Japan is still very much a cash based society. Not only that but there are certain quirks to the banking system that you should know about.
First of all, using bank cards at a store is not a thing. There are certain places, usually big shopping malls, that accept credit cards but small independent stores almost NEVER have that option. Depending on which country you were in before, this may come as quite a shock. I almost never carried cash in NZ or Australia and in fact it has always been my impression that carrying around cash is not safe. It seemed rather incomprehensible that a shop wouldn’t have an EFTPOS (if you don’t know what EFTPOS is you can google it, or just gloss over this sentence)machine.
Bank books are still a thing. Yes, you will be issued a bank book that you can use in place of the bank card. It will print out your transaction history once you insert it at the ATM. It is useful to do this as it helps you to keep track of when payments are taken out, how much money you are accruing (if any at all) and deposits from your CO.
Online banking, while not impossible, is not common and only offered by a few banks. It is my understanding that those banks that do offer it are not mainstream banks. Due to this you would probably have to use other companies ATMs and be charged a fee each time you withdrew money. I would go so far as to say that online banking is more trouble than it is worth if you live in Nagasaki.
ATMs in Japan are unique in that they close. Yes, that is right. They close. There are ATMs that do not, inside conbinis, however they are usually not of any regular bank and will charge you to withdraw money. It depends on which bank you are with and where you live but they usually close between 5 – 8pm. If you are like me and are not used to having a cut-off time for getting access to your own money then you will have to come up with ways to make sure you are never caught out. Hiding a man (万）in your wallet, having a small stash hidden in your house, or hanging out with someone who is more switched on than you, are a few way to ensure that you are never caught empty handed.
My final piece of wisdom comes from a budgeting point of view. Most banks allow you a certain number of transactions for free (usually only a couple) and then charge you for each transaction after that. To avoid paying any fees and help you to save money I suggest that you go to the ATM immediately after payday and withdraw your budget for the month. You don’t have to carry it all around with you of course, and you shouldn’t, but then you have a visual representation of how much money you have to spend and it should deter you from spending all of your money every month and help you avoid unnecessary bank fees.
It may take time to adjust to this new system, to remember to update your bank book at the ATM, withdraw money before 6pm, and carry cash around all the time, but once you do it won’t seem hard at all.