As Japan adjusts both technologically and demographically to cater to both citizens and visitors alike, the banking industry is also in a state of adjustment.
The broad acceptance of available tech that makes it easy to pay without real money and a public savvy to mobile payments both inside and outside of Japan is encouraging banks to decrease the number of cash machines and raise fees for withdrawing cash from the remaining devices.
One other likely reason for this new trend is the fact that Japan’s working population is shrinking and the numbers of techs and money couriers to service the multitude of machines across the land is stagnant as well, driving up the backend maintenance costs. So what does this mean to us as expat residents of Japan and how can we sidestep the fees?
As I have stated in earlier articles, many of Japan’s banks have finally jumped on the debit card bandwagon. Find out if your bank offers a branded debit card (those that are welcome wherever Visa, MasterCard, and JCB are) and get one. Many banks are starting to abolish fees associated with having one of these cards, raising ATM withdrawal fees, both on and off-network instead.
The good news is many more places accept credit and debit cards now than ever before in Japan, including most convenience and grocery stores, Starbucks and McDonald’s (I remember the dark days when not even they would accept cards). If you are in the market for a different bank for this, I wholly recommend 7Bank, for reasons found in this earlier article.
Many the banks that are imposing fees now are still allowing a certain number of transactions to be “fee free” or are not charging fees to those that keep a significant amount of yen in the bank. Shinsei Bank, long the go-to bank for expats is utilizing this strategy as it has gotten rid of its ATMs and partnered with every convenience store ATM network in Japan.
I will miss the days of scot-free ATM transactions anywhere with these guys, but they do offer a Visa-branded debit card you can set to auto charge from your account to avoid the cash machine. For those times you do need cold hard yen, make sure you take more than enough out, so you can limit your trips.
Many banks now have smartphone apps that keep track of your spending, initiate transfers and so forth, even in English! Take advantage of these, and also that other elephant in the room: mobile e-money.
LINE Pay and Mobile Suica are available in many places as well as Edy/Rakuten Pay and QuikPay. These work in conjunction with Apple Pay and Google Pay as well. I use all of these in some form in my daily life here in Tokyo and have not needed an ATM except at the local produce market or izakaya in my neighborhood. You can even pay TEPCO power bills through LINE Pay now, so expect this trend to only increase.
Of course, the easiest way to avoid a lot of the hassle with cashola is to buy almost everything online. Nearly every store in Japan has an online component, and there are ways to get things delivered even if they don’t have service in-house. Even the small in-your-neighborhood shops will likely take a bank “Furikomi 振込“ transfer for their regular customers — If you’ve ever wondered why so many people in at the ATM corners in Japan look like they’re reprogramming the thing, this is why; ATMs are traditionally where monthly payments to landlords, insurance, and utilities are made.
Many banks have taken this step online in their apps and websites as well. With Rakuten Bank, you can send a payment via email. The receiver will be directed to a secured form where they enter their bank account information to receive the payment; all without having to remember how to “katakana-ize“ their name or which branch of whatever bank they have an account at.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m always on the lookout for more tips to help everyone “Japan better”; if you have one you want to share, drop a comment below or shout out to me through social media.
— By Jason L. Gatewood