It may have taken a while for the idea of self-checkout at retail stores in Japan to gain traction, but it’s becoming increasingly common. As shoppers get used to the systems they’re enjoying the upsides of shorter lines and quicker transactions, and self-checkout is about to get even more convenient in Japan.
In a press conference held on January 31, Minister of Digital Affairs Taro Kono announced that convenience stores in Japan can start selling alcohol and tobacco products through self-checkout registers. What’s more, while new policies announced by the Japanese government often don’t go into effect until the next spring (when the administrative year starts), Kono said that convenience stores can start selling alcohol and tobacco through self-check-out immediately, as long as they’re set up for compliance with the corresponding required regulations.
Under Japanese law, a person must be at least 20 years old in order to purchase alcohol or tobacco. In order to confirm the buyer’s age, convenience stores that want to sell such products through self-check-out will have to equip their registers with a device that can scan either the purchaser’s driver’s license or My Number Card, a government-issued ID card that’s not yet mandatory and which the Japanese government is eager to accelerate the adoption of.
You could argue that the system is ripe for abuse. Since the device is just a card reader, there’s no machine or human checking to see that the photo on the card matches the person buying the booze or cigarettes. So really, it’s not confirming that the buyer is 20 or older so much as confirming that they have a card from someone 20 or older, who may or may not really be the person making the purchase.
That said, in the case of alcohol, self-check-out registers equipped with card readers would most likely be a stronger deterrent to underage drinking than how it’s sold when a store clerk is manning the register. In Japan, if a convenience store clerks sees that you have beer, sake, or some other kind of alcoholic beverage among the items you’re purchasing, they’ll ask you to confirm your age by pressing a button on the register’s monitor. The exact phrasing varies by store chain/register manufacturer, but it invariably is some variation on “Are you 20 years or older?”, and generally the one and only button for you to press is the one that says “Yes.” Hit that button, and you’re good to go; in the 20-plus years I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve seen someone get asked to show their ID to prove their age exactly one time.
▼ It says “You may be asked to present identification,” but, no, you will not be asked.
So while buying booze via self-check-out comes with the possibility that underage teens will use an older friend’s card, or “borrow” their parents’, it’s still a step up in strictness from running the whole thing on the honor system. There’s also the fact that while they’re not nearly as common as they used to be, Japan has sold alcoholic beverages in vending machines, with no ID check required, for generations.
On the other hand, it’s been many years since Japan began requiring cigarette vending machines have a card reader to confirm the buyer’s age. Cigarettes in convenience stores, though, are always stocked behind the counter, and customers have to ask the clerk for the specific product they want. Because of that, there doesn’t seem to be much advantage, on the consumer side, to purchasing them though self-check-out, since buyers would first have to wait in line at a manned register anyway. Rearranging stores so that tobacco products are stocked in places where customers can grab them themselves would address that, but it’s unclear if that’s allowed under current laws, or if stores would even want to do so considering the increased shoplifting risk.
As for why, this change in happening, in November the Japanese government approved new legislation allowing the use of the My Number Card for age verification in commerce applications, and the Japan Franchise Association, whose members include convenience store chains, has now completed the necessary compliance work. “This will be an opportunity to experience the convenience of the My Number Card,” says Kono of the new self-check-out allowances, and it’s likely this will be a less divisive way to do that than his other idea of requiring people to have a My Number Card before they can go to a concert in Japan.
Source: The Sankei News
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Sounds like it will still be a lot easier and faster to get a human to ring up the purchase. All you need to do is press a button once on a touch screen.
Everything has to be priced in advance, like fruits and vegetables. Not by the kilo.
Ultimately, there will be no human clerks working in conbinis. Some may say that is sad - it's just a reflection of lack of workers, and tech that allows self-checkout.
I agree, but that's the beauty of the system. It has not to be seven at all, even in advance. Smart shopping baskets allow for rainbow cards to work in unison, like fruits and vegetables, but also like fruits. Soupy twist!
Konbinis were one of the great joys of pre-pandemic Japan. Hopefully there will be an alternative option of (blurry) staff for tourists or a sign on the door warning us off. I wouldn't want to get to the checkout and find myself face to face with a machine displaying instructions in Japanese and expecting a My Number card. Even with English instructions and a Suica option, I'm not quick. How well are elderly Japanese people coping with this?
Japan Tobacco wants your money. They do not care about your health, or "convenience". They likely sponsored this bill.
Here you go kids, loopholes to drive a truck through!
The only purpose of self-checkouts is staff reduction.
The article is very long for such a topic so one has to wonder if what we need to look at is the money trail.
This has everything to do with staff reduction, saving money for the businesses, less international people working at the convenience stores, and money, money, money for the government and the business owners who are the large corporations running the combini's in Japan.
Read between the lines. Not the actual lines.
Corporate irresponsibility. Remember, the goods didn’t get any cheaper. They just fired someone! Who doesn’t pay tax now., and the teenagers can get there alcohol ands packet of fags even easier now. Lovely! We take no responsibility, only the money and profit. Sumimasen!
This will be the chance for you to lose your my number card. And the card shouldn’t be used for shopping either! Stupid idea and a stupid excuse!
What a senseless system. Even the school part timers who give you the tobacco or alcohol and demand to answer the 20yr. question, are much younger than the buyers and have unrestricted access to any kind of such products for hours! not only for one moment. So if you’re under 20, just work there a few days and you have the amount for a few years at hand , until you become those 20 yourself. lol
i dont smoke and dont drink alcohol so no issues at all.
Japan's health will suffer, especially among its young adults and children. Japan now has to build double her present number of hospitals. And educate twice the number of nurses and doctors.
There's still beer and sake vending machines here on the Ryukyus,with no ID required.
We're ahead of the game,for once!
Beer and Cigarettes companies Love Mr. Kono.
Let us hope that this is NOT another scandal.
There are sake and beer vending machines everywhere and require no iD but they shut off at 11 pm. Tobacco machines need an ID.
What’s the point for cigarettes? Most places keep most of the cigarettes behind the register anyway so you would still have to ask the staff for a pack… unless they are going to create a completely new tobacco aisle next to the liquor aisle. Hmm…
It is definitely ripe for abuse…
Reduce the food prices if you want people to become staff and ring it all up !!!
I wonder, would a paper copy of my own "My Number ID" card pass such checks - if so, then kids will just print out any old my number card, and "Party on! Dude!"