I live in Japan. Japan still has a very cash oriented society especially when it comes to restaurants.

Often someone will visit from out of town and will expect to be able to (1) pay with a credit card and (2) pay only their portion on their card. This often ends up turning into a 10 to 20 minute fiasco.

First, all the locals are shocked. Then, they have to call the restaurant staff over and ask. Usually they ask "is it okay to pay with a credit card?". In those rare cases where it is okay, the guest from the US asks "Can I just put my portion on the card?" and then the restaurant hems and haws as it tries to find a way to accommodate them but has no experience doing so and/or has no facilities and ends up having to call neighboring restaurants or the credit card company etc..

How do I communicate to the visitors they're being jerks by not accepting the local customs and using cash? That they're embarrassing our entire group by putting the restaurant owners on the spot? And, that they're wasting all of our time by causing this commotion in the first place?

One guest recently did this 5 times in a row and the first time was the worst in that not only had the restaurant never charged a card but they accidentally charged the entire bill. They had no idea how to undo it (having never needed to before). They called their credit processor but it was after hours and no one was answering. So they apologized profusely and asked if the guest could come back the next morning. After another 5 to 10 minutes of negotiation one of the other employees got through to the credit card company and was able to void the payment.

You'd think after all that the guest would not do this again the next 4 times we met up (groups of 8-12 people) but nope. Every single time they tried to pay with a card and it was a big ordeal as the restaurant tried to deal with it.

My question is, Is there a polite and friendly way to say, "Please consider carrying cash while here. Asking to use a card is putting a burden on everyone around you."

Update: viewing the responses and comments there are a few things people seem to miss

  1. The 1st store didn't advertise it takes cards. It did not have a sign saying "ccards accepted". That they had a card processing machine is a separate issue from actually accepting cards. They may have been given the machine for free as part of some larger service but had no intention of using it. Maybe they didn't want to pay processing fees. Being a Japanese store no customer ever in this history of their store had ever asked to pay with a credit card. But, being an accommodating is a Japanese custom, especially when it comes to foreigners, they felt obliged to try to accommodate the customer. It would clearly have been smarter of them to just say no but being the first time they've been asked they haven't realized that yet. But, that's not really the point of this question.

  2. The question isn't about just the fact that many Japanese stores don't take credit cards. The question is also about a particular person who time and time and time and time again was too oblivious to see how much of a pain they were being to all their friends and the stores and how to bring that up with them. It's good to know how to tell friends before they visit and those answer are appreciated. But, this particular question is also about how to bring it up to someone that should have already gotten the message after the 1st time let alone the 5th.

    The bad way would be something like "Hey friend, have you noticed how much a fiasco paying with a credit card was the last 5 times you did it? Any reason why you keep insisting on subjecting us to this fiasco instead of just carrying cash like everyone else here?".

  3. This also isn't just about asking to pay with a ccard. It's about asking to pay just their individual portion with a ccard after the meal.

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    I found the quote in your ast sentence very polite and friendly enough. What do you feel is wrong with it, so that we can get a better idea of how polite you want to be? Thanks. (Also, is it possible that the guy is trying to stick you with the bill? People in the States rarely use a card to pay for "one" meal out of many.) Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 4:06
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    I felt like no matter how I said it it would end up being an argument or perceived as a slight so I'm asking of there are other ways to bring it up.
    – gman
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 4:12
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    No, not my friends but friends of friends. But that's a good point. If I did know I could certainly tell them before hand.
    – gman
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 4:30
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    I'm a little confused on who these people are? Friends, or business "guests"? Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 21:46
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    I think the first incident would have been a perfect opportunity to explain the situation to them. Did anyone try to do this? If nobody tells them then you're expecting them to somehow figure this out for themselves - naturally this is going to a process of learning through repeated failure. Has the person in question been made aware of the situation, or do they fully understand that card payment is a problem and they're stubbornly continuing to do it anyway? How you handle the situation is very different depending on which case this is.
    – J...
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 12:29

9 Answers 9

  1. If you know who is coming beforehand, you could simply drop a text (e.g. Whatsapp) reminding them that restaurants in Japan are unfamiliar with credit cards, so best bring cash a day or two before their arrival.

