Japan has a well earned reputation for its technological advancements but you may be surprised to here that cash is still king in the land of the rising sun. Though credit cards are generally accepted in most retail outlets and restaurants, it can come with great frustration that some smaller coffee shops or take away giants such as McDonalds despite have the credit card machine in front of you, will still only accept cash. Tourist attractions that require an entry fee such as shrines and temples are again for the most part cash only so be sure to keep your wallet stocked with yen at all times.
Speaking of yen, Japan’s large quantity bills can be intimidating at first but fear not. Japanese yen come in denominations of 1000, 5000 and 10,000. Japanese coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500. Coins are essential for when traveling on buses and trams in Japan as they do not always accept IC cards such as the popular Suica card. Lockers and vending machines also favour the usage of coins so be sure to keep a couple of 500 and 100 Japanese yen coins on you at all times!
IC cards such as Suica and Icoca are essentially multi-purpose top up cards which can be used throughout Japan’s train and metro networks as well as in convenient stores such as 7/Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart. Top up machines can be found in most stations and we do recommend that you pick one of these cards up when you first arrive into Japan as they do offer the fastest, most convenient method of payment, where accepted.
ATM machines are available throughout Japan however there tends to be an inconsistency with them accepting foreign cards. When you need to withdraw, your safest bet is to find a 7/Eleven convenience store to use one of their ATM machines as these accept most cards from around the world. Some ATM machines in Japan strangely have operating hours, for example you may find an ATM machine that can’t be used after 10pm. For this reason we highly recommend you keep your wallet loaded with sufficient yen at all times as you will never know when you will need it.
You can change your currency into Japanese yen before you reach Japan however its not a problem to change your currency over at licensed currency exchange bureau at the airport, at the bank or post office. Some bank accounts across the world offer free withdrawal worldwide such as the UK’s Nationwide Flex Plus account (which costs £13 a month) it may be worth while using an account like this for your trip to avoid charges for using ATM machines in Japan. Credit cards in your country may also offer cards with no transaction fee with international transactions. These can come in handy for those inevitable large shopping trips in Japan or for when paying for your hotel. If you take one lesson away from this article however, make sure to have cash in Japanese yen on you at all times! Happy traveling 🙂