The unit of currency is the Japanese yen (¥). Bank notes are issued in denominations of ¥10,000, ¥5000, ¥2000 (though you are unlikely to see these) and ¥1000. Coins are ¥500, ¥100, ¥50, ¥10, ¥5 and ¥1; the ¥50 and ¥5 coins have a hole in the middle.
For such a sophisticated economy, banking practices remain somewhat archaic. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm only.
Japan has always been a cash-based society and although things are changing credit cards are not as popular as in many other countries so check that any hotel, restaurant or shop accepts them before you go in. However, you can use foreign-issued credit cards to buy JR train tickets. If you are expecting to use lockers and buses and don’t have an IC card (see box p66 of Japan by Rail, it is worth keeping a supply of ¥100 coins, though buses do have change machines.
Many ATMs at banks do not accept foreign-issued cards and, with very few exceptions, ATMs and, with very few exceptions, are not open 24 hours. The good news is that all 26,000 post office ATMs across the country (including small branch offices) as well as branches of 7-Eleven convenience stores accept Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, American Express, Cirrus, and Plus; Maestro cards with IC chips may not be accepted. On-screen instructions are available in English.
The normal hours for post office ATMs in major cities are Monday to Friday 9am-7pm, Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 9am-noon. For more information see www.jp-bank.japan post.jp and click on ‘Service information). ATMs at 7-Eleven convenience stores are open 24 hours a day.
Taxes and tipping
Consumption tax (called shohizei) (8%) is levied on nearly all goods and services in Japan, but you won’t necessarily notice it in shops because the tax is already included on price tags. However, foreign tourists can buy many goods tax-free – look for the sign saying ‘Japan Tax-free shop’ in shop windows. You will need to show your passport but the advantage is that the tax will be deducted immediately.
Hotel rate-cards usually show room charges excluding and including tax; charges quoted throughout Japan by Rail refer to the room rate including tax. Additionally, upmarket hotels levy a service tax of between 10 and 20% on top of the consumption tax. Room rates quoted in this guide do not include these.
Additionally, upmarket hotels levy a service tax of between 10 and 20% on top of the 5% consumption tax. Room rates quoted in Japan by Rail) are mostly on a per-room basis and do not include service taxes unless otherwise stated.
There is no culture of tipping in Japan but see box p50 in Japan by Rail.
Contrary to popular belief, a visit to Japan doesn’t have to be expensive but it is important to plan your budget as it is an easy country to spend money in.
Package tours which include travel by rail (see pp37-9) Japan by Rail) rarely offer better value than organising an independent trip. From the UK you’re probably looking at a minimum of £3000 for a 14-day tour including return flights, rail travel, accommodation in basic Japanese inns, some meals and the services of a tour guide.
Given the price of a 14-day rail pass (¥46,390: £290/US$408) rail pass, it would certainly be more cost effective (and more fun) to organise your own trip.
Though the cost of a Japan Rail Pass may seem high, a pass can almost pay for itself in just two journeys on a shinkansen. For example, a 7-day rail pass costs ¥29,100 (£182/US$256; free seat reservations) but the return fare including reserved seat on a shinkansen between Tokyo and Hiroshima costs ¥37,120 (£232/US$327); even just going to and from Kyoto costs ¥27,200 (£170/US$239). A return journey to Kagoshima-chuo by shinkansen from Tokyo works out at ¥59,720 (£373/US$526), which is more than the cost of a 14-day pass.
Sample daily budgets
Note: The budgets below do not include travel costs because they assume you have a Japan Rail Pass. The exchange rates are rounded up/down for convenience.
Accommodation: ¥3000+ (£22/US$27+): dorm bed in a hostel, no meals; Breakfast ¥600 (£4/US$5): coffee and toast; Lunch ¥600 (£4/US$5): sandwich or snack and drink; Dinner ¥1200 (£9/US$11): noodles/pasta, or a hostel meal; Sightseeing ¥1700 (£12/US$16): less if you mainly visit free attractions.
TOTAL ¥7100+ (£52/US$65+)
Accommodation ¥6000 (£44/US$55)+ for a single room, ¥9000 (£66/US$82)+ for two sharing in a business hotel ;(breakfast is usually included); ¥8000pp (£58/US$73)+ in a minshuku (half board); Breakfast* ¥800 (£6/US$7): egg, ham, toast and coffee; Lunch ¥1200 (£9/US$11): lunch deal in a café/restaurant; Dinner ¥1700 (£12/US$16): set evening meal at a restaurant; Sightseeing ¥1700 (£12/US$16): more if you visit lots of galleries/museums;
TOTAL ¥11,400+ (£83/US$104+)
Accommodation ¥12,000+ (£88/US$109+) for a single room, ¥20,000+ (£146/US$182) for two sharing in an upmarket ;hotel; ¥16,000+ (£117/US$146) per person half board in a ryokan; Breakfast* ¥2200 (£16/US$20): buffet breakfast; Lunch ¥4000 (£29/US$36): a three-course meal; Dinner ¥6300+ (£46+/US$57+): à la carte meal; Sightseeing ¥9000+ (£66+/US$82+): guided city tours and entry fees.
TOTAL ¥33,500+ (£244/US$305+)
* If not included in room rate # including a one-day tram/bus/subway pass