• 2022.05.20
  • Going cashless
On my recent trip to Japan, I found myself disappointed with something: the vending machines.
They’re all over the place there, which is always fun.
As soon as I arrive, I typically spend several minutes standing in front of them trying to figure out what new products they have out and what unique Japanese flavor I should try first. Of course when I leave the country, I always make sure I have some leftover change to use the next time I arrive.
So why was I disappointed? Well, because so many of the vending machines don’t even have coin slots anymore.

Portugal is a lot closer to becoming cashless than Japan is.
When I came here in the year 2000, people were already using debit cards for pretty much everything, including small purchases at cafés, grocery stores, and markets. With zero fees. The ATMs let you withdraw money without paying any fees, either. Plus you could use the same machine to pay your mobile phone bill, pay your utilities—even buy concert tickets.
The highways had introduced a system called Via Verde that was similar to Japan’s ETC system, too. If anything, the Japanese were coming over to study it.
Yep, ATMs and Via Verde. Pretty much any Japanese employee stationed in Portugal had to admit that Portugal had their country beat on those two things.

Now, as technology has advanced and everything is getting tied to apps, cards themselves are starting to become unnecessary. In central Lisbon, they have electric scooters that you can just hop on and off wherever you like by scanning the scooter bar code in the app on your phone. With cars, almost every parking lot is linked to the Via Verde system, which reads your license plate as you go in and out and then just charges you for everything at the end of the month. That whole annoying process of having to roll down your window, take a ticket, and then pay a machine on your way out has been gone for some time.
And that awkwardness of stopping your car in the wrong place and having to half-squeeze out of your door in order to reach the ticket is of course gone for good as well.

But I haven’t even told you about my pick for the most convenient service of all. It’s the way the Via Verde parking app lets you pay for street parking. Before when you parked your car along the street in Portugal, there were meters placed here and there along the street, and you had to put coins into the one located in the spot you wanted to park for as long as you planned to be there. The machine then printed you a ticket with the time and date. You put the ticket in your car on the dash where it could be seen.
But now with the app…
• The app shows your location, and you click on it.
• You then use the time dial to set how long you want to park (it shows the fee for that spot as you do this).
• You then click OK, go to the confirmation screen, and you’re all set!
But here’s the best part: even if you’re away from your car and want to extend your parking time, you can just open the app and use the little clock to add time without going back to your vehicle.

And, if you get back earlier than you thought you would, you can open the app and click Finish to reduce your remaining time to zero and get your money back for the unused portion.
In other words, you never waste money! So you can add a little more time than you think you need, and then just end your parking time when you’re ready to go. Super convenient!

To me all of these great cashless features seem like a natural progression, especially considering what we went through during the pandemic.

That said, Japan is changing so fast that someone like me, who only goes back every few years, can hardly keep up. It’s true what they say—you can’t go home again.
This was made abundantly clear to me when I was at a Japanese convenience store and couldn’t understand something the clerk said to me (probably something about a cashless payment). The person looked at me like they couldn’t believe I didn’t know what they were talking about. I can’t know what I don’t know, of course—but the person brushed me off like I was kind of an idiot, so I walked out still having no idea what the thing was. Though I imagine that if I had not been Japanese, they would have assumed I didn’t know about it and explained it to me.

Still, I wonder if they could just keep the coin slots on the vending machines—at least the ones in the airport. Since I’m not a Japanese resident, I don’t have the special cards everyone else carries around, so if they get any more advanced I may not even know how to buy from them at all.
And there’s just nothing like the excitement I feel on the hunt for my first vending machine after stepping off a plane to Japan!


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

View a list of Megumi Ota's

What's New


What's New