Editor's Picks

Can You Go Cashless In Cash-Loving Japan? I Tried EZ-Link's New E-Wallet YouTrip To Find Out

    • YouTrip is Singapore’s first multi-currency wallet, and promises to help users pay in more than 150 currencies.
    • How would an e-wallet fare in a cash-loving country like Japan, though? Our writer tried it out on her trip and was pleasantly surprised.

Even as more and more countries push for a cashless society (think: how many times have you heard the word ‘e-wallet’ or ‘QR code payment’ this year?), Japan is still firmly rooted in its cash-loving ways.

In fact, the Japanese government wants to double digital payments to 40% (of all transactions) by 2027 from 20% in 2016.

Factors like “trust in cash, the sense of safety in carrying it, fewer stores that accept credit cards and e-money” have been identified as reasons why retailers and consumers are reluctant to go cashless.

According to a report by The Japan Times, while convenience stores and larger retailers are card-friendly, smaller establishments are less likely to get on board the cashless bandwagon “because of the cost to process credit card and e-money transactions”.

Image Credit: The Tokyo Tiki Room

In Singapore, although cash is still king in the heartlands (think: coffee shops), the take-up rate of e-payments is still promising.

According to the Monetary Association of Singapore, “more than 8 in 10 Singapore consumers have adopted e-payments and almost 3 in 5 Singapore merchants are accepting e-payments”.

E-payments by FAST and card transactions have been growing by more than S$10 billion every year, with the use of cash and cheques “coming down steadily” in recent years.

Cash withdrawals have also been reported to be decreasing by “more than S$300 million every year”.

Personally, the only time I opt to pay with cash is when the establishment doesn’t accept cards.

However, this preference changes when I go overseas – especially when I know that the country isn’t as ‘cashless-friendly’ as Singapore is.

With a 2-week long trip to Japan coming up, I decided that this was the perfect time to test 2 things: first, if I could enjoy a trip to Japan with a wallet that isn’t stuffed with notes and coins.

Secondly, if recently-launched multi-currency wallet YouTrip could be a payment option I can use in my future trips overseas.

YouTrip – Singapore’s First Multi-Currency Wallet

As a quick recap, YouTrip was borne out of a collaboration between EZ-Link, Mastercard, and You Technologies Group.

youtrip app
Image Credit: YouTrip

YouTrip is Singapore’s first multi-currency wallet, helping users pay in more than 150 currencies.

The best part is – users won’t incur fees charged for currency exchange at banks and money changers, as well as currency conversion and transaction fees typically incurred for cross-border payments.

All transactions made using the debit card would also be logged into the app, so that you know exactly how much you splurged at that shopping mall.

While there’s no way to withdraw your remaining funds from the wallet after your trip, you can convert it back to Singapore dollars, and choose to use the card as a debit card or for public transport via Mastercard’s Account-Based Ticketing (ABT) function.

With all that background information in tow, I headed straight to YouTrip’s website to sign up for an account.

Getting The Card

Processing my application and getting the card took just over 2 weeks, but given that my trip was still 1 month away then, I wasn’t too bothered by the wait.

Screenshot of the message from YouTrip after signing up online

According to their FAQ, they explained that due to “high volume of demand” currently, interested parties should expect a delay of “up to 2 weeks” in processing their application.

After that, applicants need to wait around 7-12 business days before they can get their card.

Receiving my YouTrip card

So here’s a tip: if you’re looking to use YouTrip on your next trip, apply for it at least 1 month before you fly.

Topping Up The Wallet, Changing It To The Desired Currency

Thanks to the YouTrip team, my wallet came with S$400 to experiment with in Japan.

What you’ll see once your app and card are activated

But before using the card overseas, I needed to first convert that amount into the appropriate currency – in that case, it was Japanese Yen (JPY).

The exchange rate on the YouTrip app was more than decent (SGD1 to JPY81.51), and beat out the rate that I was given on same day and same time at a physical money changer whose rates are known to be one of the best in town.

81.75 vs. 81.3 (money changer) vs. 81.51 (YouTrip)

Changing your funds to another currency is as straightforward as it gets – choose the currency, key in the amount you want to change, slide to confirm, and you’re done!

Changing my S$400 to Yen

You’ll also be glad to know that the app lets you store funds (capped at S$3,000) in various currencies – especially handy for those who travel abroad frequently.

