One of the services available in Japan that I take advantage of is e-money or as it is also known electric money. This is a program put into place by a number of different companies throughout Japan which allows you to charge a card and use it like cask at various locations. As I mentioned there are a number of different companies which offer this service but for the sake of this post we’re talking about WAON and Edy.
The major draw of e-money, at least for me, is reducing the number of coins floating around me car, purse and pockets. Rather than the coins ending up goodness knows where they are all safely snuggled in the contents of my card ready for use. It is also much more convenient to carry around one credit card sized piece of plastic then it is to carry around an entire change purse.
How to get started:
The first thing you need to do is decide what type of e-money card you are interested in. WAON is a card used at AEON stores which can be found all over Okinawa. It is also taken at some convenience stores. The other option is Edy which I have found is taken at more locations to include SanA, all convenience stores and other participating companies. For example, the salon I visit and the place that sells tires down the street from my house both take Edy.
Once you have made your decision it’s time to get a card. If you are interested in a WAON card you can head over to your local AEON. There you will find WAON cards available for purchase (if I remember correctly it’s about ¥300). If you are interested in an Edy card then it must be purchased online through Rakuten a website similar to Amazon here in Japan. Obtaining an Edy card requires the card to be mailed to you which is going to mean you need a Japanese address. However if you live on base you have some other options for using the Edy program that do not require an address so keep reading.
Once you have purchased your card it’s time to local the nearest charging station. WAON charging stations can be found, much like the cards themselves, at AEON stores. Edy charging stations can be found at department stores (other than AEON) and convenience stores.
How to charge your card:
Charging your card requires yen cash (no coins) and the card itself. Naturally since the cards both have separate types of machines there are different ways to actually charge the card. Charging a WAON card can be a little but confusing, at least it was in my experience. Unfortunately since the machines do not have an English option I found myself struggling until I learned that you can have your WAON card charged at AEON customer service. Bringing your card and the amount of money you want to have put on your card can simply be done with a representative’s help. Once the money has been transferred you will receive a receipt and you’re good to go. Edy on the other hand has a very simple and straight forward machine. After placing your card on the sensor you enter money and press the green blinking light to “charge” your card. Once you’ve finished click the blue blinking light for your receipt and you’re done.
How to use your card:
Using your card is super simple. First before making a purchase ensure that your card is acceptable by looking at the logos available either on the front door or on the register. If your card is accepted at that location simply inform the clerk after your purchase had been made that you would like to use WAON or Edy. They will hit a key on the register which triggers a sensor to light up. Place your card on the sensor and wait for the sound. That’s it! Use your card until it needs to be recharged then repeat the entire process.
What if I lose my card:
Having an e-money card is more convenient then carrying around cash but make no mistake it has all the protections of carrying around cash so be sure your card is in a safe place. If you lost your card it will not be replaced nor will the funds remaining on that card be reimbursed.
Other e-money options:
Cards aren’t your only option for using e-money. Depending on the type of cell phone you purchase you may also have the ability to get an e-money app allowing you to pay not with a card but with your cell phone. All you need is a little icon on the back of your phone (seen in the center of the image above Mickey Mouse) which indicates that your phone is equipped with RFID.
Using your phone does not require the purchase of a card so all you have to do is simply download the app of your choice. I use the Edy app and my phone works just like an actual Edy card.
The down side:
Like with everything else in life there is a down side to e-money. Similar to credit cards they are not taken everywhere so be sure to check and see who accepts what. However, e-money is more widely accepted then credit cards and does not come with some of the strings that you get with using a credit card at some locations (such as a minimum amount of money spent before a credit card becomes accepted or a surcharge for using a credit card). In reality, however, e-money is taken at so many different locations that you won’t find yourself stranded without the ability to make an emergency purchase.
Is it worth it:
I absolutely love having Edy on my phone. I like the ability to grab my keys, phone and walk out the door. I also really love, as I said in the beginning of the post, that I don’t need to worry about loose change. (In Japan paper bills are only for denominations over ¥1000 yen. The rest is in coinage ¥500, ¥100, ¥50, ¥10, ¥5 and ¥1). The size of the card also makes it super portable and easy to wear such as on a lanyard on the beach of when out for a run.
Another great use for these cards is setting a budget/allowance. The way I do this is to put ¥20,000 (the max capacity) on my card each month. Then as I make purchases I can track the amount of money remaining (which is presented at the time of purchase and on your receipt) which allows me to know whether or not we can, let’s say, go out for dinner this weekend or not. Since I also use my phone app I can also track past purchases to keep track of my spending.
If you’re sick of carrying around coins or just trying to find a good way to give your kids their allowance each week I say look into getting yourself an e-money card. It’s just another way to make life a little simpler here in Japan!