visitors’ questions with a smile.
The introduction of smartphone-based payment systems, including those from overseas, is also progressing. Department and convenience store chains have been leading the way, and public transportation companies and businesses at major tourist spots are catching up.
On Feb. 21, major subway stations run by Tokyo Metro Co. started accepting Alipay, the mobile payment system of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., for sales of subway passes to foreign visitors.
In line with the International Olympic Committee’s push to hold a smoke-free Olympics, in the meantime, the government is working to curb indoor smoking under a health promotion law. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is making similar efforts under its own ordinance.
Family restaurant chain Saizeriya Co. plans to impose a smoking ban at all outlets by September.
Convenience store chain Seven-Eleven Japan Co. asked some 1,000 franchise stores in Tokyo last year to remove ashtrays from storefronts. About 70 percent have already complied or said they are willing to do it.
Some restaurant chains that have declined to gear up for smoking restrictions are concerned about ruining sales in a country long considered a smoking haven.
“It’s uncertain whether a smoking ban would lead to higher sales or an increase in family visitors or simply cause a fall in the number of visitors who smoke,” a senior official with an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub) said.
In another move triggered by the 2020 Olympics, major convenience store chains are slated to stop selling pornographic magazines at most stores by this summer.