Thing is, Japan has had cashless payments for small value items for a very long time. In some places. The Suica card in the Tokyo region is a bit like London Transport’s Oyster card - it buys metro and bus rides - but it also works on vending machines, convenience stores, coffee shops, etc. What puzzled me about Europe’s and the West’s development of NFC payment was that they were developing something just like Suica, but reinventing it seemingly in ignorance of the fact that there was already a system in widespread use in the Far East.
Suica was also integrated into phones long before Apple Pay became a thing. Though it was done in a manner more akin to glueing a Western NFC credit card to the case rather than integrating it into the phone’s OS directly.
Cash remains king in Japan because people don’t trust the banks. There’s been a lot of fraud with ebanking. The banks are also technologically backward in their use and understanding of technology; hence the primitivism of the approach to security and payment systems. So when you pay electronically, it just doesn’t feel right as any problems with it are going to be embarrassing all round. If you pay by cash, you’ve definitely, positively, with a guarantee of no inconvenience for the payee, paid.
There’s the whole social thing associated with handing over a large pile of neatly pressed and arranged notes to close a large purchase. A scruffy card just doesn’t compare. And in this day of plastic notes in the UK, I have to say that the feel of Japan’s notes made out of mulberry tree bark paper is really quite something, especially when new and crisp; there’s even a lovely smell. Things like this are really quite important.
Using a uk chip and pin card there is amusing sometimes. I’ve occasionally had to look at what their till is saying, because it’s saying it in English and they’ve no idea what it means. One types in one’s PIN and the machine says all good, and it’s all a bit mysterious. I’ve had supermarkets accept nothing more than a mag strip swipe, no signature, and it all seems Ok. I’ve had a tyre shop apologising because their machine didn’t understand my card, and would it be ok to sign an old fashioned imprinted voucher.