Money is a key part of your planning, not just the overall budget, but also how you will carry it for daily spending. The key thing visitors need to know about money in Japan is that there have been many changes in this area, and it’s a lot more visitor-friendly than it used to be.
You may have read that you need cash and that credit cards aren’t widely accepted. That used to be the case but not anymore. The number of ATMs that accept foreign cards has also increased greatly. Let’s have a look at your options for spending money.
Cash is widely accepted in Japan. You will have no problem paying for even quite small purchases with a 10,000 yen note. The major exception to this is in a taxi, where it’s best to pay with notes fairly close to the actual fare.
Some establishments will only take cash, and this can include some hotels and ryokans, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas. They usually advise this when you book. You also need cash for admissions to temples and some museums.
It is useful to keep a small supply of 100 yen coins for luggage lockers, vending machines and coin laundries. If you find you have a lot of small change, coins from 10 yen upwards can be used in vending machines.
How to get cash
You may want to get some Japanese yen before you arrive in Japan. Depending on the country you live in, the exchange rate may not be great, but it is reassuring to have money handy when you arrive. You will be able to get cash at the airport, either at a currency exchange, or at an ATM which generally gives a better rate. Airport websites will list currency exchange services available, for example Narita lists currency exchange counters and ATMs and includes a list of currencies able to be exchanged.
When you are out and about in Japan and need to get more cash, your best bet is a convenience store. 7-Eleven stores all have foreign card-friendly ATMs, and many Family Marts do too. As these are open long hours, this makes it easy to get money. Just be aware that some small towns may not have a convenience store, for example Miyajima.
Japanese Bank ATMs generally don’t accept foreign bank issued cards. Exceptions are Japan Post Bank, which has ATMs in post offices throughout Japan, and Prestia, which has branches in Tokyo and some other large cities.
Buying an IC card (Suica, Pasmo, ICOCA) is useful for paying subway, train and bus fares, and it can also be used to buy items at many small shops and restaurants, particularly those around stations. Using an IC card can help avoid getting too much small change. You need to pay cash to get it, and you can reload it with cash at any station.
Credit cards are now widely accepted in Japan, at department stores, hotels, major retail chains, and many smaller establishments. Some taxis will accept them, but check at the start of the journey. You can pay for long-distance train tickets by credit card, but for public transport around cities, it’s cash or IC card.
Travel cards appeal to some people as a way of managing exchange rates, by converting currency when the rate is favourable. They can also be a good budgeting tool, loading money at regular intervals beforehand to save up for the holiday, and then using that as your spending fund.
They can come with various fees for loading, withdrawing money at ATMs, and storing money on the card. Often the exchange rate isn’t the best either. Travel card products vary from country to country, so it’s not possible to make general recommendations, but I suggest you look carefully at the fees and compare the exchange rates offered before getting a travel card.
To get an idea of exchange rates in Japan, Narita airport exchange rates for cash are here and Kansai airport exchange rates are here. Visa provide a currency calculator which is useful if you are paying by credit card.
Safety with money
I can’t emphasise enough that you should have at least two methods of getting cash. If you happen to damage or lose one card, then you will have another option for accessing cash.
It’s sensible to tell your bank that you are going on holiday, as their automatic fraud detection systems can block cards if they see what seems to be unusual activity. Don’t use public wifi to access your bank account, as this isn’t secure and your login details may be compromised. Use mobile data, and see if your bank has its own app, which generally has security features to protect your login.
Finally, as I said earlier, there have been many changes regarding money usage in Japan. This information is current as of September 2019. Expect further changes, and be alert for new forms of payment and greater convenience for visitors.
Do you have any questions about money matters while visiting Japan? Please feel free to contact me.
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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.