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Japan unveils new scheme to speed up adoption of cashless payments

Already curiously slow to get into e-payments, nation hopes avoiding a certain virus will prove an impetus

Japan has launched a new scheme to speed up the adoption of cashless payments .

The scheme, called the “whole area cashless infrastructure construction project”, aims to promote face-to-face cashless payments among small-and medium-sized businesses that continue to cling to cash.

It's also a pandemic-prevention promotion: the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry announcement of the promotion says it aims to "realize an environment in which infectious diseases are less likely to spread and the construction of a foundation for stimulating consumption in the region." Tourism operators, and shopping districts, are among the targets, in the hope that they promote economic activity by providing a cleaner experience.

The government aims to spur adoption by spending ¥790m ($7.5m) to subsidise such businesses for up to two-thirds of the cost of cashless terminals and related software. The government will also cover costs of advertising the new payment system, up to a total of five per cent of the individual project.

For a country that has built a gadget for every conceivable task, Japan is a curiously analogue society. Despite several projects by the government, cash remains by far the country’s most popular payment method. Until recently, official documents needed to be signed with hanko seals.

The government has tried to accelerate change ahead of the Rugby World Cup it hosted in 2019 and the 2020 Olympics, so that international visitors would find a more familiar shopping experience. In 2019 the nation's government teamed with Visa on a big cashless push that offered customers cash back or rewards for up to five per cent of the value of transaction. This has been helped along by new QR code payment systems such as PayPay and Line Pay.

According to eMarketer, a market research firm, the plan is working. Although cash remains king in Japan, they estimate that 23.9m people will use cashless payments this year, up from 19.1m people last year. By 2023, that figure is projected to grow to 27.6m – a quarter of the country’s population. ®


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