Japan can be expensive, but there are ways to cut costs. This requires, to some extent, an adventurous spirit and the courage to stray from the standard tourist paths. One good way to hold down expenses is to avoid taxis (they tend to get stuck in traffic anyway) and use the inexpensive, efficient subway and bus systems. Instead of dining at restaurants with menus in English and Western-style food, head to places where you can rely on your good old index finger to point to the dish you want, and try food that locals favor.
ATMs and Banks
The easiest way to withdraw money is at convenience-store ATMs. 7-Eleven stores and 7 Bank ATMs accept most internationally branded cards. ATMs at many Japanese banks do not accept foreign-issue debit or credit cards. UFJ and Shinsei banks are members of the Plus network, as are some convenience store cash machines. ATMs at post offices and major convenience stores accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club, and Cirrus cards. In more-rural areas, it can be difficult to find suitable ATMs, so it is best to get cash before heading out into the countryside.
PIN codes in Japan are comprised of four digits. In Japanese an ATM is commonly referred to by its English acronym, while a PIN is ansho bango. If you need assistance, contact the bank staff by using the phone next to the ATM. Many machines also have English on-screen instructions.
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards in Japan. When you use a credit card you'll be asked if you intend to pay in one installment as most locals do, say hai-ikkai (Yes, one time). Many vendors don't accept American Express. Cash is still king in Japan, especially at smaller businesses—even in large cities like Osaka and Tokyo.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. 03/3220–6100; www.americanexpress.com.
Diners Club. 0120/074–024; www.dinersclub.com.
MasterCard. 00531/113–886; www.mastercard.us.
Visa. 00531/111–555; www.visa.com.
Currency and Exchange
The unit of currency in Japan is the yen (¥). There are bills of ¥10,000, ¥5,000, ¥2,000, and ¥1,000. Coins are ¥500, ¥100, ¥50, ¥10, ¥5, and ¥1. Japanese currency floats on the international monetary exchange, so changes can be dramatic.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. And as for rates, you're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.