Real money disappearing in Japan

At the beginning of 2001 Suica IC card started to work in Japan, it is an e-money card based on IC technology exploited by JR (Japan Railways). At the beginning it was used only to pay train travles, but nowadays you can use it in many traditional shops, convenience stores and even vending machines. From some months ago Suica is compatible with other IC cards (PASMO is the name of one of them), right now in Japan there are around 20 million users who have the “same type” of electronic wallet. That’s huge! That mass helps a lot to expand it through new businesses and start becoming really useful for everyone, blahblahblah… next you can see a video showing how I use my Suica to pay a train travel:


Look how fast people enters, payment with IC cards is very fast and allows a high flux of people entering and exiting from train stations. You just have to approach your wallet to pay.

The same thing you saw in the video you can do it with a mobile phone, just put your mobile phone next to the reader and you pay. IC Cards inside mobile phones are already being used by millions of Japanese.


Paying in a supermarket just approaching your mobile phone.

For example, today I tried to live without “real money”. In the morning I used the train and the bus, I paid both with my IC card. At lunch I had to pay with “real money” in a restaurant :(. Then I bought some snacks in a convenience store with the IC card, also got a drink from a vending machine with the IC card. When I went back home I payed everything at the supermarket just approaching my wallet to the reader. Except the restaurant, everything was electronic money!

The future is a combination of electronic wallet, credit card and mobile phone. Something similar is what Docomo is trying to do right now with his latest technologies. Some of the things that you can already do (or will be able to in the short term) are: bank transfers, buying with your mobile phone without pain, you can pay something you found on the Internet with your laptop just approaching your mobile to the computer (Many new Japanese laptops have an IC reader by default), you can transfer money to other mobile phone, buy/sell stocks, use your phone as a “normal” credit card, pay plane tickets using your phone in the airport… Here is the picture that explains it as Docomo sees the future:


IC reader in a laptop.


Suica IC reader in a shop.

And this is the security system:

That little black thing is “the key”. If the key is farther away than two meters from phone, then it blocks. For example, if someone steals your handbag with your mobile phone inside, if you have the black little key in your pocket the robber won’t be able to use the phone, it will be blocked.

I don’t know you, but for me “analog”|”real” money makes no sense in the world we live nowadays. Can you imagine living without coins in your pocket? I hate coins!

28 Comments
  • Nike

    May 31, 2007 at 8:11 am

    I’m so with you, man, I hate the coins, the ‘paper cash’, but in my contry, you cant even pay everywhere with credit cards, and everyone hate credit cards, because you have to wait for the modem thing to confirm your payment, and so on.

    Kirainet shoud give away free airline tickets to Japan! 🙂

  • Kuri

    May 31, 2007 at 8:17 am

    The same infrastructure has been established here in the states, but instead as starting off as train passes, it started off as a quick way to pay your gas using a key chain.

    Now people just wave there card instead of a cell phone, which tends to get stolen and left around a lot more often then a wallet.

  • G

    May 31, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    When my dad worked in Hong Kong, I used to go visit him and it was so convenient getting around in HK with a similar e-money card called the “Octopus” (like 8 hands of all reaching hentai goodness I guess :P)!

    Nothing as up-to-date here in Australia yet I’m afraid. Would be nice since trams and parking meters only accept coins and I never carry around enough coins because I hate them.

  • xin

    June 1, 2007 at 2:54 am

    A bit to unsecure for my taste. If the card/cell phone gets stolen, the thief can use them freely. There should be some basic authentication system.
    In Estonia you can pay with your debit card at allmost every shop thats around. Quite fast and pretty secure, as you have to enter a pin for authentication.
    Maybe I’m a bet paranoic about this technology, as it’s easy to misuse it. A heaven for phishers!

  • kirai

    June 1, 2007 at 3:18 am

    xin: read the last two paragraphs I wrote 😉

  • xin

    June 1, 2007 at 5:34 am

    Nah, still the same. Small phisical objects are more easily optained, then a combination of numbers in your brain.
    Though electronic money is realy convinient 😛

  • Andy H

    June 1, 2007 at 6:36 am

    Ace video there – is that station at the end Hamamatsucho? When i went there for a month, my hotel was in Daimon, so i had to go to hamamatsucho every day. Too bad the excellent ebisu station jingle isnt on there…

    Good to see that IC cards are taking off – anything to get rid of those useless 1 yen coins!

  • kirai

    June 1, 2007 at 7:24 am

    Andy H: yes, it’ Hamamatsucho!
    Xin: of course you can also set a pin. So, you have double security 🙂

  • Lenners

    June 3, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    I prefer having cash and coins in hand, rather than use a debit card x__x It helps control my spending, seeing my wallet slowly deflate. If I had a cellphone like that, I would lock it up in a safe XD

  • Pedro Cardoso

    June 7, 2007 at 12:02 am

    Hey Hector.
    I was waiting for this post in English, since I didn’t wanted to reply in the spanish version being acused of terrible spanish or portuguese writting ! :-p

    Anyway, I can’t really understand why all the admiration for suica and mobile payment alike !!! Even In portugal, 2 years ago when I left, was more advanced !

    everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, you could just use the ATM card without extra charge, just put a PIN code. In EVERY Lisbon public transportations you had a card just like suica, with the difference that the month fee was only 30 euros, not crazy prices like in Japan ! You could even pay some services just by sending a simple SMS message.

    We even had a card like suica that you could recharge and pay anything, the problem is that it was almost 10 year ago, so no contactless tecnology available and had to be a chipCard. And since everyone could just pay with the ATM card, no one wanted to keep money on this card and because of it, stores hardly had a machine to read it !

