A GCash-powered adventure in Tokyo | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Written by: Pam Pastor

“Are you bringing cash, checks… which exceed the amount of 1,000,000 yen or its equivalent?”

I stared at the customs form and almost laughed.

A million yen? I didn’t have a single yen in my wallet. I didn’t even bring dollars for the money changer. I was about to land in Japan completely cashless because that was the point of the trip: to see that one, you can use GCash abroad, and two, when you’re traveling, using GCash is better than cash.

With GCash Global Pay, you can use your GCash in popular travel destinations like Singapore, South Korea and Japan—you can scan to pay with Alipay+ or use your GCash Card at over 100 million merchants in over 200 countries. 

I was determined not to use cash the entire trip. And why would I? I had my spanking new GCash Visa Card, I had linked it to my GCash app, and it was ready for an adventure in Tokyo.

“You might need cash for two things—vending machines and small restaurants,” our tour guide Yuka warned. We’ll see.

I dumped my bags on the hotel bed, already feeling hungry. But dinner was still two hours away. Time for one of my favorite things to do in Japan: a quick konbini run. 

Before I went out the door, I did a quick pocket inspection. Phones, check. Wifi device, check. Let’s go. 

But as I exited the hotel, I realized I had forgotten my GCash Card in the room. Ugh, I thought, not wanting to go all the way up to the 22nd floor again. I sighed and then I stopped. Duh, I didn’t have to go back. I can use my GCash app to pay. 

“Now that travel is truly back to its glory days, we want to give GCash users that same convenience, that same seamless experience that they’re so used to in the Philippines wherever they go,” said Joaquin Gatmaitan, GCash’s growth lead for international. 

At Family Mart, I grabbed my favorite tamago sando, a Melonpan, some seaweed chips and a drink. “Alipay+ please,” I told the cashier as I tapped QR and then tapped the Pay Abroad with Alipay+ button on my GCash app. 

He nodded and scanned the QR code on my GCash app and handed me the receipt. It was that easy.

The next morning, I met up with some friends at the hotel cafe—Carey, Arisa and Kelvin, three Filipinos who live in Japan. When they found out I was in Tokyo with GCash, they got excited. Arisa said that she uses GCash a lot in Japan. “Their exchange rate is so much better. It’s very convenient,” said Arisa. 

Kelvin added, “Did you know that you can now cash in at Family Mart?” 

Then—I’m not even kidding—as we were chatting away, Carey paused mid-conversation and said, “Hang on, I need to GCash Beng.” 

My friends are like walking GCash ads. 

Gatmaitan said, “We have two programs for overseas Filipinos. The first is the Philippines SIM program. If they have their GCash app on a phone that has a Philippine sim, what they’ll see on the app is what we see in the app. The second one is GCash Overseas which we launched this year. It allows overseas Filipinos to download GCash even with an international sim. The services are still limited given that we’re on beta—we have send money, bank transfer, pay bills and buy load. But we are hoping to roll out the full product suite in the next few months or next year.”

Soon, we had to say our goodbyes. Coffee’s on me, I said, as I handed my GCash Card to the waitress. I signed the receipt and smiled when I read the words “GCash customer.”

Gcash Tokyo Japan
Show Suzuki uses GCash to pay for a delicious sushi lunch at Katsu Midori.

Lunch was going to be at Katsu Midori, my favorite sushi train resto in Tokyo. I was seated beside Show Suzuki, host, voice-over talent and TikTok’s Kuya Show, and we had a blast talking, grabbing sushi off the conveyor belt and placing special orders through the tablets in front of us. I ordered old favorites like the crab salad and the wagyu sirloin sushi with yakiniku sauce and discovered a new one: ikura sushi which was absolutely drowning in roe. Show and I enjoyed lunch so much that we forgot to tell the waitress that our bills were supposed to be separate. “It’s okay,” Show said, heading to the cashier. “I’ll use my GCash.” 

“No,” I replied, trying to beat him to the counter. “I’ll use my GCash.”

“No, I’ll use mine.” 

We went back and forth and back and forth until I finally relented. “Fine, I’ll just GCash you my half.” 

By the time we got to the elevator, I had sent him my share. We had spent around 4000 yen each and Show and I marveled at how cheap that was for a really good sushi lunch… until we found out that everyone else had spent less than 2,000 yen. Oops. “Buti na lang tumatanggap sila ng GCash,” Show said, laughing. 

At Tokyu Hands in Takashimaya Times Square, I went hunting for stationery and miniature toys and paid for them using my GCash Card.

I used it again at Mega Don Quijote Shibuya, everyone’s favorite place for pasalubong shopping, to buy Japanese snacks and the cutest Ghibli lace bracelets. 

Claw machines and video games

Gcash Tokyo Japan
Using GCash to play claw machine games at Gigo

The next day, we went to Gigo at Ikebukuro, a three-story arcade with a ton of claw machines and video games. I tried (and failed) to win a Pikachu plushie, played Taiko No Tatsujin and even posed for way too many purikura without having to buy tokens or an arcade card for swiping. All I needed to do was scan the QR code at each machine I wanted to use. So cool, I kept saying. I felt like I had stepped into the future. 

