Japan Travel Tips
Perfect Trip Guide
Japan Travel Tips
Perfect trip Guide
Cashless payment for foreign tourists in Japan
Traveling is fun, but managing money can be a bit of a hassle, especially abroad. This article is a guide for you. We tackle the age-old question of cash versus card. We'll explain in detail the state of cashless payments in Japan as of 2023 for travelers from Europe and America.
When you visit Japan from abroad, you might find yourself a bit confused about payment methods. In a country where many places still operate on a cash basis, how should you pay to ensure a smooth transaction? We’ll help you navigate this.
First, here's a table summarizing the acceptance of cashless payments by type of shop:
Shop Type in Japan
Cashless Payment (Credit Card) Availability
All convenience stores support cashless payments.
Luxury department stores like Takashimaya, Isetan, and Mitsukoshi reliably support cashless transactions.
Electronic Retail Stores
Electronic retail stores 100% support cashless payments.
Ryokan & Hotels
Ryokan and hotels in Japan surely support cashless payments.
Major chains like Starbucks surely support cashless, but local independently-run cafes might be cash-only.
Many shrines in Japan still require cash, especially in places like Kyoto.
Trains & Buses
While they support transportation IC cards like Suica and Pasmo, many do not support credit cards.
Most festival stalls don't accept credit cards. Be sure to have cash ready.
Some might not accept credit cards, so have some cash just in case.
Highway Toll Booths
Japanese highways typically use dedicated ETC cards or cash. If using a rental car, rent an ETC card too.
Overall Landscape: Cashless Transactions in Japan
As of 2023, cashless transactions are increasingly popular in Japan. Many restaurants, shopping malls, and tourist spots now accept credit or debit cards, and even mobile payments.
Surge in Cashless Transactions
Japan has seen a rapid increase in cashless transactions. The Tokyo Olympics, in particular, pushed many stores to adopt cashless options. Though the Tokyo Olympics was held mostly without spectators and excluded foreign tourists, Japan had steadily prepared for inbound tourism in the lead-up to the Olympics, resulting in a dramatic rise in shops offering cashless payment options. While cash used to be king in Japan, times have certainly changed.
The Rise of QR Code Payments in Japan
QR code payments have become a hot topic in Japan, with services like Line Pay, PayPay, RakutenPay, and D Payment leading the charge. However, there's a catch for tourists: most of these services are designed for residents, making it a tad tricky for short-term visitors to jump onboard.
In Japan, there's a forest of QR code payment providers, and they're in fierce competition. The upside? Loads of promotions, like cashback and point rewards. The downside? Registering requires identity verification, and linking local Japanese bank accounts or credit cards, putting a tiny damper on a tourist's cashless dreams.
Credit Card Payments in Japan: Go Contactless!
Now, let's chat about the universal symbol of spending: credit cards. Here's your quick guide to swiping and tapping in Japan.
The Big Three: VISA, MasterCard, JCB
Here's the thing. Credit cards? Widely accepted in Japan. The heavy hitters? VISA, MasterCard, and JCB, which is a Japanese-born global brand. If a place accepts credit card payments in Japan, you can bet your bottom yen they'll take Visa and MasterCard.
Now, let's talk about the cards that might make you frown. American Express (AMEX) and UnionPay might be big names abroad, but in Japan? A tad hit or miss. So, if you're jet-setting to Japan, it's wise to pack a Visa or MasterCard.
Yes, Debit Cards Work Too!
Got a VISA or MasterCard logo on your debit card? You're golden. In all my 30 years in Japan, never have I ever walked into a store where credit cards worked, but debit cards didn’t.
The Surge of Contactless Payments
Roll into 2023, and Contactless Payment (fancy term for tap-and-go) is becoming a thing in Japan. Taking cues from the UK and US, a significant chunk of Japanese stores now let you tap away. Personal opinion alert: I reckon about 70% of credit card-friendly places in Japan now embrace contactless.
