Before your next trip to Japan, you might want to get used to Japanese currency: Japanese Yen. In the past, prefectural leaders issued their own money until the Meiji government unified Japan’s monetary system in the 19th century to modernize the economy. In Japanese, "yen" is pronounced “en." English speakers who visited Japan during the Edo period added the “y”! The word “en” (円) means circle, as in a round coin, and Japan’s currency symbol is ¥.
Japan’s economy is largely cash-based, and many shops and restaurants don’t accept credit cards. While traveling in Japan, it’s a good idea to make sure you have plenty of bills and coins for your daily allowance. You may end up carrying more money than you would at home, and it might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but don’t worry! Most Japanese people keep amounts exceeding 10,000 JPY (about US $100.00) in their wallets at all times.
There’s no limit on how much you can bring to Japan, but you must declare values exceeding 1,000,000 JPY (about US $10,000) with customs and immigration. You can get Yen at foreign exchange banks before your departure or after your arrival at airports and other authorized money exchangers. Alternatively, you can withdraw from Seven Bank and Japan Post Bank ATMs. Japan's currency exchange rate fluctuates daily, so ATMs gets you the most bang for your buck! (Currency converter apps are great tools in these cases!)
To help you prepare for your trip, read on to learn more about banknotes, coins, and see pictures of Japan’s currency!
10,000 JPY (about US $100.00)
The 10,000 yen banknote is brown. The obverse features Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) who founded Keio University and the Institute for Study of Infectious Diseases. The reverse shows the phoenix statue from Byōdō-in Temple in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture.
5,000 JPY (about US $50.00)
The 5,000 yen bill is purple. One side has a portrait of influential writer Ichiyō Higuchi (1872-1896). Japanese people still hold her works in high regard today. The other side has a painting called “Kakitsubata-zu” by Byōbu (windscreen) artist Ogata Kōrin.
1,000 JPY (about US $10.00)
The 1,000 yen note is blue. Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928), a highly influential bacteriologist, appears on the front. The back side displays Mt. Fuji, Lake Motosu (one of Fuji’s lakes), and cherry blossoms.
500 JPY Coin (about US $5.00)
The face of the 500 yen coin illustrates the Paulowina plant and is gold. The back exhibits bamboo and a madarin orange.
100 JPY Coin (about US $1.00)
The 100 yen coin is silver. The obverse features cherry blossoms, and the value is on the reverse.
50 JPY Coin (about US $0.50)
The 50 yen is silver and has a hole in the middle. The face displays chrysanthemum flowers, and the other side shows the value.
10 JPY Coin (about US $0.10)
The 10 yen coin is copper. It has a picture of Byōdō-in Temple on the front and an evergreen on the back.
5 JPY Coin (about US $0.05)
The 5 yen coin has a hole and is dark gold. The front features an ear of rice and water, while the other side says the year minted.
1 JPY Coin (a little less than US $0.01)
The 1 yen coin is pale silver. The obverse features a young tree, and the reverse shows the value.
On my last journey with All Japan Tours, I found myself on the road somewhere between Okayama and Hiroshima. We stopped for lunch at a charming bistro surrounded by rice fields and the mountains. I was enjoying the scenery as much as my meal when, unfortunately, the little mom-and-pop shop revealed they didn’t accept credit cards. With no ATM or currency exchange kiosk in sight, many of my fellow travelers frantically scrounged for change.
If you plan to travel outside of major cities, don’t expect every store to have the capacity to process credit cards. If you don’t exchange money before you arrive in Japan, you can find foreign currency services at any airport. You can also find these establishments in major train stations or famous shopping districts like Shinsaibashi in Osaka. Some large hotels can also swap your bank notes, but these conveniences can come with high commission charges.
You can cut costs by going to a bank in Japan. Not every branch you see necessarily has the resources, but most large ones in the cities do. Note that most banks close at 3:00 pm and don’t open on weekends or national holidays. If you find yourself strapped for cash, and in an area that doesn’t accept cards or traveler's checks, have no fear!
Post offices and Seven-Elevens have the best international ATMs in Japan. There are over 20,000 Yūcho Ginkō (Japan Post Bank) ATMs across the country. You can find them in post offices, shopping malls, train stations, etc. They’re easy to spot by their bright green color. Japan Post accepts credit and cash cards issued by VISA, VISAELECTRON, PLUS, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, JCB, China Unionpay and DISCOVER.
Depending upon your card, there may be 216 JPY (about US $2.16) fee from Japan Post and additional remittances required by your bank. These ATMs, however, are not available 24 hours. They generally open from 12:05 am - 11:55 pm Monday through Friday, and 5:00 am - 9:00 pm on Sundays and holidays. If you need to make a withdrawal outside of these times, look out for a Seven-Eleven convenience store.
Seven Bank provides withdrawal services 24 hours a day, and their 14,700 ATMs can display guidance in English, Korean, Chinese, and Portuguese. They are red and accept VISA, MasterCard, American Express, JCB and China UnionPay. Outside of Seven-Elevens, you can find these ATMs in major department stores, international airports, and even FamilyMart convenience stores in Osaka and Tokyo. If you’re having trouble finding one, you can download ATM locator apps to your phone.
Before I close out this article, let me leave you with a few quick money tips you should know before traveling to Japan.
1) Bring a coin purse or a wallet with a big pocket. Remember, the smallest bill is about US $10.00, so you will use and receive a lot of coins!
2) Don’t forget to let your card issuer know you’ll be traveling in Japan! Nothing is worse than trying to contact your bankーunless you’re trying to from another country!
3) Using a debit card from your home country often accrues high fees. Mine charges both Japan’s 8% sales tax and an additional 10% to account for taxes from the United States. Credit and travel money cards tend to be more convenient in this sense.