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(Mis)Adventures in Banking

I think when most people think of visiting (or living in) Asia, they think that the culture shock will be about the food, the language barrier, or various customs (bowing, chopsticks). Oddly enough, those don’t seem to be problematic for us. Common courtesy goes a long way in making those issues non-issues.

But trying to assimilate long term is a whole different story.

The first obstacle was tackling the apartment rental. As gaijin (foreigner) Randy need his company to be a guarantor for the lease and it took weeks for his company to secure the apartment after we selected the apartment. It’s not uncommon in Tokyo to pay 4 months rent up front, plus a broker’s fee (1 month’s rent), security deposit (1 month’s rent) and sometimes “key money” (essentially extortion, this is yet another extra month’s rent paid to the landlord for his kindness in allowing you to live in his building). I’m serious. Anyway, it’s not unheard of to have to pay 7 months worth of rent up front. Can you imagine being asked to pony up upwards of $50,000 or so just to rent an apartment back home?

Then came the cell phone. Gaijin can’t buy a cellphone and set up service unless they have a visa. Not just any visa, but a visa that approves you to be present in the country for at least two years. So, Randy had to procure the phone and I just sat looking pretty.

And I thought our service plans were confusing. Oy vey. First you pay a monthly fee just to have phone service. Then you pay another fee to have messaging service. Then you add on another fee for data. Another fee for the phone itself. Oh, and then they discount the fee for data only. Each month, they’ll also charge to send text messages to a phone with a different carrier, and they charge you to talk on the phone from 9pm until 1am…even with other phones with the same carrier.

My Virgin Mobile plan back home was $25/month with unlimited data and texting and 300 minutes of calling. That’s it…plain and simple. I was also able to set up service online in minutes. We were in the Softbank store for well over an hour (and didn’t even spend any time browsing).

But all of this pales in comparison to banking. First, his company directed us to one of the biggest banks around. We arrived a little after 2:30pm, but banks in Japan all close at 3pm…seriously. As we sat and waited for a representative the gates closed all around us as Japanese worker-bees (bank tellers were all women in identical blue uniforms and the male supervisors flittered about watching) went about their business finishing up.

Since I’m on a tourist visa right now until my resident visa is finalized, I’m not able to get a bank account or be on Randy’s account (just like I can’t sign a lease and can’t get a cell phone). That’s fine. So the signs above the counters were in Japanese, but had English underneath (with labels like “new accounts,” “withdrawals,” etc…). You’d think that meant they have familiarity with international customers. Alas, the teller didn’t speak any English (Randy’s HR representative acted as translator), and none of the forms had a word of English (and by forms, I’m talking a stack of documents just to open a simple checking account). Now, I’m not so xenophobic that I expect everybody in the world to speak English. Nor do I believe they should have to…we are in their country so we should learn their language (which we will, eventually) and their forms should be in their language. But in the end, it was too overwhelming. Besides, even their online banking didn’t have an English option so we couldn’t use it if we tried.

Today, we tried CitiBank. How bad could that be? I mean, it’s a US-based bank after all. We arrived and they had a friendly English-speaking greeter. Their signs were in English…it was also so pleasantly familiar.

But it didn’t last long. Randy did open an account there, but it took nearly two hours. The paperwork was all in English, but, again, they are ridiculous with bureauracy. They are VERY specific about the neatness of the forms (Randy had to start from scratch twice). It seems on every page there was a section that required him to sign his name. Actually, not sign his name, but stamp his name. Apparently, Japanese people all get a stamp with their name on it and bring it with them to sign documents without a pen.

Luckily, Randy got this stamp the day before. I’m not sure what would have happened had he not brough it because she said his actual signature was not acceptable since it differed too much each time he wrote his name (I’m not kidding). In fact, he had to stamp his name multiple times because his stamping wasn’t perfect enough. I’m really not kidding! They’re insane with everything being about appearance.

Before I continue, I still don’t understand how a stamp is more reliable than a signature. I mean, if you lose your stamp somebody else can just stamp his way across the country ‘signing’ your name to things. At least if it’s a signed signature, you can compare for forgery. But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah….

…and paperwork? After the entire process was through, it seemed every document he signed had multiple stamps. Even worse, on a few forms he had to sign his name in Katakana…which is the Japanese version of his name using their characters. Obviously, Randy doesn’t know how to spell his name that way but since he had a business card, he tried copying that. It took forever (understandably) and at one point he started a character wrong and tried correcting it and the bank respresentative reprimanded him (politely, of course) saying that you can’t do that. No edits allowed.

I think after that we were both frazzled. Which may explain why we had lunch at a burger joint. They played 60’s rock and each table had Heinz ketchup and mustard. There’ s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. Oh wait…this is home.


  1. Comment by Missy on June 8, 2012 6:31 am

    Sorry honey, you guys will figure it out, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  2. Comment by Randy on June 8, 2012 9:33 am

    My Inkan came in handy today. I never thought I would have or need my own personal stamp that says Randy in Kanji. I think I have the method to stamp down now. Push and rotate around a few times to make sure its whole.

  3. Comment by Jennifer on June 8, 2012 11:54 am

    This brings back memories! My bank experience was similar in terms of time spent at the bank and the fact that I had to go through all the paperwork twice. I was fortunate that our bankers were fluent in English and we could go through all our choices online in English. We still have the account open (mostly to avoid the paperwork to close it!).

  4. Comment by Ryszard Kilarski on June 19, 2012 6:12 pm

    Oooh, I want a stamp with my name on it in Kanji! Or is it another difficult thing to get?

    And no, that’s not the only thing I got from reading the above. I also got burgers! Yum! 🙂

  5. Comment by Ryszard Kilarski on June 19, 2012 6:12 pm

    Obviously you can see I just recently discovered your blog and am working my way through your last 10 posts or so.

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