Aug 23, 2016

News: Time for the money shot - Making payments with your face in Japan

News: Time for the money shot - Making payments with your face in Japan photo

Somebody joked on TV the other day that One Direction’s Harry Styles was so cute/handsome, it was speculated he could buy things from a store just by throwing attendants a wink and a smile.  Well, maybe those of us in Japan can all get in on this, regardless any lack of ‘looks’ prerequisite to be in a pop band. 

Yomiuri Online dropped a story yesterday with the headline; 


Shopping with a ‘Face Pass’ … Mitsui Sumitomo FG conducting practical study

According to the article, it’s come to light that financial group Mitsui Sumitomo are advancing studies into the possibility of using facial recognition technology as a way for consumers to make payments. The plan seems to be to carry out tests in actual retailers some time next year, and then, within a few years, have this ‘face pass’ in full use. In this way, folks can go shopping without the need to carry a wallet, or at least not one with cash and plastic in it.  The technology would recognise individuals based on the positioning and size of the eyes and nose. This data would be attached to an individual’s credit cards and bank accounts allowing for, Mitsui Sumitomo hopes, financial transactions.

Staying with the article in Yomiuri Online, it’s likely that the use of such technology will require some kind of prior registration, for example with high spending or regular customers at a given department store being offered the ‘face pass’ payment option. It could also be offered at sports clubs to give members a ‘hands free’ method of transaction. Furthermore, Mitsui Sumitomo seem to be postulating that ‘face pass’ might come into action during times of disaster, allowing those in need to access funds from their accounts, even if they don’t have the relevant cards to hand.

Seems to make sense. The lack of need to be carrying around cold hard cash would reduce any financial damage from a lost wallet, and any potential muggers …. Hang on! When was the last time anyone in Japan got mugged? And as for the dropped wallet scenario, isn’t this a country proudly famous for handing in lost wallets at the nearest koban? 

In fact, Mitsui’s ‘face pass’ seems rather well geared up to making it as easy as it could possibly be for consumers to, in a way, lose money. Actually, we were thinking for a moment, that it might guard against the unwitting and/or drunk from getting fleeced in some desperately cynical Roppongi boozer, the kind that offer the prospect of wall-to-wall beauties only to be empty save a plant who’ll get you sloshed and then make off with your dollar …

‘Hey, boss! Their wallet’s empty!’
‘No matter. Just get them to smile for the camera!’.  

However, before we get all caught up with the potentially dystopian nature of ‘face pass’, perhaps it won’t be as ominously smooth as we might fear. Maybe it’ll resemble the ‘foreigner’ checks at Narita Airport immigration, where you have to stare at a camera and get your prints tested, only for the sensitive things to keep flashing red because your fingers aren’t in tandem (I’m pushing as hard as I can!). 

Of course, the potential with such technology is that they begin to phase out cash transactions all together. In the capital city of this writer’s native land, you can no longer use cash to ride on the buses. Payment has to be with some kind of card. For the casual visitor, unaware of this, it basically means you don’t use the bus. Now, given the miserable nature of most bus drivers back home, this is probably not a bad thing. The point is though, that whether or not we want to use cash to pay for a bus journey is irrelevant. It’s just been decided that you can’t do it anymore.  

Still, it seems unlikely that such a heavily cash-based society like Japan will be forcing consumers into using their face to make payments anytime soon, and even if ‘face pass’ does become a reality, what are the chances of it being available to Japan’s expats? Maybe we’d be better off working on our winks and smiles!  

Thoughts?  Would you like to see technology like the 'face pass' (顔パス) in Japan soon?  Leave us your comments below.

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Image (cropped)

Sheila Scarborough Flickr License



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