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International Center

University of Missouri

Money, banking and saving in Japan

by Evelyn S.

Hey there! My name is Evie. I am a junior currently studying in Tokyo, Japan for an academic year! I arrived in Japan in mid-September and only started classes this week, so you might be wondering what I have been doing with my time these past few carefree weeks. Well, as a student majoring in accounting and economics, I was frantically trying to find the most economical way to live, which included setting up a bank account here and understanding different ways to save in Japan. Actually, I have been fretting over this for months now, but now I finally had the chance to put all of my prior research into action. Now, let’s get started, or 始めましょう!

At the time of writing this (Oct. 4), the current exchange rate between the USD and the Japanese yen is $1 to 106.81円(¥) (Fun fact #1: the Japanese yen is currently stronger than it has been for the last several years. Last time I was in Japan in the summer of 2017, the exchange rate was $1 USD to about 111円. Which actually isn’t a fun fact at all because this means I am spending a fraction of a cent more on the dollar than I was…) This means that, approximately, one penny is equivalent to 1 yen. I am actually at an advantage because when I am considering prices of items, such as an item for 100円, I automatically convert the price to $1. This tactic actually saves me money, because the true equivalence of 100円 is $0.94. Although this doesn’t make too big of a difference in individual small purchases, this psychological over-budgeting allows me to save money after over-budgeting on several small purchases, or a larger purchase such as my bicycle or a nice dinner. Ultimately, I feel like I am spending more money than I actually am, which lulls me into a sense of financial insecurity; although this may cause me to stress more in the moment, I will end up financially more stable because I will be more inclined to stick to my budget (no, I can’t have that very nice expensive sushi set for lunch, I have to go next door to the convenience store to get my budget sushi, which is still pretty darn good by the way).

My school, Sophia University, suggested that foreign exchange students who choose to get a bank account go to Japan Post Bank (Fun Fact #2: Japan Post is the Japanese equivalent to the USPS; Japan Post incorporated Japan Post Bank in 2006. JPB is the world’s biggest deposit holder). I took my school’s advice and went to set up a bank account with JPB. After a lot of trial and error, and correcting some stressful errors with my residency, I was finally able to get a Japanese bank account! Little did I know, obtaining the bank account was the easy part; getting my money from my American bank account into my Japanese bank account was a whole different obstacle. International remittances are apparently extremely confusing, as I have invested hours trying to figure out that conundrum. At the advice of my American bank, I ended up creating a Japanese Paypal account (different from an American Paypal because of the way the bank is set up, such as routing numbers, account numbers, branch codes, etc.) and moving my funds from my American bank account into my American Paypal, using my Japanese Paypal to request the money from my American Paypal, then executing that transaction for a whopping $4.99 service fee from Paypal. This is compared to the $140 minimum fee I was looking at if I completed an international remittance directly from bank to bank. So, the big lesson we learned today is that Paypal is a friend.

Finally, something I noticed almost immediately in the days following my arrival, membership cards to different grocery stores, retailers, online shops, etc. seem to be a HUGE deal here. I already managed to get a membership card at a local grocery store called Maruetsu. I also enjoy Amazon Japan student for 250円/month (after my 6 month free trial, of course), and what I can only describe as Amazon Japan pt. 2, an online retailer called Rakuten. The membership cards work by accumulating points on purchases and subsequently using those points for discounts at that retailer and other stores such as participating restaurants, convenience store chains, and even a tailor(?)!

Thank you for taking the time to learn a little about money, banking, and saving in Japan. Please enjoy these photos of Japanese currency (10,000円, 5,000円, & 1,000円 bills as well as 500円, 100円, 50円, 10円, 5円, and 1円 coins) and of my Bank of America Student Travel credit card (Japan is largely a cash-based society, but the most popular credit card brand by far is Visa, and I earn points to use on travel-related expenses when I use this card), my Japan Post Bank cash card (can be used for making withdrawals from the ATM, does not function as a debit card), and my Maruetsu T-card. Talk to you again soon!

The Japanese yen in paper and coin form.

Japanese Currency


Multiple credit cards from Japan and the US.

Bank of America Travel Card, Japan Post Bank Cash Card, Maruetsu T-Card, and Japan Post Bank Passbook

About the blogger

Evelyn S. is studying abroad on the Sophia University program in Tokyo, Japan.

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