Despite the rise in popularity of credit and debit cards across the globe, Japan is still very much a cash society.
No other country in the world combines the traditional and the contemporary like Japan. The natural beauty of the Ryukyu Islands to the dizzying lights of Tokyo’s Akihabara district attract hundreds of thousands every year. Whether you’re visiting the islands of Japan for business or pleasure, you can save money by using travel-friendly plastic while you’re there. Here we’ll look at how much Yen you’ll need and look at the travel cards, credit cards and debit cards most suited to your trip to Japan.
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How much ¥en do I need to bring?
The official currency of Japan is the Yen. Compared to some of its neighbour countries Japan has a reputation for being pricey, however if you’re on a budget their are still plenty of options to make sure you have a great visit, including a huge variety of affordable food outlets. On the other end of the scale Japan can can cater for those of you looking for a luxury visit with many lavish hotels, experiences and some of the finest cuisine in the world.
|Tokyo||Budget (Cheap)||Midrange||Luxury (High-end)|
¥2800 = £18.00
|Double room at a business hotel
¥12,000 = £80.00
|Double room in a 5 star hotel
¥52,000 = £350
|Set meal at casual restaurant
¥800 = £5.00
|Dinner at an izakaya (Japanese-style pub)
|Meal at an upmarket sushi restaurant
from ¥10,000 = £68
|One temple or museum entry
¥500 = £4.00
|Private cooking lessons starting starting from
¥4500 = £30
Mt Fuji day tour including Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise
*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.
What is the best travel money card to take to Japan?
Best is a subjective term — it means something different for everyone.However, when you’re comparing your travel money options at the very least, you should choose an option that offers at least one of these:
- No currency conversion fee
- Either no international or local ATM operator fee
- Travel extras: insurance, airport lounges, worldwide concierge service, etc
Next, you need to have an idea about how you plan on transacting in Japan. While Japan is very much a cash society, there are times when you’ll need to use your card. Hotel and travel bookings as well as big ticket items should be purchased on your credit card if possible to make the most of your card’s interest-free days feature.
But, if you plan on indulging in Japanese culture — think tea ceremonies, guided tours in Sakura season, entry the Emperor’s Palace and small cafeterias and eateries — you’ll need cash. The cost of withdrawing from an ATM should be a factor in your comparison of travel money products.
A product which doesn’t charge for currency conversion or to use the ATM is ideal. Some ATMs in Japan (mainly in 7/11 stores and post offices) don’t charge a local ATM operator fee. Pick the right product and it could be cheaper to withdraw your money in Japan than it is at home.
A quick summary of travel money options for Japan
|Travel money option||Pros||Considerations|
|Debit cards for travel||
|Prepaid travel money cards||
|Credit cards for travel||
How the different travel money products work in Japan
Japan is a cash society; however, credit and debit cards are accepted in most places in Japanese cities. Establishments such local restaurants, markets and rural inns (ryokans) are cash only. In the places where you can use your card, you may have issues if you’re using a travel card at the point of sale. Some merchants may reject this card because it doesn’t have your name on the front.
Using a prepaid travel card
A travel card lets you load your British pounds and convert them to Yen (along with a number of other currencies). The main advantage to these cards are they allow you to spend without paying extra for currency conversion. Other benefits for travellers include:
- A dual card account. You get a backup in case your first card is lost or stolen.
- Security. Travel cards are CHIP and PIN protected.
- Prepaid accounts. Stick to your budget and top up your travel card when you need more money.
- Better exchange rates. You can choose to pre-load your money at a time when the exchange rate is more favourable, rather than relying on live rates as you would when using a debit or credit card.
These products require a little more management than debit and credit cards, as you’re responsible for ensuring you top up the card before you run out of money. Remember it can take up to 3 business days for funds clear, and even longer if there’s a public holiday or weekend in the UK.
You also need to be wary of travel card fees (initial load, reload fees and ATM fees), and if you’re a rate hunter, you may want to compare the exchange rate on offer from your travel card issuer. Travel card foreign exchange rates are different to the rate your bank gives you when you send money online or when you buy foreign cash.
Using a credit card
All credit cards allow you to spend in a foreign currency. Some cards are cheaper to use than others. You can compare credit cards which do not charge a fee for currency conversion in the above table. This is an additional charge of roughly 3% when you use your card outside of the UK.
- International ATM fees. The majority of credit card issuers on the market will charge a fee to use an international ATM. Some credit card issuers such waive the international ATM fee.
