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Money & costs

Money & costs

Money

The Japanese currency is the yen (円, en). One yen corresponds to 100 sen. However, sen are usually not used in everyday life anymore, except in stock market prices. Bills come in 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen (very rare), 5,000 yen and 10,000 yen denominations. Coins come in 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen and 500 yen denominations. Counterfeit money is not an issue in Japan.

Foreign currencies are generally not an accepted outside of major international airports.

Payment methods in Japan

Japan has a reputation of being a cash-based society, but trends have gradually been changing, and there has been a significant increase in the acceptance of other payment methods. Below are the modes of payment that you might use when visiting Japan:

Cash

Cash is still the preferred payment method, especially when it involves small amounts. Big bills are readily used and accepted in Japan; you are unlikely to be frowned upon for using a 10,000 yen bill to pay even for low-cost items, although smaller denominations are appreciated for payments made in taxis, smaller shops, temples and shrines. The likelihood that credit cards are accepted decreases in small cities and towns, and thus it is advisable to keep cash at hand when visiting rural areas.

Cash is usually the only way to pay for small entrance fees at tourist sights, at smaller restaurants and small shops. The majority of lockers also require coins. Preparing coins in advance when using buses and trams is a good idea. Buses generally do not accept bills above 1000 yen, and the bus driver may not carry any larger bills. Vending machines typically accept 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen coins and 1,000 yen bills. Newer machines typically also accept 5,000 and 10,000 yen bills.

Credit/Debit Cards

There is an increased acceptance of credit and debit cards, especially in big cities. Most hotels accept payment by credit cards nowadays, as do most department stores, mid to high end restaurants, outlet malls and large retail shops. In addition, many train stations, convenience stores, supermarkets, chain restaurants and boutiques also accept them.

IC Cards (more information)

IC cards, such Suica and Icoca, are a stored value cards which can be recharged. Primarily a tool for convenient payment of train and bus fares, IC cards now double as a means of payment at an increasing number of shops and restaurants, especially in and around train stations, at most convenience stores, many chain restaurants, numerous vending machines and some lockers in big cities.

How to get your Yen

Having seen the main payment methods in Japan, you should have a basic idea of how you should prepare money for your trip. Cash is handy because it is accepted under all situations, but credit cards can be a convenient alternative at appropriate locations. Theft and robberies are very rare in Japan, so with regards to keeping large amounts of cash with you, security is less of a concern than your propensity to lose money by accident. Here are ways to get your yen:

Currency Exchange

In Japan, currency exchange is usually handled by banks, post offices, some larger hotels and a handful of licensed money changers found especially at international airports.

Whether or not it is better to change for yen before coming into Japan depends on the currency that you hold. For example, the US dollar is a highly traded foreign currency in Japan, and partly for this reason you might get a favorable rate if you change US dollars into yen in Japan. On the other hand, in some Southeast Asian countries, the foreign exchange market is very competitive and money changers take a smaller cut, therefore it might be better to do the exchange there before coming into Japan. For a general comparison in rates, refer to the Narita Airport's published rates.

ATM Withdrawal (more information)

Many ATMs in Japan do not accept cards that are issued outside of Japan. The big exception are the ATMs found at the over 20,000 post offices and over 10,000 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country. Exchange rates offered at ATMs tend to be competitive, but service fees vary widely depending on the card. Inquire with your card issuer in advance. Note that many ATMs in Japan are out of service during the night, and some are unavailable on weekends.

Traveler's Check

Traveler's Checks (T/C) tend to yield a more favorable exchange rate than the above two methods. The shortfall is the trouble of having to obtain them in your home country before you travel and then having to locate a place to change them in Japan. Whether you are getting more value for your money depends on your home currency and if your bank charges fees to issue the checks. Note that T/Cs are accepted in very limited currencies in Japan. International airports and leading banks are generally where you can change your T/C for yen. Refer to Narita Airport's published rates for generally accepted currencies.

