Thursday, April 26, 2007

Electronic Money in Japan: Pasmo and Suica

Electronic Money in Japan: Pasmo and Suica

Yesterday I blogged about Pasmo, the new stored value transit card that you can use in and around Tokyo not just on the Japan Rail trains but also on the subway lines.

Today, Thursday 26 April 2007, I found myself wondering how Japanese people were going to write the word "Pasmo." It's impossible to write this in Japanese script because there is no way to write an isolated "s" in Japanese. So I theorized that maybe Japanese people would write the word using the Roman alphabet. My thinking was that presumably I would find out, eventually.

I found out that very afternoon when I showed up at the supermarket by my home station, where I was in the market for two loaves of Pasco-brand bread and one tub of Morinaga yoghurt. Men don't eat yoghurt, of course, but there are two females in my household, so any yoghurt that's bought gets consumed, though not by me.

When I got to the register there was a Japanese-language sign featuring the word "Pasmo" in block letters, written in the Roman alphabet to read "PASMO."

The sign told me that the register at which I was trying to check out was not a Pasmo register. If you want to use Pasmo, please use the Pasmo register.

Since the cashier had no other customers to serve, I took the time to ask her which register was the Pasmo register. She answered that there were two, the next two registers in the row of checkout counters.

I can't remember the exact wording of the question I asked next, but I think it was something like "Pasmo no regi de, Suica wa daijobu desu ka?" This question was intended to ask "Can I use my Suica card at the Pasmo register?"

The answer was a clear and unambiguous yes. If you have Japan Rail's stored value Suica card, which I have, then you are equipped for the age of electronic money.

This was a welcome development, and I look forward to the day when there will be Pasmo-Suica readers at cash registers all over the place. Given the pace of evolutionary change in Japan, this day will arrive sooner rather than later. Then I will have little or no need to handle small change.

Because I'm visually disabled, Japanese coins are difficult for me to handle. I get mixed up between the 50 yen and the 5 yen, which both have a hole in the middle. The 10 yen and the 100 yen are about the same size, roughly, and I can't always tell the difference, although the 100 yen is silver and the 10 yen bronze.

For paying at the news stand where I buy the International Herald Tribune, I've gotten into the habit of sorting out the exact coinage at home and then popping it into my pocket. At other places, I tend to pay for small purchases with thousand yen bills. Then, on getting home, it's been my habit to throw the resulting shrapnel into a drawer.

I didn't realized how much small change was piling up in that drawer until my wife took a look at it one day and told me there could be as much as a million yen in there. I doubted this, but, when she was kind enough to volunteer to count it for me, the total came to a useful fraction of a million yen.

There was, in the drawer, a sum in excess of 17,000 yen, ie over US $120.

From my point of view, then, the arrival of the age of electronic money makes life easier.

Using the Pasmo-Suica option is a lot better than using what we have in New Zealand, which is EFTPOS. This clunky term stands for "Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale." You front up to the cash register, swipe your New Zealand bank's ATM card through a reader, punch in a PIN while the cashier ostentatiously looks the other way (if she does what she's trained to do), and then, after a delay, a computer approved the transaction.

You are then free to inflict further delay on the customers waiting behind you to ask the cashier to give you some of the money that's sitting in your bank account, since the effect of EFTPOS is to turn every EFTPOS-capable cash register into an ATM. (Though, having said that, it's worth noting that some businesses in Japan don't do the "we-can-give-you-your-money" bit.

I've never used EFTPOS and I've always hated it because it slows things down, so my working theory was that electronic money was a bad idea. But electronic money in the form of the contactless Pasmo and Suica cards is, I think, the greatest improvement in the functionality of money in my lifetime.

Three cheers for technology!

Another science fiction idea comes of age.

Some time back, my wife had been sitting watching 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on TV, and reflected on the fact that it's pretty amazing that so many of the things predicted by the movie (such as cellphones) had come to pass. It is, after all, a very old movie, one that I saw years before I ever set eyes on such a thing as a personal computer.

I had no easy way to answer this question. I write science fiction myself, but I don't know where the ideas come from.

Actually, the only original SF idea that I think I've cooked up on my own is the idea of the texting board, something featured in the alternative reality novel TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER.

The idea is that you, the authorities, have a computer which intercepts all the many texting messages which are flying from A to B, averages their content and displays ever-changing results on an LCD screen. The result, in the fictional world of the book, is in effect a mind-reading machine, a machine which reads the mind of the city, as it gives voice to the zeitgeist.

I'd like to have more original ideas like that, but, since I don't know where such ideas come from, or how to get them, I'm as lost for an answer as my wife was.

Science fiction writer successfully predicted a whole bunch of things, such as cellphones. But, in advance of the living reality, no science fiction writer had an imagination warped enough to imagine a world in which the dominant software products were all bad products. But that's the world we are now forced to live in, a world which is very much Microsoft's.

As I've indicated in earlier posts in the last twelve months or so, I'm in the hunt for a workable flavor of Linux that will do what I need it to do. I've tried Fedora Core 5 and FreeBSD, and neither of those is the answer, and I was thinking seriously about paying good money to buy Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

(Parenthetically, I know, of course, that FreeBSD is not a variant of Linux, but, rather, is a flavor of Unix.)

But now I've downloaded a different version of Linux which I've got up and running on a second-hand ThinkPad I've had sitting around for a long time now, just waiting for an OS that would suit it. I now have a living Linux installation up and running on the computer, and if I can do the things I need to do with it, such as play music and get online, I'll post the results of my installation at a later date.

Possibly an extremely later date, as this is, for various reasons, an extremely busy period in my life.


Blogger K T said...

Try ubuntu linux, it's very popular nowadays, apparently Dell is going to include it as an option along with Windows on new PCs. Easy to install yourself as well, so I hear.

1:13 PM  

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