Change freaks me out. I tend to cling to doing things the old-fashioned way. I continue to walk to an ATM to update my bankbook rather than check online. I’d rather hold a physical book than download something to a Kindle. You should see my closet full of CDs!
But in recent months I’ve embraced the cashless life. After going a long time stubbornly sticking to bills and coins for every transaction, I’ve lightened up in 2018. I use a credit card to pay for bigger purchases rather than hand over a stack of paper money. I dip into a pile of Rakuten Points to pay for meals. And I’ve left my Suica card at home in favor of just relying on my phone.
A few years back, the idea of being able to go about one’s day without cash in Japan would have seemed ridiculous. One of the most common complaints from my fellow non-Japanese residents is that everything seemingly requires physical money. Coming from the United States, where everyone seems to use debit cards for everything, it especially stood out.
While still true of many establishments — especially once you head out of a big city and visit the countryside — the situation has changed drastically in just a few short years. More and more establishments take cards for payments both big and small, including formerly cash-only chains like McDonald’s.
And you don’t even need a credit card to buy things at most places. A variety of other cards, such as Suica, Pasmo or Nanaco can be used at a growing number of outlets. Recently, I went to the movies and was surprised to see a separate line for e-payments. I joined in that queue and had my popcorn in hand faster than anyone in the cash line.
Even more revelatory has been the use of my smartphone as a train pass. This was the idea I was most hesitant about — isn’t this going to glitch? Will the government track my every move? Well, even if they are watching, it’s worth it because of the convenience. I can charge my phone with one tap at a convenience store. No more waiting behind half a dozen people to load up a plastic card.
Using less physical cash has been a big improvement in my life lately. And a reminder that despite the image that Japan is behind the rest of the world in using this technology … well, they are actually pretty caught up, you just might not realize it. Don’t expect me to get rid of those CDs anytime soon, though. (Patrick St. Michel)