Online Shopping in Japan: The Pre-Paid Card Primer


March 7, 2014

Here’s the situation: You live in Japan. You don’t speak Japanese. You like stuff. Getting a credit card is possible, but frankly, to a newcomer or transient expat, this is an intimidating proposition. So what do you do when you want to shop online but not use your credit card from back home?

Buy a pre-paid card at the konbini. There are a few to choose from, and some are much easier than others.

Amazon cards are available in 3,000 yen and 5,000 yen denominations. While these cards are the most limited in variety (no Visa or MasterCard functionality—it’s like a gift card) it’s also the easiest to use. iTunes, Google Play, and other vendor-specific cards you see at the konbini work the same way—basically—you’re buying store credit.

TO USE: Buy, scratch off the code on the back, and enter that code under “Gift Cards and Promotional Codes.” Boom. Done.

PROS: Super easy and English-friendly. I love because they have a decent variety and ship insanely fast—you can even schedule your shipment.

CONS: You can only use at… and you can’t use it to pay for purchases at the konbini. (But if you’re already shopping online, who cares?)

BUY AT: Family Mart, Mini Stop


The Rakuten Virtual Pre-paid came out last year. It’s available in denominations from 500 to 50,000 yen, and functions as a pre-paid Mastercard, so you can shop with it anywhere Mastercard is accepted online.

PROS: Easily available, and Rakuten has a much bigger selection of goodies than Plus, it’s a pre-paid MC, not a gift card.

CONS: You do have to register the card online, in Japanese, using the half-width characters. If you’re decent at Japanese or have a friend who can help you out—this shouldn’t be a deal breaker. And though it’s a prepaid MasterCard, you can still only use it online.

BUY AT: 7-11, MiniStop, et al.


The Vanilla Pre-Paid seems the most user-friendly of all the Visa/MC “register” cards. You buy the card, register online (again—you might need help!) but the site interface is much smoother and from reports I’ve received, it’s the card people go back to.

PROS: Easy to find, fairly easy to use. Buy, register, and get your cc# and security code like a regular credit card. BOOM. InstaVisa.

CONS: Even though it’s supposed to be a virtual Visa, not all merchants will take this card. There’s a list of merchant on their site that cannot accept Vanilla.

BUY AT: Lawson’s, Mini Stop, 7-11

VPC Lifecard

The Visa Pre-Paid Virtual Credit Card (a.k.a the VPC Lifecard)

This isn’t a physical card, but rather a voucher you can buy for Visa credit through any Family Mart. I don’t recommend this method for novice Japanese speakers like me– it requires using the red, Family Mart pre-paid shopping machine and is pretty intimidating. I finally asked the clerk to help me.

Once you buy the voucher, you have to register it online (just like Rakuten and Vanilla), again, all in Japanese. I had a Japanese friend of mine help me translate and even he had a tough time figuring it out (those half-width characters again!).

That said—I did get my “credit card number” and “security code.” And was able to shop online.

PROS: Available anywhere

CONS: Not all merchants accept this one either. I tried using it an an independent UK shop and it didn’t work, but accepted it.

BUY AT: 7-11, Mini-Stop, Lawson’s Family Mart, Daily Yamakazi, Circle K SunKus


Writer, actor, beauty junkie, smart aleck.

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  • Erik

    I actually prefer to use the Amazon (and other!) gift-card method of online shopping even back home in the USA – I can pay cash for the cards and the whole transaction is much more secure,..

  • Fel

    But these cards actually don’t work because they don’t support billing addresses. I want to buy some software, but most of the times I need a correct billing address… Which none of these cards ask for when you register them.


    i want to shop some stuff online the company is china based
    they say they would accept
    credit cards payment(VISA,MASTERCARD,JCB) and Western Union,Bank Transfer…

    so in this case would the Rakuten prepaid Master card work ?

  • sqexgal

    Has anyone tried using a prepaid credit card bought in Japan while traveling abroad? I’m taking a group of exchange students to the US next month and some mothers were worried about sending them over with cash only.

  • Nicolas Duran

    Bestbuy accepts foreign orders has anyone tried buying something back in the States with one of these cards?

  • Frederick Sincioco

    hi can you guys help me out i bought a jcb prepaid card but whenever i type the card number on paypal skrill or any merchants options online the card number seems to be invalid please help me

  • yumiko bautista

    I recently bought a Vanilla Visa card to shop online. To complete the transaction, the website is asking for the card’s expiration date and 4-digit code which Vanilla Visa cards don’t have. Has anyone ever come across this problem? What did you do?

    • Anthony Joh

      You need to login to the Vanilla website and that’s where you will see the expiry and security code.

      • yumiko bautista

        Thank you. I think I found the tab but it says “情報を確認されたいカードの「確認」ボタンを押してください。

        By any chance, would you happen to know what this means?? All I got was “please click the button”. What button it is I haven’t got a clue. :(

      • yumiko bautista

        Oh, never mind. I’ve figured it out. Thank you for your help though :)

  • JDSelma

    Hi I wish to buy an online flight ticket, is it possible to add cards to get the amount? Like 3 cards making one total amount? Thanks

  • Juniper

    I have a similar issue as the Vanilla Visa question below, but with a Rakuten prepaid gift card I bought at a convenience store. I have registered the ¥5,000 card online with Rakuten so I can see my points now. But when I click the option to use my points to buy something and proceed to next stage, Rakuten keeps telling me there is an error – that credit card details must be filled in. I thought the whole point is that you don’t need a credit card for these prepaid gift cards. Or do you? Am I doing something wrong? Appreciate any help as it is driving me bonkers!

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