Japan is still fundamentally a cash society. Although most stores and hotels serving foreign customers take credit cards, many businesses such as cafés, bars, grocery stores, and even smaller hotels and inns do not. Even businesses that do take cards often have a minimum charge as well as a surcharge, although this practice is disappearing.
One tip: the most popular credit card in Japan is JCB, and you can use Discover cards anywhere with a JCB logo. Most merchants are not familiar with this, but it will work if you can convince them to try! The Japanese usually carry around large quantities of cash — it is quite safe to do so and is almost a necessity, especially in smaller towns and more isolated areas. In many cities, the Japanese can also use mobile phones to pay for their purchases where mobile phones function like credit cards and the cost is billed to them with their mobile phone bill.
Japanese ATMs, known locally as cash corners (キャッシュコーナー kyasshu kōnā), generally do not accept foreign cards and the availability of credit card advances, known as cashing (キャッシング kyasshingu), is spotty. The major exceptions are:
• Over 12,000 Japanese 7-Eleven stores with ATMs accept foreign cards for cash withdrawals. Accepted cards include Mastercard, Maestro, Visa, American Express, JCB and UnionPay, and ATM cards with the Cirrus and Plus logos. These are the most useful as they are everywhere and are accessible 24/7.
• JP Bank (ゆうちょ Yū-cho), formerly the Postal Savings Bank and hence found in almost every post office, which in turn has a branch in almost every village. Most postal ATMs provide instructions in English as well as Japanese. Plus, Cirrus, Visa Electron, Maestro, and UnionPay are accepted, and you can do credit card advances on Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Diners Club. Your PIN must be 6 digits or less.
• Citibank, which has a limited network (see for a list) but does have ATMs at the major airports.
• HSBC (香港上海銀行) ATMs are few and far between, but these are capable of taking Visa and MasterCard.
• Shinsei Bank (新生銀行) ATMs, which accept Plus and Cirrus, are located at major Tokyo Metro and Keikyu stations, as well as in downtown areas of major cities.
• SMBC (三井住友銀行) and Mitsubishi UFJ(三菱東京UFJ銀行) ATMS will take UnionPay cards.
One thing to beware: many Japanese ATMs are closed at night and during the weekends, so it's best to get your banking done during office hours! An exception is 7-Eleven, which is open 24 hours. Also, a note for those with UnionPay cards: 7-Bank and Yucho both take an additional ATM fee in addition to the fee charged by the issuer. The SMBC/MUFG will not, so it's best to withdraw cash while their ATMs are active. On top of these, there are cash dispensers (abbreviated to CDs in Japan), intended for credit card cash advances. Some will work with foreign-issued ATM/debit/credit cards.
• SMBC, UC Card, and Mitsubishi UFJ Card machines will take Visa and MasterCard.
• Orico machines will take MasterCard only.
• AEON machines take Visa, MasterCard, and UnionPay.
• JCB machines will take Visa, MasterCard, American Express, JCB, and UnionPay.