Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Forums Other Destination advice Japan help please

  • Annie 225 posts

    I’m reading that cash is king in Japan, do I need to use mostly cash? I’d rather not carry large amounts.
    I use a Chase card in Europe, USA and Canada but I think it doesn’t work in Japan. I’m sure my Amex cards will be a rubbish deal.

    RK228 230 posts

    I’m reading that cash is king in Japan, do I need to use mostly cash? I’d rather not carry large amounts.
    I use a Chase card in Europe, USA and Canada but I think it doesn’t work in Japan. I’m sure my Amex cards will be a rubbish deal.

    We found card acceptance to be more widespread this summer than pre-COVID and didn’t need as much cash as in the past. Where cards were accepted, most places took Amex (I used my US Amex to avoid foreign transaction fees).

    Jon 273 posts

    Currently in Japan, so for what it’s worth, a few observations. (Itinerary was Tokyo last week, currently in Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka to come).

    Suica via ApplePay works a treat, and can easily be topped up in a matter of seconds from your phone. Also much easier to keep track of your balance than with the physical cards. Can be used in lieu of cash in most supermarkets and quite a few cafes and small shops, it seems, as well as for public transport. There appear to be refund machines at most stations for getting back any unused balance at the end of the trip, though I haven’t tried that yet obviously.

    A lot of restaurants are indeed cash only, and cash does seem to be the preferred payment method in a lot of shops. In order, it seems to be cash, Suica/other IC, credit card.

    I had trouble getting my Curve card working here initially but seem to have fixed that now (it needed to be activated, even though I’m sure I did that a while ago – perhaps it needs separate activation per country?! 🤷‍♂️) Some places accept tap-to-pay/paywave, others need the card inserting, sometimes the PIN needs to be entered but not always. ApplePay is accepted in some places but not all (and seems to work fine with Curve even when the physical card doesn’t).

    I had no problem using my Revolut card. Other regular Visa/Mastercards were hit and miss. So I’d highly recommend bringing a selection, and also carrying enough cash for your next restaurant/shopping bill just in case… 😉

    7-11 ATMs seem to be the ones to use to avoid paying a fee (that’s the machine fee, on top of whatever your card issuer may charge). Other ATMs seem to charge around £1-2.

    We didn’t bother with the Japan rail pass this time. Instead used the Smart-Ex app to book one-way Tokyo-Kyoto (about £75 per person for Green Car), which also opens up the faster Nozomi services (as I recall, these can’t be booked with the rail pass). Going to take the Hankyu line from Kyoto to Kobe, and possibly also back from Kobe to Osaka, having just done it for the short ride to Arashiyama for the bamboo forest (meh). Rather fun old-fashioned (and comfortable) train carriages. One way fare to Kobe looks to be about £3-4 and takes just over an hour. Tomorrow taking the also-rather-fun-looking Kintetsu Aoniyoshi train to Nara to see if we can re-find a lovely little cafe we visited in the BeforeTimes.

    The only slightly stressful negative so far was Tokyo train station on the last day of that part of the trip: arrived via subway, found the Shinkansen area and from there the nearest set of luggage lockers (plenty of them, but they do seem to fill up quickly so advisable to arrive early; they work with Suica, optionally via ApplePay). Dumped our bags, got the locker ticket, made a note of locker number and location, took precautionary photos of the area and nearest wall map, and headed off into town for the morning. Then later returned via, as it turned out, a different entrance… and had a nightmare trying to find the way to the lockers. It’s an absolute maze lol. Long story short, you have to enter the central area with your Suica card (you won’t be charged), from where you can get to the lockers, then later at the Shinkansen barriers you have to both tap your Suica card to ‘exit’ and also scan your Shinkansen QR code ticket. I think there is a way to link them to make that easier, but I couldn’t work out how to do it beforehand.

    The good news is there are generally plenty of station staff around and they’re very helpful. Although being able to speak enough Japanese to apologise for not being able to speak Japanese, and ask them if they can speak English, goes a long way 😉

    Overall, things tend to work very well here, and it remains an impressively clean and civilised country (in noticeable contrast to the way some others have gone in recent years… 😉

    Aston100 1,503 posts

    Useful info. Thanks Jon.
    BTW, how do prices compare to the UK?

