Money Matters…


The above photo shows all the equivalent denominations of money between Japan and the US. Sorry…  didn’t have a 500 yen coin, or a 50 cent coin. Also, there apparently are 2000 yen bills, but they are not used as often, and I have never seen one.

One thing that has really surprised me about living in Japan, is that Japan is much more of a cash-based society than the United States. In the US, I rarely carry much cash — preferring instead to pay for most things with a credit card. Most fast food restaurants and even vending machines in the US will take credit cards, so why carry around a bunch of money? I rarely even pay by check in the United States.

In Japan, however, many places are cash only. Bigger purchases can still be paid for by credit card, but for smaller purchases you are expected to pay with cash. Personal checks are not used at all. Our relocation consultant told me that in general, when eating out, credit cards are only used for dinners. Breakfast, lunch, fast food, coffee, snacks, etc are all paid for with cash.

So…  I end up carrying a bunch of money in my wallet. Much more than I ever carried in the US. That is all well and good except for the denominations of the money. I end up with hand-fulls of coins! With the current exchange rate, 1 Japanese yen in roughly equivalent to 1 US penny. So, 100 yen roughly equals $1. Which makes conversions back and forth fairly easy and simple. But… in the US, we have coins for up to $1, and mostly use coins of up to 25 cents. We mostly pay with the paper bills in the US, and then get back a small amount of coins in change. In Japan, they have coins for up to 500 yen — the equivalent of the $5 bill in the US. The smallest paper money that they use is the 1000 yen note — equivalent to a $10 bill in the US. So, if I go to a store in Tokyo and buy something for less than 1000 yen, all my change comes back to me in coins. I have been trying to retrain myself to pay for things with the coins in my wallet instead of automatically reaching for the paper bills. (My husband really hates having all those coins jangling in his pockets.)

As with pennies in the US, we seem to especially accumulate those almost worthless 1 yen coins. I already have a jar of them. I am not sure where or how I can get rid of them, short of taking the time to count out “pennies” at the cash register — not really wanting to do that… lol. Some stores have jars at the register to put unwanted 1 yen coins into — like the “take a penny, leave a penny” jars at home in the US.

One other option that we have found for small purchases at vending machines and some convenience stores, is to pay with a transit card. Suica and Pasmo cards are used to ride the subways and buses around Tokyo. Value is added to these cards at the subway station kiosks — but, cash only…  lol.


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My husband and I were both born and raised in Kansas, but for the past 20+ years we have been living in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, with our children grown and out of the house, we have the opportunity to spend two years living in Tokyo. My husband will be working with the Japanese counterpart to his American company. UPDATE 2023... After 4-1/2 years in Tokyo, we returned to Atlanta. Now we are heading to London for a three year job assignment!

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