    To be honest could use the ATM system to do all, pay bills, get money, pay dinners, buy tickets, create VISA number valid for 1 month to buy online, and many other ways. All of this either on the machine or over the internet !

    At the end, it is just need to have companies working togheder, the technology exists for a long time, and is not that advanced !

  • […] Look how Darth Vader is also using a Suica card, so he can pay the train just approaching his hand to the reader and the force will help him pay. My favorite guy in the video is the one with the luggage who is walking down the stairs while Danny is moving his light saber near his head, he didn’t understand what was going on. […]

  • Nathan

    June 11, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    They have the same sort of thing in Hong Kong. It’s called the octopus card, and you can ride the train or bus, buy groceries, use vending machines, and all sorts of other stuff. Even though the technology isn’t that old, it seemed really advanced to me. My home city is just starting to integrate a similar pay method it into the local train system. I think it’s really convenient and innovative.

  • […] Interesting article from Kirainet […]

  • […] Last week I used a “teleport” locker. They are lockers where you put your luggage/bags/whatever and you have the option to enter a post address using a screen interface. After inputing the data you pay with your Suica/Pasmo […]

  • klimmer

    November 21, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    Instead of spending millions reinventing the wheel, why not just use a coin pouch?

  • Ken

    January 24, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Does anyone know what brand that white phone is? And where i can get one?

  • Aaron

    February 22, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    @Ken: Most Japanese phones cannot be used in other countries due to incompatible standards.

    @Nathan: The Octopus card is everywhere in Hong Kong. Like the Suica IC card, the Octopus card lets you pay for food, vending machines, travel, etc. Don’t go to HK without one!

    Now if only we could get the US to eliminate pennies like HK and Singapore…

  • name

    February 29, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    I would be worried about “walking robbers” with high powered readers stealing a toooon of money just by walking through a croud. And they would make it so small that most people wont care 😛

  • ddejfucxcr

    April 26, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Wow, cool man, big thanks! http://fiarwujvbj.com

  • hm.....

    May 11, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I dont know….if I had something like that, I could overspend so quickly. This is why I like paper money; I can see how much money I have left.

  • misleading

    July 7, 2008 at 5:48 am

    …since Japan is a paper money based society, I highly doubt “real money” will be dissappearing. When I was in Japan. The only time I saw people using the suica was in stations.

    I went to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka. The major cities. Never saw anyone using a suica other than for the stations.

    This article makes it seem that eventually suica will be used all over….and that isn’t NOT the case. My friend had a cash card (which could used to pay for stuff, even though it was from the US), and he could rarley pay for things, for he barrowed money.

  • japonesa

    July 26, 2008 at 3:38 am

    Hi! I’m japonesa from Tokyo:) One of my amigas from Alicante gave me your link. I’m very happy to find a spanish person writing a blog about my country in details!
    I’m gonig to let all my spanish friends read your page if you don’t mind, since they all are interested in japanese culture. It’s so wonderful to find your blog, thank you!.

    well, I wanted to write this in Spanish, but sorry…my spanish is not good yet!!

  • Rob

    December 21, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I dislike the total dependence on e-money. I feel it should be limited to small transactions (less than, say, 5 euro in a day) or large pre-meditated transactions (into the hundreds, or maybe for a meal that you know full well how much it is).
    The problem is that no matter how careful you think you are with your money if you can’t feel it; touch it and physically count it, then it’s easier to lose track of. Whenever I look at my bank-account online it just doesn’t seem like real money; it’s a sum larger than anything I’ve ever actually held in my hands and the thought of accidently spending 20 euro of it over a couple days when I didn’t intend to spend that much is somewhat worrying to me.

    I need a physical link to most things I do, I need to be able to visualise or handle it, I can’t talk for the rest of you, but I do know that I feel a lot more comfortable seeing my money physically reduce during a night out then waking up the next morning, checking my bank account, and seeing my money having amazingly gone. Especially if there’s alcohol involved.

  • Schmock

    January 26, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    i don’t like virtual money it’s easy to trace and i value my privacy furthermore things like “The Mandrake mechanism” made me realize what virtual money implys

  • Rodrigo

    September 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    In Chile’s capital, bus ticket is paid with a similar system, a card that you load from your bank account online with an amount that you define previously. A robber can only use the amount that you set.
    Nice legs at 00:42.

  • James I

    September 11, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Doesn’t the Book of Revelation talk about living in a cashless society?

    Revelation 13

    1And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

    2And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

    3And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

    4And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

    5And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.

    6And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.

    7And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.

    8And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

    9If any man have an ear, let him hear.

    10He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

    11And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

    12And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

    13And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,

    14And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.

    15And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

    16And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

    17And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

    18Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

  • Bert Rupp

    December 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Hi there,
    yes it will be all mobile in the next years! The payment, the advertising…
    Local and mobile is the future!
    Bert Rupp

  • Bigbishounen

    January 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Ok. First of all, James I, all you really needed was verses 16 – 17. You didn’t need to flood with the whole chapter.

    Secondly, I’m with “name” on this. A simple scanner hacked from a swipe terminal bought in Akibahara and hooked to a PDA or smartphone would make an easy electronic pickpocket.

    You could just spend a day walking around Tokyo charging a few hundred Yen to each person you pass and end up with quite a large amount of money by the end of the day. With a bit of minor identity theft you could set up a temporary merchant account that collects the money and forwards it to an offshore bank account.

    Set up a few dozen lackeys with cheap systems like this and set them loose in Japan for a week or so and get rich!