    Rui N. 888 posts

    I’m reading that cash is king in Japan, do I need to use mostly cash? I’d rather not carry large amounts.
    I use a Chase card in Europe, USA and Canada but I think it doesn’t work in Japan. I’m sure my Amex cards will be a rubbish deal.

    I was there back in 2018 and just used Curve to withdraw cash when needed. It worked more than fine. Right at the end of the tripe wanted to buy some bubble tea and was able to withdrawn 1000 yen. Lots of places accepted card in any case.

    Jon 273 posts

    Useful info. Thanks Jon.
    BTW, how do prices compare to the UK?

    Doesn’t seem too bad, or at least not as bad as I was expecting. Booked the hotels well in advance so, while they weren’t exactly cheap, they went up a lot as we got closer to our travel dates. Transport is pretty cheap – subways/trains within town are around 200 yen per journey, plus or minus (a bit over £1), taxi from Haneda into town (Ryogoku area – The Gate hotel was very nice, and walkable to Asakusa, Hokusai museum etc) was about £55. Food can be as much as you like of course, but we’re typically spending about 1000 to 3000 yen (£5-15 ish) per person for restaurant meals. Beer, sake etc seems to range from about 300 – 700 yen, more in hotels.

    I think hotels are definitely where the cost is. That aside, it still seems possible to travel and eat reasonably affordably.

    Aston100 1,503 posts

    Useful info. Thanks Jon.
    BTW, how do prices compare to the UK?

    Doesn’t seem too bad, or at least not as bad as I was expecting. Booked the hotels well in advance so, while they weren’t exactly cheap, they went up a lot as we got closer to our travel dates. Transport is pretty cheap – subways/trains within town are around 200 yen per journey, plus or minus (a bit over £1), taxi from Haneda into town (Ryogoku area – The Gate hotel was very nice, and walkable to Asakusa, Hokusai museum etc) was about £55. Food can be as much as you like of course, but we’re typically spending about 1000 to 3000 yen (£5-15 ish) per person for restaurant meals. Beer, sake etc seems to range from about 300 – 700 yen, more in hotels.

    I think hotels are definitely where the cost is. That aside, it still seems possible to travel and eat reasonably affordably.

    Thanks for the detail.

    Seagull 70 posts

    Back again to Japan next week for work and will have a couple of days (one a day off) down in Nagasaki and the area is new to me. Does anyone have any “must see” sights or attractions (beyond the Peace Park and the A-bomb museum) I should try and sneak in?

    +1 for cheaper than you expect. I was there for 2 weeks in October (Tokyo, Yokohama and Kyoto) and was pleasantly surprised at food and drink costs. It was a work trip and I was based in Yokohama for 1 week, it’s a lovely city with many highlights of its own and only 30-40 mins from downtown Tokyo by train. Worth a visit.

    SBIre 171 posts

    Any suggestions for a hotel in Kyoto please?
    Central to the things we are likely to want to see, although still no idea what they are.

    As we have no experience of Japan and therefore no definite must sees we will be happy anywhere where tourist spots are reasonably accessible.

    I can recommend Hotel Kanra in Kyoto – it’s a ten minute walk from the station, so super central and we loved it. Nothing like the usual chain hotels – lots of wood, style and character.

    We also stayed in Suiran (it’s a Bonvoy hotel) near the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It’s a stunning suburb, and a special hotel but definitely not central so i’d only recommend it as more of a resort style retreat

    SBIre 171 posts

    Hello Annie, I recently stayed at Solaria Nishitetsu and it was excellent and very well located to see everything walking.

    Rooms were large but some are interior and have some sort of garden wall instead of external view.

    If you locate it on a map, anything around (specially a few blocks south or west) will be good too. You have slightly cheaper places if you don’t need an onsen or breakfast.

    I recommend comparing prices on booking.com (you will pay in Yens when you get there or now) and hotels.com (you will pay in GBP now). Both allow you to cancel up to a few days before check-in.

    Check prices on Agoda too. It’s a sister of Booking.com but based in Asia (Singapore I think) and often get better deals for hotels in Asia compared to it’s peers

    Jon 273 posts

    Stayed at the Four Sisters Residence last time, which was lovely – serviced apartments, so comes with washing machine and kitchenette etc. This time staying at the Mastay Jingumichi, also serviced apartment, but more in the north-east corner of central Kyoto, near the design museum and museum of modern art, philosopher’s path etc. I think I prefer this area – very pleasant, and walkable to Gion, Shijo etc, or there’s a subway a few minutes away if you don’t want to walk.

