Using Money in Japan

Coins Are Big Money in Japan

Japanese 100 and 500 yen coins

Unlike US coins, Japanese coins add up quickly. Back home in the states, I would normally just toss my pocket change into a jar at the end of the day. Initially I did the same thing here until I started to wonder where all my money was going. I checked the coin jar and found that it added up to over $100.

The coin denominations in Japan are ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥100 and ¥500. Of course the exchange rate varies, but to make things simple you can say that ¥1 is roughly equivalent to 1¢ US. That makes the ¥100 and ¥500 coins roughly equivalent to $1.00 and $5.00 respectively. Amounts like that add up quickly. The coins in the photo up above add up to over $20.00 USD.

Also consider that there are no paper equivalents to these coins. Japanese paper bills start at ¥1000 note (~$10.00 USD) and move to ¥2000 (~$20.00, you don't see these bills often however) to ¥5000 (~$50.00) and then finally to ¥10,000 (~$100.00). Anytime you break a ¥1000 note, you will be given change in all coins.

Why would you care about coins adding up? For the most part it's inconsequential, except for the fact that you always end up carrying around ten pounds of pocket change. If you're not already so equipped, I would recommend investing in a change purse of some variety, and not a small one. For a while I was using an old Crown Royal bag, but that was just too classy for everyday use.

Cash Machines in Japan

Japan is still a cash based society so you will need to stock up and do so frequently. Thankfully, ATMs (called "cash machines" in Japan) are plentiful, but there are a few restrictions that you should be aware of before using them.

Naturally, foreign ATM cards will not function in all Japanese cash machines. If you are in a large metropolitan area there will likely be a Citibank branch somewhere near you that will work with your card. Foreign cards are also accepted in the cash machines of most Japanese post offices.

Useless Fact: Annoyingly, even a native cash card based on a Japanese bank will not work in all cash machines in Japan. Japanese cash cards only work with machines that are supported by that card's particular bank (similar to how all ATMs worked when originally introduced in the late 1980s). Supported machines often get few and far between once you leave your geographical area. For example: I live in Hyogo prefecture. Whenever I travel to Osaka prefecture, I have a very difficult time finding a cash machine that supports my bank. Even though I've only traveled about forty five minutes away from my home. This is a real annoyance if you travel in Japan often, especially considering that you need cash for almost everything here.

When using ATMs in Japan keep the following in mind:

  • Every cash machines that I've encountered in Japan charges a ¥105 fee for using the machine at any time after 6:PM or at any time on Saturdays or Sundays.

  • Most cash machines in Japan are located inside buildings and are not assessable 24 hours a day. Even if you have around the clock physical access, you will often find that it will be shut off at or around 9:PM.
  • Your maximum daily ATM withdrawal limit may be slightly less when used outside of your bank's home country. Don't forget to factor in any additional service charges that your bank or the Japanese bank may charge. It would be wise to ask your bank about international ATM limits, currency exchange rate policies and international service fees before leaving your home country. Be sure to do this for any credit cards you intend to use during your travels as well.

  • Most Japanese cash machines do not have an English language option, but the Citibank ATMs and the Japan post office machines will function in English.

  • Even with an ATM that supports English, it will still ask you for a withdrawal amount in Japanese yen so you will probably want to do your dollar to yen conversion math before you get to the head of the ATM line. More often than not, you will need to come up with a number that is divisible by ¥1000.

Using Credit and Check Cards in Japan

Keep the following tips in mind when using any from of card payment during your travels in Japan.

  • Although they are becoming more common, credit cards are still not a popular form of payment in Japan so never assume that a particular establishment will accept them. For most of Japan, cash is the only option.
  • When you use a card to pay in some stores the clerk may ask you "How many payments?". Japanese credit cards are setup differently than in most other countries in that the customer determines how many payments they wish to make for a particular purchase.

    Your answer to this question will have no affect on any US or UK based card so just reply "One" or "Ichi". I'm always asked this question at Joshin (a popular Japanese electronics store), even if the total bill is under fifteen bucks.

  • Here's an especially useful travel tip: Unless you are fluent in Japanese, you will not be able to read the info on the card receipt. I highly recommend that you jot down a quick note relating to the purchase on the back of the receipt immediately after the clerk hands it to you. You will thank yourself for this later. Additionally, some places that do accept cards may not request your signature on the card receipt. This is normal so don't be concerned (I've actually started seeing this more often in the US now as well).