Online Shopping in Japan: The Pre-Paid Card Primer
By Cynthia Popper
On 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.jp 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 Amazon.jp because they have a decent variety and ship insanely fast—you can even schedule your shipment.
CONS: You can only use at Amazon.jp… and you can’t use it to pay for Amazon.jp 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 Amazon.jp. 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
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 Asos.com accepted it.
BUY AT: 7-11, Mini-Stop, Lawson’s Family Mart, Daily Yamakazi, Circle K SunKus