  2. If that person replies and, for whatever reason, refuses or cannot bring cash, then suggest they pay for everyone at the table in one lump sum and the others will pay their quota to him or her in cash.

  3. Suggest that the foreign visitor withdraws cash from a cashpoint (ATM) just to make life easier for everyone. The guest would also have a receipt which to use in their business or travel expenses. They would also have to ask the restaurant to give them a separate receipt (I imagine this might be time-consuming but it should create less hassle and be less embarrassing for everyone all around.)


I've seen this happen myself, where tourist-friends will completely ignore local customs, and assume that the people they interact with (waitstaff, retail staff, hospitality, etc.) will bend to their way of doing things. It's not wrong, it's just cultural — in the US for example it's a widely-held belief that the customer is king, and it's almost expected that a waiter, hotel manager and so on will go to relative extremes to make the customer happy. It just so happens that these positions that would be expected to please the customer at all costs are precisely the same positions that tourists are bound to interact with.

Generally, tackling this one head-on is difficult and bound to be unsuccessful, because you're not fighting one behavior, you're fighting a cultural norm. A much better way, in my experience, is to avoid the root cause and subtly try to build in your tourist-friends a habit of following the given custom.

For example, I'd tackle this situation — tourist-friends expecting to be able to pay with cards — by implying that the locations don't generally accept cards at all, and maybe even handing your friends some cash "as a favor" that they can pay you back for later. It's not untrue, as any restaurant in a cash-oriented society "doesn't generally accept cards", and it'll build the habit of paying for things with cash. So for instance, I might start off by letting your friends know that "they don't take card" and handing them a 5,000 Yen note each, casually saying "don't worry about it, you can pay me back later". I wouldn't say "they don't take card here," which implies that they take card elsewhere, and I might even go so far as to say "most places here don't take card," still mostly true.

If that doesn't work, or if you don't feel like bankrolling your friends on loan until they learn, you can be a bit more direct and play the guilt card. Imply that many people in the area know you (much easier if you're the one recommending the restaurants) and that you're being embarrassed by this person trying to use card "where they don't accept cards". People tend to pay a lot more attention to how they behave when they know it's burdening someone they're close to or acquainted with.

Finally, if it's time to pay and you need to prevent problems in an emergency, and again contingent on being able and willing to give a small and evanescent loan, you could just pay yourself, in cash, "because they only take cash" or even "to save time", which your friends will view as a favor to them if you play it right, and when they show gratitude, which they likely will, just say "Venmo/PayPal/etc. me later".

The key is to remember that the root cause of the problem ISN'T the tourist-friends being intentionally rude, rather they're just applying the wrong rules to a situation they haven't encountered before, and people tend to take harshly to their rulebooks being called into question. So be subtle if possible, and try to gently build a cash habit in the friends. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.


With businesses where it is a big deal to pay by card then the answer to "is it okay to pay by card" should be no. If the answer is yes then it is only fair for the customer to assume that it is OK to pay by card.

I would see this as pretty elementary and cross-culture, answering yes when the reality is no is just lying.

Asking such a question in the first place would be what I, as a westerner with very little exposure to Japanese culture, would consider to be a universally polite way of gaining information. As Anjou points out in comments to this answer asking yes/no questions can be embarrassing in itself as "No" is considered ultra-rude in Japan, whereas to me it is simply an informative answer to a question. Your visitors may not realise this either! This is something very basic to the way westerners communicate and many may not realise that they need to research such a thing.

Your job here as a local friend is to explain these customs before they become an issue. Before a meal, before going out, or even just shortly after they arrive with you, warn the group members such that they have time to ensure they have cash available to them. Maybe offer to go by an ATM, appropriate bank or currency exchange, before any outings that may require payments. Letting guests know can be as simple as:

A quick note, local businesses generally don't accept card as payment and will be embarrassed if they are unable to help you pay with card. Please make sure you carry cash if you would like to pay for things, such as meals and so on. If you would like to get cash from an ATM, bank or exchange, please let me know and we can swing by one.

PS: Bear in mind that tourists will be wary of carrying much cash around with them in a country that they are visiting. This will likely mean they will need to make trips to ATMs or banks more often. You will need to facilitate this by checking with them to see if they need to get more cash and allowing time in any schedule for them to make such trips.

