Getting a Japanese Credit Card
Getting a credit card in Japan can be a tricky proposition. If you have just arrived from another country and have only just opened your bank account, it can be almost impossible.
If you are a student, you may be able to get a “student credit card” (available at Joyo, at least in 2002 when I applied). Student cards typically have low limits (about 100,000 yen to start off with) and sometimes have annual fees waived for the first couple of years. If you are a good little creditor, your limit will gradually go up.
If you are not a student, your next best bet is to try to get a card from a bank where you have an account. It will probably help your application if you have your salary deposited directly into an account — and probably even better if that salary comes from a large organization like a research institute. You might want to wait a few months before applying so that you can show the bank that you have a regular income.
If your bank won’t give you a credit card, you can try to open a banking account at the post office and then apply for a postal credit card. Postal banking accounts have the additional benefit of being accessible from some ATMs overseas, so it might be a good idea to open one anyway.
If you get no love from your bank or the post office, your next option is to try department stores or grocery stores. In Tsukuba, you can apply for cards from Seibu or Kasumi for example. I have heard some people say Seibu cards are easier to get than bank or post office credit cards, but I don’t have any personal experience in this matter. I do know of at least one person who was rejected by Kasumi despite having credit cards in good standing with both the bank and the post office.
If you are fairly certain that your application will be approved (if, for example, you have lived here for a long time, better yet, you have lived at the same address in Japan for a long time, and you have a regular salary), you might want to do some research into which cards offer the best benefits in terms of points or other kinds of perqs.
New credit cards are popping up all the time, so it is hard to stay on top of all of your options. However, you can get some idea of what to look for by reading the following two articles:
There are a number of different ways to pay off your balance.
1. Pay in full each month.
2. Pay a certain set amount each month and carry the rest of the balance forward. (This is called “revolving payment” [リボ払い = ribo barai]). You can set your monthly amount at 50,000 yen, for example, and you will only ever be charged that much (plus interest, I think) per month, no matter how much you put on your card that month. Of course, you will have to pay a lot of interest on the balance that is carried over, so it is not a good idea to go over your set amount very often. However, this can be a good way to do it if you have a limited monthly budget and your expenses fluctuate a lot from month to month. It can also be good as a temporary measure to get yourself through a rough period when you know that you will be in better financial shape in a few months’ time.
3. You can also transfer money from your bank account into the credit card account if you want to pay off the remainder of your revolving balance.
At the point of sale, they may ask you how many payments you want to split it into (this is called split payment [分割払い=bunkatsu barai]). Sometimes your credit card will allow this and sometimes it won’t. This means that the store may offer it, but your specific credit card may not. In some cases, the store won’t allow it. The number of payments you can split the purchase into also depends on the store and the card. The standard is two payments, but sometimes you will get other options. If you decide to pay it in two, you will be charged half this month and half the next, but the way that you pay your credit card balance will not change. If you use a regular card, you will have to pay off half this month and half the next. If you use a revolving card, half will be applied to this month’s amount and half will be applied to next month’s amount, but you will still only pay the amount that you set per month.
When you get a Joyo credit card, you will be asked if you want a revolving account. If you do, you will get two cards in the mail, a regular one and a revolving one. Use the regular one when you want to pay off the full amount the following month and use the revolving one when only want to pay a certain set amount per month. Of course, if you use both in one month, you will have to pay both the set amount for purchases that were made with the revolving card and the total amount for purchases that were made with the regular card.
Using a Credit Card in Tsukuba
It is possible to use your credit card for many purchases in Tsukuba, but you may have to do a bit of detective work to figure out which companies accept them (some examples: Jusco, Seibu, Gran Stage, most of the stores in LaLa Garden except for Grand Plechef which only accepts its proprietary card, Car Dock [mechanic], Tsukuba Jui Shinryo Center [veterinarian], etc.).
Benefits of Using a Credit Card in Japan
Using a credit card can help you keep track of your expenses more easily. It is also a better option than carrying around a huge amount of cash (or making a lot of trips to the ATM). I think many credit cards also offer point systems that let you trade in points for products. (I recently traded in my points for a new vacuum cleaner.)