But (there’s always a but), as we'll delve into later, most of Japan’s public transport, including the mighty JR, gives a cold shoulder to credit card Contactless Payments. So, a quick tip? Keep that in mind when you're commuting!
Mobile Wallets? Absolutely!
In particular urban areas, the adoption of mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay has been on the rise. This has made payments even more convenient.
Popularity in Japan
Accepted in almost all stores
Accepted in almost all stores
A card brand originating from Japan
Limited stores accept it
Not accepted in some stores
Mostly usable in urban areas
Mostly usable in urban areas
Japan's Unique Public Transportation Payment System
As you may know, each country has its own ways and methods for boarding trains and buses and purchasing tickets. Japan is especially unique in its payment ecosystem, so there are certain things you should be aware of. Here, we'll briefly discuss the key points you need to know when using public transport in Japan.
Japan's Exclusive Transport Electronic Money: Suica and Pasmo
Japan's public transportation system utilizes prepaid cards like Suica and Pasmo, dedicated solely for transit use.
They're easily purchasable and rechargeable, and can be used not only for buses and trains but also for payments at convenience stores.
Moreover, while Japan's transport electronic money has various types like Suica (by JR East), ICOCA (by JR West), PASMO (by PASMO Association), TOICA (by JR Central), and MANACA (by Nagoya City Subway), they can be used interchangeably across transportation networks nationwide. There's no need to purchase a specific card for each region. For instance, with a Suica, you can use it in Hokkaido, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and even Nagasaki.
Japan's Turnstiles Don't Accept Credit Cards
In some countries, including the Underground in London, UK, there has been an emergence of transit systems that accept contactless payments through credit cards.
However, many of Japan's public transport systems still don't support contactless credit card payments. To use cashless methods at the turnstiles, you would need cards like Suica or Pasmo.
Smartphone Apps for Suica and Pasmo
In Japan, there are mobile apps available for Suica and Pasmo which you can register on iPhones and Androids, known as 'Mobile Suica'.
However, if you're a traveler visiting Japan, there's a high chance you might not be able to use these smartphone apps.
The reason is, these apps generally don't support credit cards issued outside of Japan. Even if you install 'Mobile Suica' or 'Mobile Pasmo' on your phone, it's likely you won't be able to link and use them with a foreign credit card. In fact, around 2022, there were frequent reports of travelers being unable to register foreign-issued credit cards on these apps.
Paper Tickets are Available for Purchase
It's worth noting that you can buy paper tickets for public transportation at stations in Japan. There are plenty of ticket machines that accept credit cards.
Rest assured, when purchasing these paper tickets, you can use your credit card.
Can You Use Credit Cards in Japanese Taxis?
Yes, you can use credit cards in Japanese taxis. However, not all taxis accept them.
In metropolitan areas like Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, you can almost certainly pay by credit card. On the other hand, as of 2023, there are still taxis in more rural areas that don't accept credit cards.
Therefore, if you're touring the countryside, it's recommended to also have some cash on hand.
Conclusion: Making Your Adventure in Japan Smooth
By reading up to this point, you're likely much more prepared for making payments in Japan.
While cashless payments are widely accepted in Japan, it's true that some places, especially small shops and shrines in the countryside, still operate on a cash basis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Japan accept cashless payments?
Yes, many stores and modes of transportation in Japan accept cashless payments.
What's the best payment method for tourists in Japan?
In most situations, cards like Suica, Pasmo, and credit cards are convenient. However, in more rural areas, you might need cash. Some tourist spots still only accept cash, so it's a good idea to always have a little cash with you.
How can foreigners make cashless payments in Japan?
Options include using debit cards like Monzo and Revolut. Also, Suica and Pasmo cards come in handy.
Is it better to use cash or card in Japan?
In urban areas, cards are convenient. However, if you're traveling to rural areas, there are many places where you'll need cash.
Do I need cash or a card in Japan?
Both are essential. Especially in the countryside, there are many places where cash is still a necessity.
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