released November 14, 2020
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Nearly 20 percent of Japanese households use electronic money for small purchases, a recent survey by Japan's central bank showed. While that is slightly more than a year ago, a vast majority of Japanese still prefer cash, showing the nation's "cash is king" culture is hard to change.
Released on Monday, the survey conducted by the central bank between June and July found that 18.5 percent of households were using electronic money, including smartphone applications and debit card payments, on shopping trips where 1,000 yen ($9.17) or less was spent. The share in 2018 was 15.4 percent.
The government's efforts to prod Japan to go cashless may be paying off, at least among the younger generation, because the survey data showed that 35.6 percent of people in their 20s and 30s in single-person households used electronic money for small purchases.
The survey also showed that 48.5 percent of respondents still used cash to buy products with prices ranging from 10,000 yen to 50,000 yen. Only 3.4 percent said they used electronic money for larger purchases.
In order to cope with a shrinking population and tighter labor market and to spur labor productivity, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry wants to double the cashless share of consumers' payments to 40 percent by 2025 and, eventually, to 80 percent.
In October, the Japanese government introduced a nine-month rebate program to promote cashless payments, which will partially offset the impact of the sales tax hike from 8 percent to 10 percent.
Up until June 2020, the $2.58 billion government program will cover the costs of a 5 percent rebate on goods bought at small stores and restaurants, as long as the customer uses a credit card, debit card or smartphone application. There is also a 2 percent rebate for electronic purchases made in big franchised stores.
Whether the rebates will be effective in promoting cashless payments and bolstering the economy is yet to be seen as the central bank survey showed that Japan's cash mentality remains entrenched. Eighty-four percent of respondents still used bills and coins for purchases under 1,000 yen.
Echoing the central bank survey, a similar poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper in October found that about 20 percent of respondents said they had either started using cashless payments or were considering using such payment methods, after the government introduced the rebate system.
Older generations generally appeared hesitant about going cashless, the Mainichi poll showed. Some 31 percent of those in their 50s, 43 percent of those in their 60s and 54 percent of those aged 70 and older said they had no intention of switching to cashless payments.
Japan's efforts pale in comparison with some of its Asian neighbors. According to data from the Payments Japan Association, 96 percent of transactions in the Republic of Korea and 66 percent in China are already cashless.