PPS: From the little I know of US personal banking, I get the impression that banks can charge quite a lot in fees when using cash banking outside of the US, especially for countries with as different a culture as Japan. I would imagine that Usonians travelling to Japan would then be caught between wanting to keep banking fees down and not wanting to carry too much cash around where they may feel insecure doing so.


I also live in Japan and have occasionally had guests who want to pay for a meal by credit card. In this situation I would say to the guest, "ah, you might not be able to pay by card - Japan is a cash-based society." If they don't have cash I'd lend them some until they can go to an ATM.

The phrase "cash-based society" lets them know that they are likely to experience this everywhere, and lending them the money both gets them out of the situation and encourages them to go to an ATM (to pay you back).

It's also worth mentioning to them that Japan is incredibly safe and they will have absolutely no problem carrying tens of thousands of yen around with them, and also that they can use their foreign card in the ATM in any Seven Eleven store.


This sounds to me like the kind of problem that a certain type of American tourists are causing in some European countries and many other parts of the world as well. While this is of course due to intercultural incompetence, I guess that it's ultimately caused by this: Many Americans' fear of carrying cash is greater than their fear of (non-immediate) embarrassment for acting like a jerk. Once they have entered a restaurant with insufficient cash, they try to save face by blaming it on incompetent restaurant staff. (PS: After rethinking this, an alternative explanation is that these visitors are simply not embarrassed at all because the Japanese people involved don't show their distress in a way that they can understand. I am thinking of Kate Fox' ethnological study Watching the English. Among other things she describes how stressful it was for her as an Englishwoman to jump queues for research purposes, whereas foreigners often do it without even noticing there is a queue.)

In Germany we are somewhere in between the two extremes. (Credit card payment is rare but accepted in most places. Patrons in restaurants often pay separately.) So I don't have experience with handling this kind of situation. But I do have an idea that you might want to try if it makes sense in your situation.

Paying in a restaurant in [COUNTRY]

Have you heard stories of happy French customers in American restaurants paying the exact amount of the bill with no tip? Of Finnish visitors entering American saunas with no bathing suit? This happens even though the idiosyncrasies of US culture are relatively well known globally. Most countries have similar cultural traps that can lead to embarrassment for unwary tourists or their hosts.

Here are some things to consider when going to a restaurant in [COUNTRY]:

  • Cash payment is the standard in shops and restaurants. People who carry the equivalent of hundreds of dollars in cash with them do not make themselves targets of criminality or suspicion by the police. They are just normal.
  • Cash payment is the only option in shops and restaurants which do not display credit card logos.
  • Cash payment is the only safe and efficient option even in most restaurants which do display credit card logos. This is because most have very little experience processing credit cards. They are unlikely to advise you of this fact when you ask them whether you can pay by card.
  • Single payment per table. Patrons normally do not pay separately. It is expected that they alternate inviting each other or pool cash in order to make a single payment including the tip.
  • Credit card payments will likely go wrong when the amount to charge is not the exact amount on the bill. Staff will often not know how to add a tip to the amount as requested, or how to charge only part of the bill. In this case, they will likely not realize this before the card has been charged.
  • It can take days to get problems with credit card payment sorted. If a charge needs to be reversed, you may have to return inside the office hours of the processing company's support team.

In short: When going to a restaurant in [COUNTRY], it is important to carry a sufficient amount of cash even if you hope to pay by credit card.

Ignoring the above advice can make for interesting experiences. If you want to try this out, be considerate and make sure you are alone or everyone in your group is similarly adventurous.

(I am not really serious about the last paragraph, though it is unlikely that anything less would have worked with your 5 times in a row guy.)

Ideally, such a leaflet would be produced and branded by a company or other large organization that is related to the visit. Then handing it over in the name of the company when you see your guest for the first time is not so much a personal thing as a duty that someone at the company came up with after other people's experiences in the past.

Of course, if you see the person in question for the first time right before entering a restaurant, it would be tricky to hand over this leaflet without embarrassment. In that case, you could try to steer the conversation towards the topic of embarrassment as a visitor in a foreign culture. After sharing stories of how everyone once made a fool of themselves while traveling, your visitor will be less likely to ignore advice, and even if they do, it may feel slightly less bad for everyone involved.

