Japan has previously had the reputation of being a futuristic place, but this reputation is slowly fading as travellers report back about fax machines and a lack of credit card machines.
So is Japan really so old fashioned or is this yet another misconception?
Cash or card?
In the UK card payments are accepted everywhere with very minor exceptions. Contactless payments have exploded in the last couple of years so that all you need is a tap of your card or phone (thanks to Google and Apple Pay).
The landscape in Japan is very different. There is no guarantee when you walk into a store or restaurant that cards will be accepted.
A large part of this is due to the vast number of independently run businesses. One of the lovely things about Japan is how easy it is to find a meal at a restaurant that isn’t part of a chain (although chains definitely exist as well).
For smaller places like this, it’s more typical to pay in cash. In fact, some places will have a meal ticket machine outside that only accepts coins! These operate like a vending machine where you pay for your meal, receive a ticket and you then pass this to the chef or server.
On the opposite side of the scale are the big department stores and chains, think of stores like Loft and Bic Camera. In these places you should be able to pay with a credit or debit card if you need to.
After a day or two of being in Japan, you’ll start to get a feel for which places are typically cash or card. And as long as you have some cash on you, you’ll be fine.
It’s might also be worth holding on to those ¥ 100 coins (about $1). They really come in handy for vending machines, gachapon machines and the arcades!
Trains and the metro
In places like London, contactless payments have become the main way to pay for your travel as it only involves “tapping in” with your card or phone. The ticket gates register the card or device and open as if they have been presented with a ticket.
As a tourist your safest bet is to either pay for a ticket at the machine. You should be able to do this using either cash or card. Or for convenience you can use a Pasmo or Suica card. You can learn more about using and paying for the trains here. For information about the Shinkansen there are 6 things you need to know about the JR Pass.
So what if you’ve run out of cash and need some more?
Multiple guides refer to the fact that not every cash-machine accepts foreign cards. This is true but finding a machine that will work for you shouldn’t be too much of a challenge (if you’re in a city).
Most conbini’s (the Japanese word for a convenience store) such as 7/11 or family mart will have a cash machine that works with foreign cards. You may even see 7/11 cash machines in shopping centres which will work as well.
Revolut and Monzo
These “bankless” apps are incredibly useful for exchanging money in to other currencies and making purchases abroad. However in Japan your Revolut card is still a card and may not be usable in certain situations.
There may also be limitations on how much cash you can take out from them. For example Revolut has a monthly limit of “free” cash that changes depending on your plan. So read the Revolut/ Mondo terms of service and plan accordingly.
Not everywhere in Japan takes cards so having cash on you is recommended. Cash machines are available although not all of them work for foreign cards. While you don’t have to pay cash for every single thing, it helps to be flexible for those times when options are limited.