Travellers are often shocked to see just how much cash Japanese people are comfortable carrying. In Japan, it is not unusual to keep tens of thousands of yen in your wallet. You will want to adopt the same habits – many shops in Japan do not except credit or debit cards. In addition, many additional transaction fees (such as the ¨key money¨ paid when leasing a flat) are only accepted in cash.
Fortunately, Japan is a safer nation than many. Carrying large amounts of cash will not put you at any more risk than anyone else, even as a foreigner.
Credit cards in Japan
While credit cards are becoming more popular in Japan, they are nowhere near as convenient as cash. Only the largest shops and supermarkets will accept credit cards, and even then many will only accept Visa or Mastercard. In addition, you will need to present a passport with your card to get a cash advance at a bank, and most ATMs do not offer cash advances for credit cards at all.
If you do most of your shopping with a credit card, get in the habit of carrying more cash than usual.
Foreign debit cards are not accepted in most Japanese shops. The most practical use for a debit card is to withdraw money from ATMs, you need to be sure that the ATM accepts foreign cards. You will have better luck with a Japanese debit card, though you will still find plenty of shops that refuse any kind of debit payment.
ATMs in Japan
Japanese ATM service is provided through a combination of traditional ATM machines and CDs (cash dispensers) that only process withdrawals. ATMS and CDs are common in major cities, but do not usually accept foreign debit and credit cards unless they are operated by an international bank such as Citigroup. Outside of the cities, ATMs become less common and it is practically impossible to use them with a foreign card. The best way to ensure you have access to cash is by setting up a post office savings account (see Japanese banks).
Many Japanese ATMs are not open for 24 hours, either. They are actually turned off at night (usually 19:00 during the week, 17:00 on Saturdays). While this might seem strange to foreigners, it is not considered unusual in Japan: cigarette machines are also turned off at night.
7-Eleven convenience stores, however, do provide ATMs with 24-hour service. They also accept international credit and debit cards.
Regardless of what ATM you use, expect to be charged a small fee (around 100 yen) unless you use your Japanese bank´s ATM during regular bank hours.
Do not, under any circumstances, plan on paying for anything in Japan with a check drawn on a foreign bank. Japanese banks charge large fees (in the thousands of yen) for check-cashing, and they do not accept foreign checks at all.
Many banks will change traveller´s checks, however. To make the process easiest you should have the checks issued in either Japanese yen or US dollars.