Banks

Banks in Japan operate similarly to banks in other countries. There are a variety of institutions, ranging from large international banks to smaller regional ones. The large domestic banks include Japan Postal Bank, Mizuho, Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Sumitomo, Resona, Citibank and Shinsei Bank. Furthermore, several online banks, most notably Seven Bank, have recently gained popularity and offer their customers banking via the internet and a network of ATMs.

Banks provide their customers with services such as cash deposits, withdrawals, transfers, foreign exchange and investment services. Most banks are open from 9:00 to 15:00, and close on weekends and national holidays. ATMs tend to have longer operating hours and tend to be available on weekends and holidays. An increasing number of ATMs are available 24 hours.

Opening an Account

Both foreign residents and travelers can open a bank account as long as they hold a Residence Card. Some banks may also accept a Japanese driver's license in lieu of a residence card. More conservative banks may also require a personal stamp (inkan).

Most banks do not require a minimum deposit to open an account and do not charge a fee to maintain it. Interest rates on regular accounts are very low, often fractions of a percent. Once you have applied, your bank book and ATM card will be sent via mail. Conversely, you can close your account in person at any branch with your cash card, bank book, residence card and personal stamp (if required).

Bank Transfers (Furikomi)

Electronic bank transfers (furikomi) are one of the key services offered by Japanese banks. They are a very common way for individuals and businesses to transfer money between each other and to pay bills. Transfers can be made at the teller, ATM or via the internet, and are processed on the same day if made within business hours. A fee of typically 200 to 500 yen is paid by the sender.

It is also possible to transfer money from an account outside of Japan to a Japanese account via international wire transfer; however, it can be a somewhat complicated process that usually costs several thousand yen in handling fees.

ATMs

Japanese ATMs allow their users to withdraw, deposit and transfer money, as well as update their bank books. While the number of 24 hour ATMs is increasing, most ATMs maintain business hours and are closed for a few hours each night. Foreign travelers note that many ATMs cannot be used with foreign issued debit and credit cards. See our ATM page for more information.

Other Services

Banks provide a variety of other useful services. Payments of bills such as phone and utility bills and taxes can be made at banks or can be set up to be automatically withdrawn from an account. Most banks can also exchange foreign currencies.

Credit Cards

Although not as popular as cash, credit cards are widely accepted at hotels, restaurants and shops across Japan. Residents of Japan can apply for credit cards such as VISA, Mastercard, JCB and AMEX through Japanese banks and other institutions. Approval standards are relatively strict, and credit cards may be difficult to obtain by foreigners without permanent residence, a Japanese spouse or a tax history in Japan.

Japanese credit card bills must be paid in full every month and are usually automatically withdrawn from a bank account. When making purchases, the card holder can choose to make the payment interest free at once (ikkatsu barai) or divide it evenly over a number of months (bunkatsu barai), in which case interest is charged.

Loans

Japanese banks offer loans and mortgages at very low interest rates, however they can be difficult to secure. Besides requiring the applicants to have a certain income level, most banks will issue loans and mortgages only to Japanese citizens, permanent residents or foreign nationals with a Japanese spouse.

ATMs

Important Notice regarding Maestro cards with IC chips

Many international ATMs across Japan, including ATMs at post offices, are currently not accepting Maestro cards with IC chips. ATMs accepting the affected cards are 7-Bank ATMs (found at over 10,000 7-Eleven stores nationwide) and Aeon Bank ATMs (see list).

Many automatic teller machines (ATMs) in Japan do not accept credit, debit and ATM cards, which are issued outside of Japan.

The big exception are the ATMs found at the over 20,000 post offices and over 10,000 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country. These ATMs allow you to withdraw cash by credit and debit cards issued outside of Japan, including Visa, Plus, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express and JCB cards and provide an English user menu.

ATMs at 7-Eleven stores are available 24 hours per day around the year. In case of post offices, however, only the central offices of major cities offer a 24 hour/7 days ATM service, including the Tokyo Central Office, Shinjuku Office, Shibuya Office and the central offices of Osaka, Kyoto and a few other major cities (note that even these ATMs are unavailable on Sundays and public holidays between 20:00 and midnight).

