Eyeing Foreign Guests, Japan Tourism Trade Turns To Credit Cards

Eyeing foreign guests, Japan tourism trade turns to credit cards

Local restaurants, souvenir shops and even some temples and shrines are hoping to cater to foreign guests with an international custom yet to be adopted in Japan: letting customers pay their bills with credit cards instead of cash.

As the country braces for a further tourism boom in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, major credit card companies are providing local businesses with portable devices so foreign customers can pay at the table -- a practice customary in their home countries.

In mid-September, a customer from Sweden seated at the bar at The Rigoletto, a restaurant serving Southern European cuisines in Tokyo's busy Shibuya district, swiped his card at his table. He said the convenience reminded him of being back home.

The format, in which customers simply enter their PIN numbers for verification into portable devices after a waiter presents the bill on a tablet, was introduced at the restaurant in April.

"More cards are being used, and these terminals are convenient for foreign guests who are used to paying at their table," said a restaurant employee.

Card company Mitsubishi UFJ Nicos Co. launched the system at affiliated stores nationwide in November last year. Simply by downloading the app, customers can exchange data wirelessly with the portable device.


A company official who works in systems development said there has been a high demand for a payment method "which can be used anywhere inside shops," particularly among restaurants.

The Japanese government is aiming to see the rate of cashless payments via credit cards and other means double in the next 10 years to about 40 percent within the country.

Tourist spots including traditional places such as temples have slowly come to accept plastic.

Kongobuji, the head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism, on Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture in western Japan, began in April to accept credit cards for admission fees.

Card payments are becoming popular also at ski resorts in the northernmost Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido and Nagano Prefecture, central Japan, which attract many international skiers.

Domestic tourist spots have been reluctant to accept credit cards until now because customers usually only pay a small amount on entrance fees or souvenirs, making it not worth the investment.

Square, Inc., a U.S. based IT company, uses a small device to connect to mobile devices, such as iPhones, to accept credit card payments without the hassle of using cash registers.

The company, which launched its business in Japan in 2013, says the system has proven popular especially among small shops.

In the last few years, the company has seen a steady increase in the number of stores that have adopted the system.

The company's Japanese arm said it expects to a see a further expansion of the system toward the 2020 Tokyo Games.