The Mechanics of Japanese ATMs

Tips for Withdrawing Yen

Woman withdraws cash from ATM machine
••• Gary Conner/Photodisc/Getty Images

ATMs are virtually everywhere in Japan and some will give you exact change, down to the yen.

But, you'll quickly find that when you stick your card in one, it'll more than likely spit it right back out.

You see, unlike many places in Europe and Canada, Japan is not so ATM-friendly to visitors, especially the further away you travel from major cities.

Most bank machines only accept cards issued in Japan, no matter if they have the Visa or MasterCard logo printed on them or not.

The ATM machines that will most consistently take your card and dole out your cash are those operated by the Japan Post. To find one, you can use this website -- if you know some level of Japanese. If not, no worries: Just look around for the nearest Japan Post office location, or ask the front desk at your hotel where one is, and chances are there will be an ATM there. Or, check for a Japan Post money machine in a nearby shopping mall, as most have one somewhere in the building. The national bank/postal service has more than 25,000 ATMs across the country, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

If a Japan Post ATM isn't close by, another option is the Seven Bank ATMs located at 7-Eleven stores throughout the nation. Click on this English-language website to find locations. In addition, Mizuho bank machines are slated to accept foreign cards in 2015.

Money Machine Advice

But, be warned: There are several surprises visitors to Japan discover when using -- or attempting to use -- ATM cards there.

  • ATMs such as those operated by Seven Bank sometimes limit what cards they take. For example, in 2013 they stopped accepting MasterCard, but as of Jan. 10, 2014, they again began accepting the cards. Same goes for the Japan Post with certain Maestro cards. The lesson here is to find out whether your card will be accepted before traveling. 
  • Some bank machines in Japan still close early, and, if you think you'll need cash for that night or the following day, get it early, or you may be yearning for yen for a while.
  • The Japan Post has a limit of 200,000 yen (about $2,000) for each withdrawal, because of previous cases of fraud and people using stolen cards.
  • You can't, in general, check your account balance from ATMs in Japan.
  • Japan Post and 7-Eleven ATMs offer English menu options, but in case you want instructions for using 7-Eleven machines, click here. Just remember that the amount you are withdrawing in yen will appear larger than it is because of all those zeros. An easy way to quickly estimate the amount is to knock off the last two zeros as you would if you saw $1.00. So, 3,000 yen in dollars would roughly be 30.
  • Call your bank and let them know you'll be traveling to Japan before you go or they could think your card was stolen and block your account.

If you want to get some idea of ATM locations that will (technically) accept specific cards, check here for Visa users, here for MasterCard holders, for American Express.

Finally, to avoid running out of yen, consider exchanging dollars -- or whatever currency your country uses -- to yen after first arriving at the airport. While you can do this at banks, it can be time-consuming and will require filling out a form that will likely require some knowledge of Japanese, especially if you're not in a place with a lot of foreign tourists.

Your credit card will go some distance at major shopping centers, but many places in Japan, especially small shops and restaurants further away from big cities, still are cash only. It's always good to have cash on hand, as Japan can be a pricey place to visit. But, fortunately, it's also a very safe place in terms of pickpockets and muggers -- relative to Europe and the U.S. -- so carrying some amount of cash brings, in general, little risk.