Japan is much less expensive than it used to be. Horror stories of apples and cups of coffee that cost a week's wages are out of date!
In recent years, exchange rates have done their bit to help even further. With a few bumps along the way. Once you know where to go, things can be surprisingly cheap - especially for things like food and drink.
Having said that, there are of course things that remain expensive. Unless you have friends or relatives to stay with, accommodation will probably be the most expensive cost with transportation following close behind. One way to keep costs down is by staying in hostels and cheap Japanese inns. Some Japanese inns can be very reasonable and can actually be more interesting than staying at a hotel.
If you're planning on travelling a lot by train, it is definitely worthwhile to get a Japan Rail Pass. (Most people get one before they arrive in Japan, but it is actually possible to get one when you arrive at the airport - though this fact is not particularly well publicised). Most travel agencies can arrange that for you before you leave. If you have an international student card or Youth Hostel card you can save money on tickets and accommodation as well. Also be aware that Japan has a 5% sales tax. There is no tipping in Japan, but some hotels and restaurants will add on a service charge of 10 - 15% which is not optional.
Opening and closing
Banking hours are 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday. Sometimes banks in business areas are open from 9am - 12pm on Saturday, but don't count on it. Banks are closed on weekends and National Holidays.
Museums are usually open 9am - 5pm from April to October, 9am - 4:30pm November to March. Museums are often closed on Monday and from December 29th - January 3rd. If a national holiday falls on a closing day, it will be closed the day after the national holiday. Keep in mind that many museums stop letting people in a half hour before closing time.
Department Stores often open at 10am and close at 8pm (6pm on weekends and holidays. In recent years however more places are opening for longer hours - even 24 hours. They are usually open six days a week and their day-off varies (Monday and Wednesday are the most common). Smaller shops often close earlier.
You're almost never far away from a convenience store in Japan - 7-11, Lawson, Save-On - all of them are 24 hours a day and they always seem to be busy.
The process of changing money can take a while if the bank is busy, and is a good (or is that bad?) introduction to Japanese bureaucracy. Newcomers will be surprised at how many people work in a bank and amazed at how many hands your little slip of paper touches before it finally gets back to you.
Using travelers' checks gives you a slightly better exchange rate than cash, and is the safest way to carry money. Nonetheless, you can change cash or travelers checks at an 'Authorized Foreign Exchange Bank' (there should be a sign posted) or at some of the large hotels and stores. These are easy to find in large cities but can be hard to come by in more rural areas. Japan is an extremely safe country and most people carry large amounts of cash around all the time. So, although you should use common sense, it's a good idea to exchange enough cash before you head out of major metropolitan areas.
Credit Cards, ATM’s and Wiring Money
Major credit cards are accepted at large hotels, restaurants, shops and many other places, but Japan still remains a cash-first society. It's always best to ask first if you don't see a sign by the door or cash register, and even if you do see the sign, some places will only take locally issued credit cards. Small restaurants (i.e. ramen shops etc.) usually will not accept anything but cash. The most commonly used cards are JCB, Visa and American Express and to a lesser extent, Master Card and Diners Club. Cash advances are possible, though it is often hard to find a bank that will do it.
Most people think of Japan as a modern and hi-tech country, and in many ways it is. However the banking system isn't one of them. ATM's are now widespread, but have limited hours and are sometimes closed on Sundays and National Holidays. Generally they are open from 9am to 7pm on weekdays and 9am to 5pm on weekends. In big cities and commercial districts you can often find ones that are open later and on holidays.
It is possible to have money wired to you in Japan, but you will need to know the bank, the branch and the exact location. Telex or telegraphic transfers are more expensive, but much faster than mail transfers.
Japanese currency is the yen. Notes are available in denominations of Y1000, Y2000, Y5000 and Y10000 with coins being divided in values of Y1, Y5, Y10, Y50, Y100 and Y500. Banks in Japan accept all major currencies, although it's a good idea to change Korean won and Taiwanese dollars into US dollars before you arrive.
Tipping and tax
Japan does have a 5% consumption tax on all goods purchased. This is included in the final price, though usually shown.
You will also run into a (non-optional) service charge when staying at expensive hotels and restaurants of about 10-15%.
Tipping, on the other hand, is not generally practiced in Japan and a waiter or waitress might give you strange look if you try and hand them some yen. Bargaining is also usually not widely practiced - but increasingly you can strike a bargain at for example large electronics stores on large purchases - might be worth an ask!
Japan General Information
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