Preparing for Your Trip
Over the years we have gathered a large amount of helpful information that we provide to all our tour members in the Tour Handbook that they receive before their trip. We've provided some of that information here on this page to help you get ready for your trip to Japan. Select a topic below for more.
The currency of Japan is the yen. The yen comes in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen coins, and 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 yen bills. There are 2,000 yen bills also, but they are very uncommon. Click here for photos of yen currency.
The exchange rate for the yen changes up or down on a daily basis. If you need to make a quick conversion before making a purchase, the quickest and easiest way to convert from yen to U.S. dollars is to assume one yen is equal to one penny. This conversion is close enough for practical purposes and allows you to make a quick conversion so you understand how much you are paying for something. So, for example, if something costs 100 yen, using this conversion rate, it would be the equivalent of $1 USD. If something costs 1,000 yen, it would be the equivalent of $10.00, and so on.
Though credit cards are gaining in popularity, Japan is still very much a cash society. You will be expected to pay with cash most of the time. Thanks to the country's low crime-rate and a surprisingly underdeveloped banking system, most Japanese carry around relatively large amounts of cash. DO NOT assume you can pay for things with a credit card. ALWAYS CARRY SUFFICIENT CASH. The only places you can count on paying by credit card are department stores and large hotels. Even though Japan is a safe place to carry around cash, it's always safest to carry the bulk of your money in traveler's cheques.
You can exchange traveler's cheques or cash at an Authorized Foreign Exchange Bank (signs are always displayed in English), major post offices, and most big department stores. You will receive a better exchange rate for traveler's checks than cash.
Banks are normally open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, and closed weekends and national holidays. Japan may be a hi-tech place, but to change money you have to show your passport, fill in forms, and sometimes wait until your number is called, all of which can take up to 30 minutes. If you're caught without cash outside normal banking hours, try a large department store.
Automated teller machines are almost as common as vending machines in Japan. Unfortunately, most of these do not accept foreign-issued cards. Even if they display Visa and MasterCard logos, most accept only Japan-issued versions of these cards.
However, the Japanese postal system recently linked all of its ATMs to the international Cirrus and Plus cash networks (as well as some credit card networks including Visa, MasterCard and American Express). You'll find postal ATMs in most post offices. Most postal ATMs are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, and are closed on Sundays and national holidays. Press the button marked "English Guidance" for English-language instructions when using these machines. You will generally get slightly better exchange rates at ATMs than at banks. The ATMs at the post offices will only allow a maximum withdrawal of 30,000 yen (about $250 USD). Also, as of July 2007, you can now use ATMs at 7-Eleven convenience stores. These convenience stores are normally open 24 hours a day.
Check with your bank before leaving for Japan to verify their rules and regulations regarding international ATM cash withdrawals. For example, many banks only allow withdrawals of up to $200 per day. Also, be sure to verify that your PIN only has numbers, and no letters. The ATMs in Japan cannot accommodate PINs with letters.
Credit and debit cards are far more widely accepted in Japan than they were a few years ago. The most useful cards to carry are Visa and American Express, followed closely by MasterCard, then Diners Club.
Even though credit cards are not widely accepted in Japan, it is still worthwhile to bring at least one for those places that do accept credit cards. You will get a better exchange rate with a credit card than at a bank.
Samurai Tours recommends you budget $20 to $30 per-day per-person for meals, souvenirs, and the like. You should purchase enough yen at home to get you through the first two days. (We will be stopping at a post office the first full day of the tour for you to use an ATM or exchange money. However, if that Monday is a national holiday, and the post office is closed, we will be visiting the post office on Tuesday instead.). If you do not plan to make very many large purchases, you should be able to use ATMs while in Japan. Please keep in mind the ATMs are closed on weekends, and plan accordingly.
If you are planning to purchase many or large souvenirs, you should consider purchasing traveler's cheques at your bank at home, and then exchange money at a bank or post office in Japan. You always lose money whenever you exchange dollars for yen, and yen back to dollars. For this reason, only exchange what you think you will need. And NEVER exchange money at the airport. These offices may be convenient, but they offer very bad exchange rates.
While carrying large sums of money is safe because of the low crime-rate in Japan, Samurai Tours still suggests using a money belt. Keep the bulk of your cash in your money belt, and keep enough in your pocket to get through the day. You can also keep other items that would be hard to replace in your money belt, like credit cards, passports, and travelers checks.