Tokyo banks are still largely domestic compared to banks from other countries which is why getting access to your cash can sometimes be difficult.
Imagine landing in Japan, going to use an ATM as you would at home, and then finding out the machine doesn't work with your card. It's not only frustrating but it also makes it much harder to get the most out of your Tokyo vacation!
That's why, before we talk about getting your hands on your money during your stay in Tokyo, please make sure that when you land at Tokyo Narita International Airport you arrive with cash in your pocket to see you through a few days. It gives you time to find your way around without the pressure of knowing you 'have' to get your hands on some money now!
Not only will this reduce the stress of your first few hours in the city, it'll also give you time to find your bearings without the immedate worry of how to get your hands on some cash.
Actually there probably aren't that many Tokyo banks you'll be familiar with. Possibly only one - Citibank. Citibank has the strongest presence of the international banks in Japan and they do have some 24 hour ATMs in and around Tokyo. Be warned though, they are few and far between for a city this size. You need to have enough cash on you to get you to the ATM if this is going to be your main source of Japanese currency.
Another bank which is recently hitting the scene is Shinsei Bank. This was originally a Japanese bank but has recently become more international in flavor. The great thing is that their ATMS are open 24 hours, 365 days a year. If you have a Visa Plus card then you can use these ATMS.
Most of the other banks you see here are domestic in nature and you can't use their ATMs with an international debit or credit card. Sounds bizarre I know but it's true!
What are the alternatives to Tokyo banks?
There are Seven Eleven convenience stores all around Tokyo and they're open 24 hours so you can pop in anytime you need. The franchise of Seven Eleven convenience stores recently opened up the possibilities for ATM users with international cards.
If you have Visa, Plus, American Express, JCB, Union Pay or Diners Club International, you can use any of the ATMS provided by Seven Bank. Note that in early 2010 these ATMs stopped accepting Mastercard. Yes, don't ask us why! It's a real step backwards in our opinion.
The sign on the left is a typical ATM sign that the convenience stores display outside their doors. To find out whether there's a Seven Bank ATM or partner ATM in the area that you will be staying, follow the link to Seven Bank.
Most major stores, restaurants and hotels now accept international Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club, with Visa being the most recognized credit card. I would still say never assume though - check before you commit to anything if you want to pay with your credit card - even if there is a sign outside that seems to indicate it's ok.
The comments above only apply to Tokyo and other major cities. If you are traveling to other areas of Japan, particularly the countryside, access to ATMs and banks will be severely restricted so please check in advance.
If you're planning on using travelers cheques during your stay, again find out where you are able to exchange your cheques for the real article.
There are very few money changing kiosks in Tokyo - so few it's not worth mentioning in my opinion - so you will need to find a bank or organization that will accept your cheques. Many of the Tokyo banks do not exchange travelers cheques so you need to know where to go.
The most accessible and foreigner friendly in my experience is the World Currency Shop.
My personal recommendation, and I can't say this enough, is make sure you have some cash on you wherever you are in Tokyo.
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