Sunday, April 29, 2012

How To Get Yen Off Base.

Japan is generally a cash-based society.  Small stores and restaurants don't take cards. Train fares have to paid for in cash or with a pre-loaded train pass. Cab drivers require cash.  This was a difficult adjustment for me, used as I was to almost exclusive debit card use stateside. Large department stores usually have the ability to make credit/debit card transactions, but if you want to buy a hat from the boutique down the street, forget it.

There are a few ways to avoid carrying large amounts of cash.  Automatic bill paying for rent, utilities, and cell phones can be set up.  A Japanese bank account can be created to receive your English-teaching salary.  Things like school tuition can be paid at convenience stores.  But grocery shopping, souvenir shopping, any other kind of local shopping, travel, and sightseeing all require cash.

Base ATMs dispense dollars and yen.  If you're like me and live off base, forgetting to have your husband stock up on yen before he leaves work results in a irritating trip back.  Our base ATM only dispenses yen in denominations of 5000 yen (about $61.34).  Which, if you just need 1000 yen to buy dinner, is obnoxious.  Why not just go to a Japanese ATM?  Most Japanese ATMs don't take foreign cards.  Or a Japanese ATM might only accept 4 digit PINs. If your card's PIN is 5 digits, you're in trouble.

Our very first dinner at a Japanese restaurant resulted in a serious yen mis-calculation.  Unused to the foreign bills and prices, we frantically dug through our wallets to come up with enough to pay the bill. We didn't want to get stuck doing dishes with a slumbering Baby Tofu Fox! Mr. TF made a dash to the our local post office (post offices have ATMs) only to discover that it didn't accept our Mastercard.  God had mercy on us and we didn't have to struggle to explain our stupidity to the non-English-speaking staff. Another American happened to be eating there at the same time and lent us the few hundred remaining yen.  Trust me, after that episode, we have never been without yen again!

Please, don't despair!  In the event of emergency (earthquakes, anyone?), that spring jacket that simply has to come home with you, or any other purchase that exceeds the contents of your wallet, there are ATMs that reliably take foreign debit cards!

My local convenience store.

 This is the convenience store 7 and i Holdings.  Logo look a bit familiar?  Here, you can buy beauty products, cough drops, rice balls, egg sandwiches, and pay for your kid's tuition at the checkout.  The ATMs also take foreign cards!  Stores are located everywhere. If you try to find one using an iPhone, the map feature usually displays them automatically.  There is nothing too terribly difficult about using them.  These are pretty standard ATMs.

A 7 and i Holdings ATM.
First, insert your card, enter your PIN, and select your desired language.
I want to know who in this country is speaking Portuguese.
Select the desired withdrawal amount.  The only drawback
of 7 and i Holdings ATMs is the large amounts.  If you
 need the cash to pay bills, this is less of a problem. Sorry for the poor 

quality of these pictures.  I didn't really want to be asked why 
I was taking so many photos of the ATM!

User Tip: I have noticed that the instruction display of these ATMs often ask you to insert your card the wrong way (for foreign cards, at least).  If your card is declined, try flipping it around before freaking out and giving your bank an irate phone call.  This past year, our post office installed a foreign-card-friendly ATM.  This is worth checking out with your local post office, because post office ATMs dispense bills in 1000 yen increments.  [I don't know why the font has suddenly changed size.  I have tried to correct this in Blogger's Edit about 50 times.  I am so annoyed right now]  Now, there is no need to withdraw a massive amount at 7 and i Holdings in order to buy milk and bread, or drive all the way back to base to access an ATM.  Hooray! Monetary convenience is now yours!


                                                                        -The Tofu Fox

Anyone know of any other ATMs that take foreign debit cards?  Please, let me know!


  1. I wish I could try the card flipping trick at the Lawsons on our corner. I could never figure it out! We got yen in Tokyo a few times but it was all in Japanese and we needed a friend to translate.

  2. We get our yen from 7-11 all the time. It's actually a better yen rate than getting it on base. It is weird carrying around that much cash all the time.

  3. It IS a better yen rate. I did a comparison last week and couldn't believe it!

  4. Blogger can be super annoying with edits... you have to go into the HTML and erase the extra coding that magically appears and adjusts your font without your consent. Great posts! Tell Baby TF I said hi :)

  5. There are actually quite a few Brazilians living in Japan. There are also lots of Japanese living in Brazil! Cliff ran into a couple of Japanese colonies in Paraguay as well! Your post are so informative, Mary! You guys are going to be the ULTIMATE sponsors!

  6. Yes, OF COURSE! I totally forgot about Brazil!