Shop 'till You Drop!: Currency Exchange and Useful Phrases When Shopping in Japan


Shopping can be a little bit intimidating when you're in a foreign country. You may be wondering what the exchange is and how to ask for help when you get lost, but don't lose hope I'm here to help! Shopping won't be nearly as scary once you know a couple of phrases, learn how to exchange currency and figure out the exchange rate. This may be overwhelming so take your time, you can also write this information down if you feel like you won't remember it.

Currency Exchange

The first thing you should think about when coming to Japan is exchanging currency.  You can either exchange currency at your bank before you leave or you can exchange currency when you land. In Japan you can exchange your money at post offices, banks and international airports.

If you choose to exchange money after you arrive the fastest way is at the airport. You'll be able to find currency exchange stations and a variety of banks when you land, but I wouldn't recommend you exchange your money here. Exchange rates at airport kiosks aren't that great, and exchange rates vary from bank to bank so you may find yourself wondering around for while trying to find the best rate. If your hotel offers it you can exchange your money there, but I wouldn't risk it.

The best route is to exchange your money before you leave at your local bank.
Some Currency Exchange Rates
Here is a list of some exchange rates to Japanese Yen. These are rough estimates, exchange rates may vary in your country. 

1 US Dollar = 112.46 Yen
1 Argentine Peso = 6.50 Yen
1 Australian Dollar = 88.04 Yen
1 Canadian Dollar = 90.19 Yen
1 British Pound = 150.67 Yen
1 Chinese Yuan = 16.95 Yen
1 South Korean Won = 0.098 Yen

Reading Japanese Prices

The Japanese currency is called Yen (pronounced 'en' in Japanese) and is represented by either 円 or ¥.  To a westerner everything might look expensive in Japan with prices ranging from ¥100 to ¥100,000! Some foreigners are a bit confused on how Japanese currency works and assume that ¥100 = $100 (well at least I did) luckily, this isn't the case.

When reading Japanese prices you can follow the general rule of moving the decimal two spaces to the left, this will give you a rough estimate of the price in US dollars or Canadian dollars. If you're really in a pinch you can simply use a currency converter on your phone.

Pictured below are 3 beers. The Lager Beer is ¥230 when you move the decimal place two spaces to the left it converts to ~$2.30. If something is  ¥1,000 you do the same process and it becomes ~$10.00

Japanese Shopping Phrases

Clerk Phrases You'll Encounter

Now, lets get into the fun stuff!  These first couple phrases will be what store clerks will most likely say to you when enter the store.

1. Why is Everyone Yelling When I Come in The Store?

When you enter a store you'll often here the employees shout "irrashimase!" which means "welcome to our store" you don't need to respond to this, simply acknowledge them with a smile.

2. How May I Help You?

After the initial greeting store clerks may try to help you during your shopping experience by asking "nani wo osagashi desu ka" which means "what are you looking for?" or "how may I help you?" if you want to be left alone you can simply respond with a polite "ie, miteiru dake desu" which roughly translates to "no, I'm just looking". This will help you avoid and awkward language barriers.  

This will be the extent of what store clerks will say to when you enter the store. Checking out is fairly easy and doesn't require much talking. 

Customer Dialogue

Below are some phrases you should know when shopping in Japan. 

1. How Much is This?

If you see something without a price tag you can say "sumimasen, kore wa ikura desu ka" (excuse me, how much is this?) or you can say "sumimasen, sore wa ikura desu ka" (excuse me, how much is that?). The response you get might be a little overwhelming so you might want to study Japanese numbers before you go to Japan.

Here's a link to a website where you can get a crash course on how to pronounce numbers in Japanese:

2. Asking For Something

If you're looking to buy something in a glass case or behind the store clerk these phrases may come in handy. If you're not sure about the price you can use the phrases from the previous section. Once you've decided on what to buy simply point to the item and say "sore wo kudasai" which translates to "I'll take that one please" you can also say "kore wo kudasai" or "I'll take this one please". 

Other phrases like "kore/sore wo onegai shimasu" or "this/that one please" can also be used. 

These phrases are the bare minimum you should know before shopping in Japan. An extensive list of helpful shopping can be found here: 

Paying in Japan

There are some things you should keep in mind when paying in Japan. Below are some tips to make the process of paying a little less stressful.

1. Always Carry Cash!

Carrying cash may be a bit unnerving if you're from the US or Canada. Were told never to carry too much cash on us in the fear of being mugged, but Japan is a very safe country so you don't need to be too paranoid.

Unfortunately, Japan is a cash based society and credit cards aren't accepted at a lot of stores so it's best to carry most of your cash when you go out.

2. Paying at the Counter

When you gather all your items and line it try to prepare your money first. This helps to minimize the awkward moment of fumbling with your cash at the counter and keeps the line moving.

Once the cashier has given the total they will push a small tray towards you. In Japan you pay by putting your money in a small tray instead of the cashier's hand, this is to prevent any hand touching between you and the cashier.


I hope this article calmed your nerves when it comes to shopping in Japan. Remember, you don't need to be perfect, it's OK to make mistakes! Shop 'till you drop!


Donna Rhae