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We may all be living in a modern era where credit cards and payment apps are “in” and mostly used for daily transactions. But cash is still the “king” that merchants and stores will accept without question, even if they are wary of your Visa and MasterCard.
Now the question is, how much cash do you need to bring when you travel to Japan?
In this article, we will cover all the basics and help you decide how much greens or yen you should have in your wallet to make sure you travel safely without going hungry.
Let’s help you prepare
Before deciding on the amount you should have on hand when in Japan, you first need to consider a few things, including the parts of the trip that you have already paid for.
Did you pay for a round-trip ticket? Do you have a JR Pass that will take you places or will you have to pay separately for your bus and train rides?
How about your lodging and accommodations? Have you booked a hotel room or Airbnb and paid for it in advance? Will you be staying in one city or will you be moving around a lot and will have to check in different hotels during your stay?
Moreover, are meals included when you pay for your hotel room or do you have to pay in cash for every meal? Will you be splurging and eating at high-end restaurants, or will you be eating on a budget?
Will this be a tour-filled trip that’s been paid for in advance? Or will you sign up for tours when you get to Japan and pay for those in person?
Will you need a big suitcase or a smaller backpack you can easily carry around? You might need to leave your bigger bags in another place for more comfortable traveling, and this may add up to your expenses.
Once you have the answer to these questions, it will be easier to decide how much cash you have to bring for your hassle-free Japan trip.
Consensus on how much cash a traveler should bring
According to smart travelers who have been to Japan a couple of times, it is better and safer to bring as little cash as possible and have around $100 to $250 or ¥10,000 to ¥20,000 per day in your wallet.
Why stick to this amount?
First and foremost, you wouldn’t want to carry a lot of cash when traveling to avoid penalties if you exceed the foreign exchange limit, including paying heavy fines, your cash getting confiscated, or worse being arrested and prosecuted.
There is also the risk of your money getting stolen or being scammed when traveling abroad. You don’t want your hard-earned money going to waste when you need it when visiting either Nikko or Hakone, do you?
This will also ensure you will not go over your set budget during your stay.
Meanwhile, having ¥10,000 to ¥20,000 in your wallet per day will ensure you have enough cash to buy bus or train tickets or pay for a taxi ride, get lunch and dinner, and go on inexpensive tours during the day.
To be on the safe side, it is recommended to keep your travel cash spending to 20 percent, and the remaining 80 percent in plastic or card transactions.
Why bring cash?
Though credit cards and payment apps are used and accepted worldwide, there will be parts of Japan where cash is the only mode of payment.
You may need cash to pay for a street food you want to try, buy trinkets from a street vendor, get on a bus that’s not covered in the pass you paid for in advance, and so on.
Also, if you go to a sauna, spa, or bar, you may want to give tips in cash to thank the locals who provided you with excellent service during your stay.
There’s also the chance of you wanting to visit temples and shrines that you did not pay for in advance. You will need to pay for these tours in cash, which could add to your daily expenses that require cash.
Bus and train fares that are not included in the initial travel pass you bought should also be taken into consideration. Remember that JR Pass only covers certain areas and lines, including some used by Metro Tokyo.
Traveling outside of those may require you to pay for bus and train rides in cash.
If you are more of a taxi guy, then the more of a reason to have cash on hand. Hire by the hour taxis sometimes accept cards but they might only accept certain cards. There’s also a chance of their card machine being broken, so it is still safer to pay them in cash.
What’s more, paying with cash can save you from unwanted service charges that some retailers or merchants levy when cards are used when purchasing local products and paying for services, which could make the item or service more expensive.
Dollars or Yen?
It is best to exchange some of your dollars for yen when you arrive in Japan where the US dollar is stronger than the local currency. This will allow you to get more value for your money than exchanging it before arriving in Japan.
Yen is also convenient when paying small, independent retailers who may not feel comfortable accepting dollars for their products and services as they may not have foreign currency on hand if they need to give you change in case you pay them $100 for a $5 purchase.
Breakdown of possible cash expenses
If you are like most travelers who only pay for hotel accommodation, plane tickets, and JR Pass in advance, here are the things you are most likely to pay for in cash when in Japan.
- Subway passes and bus fares – ¥1,000 to ¥2,000 per day.
- Taxi fee – by-the-hour sightseeing taxis cost ¥10,000 for 2 hours of service, while meter taxis generally cost ¥400 to ¥750 for the first 1-2 kilometers, after which the rate increases by ¥80 to ¥100 for every 200 to 400 meters traveled.
- Food – If you are on a budget, you can keep it to ¥4000 up to ¥8000 per day, including lunch and dinner, so you can still have a decent and enjoyable meal without breaking the bank.
- Day tours – There are tourist spots you can visit for free, including parks and some historical sites. However, if you visit shrines and temples, each visit may cost you ¥500 or more.
- Tips – There is no specific amount you have to conform to when it comes to tipping. While the acceptable etiquette is 10% up to 20%, it is still up to you to decide if you will give a tip or not, and how much to give the person who provided the service.
- Souvenir – You can find souvenirs for less than a dollar in Japan. But if you want to splurge a little and find something more valuable, you can find items worth $25 and up.