Dealing with Money in Japan
Despite a reputation for technology, Japan is still very much a cash-based economy. While many chains and retail shops now support credit card payments, you will still find that a large number of owner-operated shops and restaurants stick to cash, even for large transactions. More touristy locations take credit cards, but if you're planning on exploring a bit more you'll want to have a decent amount of cash on you. It's not unusual (or unsafe) to walk around carrying a few hundred dollars at any given time, but luckily it's easy to get cash anytime these days when you need it.
The low-down on using cash, credit, and e-money cards when traveling around Japan.
How to get cash easily
So, where can you get cash? If you need instant cash 24 hours a day, the easiest method is using your credit card or VISA bank card at a 7 Eleven convenience store ATM, which can be found just about anywhere within walking distance. Japanese Post Office ATMs can be used as well, but have limited hours in many cases. The fees for using these depend entirely on your own bank’s charges as the ATMs don’t charge fees.
However, if you’re converting your own national currency for Yen you’ll need to use an exchange service such as World Currency Shop. Exchange booths are not as prevalent as in other countries, but you will never need to worry about safety or honesty.
World Currency Shop
Credit card acceptance is growing in Japan, with even smaller shops starting to use credit card services such as Square. However, you may find that your MasterCard or American Express is not accepted, so it’s always good to have a VISA as a backup. Union Pay is becoming much more widely accepted as well, making shopping much easier for Chinese visitors.
As we cover in our E-money Guide, getting a PASMO or SUICA e-money card is one of the best things you can do when you arrive in Japan. You can quickly get in and out of train station gates or pay for taxis with just a touch, and make smaller purchases at many vending machines, kiosks, supermarkets, and convenience stores without needing to deal with small change. You won’t be able to use these cards at most retail locations for larger purchases, but to grab a quick drink they’re a breeze to use.