• 02 . 09 . 04
  • Paying for things is ridiculously hard. Japan has the reputation for being hyper efficient in manufacturing. If only they could apply the same expertise to finance.

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Show Me The Money

Paying for stuff in Japan isn’t like back home. There, I walked around with only £10 in my pocket and bought everything I needed using a debit or credit card. Payments for regular bills came out of my account directly and I got a nice statement at the end of the month letting me know what’s what. Nice and simple.

Everything in Japan is done in cash. Only a relative handful of shops accept Visa, and Japanese people in general don’t take advantage of it because they think it’s rude and will cause the shop-owner unnecessary trouble in recouping payment (not to mention the, what ¥10 charge that will be incurred for the privilege). Japanese children are taught how dangerous direct payments are, because you can end up spending money too easily. Apparently, they are not taught the dangers of carrying ¥100,000 (about £5,000) in your pocket. If it comes down to a lack of self-control, I find it hard to believe that would be a problem for Japanese people, who I’ve found to be the most disciplined people I’ve met.

Bills are sent to your house, and then you make a journey to the local combini, lauded by Japanese people as the pinnacle of amenity and efficiency, and pay in cash there. Yes, there are a million of them; there are two within half a mile of my house. And yes, you can go at any time of the day. They truly are convenient in that way. But what would be more convenient would be not having to do anything at all, and merely be informed of your automatic payment once in a while. In a country that optimises everything to the hilt, it seems a little odd to be working with 1970’s style payment systems.

What makes this the most irritating is not having to carry money with you. I could cope with that, and Japan is very safe in that way. No, what’s worst about this system is that cashpoints are practically non-existent. They are located… in banks! They are open… during banking hours only! They serve only as a way of skipping the banking queue, which to me is ridiculous. Many times I’ve been saved a late night long walk back home in England only by the timely appearance of a cashpoint in some random wall in the middle of nowhere. Being able to get hold of £10 at 2am on a Sunday morning on an industrial estate in Manchester; that’s convenience.

New technology currently being rolled out here lets people pay for things using their mobile phone. It’s a quite ingenious system using low range radio frequencies with a unique ID tag, and will soon be available in all new mobile phones. You can then happily walk up to one of the trillion vending machines and push your phone against a sensor to get all manner of things on the street. It will undoubtedly be widened to include shops in the future. Unfortunately, you can’t just have the charge applied to your monthly bill, which would be cool. Instead you have to pre-pay for credit and then use that up. And where do you charge up your phone credit? You guessed it! Viva la combini!

Wow, that turned into a rant!

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