The official currency of Japan is the Yen (円). Money in Japan and the systems and culture around it are rather different to the west.
Note that outside major airports, foreign currencies foreign currencies such as the US dollar are not accepted.
Cashed based society
While Japan may have the image of being a very technologically advanced country, it’s still very much a cash based society. Most restaurants do not accept credit cards, apart from a few popular chains. Therefore, make sure you are always carrying enough cash to survive in case you can’t find an ATM. In more remote places, such as Lake Tazawa, we have been in areas where there are no ATMs within walking distance. Also make sure you have enough cash for buses and trains.
Almost all hotels and hostels accept Visa and Mastercard.
Where to get money
ATMs and cash machines
The best place to withdraw cash with a foreign card 24/7 are the 7-Eleven convenience stores (セブン-イレブン), but Cirrus and Maestro cards are not currently accepted. Post office (郵便局) machines can also be used, but the opening times are often very inconvenient. Look for the 〒 sign. Citibank and Shinsei Bank also have machines that accept foreign cards.
Sometimes machines will not allow you to take out too large an amount, so if your card doesn’t work, try again with a smaller amount.
Japanese Post Office and 7-Eleven branches
There are currency exchange bureaus (両替所) in all major stations and cosmopolitan areas. These are usually shown on maps just inside or outside stations. World Currency Shop is often good. You can also exchange money at any airport. It’s often cheaper to exchange in Japan, but getting yen in other Asian countries can be cheaper.
IC cards, such as the SUICA card, are great to pay for everyday, low cost items such as drinks or snacks. They can be used in convenience stores, supermarkets and many other places in the big cities.
Tipping and bargaining
Tipping, thankfully for those on a budget, is 100% not part of Japanese customs. You never need to tip taxi drivers, waiters or hotel staff and doing so would cause lots of embarrassment. It’s also not OK to round up a bill, even if your taxi driver or waitress was super, super helpful.
Bargaining is very rare in Tokyo, but can occasionally be done down south in places such as Osaka. If you are buying lots of items, see if you can get a discount or freebie, but we are not giving any guarantees this will work!