Cash or Cards? Methods of Payment in Japan
When you decide to travel abroad, you might start thinking about the currency and payment method for the country, as well as your plan for what you want to do there. You will need to have plenty of money in your budget so you can enjoy a special experience, and therefore know the best ways to make payments.
There will be so many times that you will need to make payments whilst you are in Japan, for example, shopping, taking taxis, public transport, accommodation, various activities and much more.
Japan is no exception with regards to having various different payment methods – similar to other countries. You can of course still pay using cash at many places in Japan, but it has been recently changing, as the Japanese government increases the number of places where you can pay using the cashless system, which is much more convenient for many foreign tourists.
But payment methods are sometimes related to the local culture, so you might find some differences from your normal methods of payment in your own country.
Therefore, this article offers some information regarding making payments in Japan.
Hopefully, it will be helpful for you when preparing for your Japan trip, and also whilst you are in Japan!
- 1 An overview of making payments in Japan
- 2 How you can exchange your money into Yen in Japan
- 3 Recommended payment methods for the various situations during your Japanese trip
- 4 Payment in Japan
An overview of making payments in Japan
Let’s take a glance at payment methods in Japan – such as cash, credit and debit card, IC card, and also QR codes that you can use in Japan.
“yen” (¥ 円: en) is Japan’s official currency.
Cash is still the major method of payment in Japan, and all places accept yen.
The notes come in 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 5,000 yen, and 10,000 yen denominations. All notes have a famous person on one side, such as Fukuzawa Yukichi who founded Keio University and worked for the Japanese government during the Meiji period. Japan expects to have new designs for their notes which will come into circulation at the beginning of 2024 – you might want to keep some of the current notes as a memory.
The coins are 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen and 500 yen.
It is always better to have some 100 yen coins in your wallet for visiting temples and shrines for the admission fee, or for buying drinks from vending machines – though these also accept larger notes.
Credit and Debit card
Credit and the debit cards are becoming much more popular, and a more common method of payment in Japan, due to the Japanese governments move towards a cashless country. So you’ll be able to use your credit and debit card almost everywhere – train stations, shops, restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores, especially in towns, which pretty much covers all your daily life needs. Only some privately-run establishments will accept cash only.
Usually, cards from VISA, MasterCard, JCB, and American Express are accepted by most places.
Please be aware that many of the ATM machines in Japan do not accept credit and debit cards which have been issued outside of Japan. Some international ATM machines can be found at international airports, major banks and department stores – and Lawson convenience stores.
IC cards such as Suica, Pasmo, Icoca, Pitapa are all very convenient for making payments in Japan, and not only for public transport but also at restaurants, shops, vending machines, and convenience stores.
They are pre-paid cards that you can recharge easily at stations. You can take the train, subway, and buses without using cash, but you can also purchase goods or pay for various items in many places throughout Japan.
Usually, some of the cards require a 500 yen deposit when you apply for an IC card for the first time.
Getting IC card at the station is not only the way, you can get “apps” of Suica and Pasmo on your smartphone, not for all models but like iPhone 7 more recent versions.
Also, it is very convenient if you have Apple Watch series 2 that Suica app links to Apple pay for making payment so easy.
QR code online payment service was designed by the Japanese company Denso Wave in 1994, and it is becoming very popular amongst companies in Japan, as it is the fast and most convenient way for making payments using an app on smartphones.
There are many places that accept Line Pay, which is a Japanese brand, and also Alipay, a Chinese brand with an amazing 900 million registered users.
Therefore, because Japan will be hosting the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics in 2020, many places are rushing to set up QR codes for cashless payments.
There are temples and shrines that have QR codes for visitors, allowing them to pay the admission fee, and even to make a small offering to the donations box using a QR code via smartphones, even the Japanese people are surprised to know this fact.
It seems that the banks and regional financial institutions across Japan expect to come out with a unified smartphone payment service, maybe in Spring 2020; so Japan is getting to become more of a cashless society, which is good news for foreign tourists, who won’t need to exchange currency before or during their visit.
How you can exchange your money into Yen in Japan
You know now that there are many different payment methods available in Japan.
But, even though you have your credit or IC card, it is still best to have some cash ready, especially if your trip is to the countryside, as you might want to spend money in places that don’t take credit cards or offer an online payment service.
So we suggest you have both, cash and other payment methods so that you won’t be disappointed.
Let’s take a look at how you can get yen in Japan.