Postal ATM operating hours then decrease proportionally to the size of the post office, from major post offices (typically 7:00 to 23:00, shorter hours on weekends) to medium sized offices (typically 8:00 to 20:00, shorter hours on weekends, possibly closed on Sundays) to minor offices (typically 9:00 and 16:00, closed on weekends).

In addition to the ATMs at post offices and 7-Eleven convenience stores, international ATMs can be found at international airports, in major department stores and in Shinsei Bank branches. ATMs by Aeon Bank, found at Aeon malls and selected other locations, also accept cards issued outside of Japan.

In order to use international ATMs, ensure the following at home before leaving for Japan:

  • Make sure that your credit or debit card can be used abroad.
  • Inquire what fees and daily and/or monthly limits are associated with international withdrawals.
  • Remember your card's secret 4-digit PIN.
  • Notify your bank that you are going to use your card overseas, since many banks will block a card which is suddenly used abroad, suspecting a fraud.

Typical Costs

Accommodation – Most hostels will charge between $25-35 USD per night for a dorm room. Pod hotels cost between $30-50 USD for a tiny little room (that’s really a pod). A double room at a budget hotel is closer to $70 USD per night.

Food – There are many cheap places to eat out in Japan from the ramen noodle shops to miso and soba noodles. These food options range from $2-10 USD USD. Buying groceries will cost you $30-40 USD per week. Most restaurant meals cost around $16 USD. Mid-range restaurants can cost around $35 USD. Sushi trains cost between $1-5 USD per piece. Fast food is around $6.50 USD.

Transportation – Transportation in Japan is incredibly expensive. Trains are the fastest but most expensive way to travel. A train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo can cost $160 USD! Most of the city metro tickets cost $1-2 USD for a single journey. In most major cities, you can buy a day pass, which gives you unlimited travel for 24 hours for around $8 USD on select trains. Inter-city bus tickets cost around $20 USD.

Activities – Most temples and museums are free to enter, although some popular attractions cost around $10 USD. The temples in Kyoto can cost up to $5 USD. Many of the city’s parks are free, so take advantage when you can and spend the day there. You can buy city or temple passes that are valid for one day.

Money Saving Tips

Visit the free attractions – With countless museums, shrines, temples, historic neighborhoods and parks, Japan is filled with opportunities to become immersed in its culture. Many of the nation’s parks and museums are free.

Get a JR Pass – The bullet trains in Japan are ridiculously expensive with one way fares costing hundreds of dollars. If you plan to do a lot of travel around the country, get the JR Pass which allows you unlimited train travel and will save you a ton of money.

Take the bus – Buses are a far more economical option than the trains. They cost a fraction of the price but take a lot longer. For example, the two-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo to Osaka becomes a 10 hour bus ride. You can get unlimited travel passes for $100 USD for 3 non-consecutive days of travel. If you have the time, take the bus.

Shop at the 100 Yen ($1 USD) stores – There are many 100 Yen shops in Japan with set meals, groceries, water, toiletries, and household items. Store names vary by region, so ask your hotel/hostel reception where the nearest one is located.

Eat at 7-11 – A 7-11, or Family Mart, and other corner stores have a lot of pre-set meals for $1-3 USD that make for a cheap lunch option. Additionally, supermarkets also have many set meals at similar prices.

Cook your food – Hostels have kitchens where you can cook and cut your food expenses to less than $6 USD per day. Combining this with shopping at the 100 Yen stores will drastically cut your food costs.

Eat curry, ramen, and donburi – I essentially lived off these three foods during my three weeks in Japan. Curry bowls were as cheap as $3 USD per plate. Donburi, bowls of meat and rice, are around $4-5 USD. Ramen is never more than $7 USD. These are the best ways to eat cheap and filling meals while in Japan.

Work for your room – Hostels in Japan let you work for your room. You’ll spend a few hours in the morning cleaning and you’ll get free accommodation for as long as you want.

Couchsurf – Using hospitality sites like Couchsurfing that allow you to stay with locals not only gets you a free place to stay but lets you interact and learn about local life. Make sure you ask early – the response rate is not good!

Buy food at night – After 8 pm, supermarkets discount their fresh food as they have to get rid of it by law. If you buy your food after 8 pm, you can save up to 50%.