Also, when someone brings up the topic of credit card payment, it's probably a good idea to firmly suggest an alternative route immediately ("I will pay today, then you can pay next time, when you have had time to draw sufficient cash." "There is an ATM next door.") They will probably try to pay by card anyway, but after this priming it will be easier to get them off it when it turns out to be complicated.

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    Gosh, WHY do people still insist on this. This question is NOT about whether it is ok to pay in cash, this is about how to say to people they are disrespectful if they do. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 13:01
  • 75% of this does not qualify as an answer, only the last paragraphs can be considered an answer. I suggest you make it shorter, and move the last paragraphs to the top.
    – Vylix
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 17:34

First of all I do agree that, when we speak about mass-tourism, a little bit of cultural understanding would make the world a better place. What I am about to say may sound very stupid, but in the western world we see Japan as the country of technology, so the equation Japan = Technology = Electronic payment pretty much comes to mind.

You guys trying to accomodate the guests with their credit card problems... Kudos to you. If anything, you should think about Karma when you do something like that.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not in any way implying that the customer is entitled to do whatever he wants.

Now let's just for a moment place ourselves in the shoes of the "jerk" tourist, who comes to your restaurant. My point is that these people may not be jerks after all (of course if you are positive that they are, that's a different story):

  • Could it be that those tourists are being cautious and do not want to stuff their wallet with money (which can be stolen easier)?
  • Could it be that those are business people, who just have a single night to go out having dinner in a local place (so why would anyone go to an ATM to get money, thus paying exchange and ATM fees? - assuming they don't have any time to go find an exchange buro).

Between the first and second possibility, there are a plethora of situations, in which a credit card is a very useful commodity for a tourist (business or pleasure).

You can, in the case I wrote above, explain to your customer that Japan has a cash-centered culture, and although the waiters tried their best to satisfy customers' needs, you'll offer them a little piece of advice, by telling them next time to prefer cash to credit cards in Japan, when possible.

I know that if anyone explained this to me in a nice way, I'd thank him/her very much, possibly excusing myself for not knowing, and give a generous tip. And you'd be making life for the others easier (Karma bonus).

So in order to reply to the OP's question:

Is there a polite and friendly way to say, "Please consider carrying cash while here. Asking to use a card is putting a burden on everyone around you."

Yes. I would say

"Please consider that it is a form of respect to pay cash in Japan's small businesses, since culturally they are not fond of credit cards".


I would tell them that exactly that way. In America, pointing out changes in customs to visiting colleagues and friends isn't rude, so saying

FYI, when dining out, be sure to bring cash as most restaurants do not have credit card machines, and it can be difficult for the restaurant to process your payment.

This way, even if they try to use a card, they are attuned to how difficult it is for the restaurant.

Having traveled to other countries, and having used card, I would never have known that Japan is mostly cash-based, since it seems so technologically advanced in many ways, and would have almost certainly been caught on the spot, while dining out, with no cash.


Before ordering, you ask loudly "is there anyone here who doesn't have cash? This restaurant is in Japan, you won't be able to pay by credit card". If someone doesn't have cash, then they have the choice of finding someone willing to lend them some cash, or to walk to the nearest bank.

Visiting various parts of East Asia recently, my first question in any store was "do you accept my Visa card", and if they didn't, I left.


How do I communicate to the visitors they're being jerks by not accepting the local customs and using cash.

You don't. This is a communication problem; the Japanese staff are unable to communicate clearly.

No matter what the situation, nothing justifies keeping customers waiting 20 minutes just to pay a bill. I would be furious if that were me. The restaurant staff need to learn to communicate with forigners, especially with the increased tourism here of late.

Yes, in a perfect world the guests would speak fluent Japanese and have a native-level knowledge of the culture, but this is obviously unrealistic.

If the guests are directly related to you somehow, colleages etc, then it's your responsibilty to mediate this situation. You have local knowledge and can predict these problems.

Update: If you know the guests, explain the situation and what has happened in the past clearly before goin out to such places.

"Don't try to pay with credit card. The Japanese staff will try to do anything they can to help you and avoid saying no. In Japanese culture, this is a very stressful an uncomfortable situation for them. In the past [insert experiences].

Please make sure you have more than enough cash before you go out."


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