    FWIW, weather in both Tokyo and Kyoto has been lovely for early November – around 20-25 Celsius during the day, mostly clear skies and bright sunshine (just one afternoon of rain so far). Autumn leaves just starting to turn. Suspect it’s about to turn colder – the evening temperatures are noticeably dropping a bit, but the daytimes are still very pleasant.

    Gavin454 174 posts

    I’m reading that cash is king in Japan, do I need to use mostly cash? I’d rather not carry large amounts.
    I use a Chase card in Europe, USA and Canada but I think it doesn’t work in Japan. I’m sure my Amex cards will be a rubbish deal.

    My most recent trips were around Hokkaido in Jan/Feb, and Osaka + Kobe in May. Not really true anymore to say “cash is king”, I found that most places took card. Some small restaurants etc only took cash, such as the cheap/basic restaurants with a ticket machine for selecting your meal at the entrance. Things like local buses may only take cash. Definitely useful to carry cash, but you shouldn’t need to carry large amounts.

    Using a Mastercard (Halifax Clarity) at a 7/11 ATM doesn’t seem to have any additional fees from the ATM. I believe many ATMs do charge fees in Japan, but it varies depending on the bank, the time of day and the network your card uses.

    Unrelated but the Amex Platinum £150 dining credit is great to use in Japan, as it’s pre-paid via a website (Pocket Concierge) which has hundreds of restaurants all over the country. Nothing to pay at the restaurant unless you order extras. I’ve only used it once, but I did order a bottle of wine as an extra and the restaurant processed it via Pocket Concierge, which I wasn’t expecting, so it came out of my remaining dining credit.

    yonasl 987 posts

    Many machines that only took cash when I went in Feb 2020 now (May 2023) had fitted wireless card readers. You may need a suica (or similar card) on some still (and to charge a suica card you need cash!) but if you have an iPhone you can have a virtual one.

    Alex G 474 posts

    One time when I went to Japan by Revolut card was declined at Narita trying to buy train tickets. I realised afterwards that I had the “swipe” setting turned off.

    I used Revolut/Monzo/Curve to get cash where cards were not accepted. Suica very useful as well. There is an app called Suikakeibo that shows your transaction history and balance for the physical card.

    I love the cheap/basic restaurants where you buy a ticket in advance for the meal. That is all part of the authentic Japan experience. I also avoid the international chains and stay in Japanese hotels. The Knot Hotel in Shinjuku and the Hotel Monterey Le Frere in Osaka are both great value. Osaka is a great base for day trips to Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Kobe, and Hiroshima.

    Ihenders 5 posts

    Back again to Japan next week for work and will have a couple of days (one a day off) down in Nagasaki and the area is new to me. Does anyone have any “must see” sights or attractions (beyond the Peace Park and the A-bomb museum) I should try and sneak in?

    +1 for cheaper than you expect. I was there for 2 weeks in October (Tokyo, Yokohama and Kyoto) and was pleasantly surprised at food and drink costs. It was a work trip and I was based in Yokohama for 1 week, it’s a lovely city with many highlights of its own and only 30-40 mins from downtown Tokyo by train. Worth a visit.

    Just back from a trip that included Nagasaki. A couple of suggestions:
    1) Hashima Island (aka Gunkanjima – Battleship Island) is worth a visit. It featured in Skyfall and has an interesting history.
    2) If you have time and want to rent a car, it’s worth visiting Mount Unzen and the hot springs at Unzen Onsen (where the Kyushu Hotel tops my “best ever” hotel list)

    Aston100 1,503 posts

    Does anyone have an IHG or Hilton mid-level recommendation (Crowne Plaza / Doubletree level) for Tokyo and Kyoto and/or Osaka?
    Will likely be 7 nights in each.
    Most likely to be in May, and probably using points.

    Reney 801 posts

    What are people’s thoughts on basing in Kyoto and do days trips to Osaka or basing in Osaka and doing days trips to Kyoto? I will be coming from hakone and going into Hiroshima (rather than day trip to Hiroshima).

