Japan is a country renowned for its technological advances (they even have robot restaurants), so one can be forgiven for thinking that going cashless is the way to go in the metropolis city of Tokyo. Reality paints a different picture, however, and you would find yourself in a pinch if you tried to survive a day without any cash on hand. Japan is still very much a cash country, and there are many stores with signs saying ‘No credit cards. Cash only.’
Deciding how much cash to bring with you is a challenge no matter which country you’re planning on moving too. However, with Japan’s insistence on cash transactions, this problem might seem especially troublesome. Most banks, such as Mitsubishi UFJ Bank and Sumimoto Mitsui Bank so as to name a few, will not allow foreigners to open a bank account with them unless they have been in the country for more than six months. As you can imagine, this is an awfully long time to wait, especially since monthly housing rents and bills kick in right away without any grace period. No bank account, no way to make bank transfers. So far, the Japan Post Bank is currently the only bank that will allow foreigners to open a bank account the moment they set foot into the country (with a valid residence card, of course). Though, this still does not solve the issue of how much money to bring with you to Japan. Also, most bank ATMs also do not accept cash cards, debit cards, and credit cards from other countries.
Thankfully, there are 7-Eleven convenience stores. Bringing 7-Eleven stores into the equation might seem strange, because they are typically stops for food or drinks. What is less known about them, however, is that they have ATMs that will let you draw Japanese yen as well. And the best thing about these 7-Eleven ATMs is that they accept any cards from most any countries. This will include your standard cards like VISA, MasterCard, and AMEX. The ATMs also come in 11 languages: English, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Korean, Thai, Malay, Indonesian, Vietnamese, French, German, and Portuguese. If you run into trouble, there is also a phone next to the machine for you to use to ask for assistance. Depending on the country that you card is issued in, the transaction costs might vary. Of course, the amount you draw will also be subject to standard exchange rates. Do note that there is a maximum limit of 100,000 yen for each transaction, while magnetic strip card transactions and AMEX cards have a lower limit at 30,000 yen. 7-Eleven is the convenience store with the most outlets in Japan, and they also operate 24/7, making the whole process of getting money at any time of the day convenient and stress-free.
Once getting a bank account, there are definitely other methods of having money transferred to you. Telegraphic transfers and using online money transfer services like TransferWise are just two examples. From my own experience, telegraphic transfers tend to be relatively efficient, taking about an average of four business days, but it also comes at a cost of about 4,000 yen (this amount varies depending on the amount you choose to transfer). TransferWise would probably be a good option in any other country but Japan whose bank processes are notoriously slow, especially when it comes to international transactions. Personally, I have not tried TransferWise, but my friend who did waited for a full two weeks before seeing the money in his bank account. If you need cash fast and if convenience is your priority, 7-Eleven ATMs would be your best bet.