With that, I set out on my trip to Japan.

The Experiment: Using YouTrip At A Variety Of Establishments

My itinerary this time was made up of major cities in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto), so I wasn’t expecting to encounter too many hiccups, given how tourist (and thus card)-friendly they were.

To ensure that I covered as much ground as I could, I used the card at a mish-mash of F&B establishments (international and local cuisine), attractions, and retail stores (fashion, electronics).

To test out YouTrip’s top-up capabilities, I also topped up my wallet near the end of my trip for a big(ger) ticket purchase.

And without further ado, here’s a picture-heavy recount of how my experience went.

1. Buying An Ekiben At Tokyo Station

If you’re travelling from Tokyo to any other city by shinkansen, buying an ekiben (railway boxed meals) at Tokyo Station would definitely be something you’ve done before.

For our ride to Osaka, my partner and I popped by one of the super crowded ekiben stores to grab some food before boarding.

A shop selling various ekiben at Tokyo Station

Payment methods (including Visa and Mastercard) were prominently displayed at the counter, and I could confidently use YouTrip without needing to speak in broken Japanese and gesticulate wildly at my card.

Buying an ekiben with YouTrip
The bento that I got for a ride from Tokyo to Osaka

2. Buying Gifts From The Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

The exterior

Located a 26-minute train ride away from Osaka Station is the Suntory Yamazaki distillery.

Their distillery tours are extremely popular, and slots can sell out online within the hour they’re made open for booking. Because of this, I booked our slots 2 months prior to the Japan trip.

However, payment was to be made at the door, and ONLY in cash, so no YouTrip-ing here.

Taken during a tour of the distillery
Casks of whisky at the distillery

I won’t go into details of the tour, but you’ll be glad to know that while the tour fees are paid in cash, cards are accepted at its gift shop.

Using YouTrip at the Yamazaki distillery gift shop

But if you’re wondering if you can purchase the highly-coveted Yamazaki 12 Year Old whisky at its gift shop – the answer is no.

If you just want a taste of it, though, you can do so by attending the tour like I did!

3. Buying Disneysea Tickets At A Disney Store

It was a tough choice choosing between Universal Studios Japan and Disneyland/sea, but after much research, I knew that I needed to experience Disneysea at least once in my life.

I had forgotten to purchase the tickets prior to leaving Singapore, but I guess that was a blessing in disguise as it gave me yet another chance to try YouTrip!

According to articles online, buying tickets to the door isn’t advised because of the long queues, so I headed straight to a Disney store (this one was in Osaka) to purchase tickets a few days before our intended day of visit.

The Disney Store in Osaka
Paying for Disneysea tickets with YouTrip

Your YouTrip card can also be used within the theme parks themselves, and my colleague used it to buy his Mickey Mouse ears!

Buying a pair of Mickey Mouse ears at Disneysea

4. Buying Gyukatsu At Gyukatsu Motomura

Prior to my trip, gyukatsu (deep fried beef cutlet) was probably on the top of my list of things to eat in Japan.

Gyukatsu Motomura wasn’t the joint that I initially planned to visit, but on hindsight, I’m glad that random cravings on a chilly evening in Harajuku led my partner and I to it.

I won’t dive into a food review, but it was honestly one of my favourite meals of the entire trip, and totally worth the S$17 we paid.

Gyukatsu at Gyukatsu Motomura

The only downside is that the outlet only accepts cash, so do ensure that you have some cash ready if you’re planning to visit.

Unfortunately, no cards are accepted here

5. Buying Cheese Tarts From Pablo

Pablo cheese tarts have made their way to Singapore since July last year, but there’s nothing like trying the original.

Payment options at Pablo

YouTrip and other international credit cards are accepted, so satisfy your sweet tooth and pay for it without the need to sort through coins!

Tiramisu and Sweet Potato Pablo cheese tarts

6. Buying A Meal At Izakaya Chain Sekai no Yamachan

Sekai no Yamachan is a chain of izakaya (an informal pub) best known for its chicken wings, and while the drinks or food wasn’t mindblowing, it was the cosy atmosphere that brought me back twice in 2 weeks.

Izakaya chain Sekai no Yamachan and their famous chicken wings

In spite of it having an English option on its iPad menu, the staff was largely Japanese-speaking, and not wanting to hold up the queue, I paid for the bill in cash during my first visit.

