Japanese Credit Card System – Option One or Two?

The Curious Japanese Card System

Japanese Credit Card System Despite Japan being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, it is largely a cash-based society. Larger stores do allow you pay with a credit card, but on the whole, Japanese shoppers don’t use credit cards as often as Americans do. I was told this before I was stationed in Tokyo and warned not to use my credit card, but I decided to try it anyway.

Option One or Two?

I bought some household items at a well-known Japanese retail chain and pulled out my Master Card. I was terribly curious to see if I could actually use it, and I had enough money to pay in cash just in case my advisers were right.

The cashier recounted to me in Japanese each item she rang up, not that I understood what she was saying. Obviously she realized this because when it came time to announce the total, she smiled politely and turned the display around for me to see the price. I handed her my credit card. She smiled, asked me something in Japanese and held up two fingers, one at a time: one or two?

What Does It Mean?

Oh, boy. I wasn’t sure but decided to take a guess. One. She nodded, took my charge card, rang up the purchase and gave me the receipt. Now I’m curious. I had to know what the one or two thing meant. Sadly, no one on the base nor at work knew.

Even my friend who’d been in Japan longer than me simply advised, “All I know is you just say one.”


Then one day, a translator came in from the States. We had lunch, and I was dying to ask him about the one or two credit card option. Finally, I had found someone who had a clue. Apparently, the Japanese credit card system is fashioned after the original American Express program, where you could split the charge or pay for it in total. When you choose option one, you’re asking to pay for the entire charge. If you choose option two, your charge is split into two consecutive bills.

For the Japanese, regardless of whether you choose option one or two, you are required you to pay the entire balance on your credit card each month. In other words, if you owed $300 and chose to split the bill, you would be charged $150 at the register. The following month you would be charged another $150. In both cases you would be required to pay the full balance of $150 when your credit card bill is due. There is no option of a minimum payment like in the United States.

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