Find Out All the Ways You Can Pay for Your Expenses in Japan

So you know all your options for the next time you're in town.

In Japan, whether you’re working, living, studying, or coming for a vacation, it’s inevitable that you will need to flex your purchasing powers. You’ll find yourself shopping in certain situations. And because spending your hard-earned cash can be so seamlessly and effortlessly done in Japan, you have to be careful not to overspend!

There are many payment options, and although they are made easy, it is difficult to choose the best one among the many options provided. In this article, we will try to categorize the different payment methods available.


In Japan, you can’t go wrong with cash. Many have the impression that as a modern society with advanced technologies, unparalleled transportation systems, and the home of the Gundam--that they have gone away with cash. However, many of Japan’s stores, especially in the countryside, are still on cash basis. Even within the city, establishments such as ramen joints, local restaurants, and small shops only accept cash payments. There are many theories as to why Japan has yet to jump into the cashless-society bandwagon--most of which are related to invasion of privacy or the dangers of deception and theft. However, Japan is catching up to the trend, and major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are starting to provide other options for payment.

The disadvantage of going liquid, however, is loss or the risk of physical theft. But in a society where phones are used to reserve a table (literally putting phones on top of tables as a sign of occupancy), it is rare to be stolen from. However, don’t let this be a reason to let your guard down! 

Credit/Debit Card

Card-based payment is becoming a more popular payment option in the recent years. However, it still isn’t a widely accepted payment method, as Japan is still a cash-based society. According to
a research done on credit cards, the number of restaurants that accept cards in Japan was at 20.7% in 2015 but reached 21% in 2017. The numbers go down the farther you are from the major cities. 

Don’t you fret because major department stores and supermarkets, chain restaurants, and convenience stores accept credit cards. When buying tickets for trains, regular tickets are only available through cash, but some places such as JR accept credit card and have ticket machines that accept credit cards. Paying your bills (phone, electricity, gas, etc.) can also be done through your credit cards.


Credit cards are a convenient way to do transactions in Japan. Although it is not accepted as widely as cash, it would be a safe way to do transactions in places where it is accepted. All you have to do is check the signs to know if stores allow you to swipe plastic.

IC Cards (E-money)

IC Cards are as good as cash but are in card form. It is different from credit/debit cards because you do not have to link it to your bank accounts. All you need to do is store your money in the cards then tap to pay. There are two types of IC Cards: those that can also be used for transportation and non-transportation.

Transportation IC Cards

or PASMO are popular varieties of IC cards available in the Tokyo area, and Icoca or PiTaPa in the Kansai area, among others. These cards are mainly used for transportation but they are also accepted as payment methods for select stores. These stores are usually the ones that accept credit cards as well (this varies per store). Although the cards vary per region, they can be used nationwide as the IC cards are compatible with each other.

Note that when using IC Cards for transportation, you can get a small discount compared to buying a physical ticket. Another advantage of using IC Cards is the convenience of going cashless.

IC Cards are available for everyone. With a deposit of
¥500, you can get one from most train stations in Japan (not all train stations provide IC cards especially in the rural areas).

Non-transportation IC Cards

Brands such as
Nanaco, Rakuten Edy, and Waon are known among the non-transportation IC Cards. These are used mainly for shopping in supermarkets and department stores. It may also be used in restaurants and other places that accept them. When used for shopping, some cards accumulate points, such as Nanaco, Rakuten Edy, and Waon, which can be converted into cash.  

As these are non-transportation IC cards, they cannot be used to ride trains, buses and other main forms of transportation. These also require an initial deposit which starts from
¥300 depending on the brand.

Mobile Payment

Currently, there are two types of mobile payments.

QR Code Mobile Payments

Payments that use mobile applications such as
PayPay, Origami Pay, WePay, Alipay, or Line Pay. These payment methods link your credit card/debit card accounts to these apps so you can pay without having to use your cards. Payment is made by simply scanning the vendor’s QR code.


Tap-based Mobile Payments

Apple Pay
and Google Pay are international versions of the tap-based electronic money services. Japanese players include Quicpay, iD, au Wallet, and more. These require a mobile phone with the special NFC chips. These allow you to store and link your credit cards for mobile payments.

The dangers of using a physical card are redacted through these payment options which use a thick layer of protection for guaranteed safety. Mobile payment options are available in major retail stores, department stores, supermarkets and the like, but it is still not as widely used as cash.

In essence, these are credit card transactions done without having to show the physical credit card. Hence, you are unable to make use of this option if you do not have a credit card.

These options are continuing to grow, and they are also being accepted wider and wider as Japan progresses into a cashless society. Consider these options the next time you are out for some shopping! And expect more new options to come and in the coming future.

Main photo courtesy of iStock.

 (17 May 2019)

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