    I have been to Kyoto (which I liked very much) but not been Osaka. It will be mum and I trip so no children, teens. We like to walk around, see stuff and eat.

    Alex G 474 posts

    I would say stay in Osaka.

    Hotels are cheaper than Kyoto.

    Easy to take the train for day trips to Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, and Himeji.

    Its the food capital of Japan. It’s fairly small and easily walkable.

    yonasl 987 posts

    I personally love Osaka but it can be suuuuuuper daunting to those new to Japan.

    The area around the train station in the north is such a maze of overpasses and buildings with different levels that it can take hours to explore and you literally can get lost trying to navigate it.

    But staying there does indeed allow you to go everywhere in the region easily. If you know Kyoto it is an amazing experience, I much prefer it to Tokyo.

    NigelHamilton 235 posts

    I’m reading that cash is king in Japan, do I need to use mostly cash? I’d rather not carry large amounts.
    I use a Chase card in Europe, USA and Canada but I think it doesn’t work in Japan. I’m sure my Amex cards will be a rubbish deal.

    My dad has recently come back from Japan and used his Chase card there.

    Jon 273 posts

    What are people’s thoughts on basing in Kyoto and do days trips to Osaka or basing in Osaka and doing days trips to Kyoto? I will be coming from hakone and going into Hiroshima (rather than day trip to Hiroshima).

    I have been to Kyoto (which I liked very much) but not been Osaka. It will be mum and I trip so no children, teens. We like to walk around, see stuff and eat.

    Just did a couple of nights in Osaka (Holiday In Express Midosuji – very good value, I thought). Previously did five nights in Kyoto. Also travelling with mum. I think it’s worth doing a night or two in Osaka, although you *could* do it as a day trip from Kyoto (we took the Hankyu train, which was nice – also relatively cheap). We spent a night in Kobe also, which probably wasn’t necessary – that could definitely have been a day trip. Personally, Kyoto is my favourite city, but I think Osaka is worth a visit if not done before. Not sure I’d return unless there was a specific event or reason – nothing wrong with it, just prefer Kyoto.

    meta 1,466 posts

    For exploring the region it’s best to stay somewhere close to Shin-Osaka. HI & Suites Shin-Osaka is a new very cheap hotel (I can see some dates in February and March at £45 per night). Unless fully booked, as a IHG Platinum and Diamond you are pretty much guaranteed upgrade to the King Studio which has fully equipped kitchen/washing machine so you can travel light.

    It’s 10-min walk from Shin-Osaka and you can take either normal train for £3-4 or rather take shinkansen for £16 return and be at Kyoto Station in about half an hour.

    There is also Courtyard which is connected to the station, but it’s substantially more expensive.

    HampshireHog 185 posts

    Back again to Japan next week for work and will have a couple of days (one a day off) down in Nagasaki and the area is new to me. Does anyone have any “must see” sights or attractions (beyond the Peace Park and the A-bomb museum) I should try and sneak in?

    +1 for cheaper than you expect. I was there for 2 weeks in October (Tokyo, Yokohama and Kyoto) and was pleasantly surprised at food and drink costs. It was a work trip and I was based in Yokohama for 1 week, it’s a lovely city with many highlights of its own and only 30-40 mins from downtown Tokyo by train. Worth a visit.

    Dejima island very touristy but interesting and the Glover garden for historic buildings and great views.

    cin3 170 posts

    Useful info. Thanks Jon.
    BTW, how do prices compare to the UK?

    Food is ridiculously good value for the quality compared to the UK but of course you can easily drop £500/head on a *** meal if you want.

    Accommodation also comparable to UK and cheaper if you avoid bland chain hotels.

    Travel slightly more expensive but the JR Pass is a must if you run the calcs and it works for your itinerary. I got almost 3x the value out of my 3 week pass.

    Kyoto is touristy as hell but nice. However, after a week you will have exhausted most of what you want to do. Osaka however is a real city which if you want to get immersed in local culture is a far better bet for longer stays.

    cin3 170 posts

    Oh and skip all the TeamLabs unless you have children and they really want to go. It’s all hyper derivative digital art 101 stuff with zero soul for people who have never set foot in an art gallery in their lives.

  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.