A cash society

TRAVELLERS’ CHEQUES

Most banks will exchange these, and because a ready supply of cash is essential in Japan, these are recommended. US dollar travellers’ cheques will be most readily accepted.

CREDIT CARD PAYMENT

Credit cards are accepted for payment in big stores, but not accepted as widely as in Western countries.

WITHDRAWING CASH (ATM)

There are cash machines (ATM) everywhere, but they usually only accept the cards of Japanese banks. Western cash cards will not work, even VISA ones. The cash machines of foreign banks eg. CITIBANK will accept foreign cards (VISA etc.) , and the machines have instructions in English! (If you find the right button). But there aren’t many of them… there’s never one around when you need it.

You can withdraw Japanese Yen at SEVEN BANK ATMs. More than 14,500 SEVEN BANK ATMs can be found at 7-Eleven stores all over Japan. Once you insert your card, the first screen invites you to choose your language – English being the first choice. VISA credit or debit cards, American Express, Diners and Mastercard are accepted. And the stores are open 24hrs. Look for the 7-Eleven style “Seven & i Holdings” sign, with ATM written underneath.

Post Offices are a good bet too. Their ATM machines accept foreign cash cards, and have instructions in English. Bear in mind that the cash machines at Post Offices and international banks are usually inside the building: no access if it’s a national holiday. So check and plan carefully around holiday periods.

PRE-PAID CARDS: SUICA AND PASMO

Tokyo’s transport system has cards which are now valid throughout the Metro network. These cards are the rechargeable prepaid IC type which are just touched to a card reader on the ticket gates, like London’s “Oyster” card. So save time, and worries about whether you have the right Yen change for the ticket machine, by getting Suica or PASMO. The fares aren’t any cheaper, but it offers great convenience, especially if you don’t want the hassle of working out how to get the right ticket out of the ticket machine every time.

Suica can be bought at vending machines and ticket counters in railway stations of Japan Railways, and PASMO at the stations of other railway companies in the Greater Tokyo region. You pay an initial refundable deposit of ¥500, and an initial amount to be charged onto the card: ¥1500 in the case of Suica, and ¥500 – 9500 for PASMO. The PASMO can be used throughout the Tokyo Metropolitan area, but the Suica can be used nationwide, and on the Narita Express as well.

Suica and PASMO cards can be recharged at vending machines in railway stations of Japan Railways and other railway companies in the Greater Tokyo region. The maximum amount to be charged onto a card is ¥20,000.

The current credit balance remaining on the card is displayed when you pass through a ticket gate. It can also be checked at the vending/top-up machines.

When you have finished using the card you can get back your deposit by taking the card to the ticket counter of a JR (Suica) or non-JR (PASMO) station. You can also get back any unused credit remaining on the card, less an admin fee of ¥210.

You can use Suica/PASMO as an “electronic money card” in certain shops too.At more than 10,000 shops – particularly around railway stations – such as convenience stores, kiosks and restaurants, you can put your Suica/PASMO card to the card reader to pay, instead of having to use cash.