Some (Maybe New) Things I Noticed in Japan

A trip to the country always yields interesting discoveries.

This time around, I paid attention and started a note on my phone that I updated whenever I saw something new, interesting, and/or smart. I wasn’t as assiduous as I hoped I would be (habits take a while to form, no?), but here’s a few that caught my eye!

Suica in Apple Wallet

Adding a Suica card into Apple Wallet

You can now add a Suica card into your Apple Wallet!

There was one trip-changing thing that happened when I travelled to Japan a couple of weeks ago. I was browsing Instagram stories, and someone I followed (thank you!) who had just returned from Tokyo posted that it was now possible to add the Suica card into Apple Wallet*.

A Suica card is a stored value debit / IC card that is mostly used to pay for transport, especially if you’re a tourist. For the Japanese and folks who are living in Japan, the Suica is used to pay for all sorts of expenses at a wide variety of merchants including convenience stores, restaurants, vending machines etc.

Suica card within Apple Wallet

The onboarding is an easy and straightforward process, and some steps are similar to how you would add a credit card to Apple Wallet. Here’s how, and if you don’t feel like reading, you simply have to set your phone region to Japan (Settings > General > Language & Region). Then launch the Apple Wallet app and follow the instructions on-screen to add the card.

When adding the Suica card, you’re asked if you would like to set it as the Express Transit card. If you agree, then all you had to do when making payments is to tap your phone on the IC pad. It is like VISA payWave, but without the phone authentication.

After I added my Suica card, I used it everywhere. While I had a Suica card before and knew that I could use it to pay for stuff in Japan, I never really gotten around to using it. Why the difference? One explanation was that I mostly used my phone to pay for most things in Singapore, so it was just a natural behaviour for me.

Japan may still be a predominantly cash-based society for now and the move to cashless transactions may be moving more slowly there, but I believe that that is set to change in the near future. Suica has seen year on year increase in usage, and July 2018 saw a record 200 million transactions. I think that the increasingly robust ecosystem of merchants and partners, together with the seamless onboarding, usage and recharging experience are bound to accelerate their momentum.

Vending machines for drinks now come with snacks

Vending machine with drinks and snacks

Which absolutely makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet, we seldom find vending machines that offer both drinks and food/snacks. I’m guessing the internal feeding mechanics and storage requirements work differently for different types of food and their packaging.

This one we found offered Kit Kat and Glico biscuits, which we agreed were very good choices to accompany a hot milk coffee or tea on a cold winter morning.

Clearing a path for the ambulance on a crowded, narrow street

Nakamise on Enoshima

Enoshima is a small offshore island in the Shonan area, which is just a little over an hour from Tokyo. You cross over to the island via a 15-minute walk across a bridge. On the little island is the Enoshima Sea Candle — which is a very cute name for a lighthouse I think!

The main shopping street on the island is the Nakamise Shopping Street. The narrow and steep street is lined on both sides with souvenir shops and restaurants (the local specialty is the shirasu fish). It is a street just barely wide enough for 5-6 people abreast.

When we were leaving the street on our way back to the mainland, we kept hearing the ambulance siren but couldn’t quite locate the source of it. Eventually, we saw a number of men running, holding a sign, and clearing a path. Then a couple of moments later, we saw more men, and this time they were running alongside a small ambulance. Ah!

🙋🏻‍♂️• • • 🙋🏻‍♂️• • 🚑 • • 🙋🏻‍♂️🙋🏻‍♂️

Booking airport limousine buses in advance

You can now make reservations online and in advance! I prefer taking the bus instead of the train, mostly because it is a more comfortable journey and the bus stops right at the hotel.

Reservations can be changed up to 5 minutes before departure time, and you can make up to 3 changes. Our flight landed 45 minutes late, which meant that we wouldn’t make our initial bus. Upon landing in Tokyo and while the plane was taxiing on the runway, I went online and changed our tickets to a later bus. 👏🏼

How JAL presents its meal choices

Meal options on our JAL flight

This was how meal options on our JAL flight were presented. This was the first time I saw it, but on our recent flight to Bangkok, we also saw it used by SQ. Passengers are usually plugged into their entertainment, and when flight attendants rolled around with the meal trolleys, they had to take out their earphones and the flight attendant had to repeat themselves. Repeat that a dozen times…

This was great, I thought — and I liked having a visual of the meals too.

And the food was surprisingly very good!

Tissue pack distributors

I only saw one person distributing tissue packs. They used to be everywhere! According to this Japan Times article in 2007, 4 billion tissue packs were distributed in Japan every year. 12 years on, it seems like things have changed.

Also, I learned today that this is called tissue-pack marketing.

Tissue pack marketing

Packaged konbini eggs

Konbini Eggs

Every evening, just before we head back to the hotel, we would make a stop at the nearest konbini for some evening snacks or a quick breakfast the next day. This time, the nearest konbini was a FamilyMart.

I found these eggs while looking for a breakfast option on the refrigerated shelves, and they come hard-boiled and onsen that is essentially a half-boiled egg. That is convenience.

A Suica hack

A Suica hack

Rounding off this list is another one on Suica. On our last morning in Tokyo, we had a nice cuppa joe at Blue Bottle, and across the table was someone who has very literally added the Suica to his phone — by just squeezing it into his phone case between the phone and the case! The phone case was not fully opaque so I was privy to this rather smart hack.

If you aren’t willing to add the card into your Apple Wallet or Google Pay, this is one little trick (it seems so obvious in hindsight, as most good ideas are!) you can use.

Tottori in 2009

In 2019, 2009 is a decade old. Now is good a time as any to look back, and to recollect prior perceptions and train older (and new) eyes on past experiences — in this case, photographs taken during a 3-month long trip to Japan.

The trip started with a participation in Design Festa (Vol. 30, and the event is now at Vol 49th?! Counting puts in perspective time past, indeed), and it took me all the way south to Gunkanjima in Nagasaki then all the way north to Asahikawa in Hokkaido. In that span, I burnt through my savings, slept in strange beds, made awkward conversations, sat too long on buses, and quite likely, learnt a bit about how I dealt with leisure time and solitude.

These photographs were of the sand dunes in Tottori. A couple of weeks ago, as I was looking through them, I picked out favourites. My selection has changed from when I first looked at them many years ago, though I’m not exactly sure how. So I thought it would be a good idea to note my current selection for future referencing. Here goes.