On the second visit, however, I realised that I had overlooked the signs displayed on the front door which indicate that international credit cards are accepted.

Paying for a meal at izakaya chain Sekai no Yamachan with YouTrip

With that in mind, I confidently whipped out my YouTrip card after a satisfying meal of beer and chicken wings.

7. Buying Clothes At Uniqlo

What’s a trip to Japan without visiting Uniqlo, right?

During our visit to the Odaiba district at Tokyo Bay, my partner and I headed to Uniqlo to stock up on basics.

Buying clothes from Uniqlo using YouTrip

While I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to practice any self control when it comes to shopping (Uniqlo Japan’s prices are considerably cheaper), I can guarantee that you can use your international credit card here and get your purchases tax-free.

8. Buying Knick-Knacks At Loft

It’s hard to describe what Loft actually sells, but if I could draw a comparison to a store Singaporeans will recognise, it’s somewhat like an upscale Daiso.

An example of the quirky things you can get at a Loft outlet

Personally, I could spend over half a day just browsing the seven floors of its Shibuya outlet. However, I didn’t have the luxury of time to do that, and only managed to picked up several sheets of stickers and notepads as souvenirs.

Paying for my Loft purchases with YouTrip

YouTrip and international credit cards are accepted at Loft, so go crazy with all that stationery and souvenir shopping!

Payment options available at Loft

9. Buying A Nintendo Switch At LABI + Topping Up The YouTrip Wallet

I had been toying with the idea of getting a Nintendo Switch for weeks, and finally decided to make that big ticket purchase after realising that the console was around S$50 cheaper than what it is in Singapore.

Heading to consumer electronics chain LABI (by Yamada-Denki Co., Ltd) just before closing time, I made a beeline for the games section and picked up a Switch and its accessories.

My new Nintendo Switch + accessories from LABI

The total price after deducting tax came up to JPY29,431 (~SGD357), and with nothing close to that amount in my YouTrip wallet, I took the chance to try topping up my YouTrip wallet.

The entire process took just under 3 minutes!

Topping up your YouTrip wallet is straightforward

After making payment for the Switch, the transaction was immediately reflected in the app, and I was in and out of LABI in 15 minutes, tops.

10. Buying A Meal At Gyukaku 

Gyukaku is a popular yakiniku (grilled beef) chain that’s best known for its yakiniku buffet, and while none of us had the stomach for a buffet, we wanted to try some of their best dishes before the trip ended.

While waiting for our turn, I realised that the counter prominently displayed all the payment methods available:

The payment options available at Gyukaku

And with that, we had one last satisfying meal to mark the end of the ‘Cash-less in Japan’ experiment.

Paying for a meal at Gyukaku with YouTrip

11. Paying For The Changi Wifi Router At Changi Airport

With some funds left in my YouTrip wallet, I changed the remaining Yen back to Dollars and paid for the rental of the Changi Recommendations WiFi router with it.

Paying for the Changi wifi router with YouTrip

Currently, I have around S$30 left in my YouTrip wallet, and I’m planning to use it as a secondary card for taking public transport in Singapore.

The Verdict: YouTrip Is A Great Addition To Your Travels

The conclusion is obvious – YouTrip opened my eyes to a brand new way of paying overseas.

The first thing that won me over was the very competitive exchange rate, which trumped over the (comparatively) mediocre rate at the money changer.

Without any transaction fees, what I saw on the cash register was also what I paid.

But of course, my experiment was conducted in rather large cities (Osaka and Tokyo) which are more card-friendly than smaller cities, so it’s best to do some prior research on how cash-reliant your destination is before taking the leap.

Another downside is that you won’t be able to withdraw the remaining funds in your YouTrip wallet.

However, a way to work around this would be to simply convert whatever’s remaining back to SGD (or to another currency for your next trip) and use the card as a debit card (like how I paid for the router) or as a card to pay for public transport.

Have you tried using YouTrip? Let us know your experience in the comments!

Disclaimer: Some activities listed above were done using credits sponsored by YouTrip, but the opinions of the author are of her own.

VP Verdict is a series where we personally try and test out products, services, fads, and apps. Want to suggest something else for us to try? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion into our Facebook page.

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.
 
Read more about our privacy policy here.