Japan is an etiquette-driven society from the cradle to the grave and paying for things is no exception. To keep your zen while spending the yen, check out our list of dos and don’ts.
DO: PLACE IT IN THE TRAY
What Tokyo’s restaurants, shops and taxis all have in common – aside from a drunken salaryman zonked out in one corner after dark – is the ubiquitous tray next to the till, usually referred to as koin torei (the Japanese transliteration of coin tray) or simply torei. The official use is to maintain a desirable distance between you and the cashier – nobody in Japan wants to be seen grabbing your money – but you can also use it to avoid dropping your change and keeping the line waiting while you scrabble awkwardly after a ¥1 coin.
DO: RELY ON YOUR FLEXIBLE FRIEND
Despite the cavalcade of bullet trains, intelligent robots and high-tech toilets, Japan is still pretty analogue when it comes to money and cash invariably beats cards. So if you’re not too keen on leaving your watch – or worse, washing the dishes – as payment, then we suggest carrying hard currency with you at all times.
DO: PAY WITH YOUR PREPAID IC CARD
Although cash remains king, you can also pay using prepaid IC (integrated circuit) cards like Pasmo and Suica in almost every konbini and taxi, and even in some restaurants. Simply tap your card on the reader and hope that the Yamanote line hasn’t drained out your balance.
Japan is perhaps the only country where tipping can unwittingly turn into an insult. A price is a price here and good service is delivered without an expectation of reward or the incentive of a tip. Feel free to show your gratitude in other ways, though best not with a hug.
DO: BETSU BETSU
Unless you’re willing to front the entire bill for a long night of debauchery with your friends, simply utter the magic words betsu betsu – the Japanese term for going Dutch – and the bill will be evenly split between the culprits. Bear in mind that some restaurants don’t allow this, especially if your party includes that annoying friend who wants to pay by card, so it’s better to ask beforehand.
DON'T: USE YOUR FINGERPRINTS (YET)
While pressing your finger down on the card reader would throw any cashier into confusion, the government is poised to try out new technology enabling tourists to pay with the touch of a finger. The plan is to have nationwide coverage up and running by 2020, so until then you’re going to have to make do with boring old cash.