I’ve been living in South Korea for almost 2 years now but I must say that despite being so close to each other, Japan is very different from South Korea. Here are some cultural differences I learned about money in Japan and what you should keep in mind before traveling there.
Side note: all of the information listed here is simply from my own experience. Please feel free to add details and correct me if I’m wrong 😁
Money is one of the biggest cultural differences I noticed between Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. Japan is a large cash based society. But how money is used in South Korea and the U.S. is very similar. There are similar bills and similar coins:
When I was living in the U.S., I never carried any cash on me. I always feared getting robbed. I paid for everything using my debit card. In South Korea, I use a mix of cash and debit card. In Japan, expect to pay for most things with cash. Major chains will accept debit and credit cards, but most other places won’t. It’s really nice being able to use cash without worry in South Korea and Japan.
One thing that really shook me is how different the bills and coins are in Japan. My first purchase in Japan was a cup of coffee. I paid with a 1,000 yen bill but received a bunch of coins as change! 1,000 yen is about $10 and in the U.S. as well as South Korea, you would be getting 1 dollar and 1,000 won bills back as change. In Japan, I received four 100 yen coins. I didn’t know what to make of this and was really confused why I didn’t get bills back until I used Google to find out the currency exchange rate. Turns out, 100 yen is about $1 and 500 yen is about $5. Imagine my surprise when I found out that a coin can be worth $5! That is something you don’t see in the U.S.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Japanese believe it is very rude to hand money directly to people. There are money trays everywhere you go and you are expected to place money in the tray. Since Japan uses mostly cash, I’m assuming this is to help make it easier to pick up the coins. In South Korea, it is respectful to give money to others using both hands. In the U.S., no one cares about how money is given as long as they get their money 🤷♀️
One final thing to keep in mind in Japan is all of these Gacha Machines. Japan has these machines EVERYWHERE and while they look fun, they’re tourist traps. Remember that a 500 yen coin equals about $5. These machines can range anywhere from 100 yen to 500 yen. Before impulsively buying one, remind yourself: is it worth $2? $3? $4? As foreigners, it’s very easy to mistake these coins as measly 25 cent quarters.
It was very interesting to see how much Japan relies on cash despite it being one of the most advanced countries in the world. What is money like in your country?