Currency exchange – your money into yen
You can make a currency exchange at airports, but this is always a more expensive option, so we recommend that you exchange your money into yen at banks, post offices, large stations, hotels and department stores, and some other places in the busier tourist cities in Japan – Kyoto, and Tokyo.
Let’s take a look at the currency exchange at Kyoto station. A World Currency Shop is on the 8th floor on the south side of the Daikaidan in the station building. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday.
As mentioned above, many ATM machines in Japan do not accept cards that have been issued outside of Japan, so you will need to find an ATM Withdrawal machine that you can use a foreign bank card in, otherwise, you won’t be able to withdraw your money.
International ATMs can be found at over 20,000 post offices, and at 10,000 7-eleven convenience stores across Japan. Especially the 7-eleven chain store can be very useful, as they are open for long hours, and some stores are 24 hours.
Please don’t forget that the currency conversion fee will be 1 to 3% of the amount you withdraw, depending on the type of card you are using.
If you would like to know more about ATMs in Japan, please check here:
The good point in using Traveler’s Checks is that you can spend them anywhere when no international ATMs are around. But Traveller’s Checks are not very common nowadays, as you need to get it in advance of your trip, in your own country, and there are limited places that you can use them in Japan.
Recommended payment methods for the various situations during your Japanese trip
To avoid stress or disappointment, it is better to know which payment method works well for these various situations. Let’s find the best way of making payments.
You will be using public transport almost every day during your trip to Japan, so your payment method should be the one that makes your life easy. So, the IC card is definitely the best way to go. Almost every Japanese transport company uses one of the IC cards because it is so convenient. Once you make an IC card, you can start using it straight away, by just touching the payment panel on each trip you make and you are able to go places very easily. For example, Suica – issued by JR East Railways and has a cute penguin character – lets you travel freely all across Japan, as does the ICOCA card, issued by JR West Railways.
It is very similar to the Oyster card used in London or SmarTrip in Washington, so you may already know how to use this type of card – no cash needed. You can take the IC card back home as a little souvenir as well.
You can get a taxi, not only at a taxi waiting area – such as those in front of stations or bus stops – but also on the streets in Japan. Just put your hand up to let the driver know you would like picking up. Taking a taxi is a very convenient way to get around, especially if you are a group of 3 or 4 people, as you can share the cost.
When you get to your destination, this is the time to make your payment. Taxi drivers will tell you how much it cost, and will usually accept a credit or debit card. But just in case, you should have cash with you, for some taxis are cash only. Please note that there is no tipping in Japan, but you may round the fee up and give some extra coins.
Japanese convenience stores, like 7-eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart, MINI STOP and others are amazing, and they are everywhere. There are so many items available, operating long opening hours and offer a great service. You will find convenience stores are so helpful, and they have also become part of Japanese culture.
Convenience stores can be very innovative with their products and service, so you can imagine payment at these stores should be using the most recent technology. They started accepting credit and debit cards a long time ago, so it is normal that their customers make payments using these cards.
Shopping in town
One of the pleasures of any trip is to go shopping – even though you might be on a budget. But it sometimes happens that you find something very Japanese at a department store or antique shop, something you really want to purchase. But don’t worry, nowadays shopping in Japanese cities allows you to pay by the credit or debit card. Also, many shops in side streets, in stations, supermarkets, souvenir shops, actually almost everywhere will accept credit or debit cards. If you want to enjoy meals at restaurants, coffee at cafés – before or after shopping – then you can also use those cards at most of these places too.
If you are interested in the downtown of Kyoto, please check here:
Street stalls and other markets
We talked about lunch and dinner, but how about the street vendors and other markets, like the famous Nishiki market in Kyoto?
It might become cashless in the future, but cash is still the main form of payment, so be sure to bring some cash when you wander around the markets. It’s an opportunity for you to get used to using Japanese currency – buy, pay, get change and then buy something else with the change whilst you are having ramen and Japanese sweets or other goodies available!
As you might notice, the credit and debit card basically can be used for most situations in Japan.
If you are interested in Nishiki market, the famous market in Kyoto, please check here:
Payment in Japan
There are many different payment methods in Japan, and for many different situations. But it is always recommended that you have some cash with you Just in case. But often, all you will need is one of your credit or debit cards, and one IC card – making sure you will be OK anywhere you go in Japan.
Thank you for reading, and we hope this article has been helpful to you!
Latest posts by S-fleage (see all)
- How to Get to Kyoto - 2019/07/16
- The Best 5 Bike Tours in Kyoto! - 2019/07/12
- Five suggestions of where to stay around Arashiyama - 2019/07/11