Electronic payment systems have mushroomed all around the globe in recent years. Ultra-modern Japan is, however, still lagging behind, but has made strides to catch up since last year. Here is an overview of the most common and useful cashless pay apps in Japan and how it all works.

Japan is a cash-based society

Traditionally, Japan has been a cash-based society. Even nowadays you will come across many restaurants, cafes or local shops that have “cash only” signs clearly displayed at the register. Here, currency is seen as real, immediate and safe. So while we recommend that you always carry some yen around with you, there are few e-pay apps that may come in handy during your time in Japan.

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Suica and Pasmo IC cards: The original cashless system in Japan

Suica Pasmo Travel IC Card
Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

Japan’s relationship with cashless payment is a bit different compared to other parts of the world. The big thing for years has been the Pasmo and Suica cards. Initially they were used only to swipe into the public transport system—but later accepted as a form of payment by more and more shops around Japan. Therefore, it is not surprising that the electronic version of these transportation cards is one of the most popular electronic payment forms in Japan.

While Suica and Pasmo cards aren’t going anywhere, mobile payments are making headway, offering convenience and even reward points for the savvy shopper.



Japan’s virtual cashless systems

Paypay banner Akasaka
A pharmacy accepting PayPay | Photo by Gregory Lane

PayPay

Widely accepted: Yes
English-language version: No
Point system: No fixed point system. Regular discounts or point campaigns available depending on participating stores.
Where to download: Google Play or App Store

PayPay is a Softbank and Yahoo! Japan joint venture and, while quite new, is extremely popular thanks to a big brand awareness campaign. They currently offer generous discounts and reward points, but stipulate in their terms and conditions that these campaigns may be phased out in the future. It is accepted quite widely in stores throughout Tokyo, and the campaigns can offer good deals for cheapos that can read Japanese.

LINE Pay

Widely accepted: Yes
English-language version: Yes
Point system: Irregular offers and point campaigns
Where to download: Google Play or App Store

LINE Pay belongs to LINE, Japan’s biggest messaging service. Security for LINE Pay transactions is highly rated, and the app is accepted in a variety of both online and brick and mortar stores. Once you download the app, you can add balance to your account via bank transfer or at convenience stores.

R Pay

Widely accepted: Yes
English-language version: English website, Japanese app
Point system: Yes
Where to download: Google Play or App Store

R Pay was a forerunner of cashless payment in Japan, but now its competitors are catching up to it. The service, connected to Rakuten (basically the eBay of Japan), is quite commonly found and has partnerships with a number of chain stores including convenience stores. R Pay lets you earn Rakuten reward points, and if you also have a Rakuten credit card, your points will double.

As Rakuten is one of the few credit card providers in Japan that doesn’t have huge hurdles for foreigners, it is definitely worth a consideration in combination with the point system.

cashless payment japan
Photo by iStock.com/SolStock

Merpay

Widely accpeted: Getting there
English-language version: No
Point system: No, but occasional campaigns
Where to download: Google Play or App Store

This service is for those that use the Japanese online marketplace Mercari. You can add to your Merpay account from either your bank account or your earnings from Mercari sales. Currently, they have around 1 million partner stores in Japan; as Mercari is Japan’s dominant online marketplace with good brand awareness, this number can be expected to grow.

Origami

Widely accepted: Yes
English-language version: Yes
Point system: Irregular discounts and campaigns
Where to download: Google Play or App Store

Origami is another Japanese mobile payment app that has been around for a few years and established around 80,000 merchants in Japan. The map in the app that displays partner stores is quite handy. The app is free and fully accessible in English.

Mercari recently announced it has acquired Origami, and its services may change in the future.

d Barai

Widely accepted: Not yet
English-language version: No, there is a basic explanation on the website with app in Japanese
Point system: Yes
Where to download: You will need to apply for membership on the Docomo website to install the app

d Barai is connected to NTT Docomo, a Japanese mobile provider. You can use it to pay your monthly phone bills and then spend reward points online and offline. It isn’t very widespread yet and only available in Japanese, so it’s probably only worth considering for those with Docomo as their mobile provider.

International cashless payment systems

Street market cashless payment, plus photoshopped laser cat
Photo by iStock.com/martin-dm

Apple Pay

Widely accepted: Yes
English accessibility: Yes
Point system: No
Where to download: App Store

Apple Pay is Apple’s mobile payment service and the technology behind several e-pay services you could use with it. In Japan, one of the most popular ones is the mobile version of the Suica commuter and transportation card that allows you to not only pay for your train fare but also make purchases at a number of participating stores.

Google Pay

Widely accepted: Yes
English accessibility: Yes
Point system: No
Where to download: Google Play

Basically the same as Apple Pay, just for Android, this is also the platform backing a number of electronic versions of point and IC cards. There is also a Google Pay version of the Suica card, as well as Rakuten Edy, another Rakuten e-pay scheme.

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