In our previous article, we introduced denshi money, or electronic money, in Japan and the characteristics of it and the differences between electronic money and credit cards. Today, we will discuss the services available and the differences between them.
Let’s get started!
Brief Introduction of the Charging/Billing Options Available
For those who do not remember or skipped the previous article with the explanations of the charging and billing options available for electronic money, let us go over them with a bit more explanation about them.
This system requires you to fund the account you are using for your service before usage. You will need to keep an account balance and make sure that there is enough money to make purchases. Money can be added to your account in a few different ways, including ATM, bank transfers, train/subway ticket machines, and such. This is a method many people that do not have credit cards or do not want to utilize their credit card use. The upside to this method is that you do not have to worry about spending too much money and wiping out your bank account or rack up a credit card bill. The downside is that if you do not have enough funds in your account, you cannot buy anything until you top-up your funds. This could be an inconvenience if you realize this when you are standing in line at the store. You can usually view your balance for smartphone services via the app on your phone.
In this case, the service is tied to your credit card, and money is automatically added to your account when it is running low or when you make a purchase. You will then later pay the amount you used for the electronic money with your credit card bill. This system's merit is that you do not have to worry about topping-up your account or keeping track of the remaining balance. The demerit to this system is that unless you keep tabs on your purchases, it is easy to lose track of your usage, and you could end up spending more than you wanted.
This system involves making deducting money out of your savings or debit account when you make a purchase. This way, you do not overspend and only use what you have in your debit account. The downside to this type of system is that you may end up using all your money in your debit account. Also, there are only a few electronic cashless services that use this system.
This system involves the electronic money service being tied to another service, such as a cellphone provider or shopping service. When they are tied together, depending on the partnering service, the money is added to the other service’s invoice or bill when you use the electronic money. An alternative is that the account balance for the two services is shared, and money used for one can be used for the other. This helps to make things a bit more streamlined for payments and billing. The downside to this is that you need to be a user of both services to take advantage of this system.
Examples: PayPay & SoftBank, au Pay & au, d払い(harai) & docomo
Now to the list of popular cashless services used in Japan
Please note that the services listed here are all primarily in Japanese, and the websites listed here are also in Japanese. If you are not sure of the information on the websites, please use a translator or ask someone who will be able to help you with the Japanese.
Train or Subway Services
JR: Suica (East), ICOCA (West)
Other companies: Pasmo (East), PiTaPa (West)
Suica and ICOCA are contactless cards, electronic money, and fare cards used for transportation services serviced by JR East and West, respectively, in Japan. These cards are available for anyone and can be used in the forms of physical cards or digital cards stored on smartphones. These cards can be used on not only JR transportation services but also transportation by other companies. Also, many stores, restaurants, etc. accept Suica as a payment form instead of cash. You can recharge Suica and ICOCA physical cards at the JR train station’s ticket machines or special recharge stations. If you have digital versions of the cards, you can charge them using your credit card registered on your phone or account. The physical cards cost an additional 500 JPY when you first obtain the card and can be refunded at JR station’s ticket counter (Midori no Madoguchi) if you give back the card (the account will disappear as well).
You can obtain cards at the ticket machines or ticket counter.
JR East’s Suica: https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/suicamoney/?src=suica
JR West’s ICOCA: https://www.jr-odekake.net/icoca/
Other Tokyo Metro/Train: https://www.pasmo.co.jp/
Other West (Kansai) Metro/Train: https://www.pitapa.com/
Nanaco is a cashless payment system by the convenience store Seven-Eleven in Japan. This is a prepaid system, where you add money to your account balance. The acceptance of this system has expanded in recent years and is offered at many stores and restaurants around the country. If you are a frequent shopper at Seven Eleven, it may be worth using Nanaco, as you receive points when you use the card, and you can charge it at a Seven-Eleven or using the Seven credit card. You can obtain the card at Seven-Eleven or register online.
WAON is electronic money by AEON. The system uses a card, which can be used to make payments at many locations around Japan. Each time you use the card, you can add points to your account, which goes back to your account balance or can be used for other services. Your account balance can be charged or topped-up by going to a WAON machine (located at AEON businesses and centers), participating foreign currency exchange machines (Pocket Change), at the cashier, and by AEON/WAON credit cards over a smartphone. This card is beneficial for individuals who shop at AEON affiliated businesses, as you get points for your purchases. Also, the number of places you can use WAON is quite large. The downside is charging your account is limited to certain places, and the number of supported businesses may not be as many as other cashless services.
LINE PAY is related to, as you have probably guessed, the LINE app on smartphones. LINE PAY was launched recently and offers LINE users to complete payments at participating businesses. The account balance is shared with their LINE account and can be topped up via bank account, Japanese convenience store ATMs and machines, LINE PAY card, Tokyu railway ticket machines, and certain businesses. This service is still limited in terms of supporting businesses but is still growing. Benefits to using LINE PAY include using it with your LINE account, and charging/top-up methods are numerous. A major drawback is that the amount of supporting shops is still limited compared to other services.
Edy is Rakuten’s electronic money service. The amount of businesses and services that support Edy is vast and includes physical businesses and online businesses. Among the online services are Amazon.co.jp, Rakuten, and more. Charging your balance can generally be done at the convenience store’s ATM, credit card, Rakuten Edy smartphone application, Pocket Change Currency Exchange machine, and bank. If you use Rakuten’s services, it might be a good investment to use Edy, as you can collect points from your purchases.
PayPay (Partnered with SoftBank)
PayPay is a part of SoftBank, and if you are a SoftBank user, you can take advantage of the benefits PayPay has to offer for SoftBank customers. These include higher return rates for purchases, merging your SoftBank, and PayPay accounts. This allows you to charge your PayPay balance by combining the charges with your SoftBank account. The number of businesses supporting PayPay is increasing, with multiple methods of charging your account balance available, including charging at Seven-Eleven ATMs, bank transfer, and more. You can also send money to other PayPay users through the application. If your utility companies are covered by PayPay, you can pay your bills using the application. Certain online services also allow payment through PayPay, including PayPay’s marketplace service.
au Pay (Partnered with au)
au Pay is the electronic payment system provided by au. You can collect Ponta points when using au Pay. au Pay covers a wide range of major businesses. Charging is possible through Ponta points, credit card, cash (at Seven-Eleven ATMs, Lawson-using au Pay prepaid card and au shop), au Bank, and other banks. Non-au customers can also use au Pay. If your utility companies are covered by au Pay, you can pay your bills using the application.
d払い (d harai – Partnered with docomo)
d 払い is a bit different from the other electronic money services. Payments made by d払い are made through d Point (docomo’s point system), credit cards, and docomo cellular service bills. There is no option to charge your account balance at the convenience store with cash or bank transfers. Rather than a prepaid system, this cashless service is more postpaid, except for using d Points. The number of supporting businesses is quite large compared to au Pay. You can also use the service with online shopping retailers and sites. Like the other cellular company partnered cashless systems, it is beneficial to be an existing user of the cellular service.
Whew. That was a rather long list. There are a few other minor cashless services that are available in Japan. However, these are more region-specific, and the number of supporting businesses is smaller than the ones listed here.
Whichever service you decide to go with, you will be able to complete payments quickly and effortlessly. Be sure to look into your specific needs and your current situation before deciding which cashless system you would like to use. A combination of 2 services may be useful. Any more than that, though, would be more hassle than it is worth.
We hope that this article helped to introduce the different cashless systems in Japan. With this many options available, you are sure to find one that suits you best! Good luck!