Ahh, Japan: the land of technology – and cash.
Japan has yet to embrace the use of credit cards outside major urban centres (which baffles my Western mind because, back home, I paid for pretty much everything with my Visa). Here in Akita, I use cash for literally everything, from buying groceries, to paying my utility bills, to going to the movies. It’s not unusual for me to have 30,000yen (~$300) in cash in my wallet at any time.
The reason I carry so much cash around with me (and actually start to worry when it gets below a certain amount) is that, despite Japan being a cash society, it is actually incredibly difficult to access your money. Why, you ask?
In Japan, ATMs have working hours.
As in, after a certain time, they physically close.
Forget banking hours – after 9pm on weekdays (6pm on weekends!) I can no longer access my money at my own bank’s ATMs because the machines are turned off for the night. Instead, I have to go to the convenience store and pay the 210yen (~$2.10) fee to use their 24/7 ATM.
(Oh, the banking fees. My inexperience in dealing solely in cash meant that I racked up over 2,000yen (~$20) in banking fees in my first month here – yikes!)
But wait! Is it New Years Days or Golden Week or certain national holidays? Then the 24/7 ATM might not work for you, either, because your bank may be closed-closed and the ATM may not be able to access your account – for several days in a row.
I wish I were joking!
I have been lucky so far – I haven’t run out of money on a national holiday, but I know of two different JETs using two different banks who tried to access their money at multiple convenience store ATMs and couldn’t because their bank had decided, “Nope, no money for you today!” (Or, in the case of one JET, for an entire long weekend!)
That being said, Japanese ATMs can be useful considering that online banking is also pretty much non-existent here. (Are you sure that Japan is the Land of Technology®?) So far, I’ve used them to transfer money to buy my Arashi’s LOVE concert ticket and pay my gas bill. However, in my opinion, Japanese ATMs remain one of the more inconvenient things about this otherwise (supposedly) technologically-advanced country!
Just another little thing that makes Japan so… Japan.