Friday, December 18, 2015

How to Deal with Coins/Change in Japan

Have you ever thrown your loose change in a bowl at the end of the day and watched it pile up? In the US I've heard people recommend this as a simple way to save up for a fun splurge, but in Japan it can become a dangerous game because you'll accumulate so much change so quickly and then once you've got it, it's really hard to use.

Japan has coins that go up to 500 yen in value, and it always takes a little adjusting to realize that your handful of coins could pretty easily total $5 to $10 (or more.) Lots of places are cash only establishments as well, so there are a lot more opportunities to end up with a handful of change. Of course, the best way to deal with change is to actively spend it, but what do you do if you just weren't thinking about it and let a small fortune accumulate?

A friend of mine recently discovered that a family member had amassed a collection of coins heavier than he could carry, so we did some research about what to do. The bad news is, that unlike in the US, there are no machines like Coinstar that will do all the work and take a small fee, (Update: a commenter tells me that Pocket Change now offers these machines! I've never used one, and I'm not sure what fee they take so I can't vouch for them, but it's good to know) and banks also don't give out coin rolls for you to sort your own coins and turn them in for bills.  So here are the options we found:

Japan Post has a machine that will sort coins, but you have to have a bank account with them. There are some stories of people getting around the account requirement, but we were not able to.

Some local banks may be willing to accept the coins for a fee, but it seems to be up to the discretion of the person you talk to. We didn't succeed here either.

Some ATMs will accept coin deposits, but only up to 20 coins, otherwise the machines start to jam. 

Shinsei bank, the most foreigner friendly bank, does not accept coins in person or in ATMs.

Vending Machines
If you only have a small collection of change you can buy a bunch of drinks from a vending machine. They will accept all coins except for 1 and 5 yen.

Pasmo/Suica Cards
You can add value to your train card using coins. Pasmo/Suica cards can be used in convenience stores and some shops inside train stations, and to pay for most taxis, as well as paying for actual train travel. This is the best way we found to deal with with large amounts of coins. Unfortunately, they don't accept 1 or 5 yen coins.

The machines require that you add a minimum of 1000 yen, and they only accept 20 of each type of coin per transaction, except a maximum of 2 500-yen coins. So you couldn't just drop in 100 10-yen coins. But you could add 8 100-yen coins and 20 10-yen coins for a 1000 yen value, or 8 100-yen coins, 20 50-yen coins, and 20 10-yen coins for a 2000 yen value, etc. If you try and add more than 20 of a single coin it will just give you a polite message and start spitting the coins back out.

For this method I recommend sorting the coins first (preferably while watching TV so you don't go crazy) to make the process go more easily, and switching machines between transactions. I never had any problems with the machines jamming, but I was careful not to overload a single one with tons and tons of coins.

This method is slow and annoying, but we found it to work the best for our needs (no Japan Post account, and no desire to open one, and a very large amount of money.) If you've got some time and a little patience I think it's the best option.

1 and 5 Yen Coins
These coins are hard to get rid of! If you're not attached to the actual value I recommend donating them. Likely they don't add up to that much. McDonalds runs a charity and has coin collection boxes at the counter. If your bag of coins is larger than the box they are still happy to accept them. This is what my friend ended up doing, but any place you can find taking donations should accept them. Otherwise you probably need to use the Japan Post machine or slowly rotate them into the cash you're spending.

For the Long Term - Prevent Coins from Building Up
I know this is obvious, but the best way to deal with change is to spend it. It's really common for people to have coin purses, even men, because it's just so practical. If you need to, buy one. And instead of just laying down a bill when you pay for something try and use as many coins as you can. Even if you don't have the exact change you can probably give more coins than you'll end up getting back. Bonus: you get to practice lots of simple arithmetic in your head.

Pasmo/Suica Machines 
Believe it or not, this isn't all of them! We're estimating a $400 value!!


  1. I always carry a little coin holders woman uses to use and it is really useful. From luggage lockers, vending machines, subway ticket, laundry at budget hotels,etc.. I always use all of it at the end of my trip. Looking forward to use it again. :)

    1. Yes, a coin holder makes such a difference! Hope you get to use it again soon. :)

  2. You can exchange all of your coins int Paypal, Uber deposit by using this machine. They are in Shinjuku, Shibuya and most of the international airports in Japan