Smartcard future dawning in Tokyo

Who needs cash when you can pay for everything with your mobile phone?

Next month in Japan sees the beginning of the endgame in an ambitious scheme to entirely do away with paper tickets across Tokyo's complex public transport network. The new Pasmo IC-card ticketing system will work seamlessly with several existing smartcards to make life incredibly easy for the busy Tokyoite.

Pasmo is the latest RFID/IC card on the scene - it joins Suica , Edy and their variants embedded in a host of mobile phones to complete a comprehensive cashless network for both travel and shopping. A typical day for a hypothetical Tokyo resident might see him use such e-cash technology a dozen or more times, as follows:

  • 7:00am: Bus to station from home using Pasmo.
  • 7:15am: Wave Suica card over ticket gate to begin commute.
  • 8:30am: Arrive at Shinjuku station, exiting using Suica again.
  • 8:15am: Pick up morning snack at convenience store, paying with either Suica or the Edy or (mobile wallet) in phone.
  • 11:00am: Canned coffee from Edy-enabled vending machine.
  • 1:00pm: Lunchbox from local shop with new reader.
  • 6-7:30pm: Suica into station, to buy evening sports paper and a dried squid snack from kiosk on platform and out again at home station.
  • 8:00pm: Pay for new sofa on credit using phone at furniture store.
  • 8:15pm: Fork out for few rounds of sake at local bar - oops, cash only.
  • 9pm: Family dinner at chain restaurant - Edy does the trick.
  • 10:30pm: Pasmo home again on the bus.

At first, this futuristic lifestyle is undeniably fun, and there's no doubt that IC-card technology is convenient. However, on the downside, many of these services are available only to people able to secure credit, as the final charges appear on the monthly phone bill.

As more deals are thrashed out to allow interoperability and a single IC standard draws closer, could we be facing a future where anyone without credit or the desire to embrace technology faces becoming a second-class citizen? 'Ugh - real money? No thanks, it's filthy.'

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.