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A guide to Japanese money you should read before travelling to Japan: what Japanese currency is, which debit cards and credit cards to use in Japan, which ATMs to utilize to get cash, how to locate ATMs that accept foreign cards, plus what are the best places to exchange money and finally, up-to-the-minute exchange rates.
Personally, I have never carried around so much cash on me, as I did in Japan. Japan is a cash-driven community. A lot of places do not accept credit cards. Here is everything you need to know about Japanese money matters:
Japanese currency is called yen, symbolized by ¥.
Bills come in denominations of 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 5,000 yen, and 10,000 yen (2,000 yen bills are rarely seen).
1,000 yen bill – this bill has been in use since 1945 and it is the lowest value yen bill. The front side of the bill has 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. 5,000 yen bill – the front side 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 bill – 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.
1,000 yen bill – this bill has been in use since 1945 and it is the lowest value yen bill. The front side of the bill has 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.
5,000 yen bill – the front side 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 bill – 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.
Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 yen.
What is interesting is that 5 yen and 50 yen coins have holes in the middle of them. It is not something unusual, since Papua New Guinea, Denmark and the Philippines also have coins with holes in the center, I just find it interesting and they make a perfect keepsake or a souvenir for friends back home.
At the Samurai Museum in Hiroshima located at Hiroshima Castle (read about it in my blog post on Hiroshima ) I learned that it was easier to transport coins with a hole in the center. They were put on a string and carried around the neck.
You will need a Debit Card (it is wise to have a couple of Debit Cards to have some options just in case one of them does not work) to get cash in Japan. I know it is not the most frugal way of obtaining cash since you will acquire currency conversion fees, international ATM fees, withdrawal fees, etc but you must have cash in Japan.
Make sure to know your four-digit personal identification number (PIN) and your daily withdrawal limit before leaving on your trip.
I made my withdrawals a couple of times a week and carried enough cash to last me three or four days.
First, obtain a credit card that charges 0% foreign currency conversion fee. There are a lot of options to choose from and each has pluses and minuses. One of the minuses could be that the card charges an annual fee. Please check with the bank and find out the details or special promotions.
Here are some of credit cards that do not charge foreign currency conversion fee and are the best credit cards to use in Japan:
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit
Bank Americard Travel Rewards
Second, to save your cash, whenever you are ready to make your purchase in Japan always ask if the place takes credit cards. Do not assume, always make sure to ask.
ATMs (Automated Teller Machines)
You can withdraw Japanese money at ATMs (Automated Teller Machines). Please make a note that ATMs located at Japanese banks accept only cards issued by Japanese banks. You will not be able to withdraw the money if you have a foreign bank card.
Location of ATMs
7-Eleven convince stores – the stores are found throughout Japan and are often open 24 hours a day. They have ATMs that accept foreign bank cards operating on the Cirrus (www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (www.visa.com) systems.
Post offices – there are 21,000 post offices in Japan. They have ATMs accepting foreign bank cards operating on the Cirrus and PLUS.
Following is the link to find the location of a Japanese Post Office to get Japanese money: Japanese Post Office Locations
Citibank also has ATMs accepting foreign bank cards.
Metro Stations and airports have ATMs that accept foreign bank cards as well.
How to use ATMs in Japan
ATMs are easy to use and there is an option to select an English version. Don’t worry, you can do it!
ATMs that I used to get Japanese money were Japan Post Bank ATM and 7 Bank ATM. Following are the pictures:
All banks in Japan displaying an Authorized Foreign Exchange sign can exchange currency. The exchange rates are posted as well.
Travelex has foreign exchange kiosks that will exchange money. Following is the link to find Travelex locations in Japan: Travelex in Japan
Up-to-the-Minute Exchange Rates
I would check the exchange rate before heading to the bank or Travelex kiosk and exchanging money. It is prudent to know what the current exchange rate is and what kind of the exchange rate you will get at the bank. I always use XE. You can check their up-to-the-minute rates here: XE
Get some yen from your bank before you leave on your trip. Your bank will place an order for you and the cash should be ready for pick up in a few days. My bank calls me when they have the order ready. You should ask them about the conversion rate to see if they are fairly competitive. If their conversion rate is not viable, shop around and check other banks.
It is nice to have some cash when you arrive and for a few days until you get the lay of the land and find a foreign-friendly ATM.
Notify your bank or banks that you will be travelling; give them dates and locations. This is to prevent a hold being placed on your card.
MORE IDEAS FOR PLACES TO VISIT IN JAPAN