Japan is a largely cash-based society. When you come to Japan, we recommend that you bring a minimum of about ¥40,000 to cover transportation and living costs.
Exchanging for Japanese Yen
It’s possible to obtain Japanese Yen before you arrive in Japan. One suggested method is to simply purchase the Yen from your home bank. This process can sometimes take a few weeks, so make sure to call in advance. Banks will often have the best exchange rates compared to private currency exchanges, but pay attention to whether or not you have to pay any shipping fees; it may be more frugal to exchange your money somewhere that has a slightly higher rate but no shipping fees. If you need cash last minute, you can also exchange most currencies at international airports. The rates will be higher than at the bank, but it will prevent you from being cashless in a cash-based economy.
Traveler’s checks are typically not accepted at most places in Japan, and it is not cost-effective to have to exchange them for cash. We do not recommend you rely on this method for currency in Japan.
International ATMs are easy to find in Japan. 7-Eleven Bank ATMs will accept international debit cards, and will let you withdraw Yen in increments of ¥10,000 from your home account. Transaction fees will apply, and your home bank may also charge additional fees, but you will be getting a reasonable exchange rate. Japan Post Bank ATMs will also let you make international withdrawals. If you plan on making large withdrawals, make sure that you contact your home bank regarding your withdrawal limits. Also note that some ATMs in Japan are not available 24/7. (Japanese ATMs can also do cash transfers to bank accounts within Japan, and let you make bill payments to companies, including Oakhouse, using Pay-easy!)
Common credit card providers (i.e., Visa, American Express, etc.) are often accepted at larger stores and chain restaurants, but not everywhere. Be aware that your bank may charge international transaction fees. If shopping online, international credit cards are not always accepted, even if major brands are listed. Online credit card processing uses different security protocols, and unless the card is domestic, it’s not uncommon for the transaction to be declined. Japanese credit cards are often only available for those intending to reside in Japan for one year or longer.
When using a credit card, the cashier will usually ask if you want to pay all at once or in installments each month (“Nankai barai desu ka?/Ikkatsu de yoroshii deshou ka?”), but this service cannot be used with foreign credit cards. If asked, hold up one finger to indicate a single, whole payment, or you can reply, “ikkai kudasai.”