Frommer's lists prices in the local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
There's no getting around it: Tokyo is among the most expensive cities in the world (according to Economist.com, it was the world's most expensive city in February 2009). Hopefully, this guide will help reduce some potential costs by showing you how to take advantage of deals on public transportation, dine more cheaply, and see some of Tokyo's sights with reduced admission.
In any case, you'll probably want to arrive in Tokyo with cash, credit cards, and maybe even traveler's checks. Luckily, it's much easier to obtain yen than it used to be even just a decade ago.
The currency in Japan is called the yen, denoted by ¥. Coins come in denominations of ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100, and ¥500. Bills come in denominations of ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000, though ¥2,000 notes are rarely seen. All coins get used (though you may find it hard to get rid of ¥1 coins).
Some people like to arrive in a foreign country with that country's currency already in hand, but I do not find it necessary for Tokyo. Narita Airport has several exchange counters for all incoming international flights that offer better exchange rates than what you'd get abroad, as well as ATMs. Change enough money to last several days, since exchanging money is not as convenient in Japan as it is in many other countries. And remember, Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Personal checks are not used in Japan. Most Japanese pay with credit cards or cash -- the country's overall crime rate is so low, you can feel safe walking around with money (but always exercise caution). The only exception is on a crowded subway during rush hour or in heavily touristed areas such as Tsukiji or Asakusa. Although the bulk of your expenses -- hotels, major purchases, meals in classier restaurants -- can be paid for with credit cards, bring traveler's checks for those times when you might not have convenient access to an ATM for cash withdrawals, especially outside Tokyo in more rural areas.
The best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine). Because most ATMs in Japan accept only cards issued by Japanese banks, your best bet for obtaining cash is a 7-Eleven convenience store, most of which are open 24 hours and have ATMs that accept foreign bank cards operating on the Cirrus (www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (www.visa.com) systems, as well as American Express. Another good bet is a post office, though ATM machines located at every post office in Japan may be operable only during limited hours (depending on the post office, that may be until 6 or 7pm weekdays and until 5pm on weekends).
Other places with ATMs that might accept foreign-issued cards include most Citibanks (which usually accept cards on the PLUS and Cirrus systems, as well as Visa and MasterCard and sometimes American Express, but note that not all foreign cards may be accepted), large department stores, and Narita Airport. Note that there is no public American Express office in Japan.
Be sure you know your four-digit personal identification number (PIN) and your daily withdrawal limit before leaving home. Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions than for domestic ones. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. Because Tokyo is expensive and because there is a limit to how much money you can withdraw with each transaction, you'll find these bank fees especially annoying here. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Credit cards are a safe way to carry money, provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your 4-digit PIN. Keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).
The most readily accepted cards in Japan are American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard (also called Eurocard), Visa, and the Japanese credit card JCB (Japan Credit Bank). Shops and restaurants accepting credit and charge cards will usually post which cards they accept at the door or near the cash register (you can even use credit cards to pay for taxis). However, smaller establishments may be reluctant to accept cards for minor purchases and inexpensive meals, so inquire beforehand. In addition, note that the vast majority of Tokyo's least expensive businesses, including noodle shops, fast-food joints, ma-and-pa establishments, and the cheapest accommodations, often do not accept credit cards.
Although traveler's checks are something of an anachronism now that ATMs have come onto the scene, traveler's checks are still useful in Japan. Traveler's checks generally fetch a better exchange rate than cash and also offer protection in case of theft; you'll need your passport to exchange traveler's checks. Note, however, that in some very remote areas, even banks won't cash them. Before taking off for small towns, be sure you have enough cash.
You can get traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
Be sure to keep a record of the traveler's checks' serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
In Tokyo, all banks displaying an AUTHORIZED FOREIGN EXCHANGE sign can exchange currency and traveler's checks, with exchange rates usually displayed at the appropriate foreign-exchange counter. Banks are generally open Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm, though business hours for exchanging foreign currency usually don't begin until 10:30 or 11am (be prepared for a long wait; you'll be asked to sit down as your order is processed).
More convenient -- and quicker -- are Travelex foreign-exchange kiosks, with several locations across town, including one in Hibiya at 1-5-2 Yurakucho (tel. 03/5157-8311; station: Hibiya or Yurakucho), open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm; Tokyo Station (tel. 03/5220-5021), open daily from 9am to 8pm; 3rd floor of Tokyo Midtown Tower, 9-7-1 Akasaka (tel. 03/3408-2280; station: Roppongi), open from Monday to Friday from 11am to 7pm and Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Other locations are in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shimbashi, Akasaka, and Odaiba. See www.travelex.com for more information.
If you need to exchange money outside of the hours above, inquire at your hotel. Likewise, large department stores also offer exchange services and are often open until 8pm. Note, however, that hotels and department stores may charge a handling fee and offer a slightly less favorable exchange rate.