Anyone living in or visiting Japan is no stranger to walking around with a bucketful of coins in their pants/purse. The excitement before your first Tokyo subway ride soon quells as you're greeted by a flurry of coins spraying from the ticket machine like a Las Vegas slot hitting the jackpot. Tourism stamina wanes as you really start feeling that 10-pound metal load clinking in your pocket.
I don't know why Japan loves coins, but the reason rests in the fact their paper money starts at 1000 yen, roughly a $10 bill back in better economic times. During my years living here, I've developed a few techniques for coping with coin overload.
Do the Math
That subway ticket costs 160 yen, but you don't have exact change. For God's sake, don't put 200 yen in the machine! You'll get four 10-yen coins back, thus exchanging 2 coins for 4. Instead, pay 210 yen. Your change will be a single 50-yen coin, exchanging 3 coins for 1. Nice, huh? One important tip--insert the 10-yen coin before the 100-yen coins because the machine will issue change as soon as it hits 160+ yen.
There are many other situations where you can "do the math" to get rid of coin buckets. If you don't have exact change, try to quickly compute what total will give you a clean, even amount of change. Luckily, Japan's price tags include the tax, so it's not too hard to figure out while waiting in line at the convenience store. Even better is the 100-yen store (actually 105 yen), a fantastic place to exchange unwanted coins for cheap stuff made in China.
As you practice this more and more, it becomes a fun challenge. I seethe with exhilaration when I unexpectedly empty a wallet laden with coins; or I wallow in defeat as I unwillingly pour a fistful of metal into my already bursting wallet.
Give it to Charity
Many convenience stores (e.g. Lawson), fast food joints (e.g. McDonald's), and cafes (e.g. Excelsior) have a charity box right next to the register. What a win-win this is--you clean out all that unwanted change while helping the less fortunate.
Thirsty? Have a Drink!
You're waiting for the subway on a hot summer day, and your 10-pound wallet isn't helping the situation. Take a peek inside. Do you have 120 or 150-yen in change? If so, turn around and treat yourself to an ice-cold drink from one of the 20 vending machines on the platform. Bonus points if you can chug it before the train arrives!
Hungry? Order a Pizza!
You're sitting at home struggling to make room for the rapidly growing coin monster taking over your 20-sq. meter apartment. Your stomach growls angrily as you lug the 4th coin bucket to the balcony. I know...order a pizza! You'll know the order total beforehand so you can prepare a nice coin dump for the 18 year-old boy that will deliver your pizza. And no tipping means no surprises! Don't feel bad because he needs those coins for the next customer that's not nearly as smart (or good-looking) as you.
Japan has made huge strides in refining its e-money payment systems (e.g. Edy, Pasmo, Suica, etc). I'm obviously a huge fan--they're not only convenient, but they also keep my wallet light and quick as a ninja. What's more they often feature a built-in point card, saving me from yet another annoying wallet weight-gainer.
Subway / Train Card Deposit
The next time you find yourself at a train station with a wallet full of coins, you can try dumping them onto your e-money payment card, aka e-wallet. I discovered this method when I was at a Tokyo train station topping up my Pasmo card. I had always assumed that those top-up machines only accept paper bills, but I recently noticed an option that said something like, "Top up card with coins (10-yen increments)." Oh hell yeah--I'm doing this. 790-yen in heavy coin relieved from my wallet, I was a happy dude. It's the little things that plant the seeds of happiness, right? Of course it doesn't help with the 1 and 5-yen coins, but this method can really come in handy as train stations and top-up machines are everywhere.
When you go to top-up your subway e-money card (e.g. Pasmo, Suica, etc.), you’re presented with a menu of canned top-up amounts like 1000-yen, 5000-yen, etc. Hopefully, there’s an option there at the bottom that says something like “Other Amount - 10-yen increments.” Do it! It’ll change your life!
Get a More Suitable Wallet
I got this one due to its spacious coin storage facilities, and I've never been happier: [スターツ] STARTTS マルチコインケース MS06 NV (紺) It's quite a departure from my wallets of days past; however, it's more compatible with a zen-like life in Japan complete with loads of coins.
If after following the above advice you still have a mounting bucket of coins, you can deposit them into your bank account at a branch ATM. I'm not sure if all Japanese banks have this, but my bank Mitsubishi UFJ Tokyo certainly does.
2 tips when doing this:
1. Do it on a weekday. For some reason they turn off the "deposit coins" button on weekends. Maybe this is because no one is available to clean all those coins out of the machine!
2. Don't do too many at once. The clock is ticking once the coin slot door slides open, so hurry up! Load as many as you can, then press the deposit button. If necessary break it up into several deposits. The machine will time-out if you try to load too many coins at once, and it will make you take them all out and start over. Take it from me--it's an embarrassing situation that will likely rouse the attention of that over-zealous, middle-aged bank attendant.
Getting rid of coins is indeed an action-packed gauntlet run. Friends will moan enviously as you show them your consistently empty coin pocket/purse. Attractive members of the opposite sex will be mesmerized by your inexplicable charm. It goes without saying, fellow foreigner, that tackling the Japanese coin challenge will "change" your life forever. Get it?! "Change?" Damn, I love オヤジギャグ！
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