When hunger struck again, I ordered taiyaki from a machine using my GCash card. I got peach tea from a vending machine too, and, guess what, Yuka? I still didn’t need cash. I just scanned the machine’s QR code, connected with the machine, scrolled through the drinks available, picked what I wanted and paid—all on my GCash app. 

Back in the van, I tried downloading digital copies of my purikura pictures. But the website wanted me to pay for them. Fine, I thought, my photos were too funny not to keep. I pulled out my GCash Card and entered its details. 

“You have paid P83.23 GCash to PICTLINK,” this message flashed on my phone, complete with the date and time of transaction and my remaining GCash balance.  

“Another benefit of using GCash is the visibility so you can keep track of your budget. You can see in real time the amount that’s being deducted and you get to avoid bill shock,” Gaitmaitan said.

One important thing to do when you’re using GCash abroad is to make sure your location services are turned on. “That way, you’ll be able to see a popup message with the forex rate. You can also see how liquid you are in terms of your GCash balance in foreign currency,” said Gatmaitan.

No need to compute and convert, your GCash app does it for you. 

It was a long drive to Shibamata and when we got there, it felt like we had traveled back in time. We got such a warm welcome, with sticks of dango and cups of tea. There, I was happy to discover that even in a place that celebrates tradition and embraces nostalgia, we could still use GCash, to buy all kinds of Japanese treats. 

We visited Roppongi Hills’ Christmas Market, where people line up to buy snow globes and other holiday knick-knacks. It’s a Stuttgart-inspired market, with stalls serving pretzels, beer, sausages, mulled wine and other European offerings. I got an order of champignons—juicy mushrooms that were lightly battered and deep-fried—and paid for it with, yes, my GCash card. 

I also went to Shinanoya, a lovely grocery store, where I bought the sweetest, reddest, most beautiful strawberries, again with my GCash Card. 

Before dinner, I popped into the drugstore Cocokara Fine to buy Today’s Cosme Zero Spot Patches, one of my favorite things to buy in Japan (seriously, they’re the best pimple patches—thin, practically invisible and so effective) and Hisamitsu Salonpas Roll-on which was recommended by my boss. 

It was our last night so I decided to make a midnight trek to Donki like so many Filipinos visiting Japan do. I was too tired to walk the multiple blocks so I decided to Uber. “Add payment method,” I tapped on my Uber app, entering the details of my GCash Card. I booked my ride and in four minutes, I was whisked off to Mega Don Quijote Shibuya again. 

At Donki, I used GCash again. And used it again to pay for my Uber ride back to the hotel. 

I had exciting plans for breakfast, just hours before we were supposed to fly home to Manila. I was going to Katsuo Shokudo, a restaurant known for fresh bonito shavings served atop hot rice, a dish of spectacular simplicity that has gotten the 10-seater establishment Michelin Bib Gourmand status.

Cash only

As I scrolled through posts about it, I read the words “cash only.” 

Ooh, Yuka was right. I would need cash for this small restaurant. But that’s not a problem. 

“Sumimasen, is there an ATM in the hotel?” I asked the concierge. She pointed me towards the second floor. There, inside the 7-11, I used my GCash card to withdraw money from the machine. 

At the airport, at my favorite Traveler’s Factory store, I used my GCash Card again—just a quick tap—to buy a limited edition Traveler’s Notebook, and some stickers and pins.  

It was great to discover that whatever you’re into, whatever passions you pursue when you’re exploring the globe—whether it’s eating or shopping or trying new things or adding to your collection—GCash Global Pay is right there with you. Just spot places that accept Alipay+ or Visa and you can use your GCash app or your card.

As a person who is determined not to own a credit card and who relies on debit cards when traveling, GCash’s services for travelers are a gift. It’s good to know I can rely on it inside and outside the country. You can absolutely see the world without a credit card. 

“Why should people use GCash abroad? First, there are no service fees when you pay, unlike when you use a credit card. The second is low forex,” said Gatmaitan. 

The author uses her GCash Card at Don Quijote, everyone’s favorite “pasalubong” stop.

For scan to pay, it’s Alipay+ that determines the rate while for GCash Card transactions, the rate is determined by Visa. 

“There are also exclusive promos. We have promos with BIC and other merchants. Go to A+ Rewards on your app to explore the offers that you can get. These benefits really speak to how GCash is better than cash.” 

I also love that GCash took away the hassle of having to deal with changing money and then changing money back or being left with having loose change in so many currencies. 

The entire trip, the only times I used my other bank accounts were to transfer funds to GCash. 

“On this trip it became very evident to me that I can use GCash for almost everything. Naaliw talaga ako with how expansive our network is here,” Gaitmaitan said, sharing that the next step would be to expand GCash’s network in other countries. 

Doing this is important to GCash and their mission of financial inclusion. “We’ve built ourselves over the past years to be known for ease of usage and convenience. We now want to push a little bit further and say that wherever you are, kaya mo with GCash.”

He added, “Try GCash when you’re abroad. It’s better than cash. You don’t have to be hassled because you have your trusted no. 1 ewallet with you.”


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