How many times would you like to pay? Cash and credit cards in Japan and a little Japanese lesson

Updated May 2014

yen as the yen symbol


Imagine it is 2009 and you will be hopping on a plane to visit me in Japan in a few weeks. “Hilary. Should I bring cash? Is my credit card okay? What about travellers cheques?”

“Cash. Cash. And more cash!” I would have replied.

Don’t laugh too hard about the travellers cheques. I came with a pile of them in 2006!

I lived in Japan from 2006 to 2009. I can count on one hand the times I used my Canadian credit card. Many places didn’t take credit cards and a few times my card was declined. Hitoshi had a Japanese credit card but also rarely used it. Instead, he used cash or loaded fare cards, like Suica or Pasmo.

Spending a month in Japan in 2012 was a surprise! We visited big cities and rural communities and credit cards were accepted wherever we went. I used mine at convenience stores, hotels, department stores, bakeries, restaurants and to buy train tickets. One of the smallest amounts was under Y500 or about $5!

There were still hotels, restaurants and other shops, along with a taxi in a rural area, where we needed cash. Overall though, I felt that money use had changed since our 2010 trip to Japan.

Me: “Can I pay with my credit card?”

If I want to use my credit card, meaning Visa or MasterCard, I look for a sign near the till.

If you want to ask if using your credit card is okay, one way is, “ka-do   dai-jo-bu?” If you are not sure how to pronounce Japanese, the closest in Canadian English is caw-dough   die-jo-boo?

If this seems like too much, hold up your card, point to it with a big smile and say, “dai-jo-bu?” (die-jo-boo?)

Service Rep: “Yes! How many payments do you want to make?”

I’m sorry? How many times do I want to split up what I owe you? This question threw me the first time I was asked!

In Japan, you can have the total divided up into more than one payment, plus interest. Almost every time I used my credit card, I was asked one of the following:

  • O-shi-  ha-rai   kai-su   wa   nan-kai   desu ka? How many times do you want to pay?
  • Nan-kai   desu ka? How many times?
  • I-kkai   ba-rai   de   yo-ro-shi   desu ka? One payment is okay?

If you want to pay the full amount now, say, i-kkai   de   o-ne-gai-shi-ma-su. Using Canadian English, it would be something like this: ee-ky (like sky)     deh     oh-neh-guy-she-mass.

How to use a chip credit card

I have a chip card and about half of the stores had the same set-up as I was used to in Canada. The staff set up a portable terminal, passed it over, I entered my PIN and then pressed the green key in the lower right.

The rest of the time I signed a receipt or was given a receipt for small amounts without having to authorize the purchase.

Happy spending!

What has been your experience with cash or credit in Japan?