- Cash advance fees. Withdrawing cash on credit is one of the most expensive ways to get money. Cash advance fees and interest charges apply to this type of transaction, and you’re not eligible for interest free days either. Some issuers waive the cash advance fee and rate of interest if you’ve preloaded a credit card with your own money.
Using a debit card
The majority of debit card issuers charge you a fee when you make a purchase in a foreign currency.
The Citibank Plus Transaction Account is worth highlighting here. This is a unique account. Citibank won’t charge you any fees for currency conversion or any international ATM fees. Use a Citibank ATM in Japan (a quick Google search will show you the closest machine) to withdraw funds from your British Citibank Plus account and you’ll pay nothing to access your money. Furthermore, the Citibank Plus account costs nothing to operate and you can make free international money transfers between Citibank accounts in the UK and Japan.
Taking a traveller’s cheques to Japan
Although traveller’s cheques are becoming an antiquated form of travel money, they are still used by people who are looking to take money to Japan. The safest way to carry your bulk of money to Japan is to use a traveller’s cheque. The traveller’s cheques widely accepted in Japan are Visa, American Express and Thomas Cook.
Fees charged to purchase traveller’s cheques vary from one establishment to another. Some establishments will charge a nominal fee while others will offer traveller’s cheques free of a charge as a service to customers.
After taking your traveller’s cheques to Japan, you can redeem them at banks announcing ‘authorised foreign exchange bank’ outside the front door. You can also redeem your cheques at Japan’s main post offices. In Japan, the traveller’s cheques attract a relatively better exchange rate than bank notes. To get the best rates, redeem your cheques in banks and post offices. Redeeming the cheque at stores or hotels will attract fees and commissions.Back to top
Luke spent 2 weeks in Tokyo. What cards did you take with you? Why did you take these cards with you? How did you find withdrawing from ATMs? Were there any places where you had trouble using your card?
Luke's Tokyo Trip
Where did you visit in Japan?
Luke definitely advises that anyone visiting Japan should familiarise themselves with Post Bank and Seven Bank (inside 7/11) ATMs in the area. His cards wouldn’t work at other ATMs attached to Japanese banks. Luke withdrew up to the ATM limit each time: 60,000 – 80,000 Yen.
Luke says it should be pretty obvious whether a place takes plastic or not. Most places he could tell by the look of the establishment, but he always made sure to ask. Luke points out in Tokyo there are a lot of good “hole-in-the-wall” places to eat, and these establishments were mostly cash only.
Luke spent 2 weeks in Tokyo.
What cards did you take with you?
Why did you take these cards with you?
How did you find withdrawing from ATMs?
Were there any places where you had trouble using your card?
A guide to the Japanese Yen
Since the introduction of the Yen, the denominations have ranged from 10 Yen to 10,000 yen. The following is a brief description of the ¥1000, ¥2000, ¥5000, and ¥10,000.
- 1,000 Yen note. This note has been in use since 1945 and it is currently the lowest value Yen banknote. The front side of the note bears the image of the legendary regent and politician under Empress Suiko, Prince Shōtoku. The reverse side bears a drawing of Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms.
- 2,000 Yen note. This banknote was issued in July 19, 2000. The front side of the note bears a serial number and portrays Shureimon, a 16th-century gate at Shuri Castle in Naha, in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. The reverse side portrays a scene from “The Tale of Genji'” and a portrait of Murasaki Shikibu, the noblewoman to whom this work of literature has been attributed.
- 5,000 Yen note. The front side of the 5,000 note has a portrait of Ichiyo Higuchi, a Meiji era writer and poet. The reverse side depicts “Kakitsubata Flowers”, from a folding screen by Korin Ogata.
- 10,000 Yen note. The front side of this note has a portrait of Yukichi Fukuzawa, a Meiji era philosopher and founder of Keio University. The reverse side has a drawing of the hoo (Chinese phoenix) in the Hall of the Phoenix, Byodoin temple.
Most ATMs in Japan do not accept international cards. Look for ATMs inside Japanese Post Bank and Seven Bank. Citibank have a presence in major cities and airports. Visa and Mastercard have ATM location tools on their website you can find the closest ATM. The post offices opening hours will vary with size. Some open from 7:00 to 23:00, others 8:00 to 20:00 and others from 9:00 to 16:00.
This may change in the future. Tokyo is host the 2020 Olympic Games. The government is pushing Japan’s national banks to connect to the international ATM network. As The Games approach, expect more and more Japanese banks begin to accept international credit, debit and travel cards.
- Tip: Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) exchange rate charges by choosing to be charged in the local currency when withdrawing your Yen