For some unknown reason, it is not possible to open a bank account in Japan unless you have lived here for a minimum of six months. Seeing as though my life has exceeded that quota by almost two years, I thought it was about time to get my documents in order and take the plunge toward integration. But, I can’t just wander into a bank saying, “I have been here over six months, give me a bank account!” First, I need to get myself a personal seal. Not the aquatic mammal I had been hoping for, this seal is more like a stamp and is known as an ‘inkan’.
Inside the shop, there are wonderfully expensive stamps on display in high priced cases, and a lot of other nonsense too. But I am not here for any of that.
The Wrath of Inkan
As I continue trawling through inkan aisles, I see all kinds of crazy varieties; those with anime characters engraved in their side, the inkan sitting on a glass cube that clearly serves no purpose other than to be ‘arty’, the limited edition AKB48 inkan, and finally, the low priced ‘classic’ variety.
I select the second cheapest option available, before the woman at the counter draws a circle that takes up a whole piece of A4 paper, and asks me to write my name in the way I would like it to be engraved into the stamp. Horizontally or vertically? Kanji or katakana? I don’t really care so I just scribble my name across the paper as quickly as possible and with very little thought.
Next, I select a case. Once again, one of the cheapest available, but still of seemingly high quality. Perhaps there is no such thing as a bad quality inkan. I hand over ¥2950, the cost of both inkan and case. The woman tells me that it will be ready in thirty minutes, hands me a slip of paper, and asks me to bring it back with me when ‘my time is up’.
Half an hour later, I am the proud owner of my very own inkan. Naturally, I head home immediately and start stamping my name on everything I own, before deciding to continue my banking journey.
Game of Phones
So, with my inkan in hand, and a spring in my step, I take a train over to Nihonbashi, to find a nice bank that will let me open an account. I walk into one bank, they say, “If you don’t have a loan with us, we can’t make you a bank account.” Okay, I thought, as I shrugged my shoulders and walked away.
In the second bank, they said, “We can only offer a bank account to Japanese residents, or foreign residents who plan to stay in Japan for at least one year.” I showed them the residence card I had received three days prior, and they said, “Sorry, sir, you will leave Japan in 362 days, we can’t offer you a bank account as you won’t stay for one year.” I shrugged my shoulders and walked away.
Finally, I arrived at Resona Bank, they said, “Sure, we would love for you to make an account with us. Have you got the following?”
Residence Card. Yes.
Home address. Yes.
“Phone number?! How can I get a phone without a bank account?” I asked.
“How can we give you a bank account if you don’t have a phone?” her retort.
Having a bank account is a prerequisite to getting a phone in Japan, and having a phone is a prerequisite to getting a bank account in Japan. Now I know how Joseph Heller felt writing that book. Needless to say, I shrugged my shoulders and walked away.
The next day, I went back to Resona Bank with a Japanese friend of mine. He offered me the use of his phone number to help me set up an account. And, despite qualifying for the questions mentioned above, the bank manager had a difficult time in understanding why I would like a bank account in Japan.
“Why would you like a bank account?” he had asked.
“Because I want my salary paid into my account.”
“Okay,” he said, before running off behind the counter to converse with every other member of staff at the bank. After thirty minutes waiting, the manager returned.
“Did your employer request you get a bank account?”
“Yes,” I lied, “they want me to make an account so that they can pay my salary into my account.”
“Okay,” he said, before once again running behind the counter for confirmation.
Withdrawal & I
After one hour of me doubting my situation, planning to call quits, the bank manager coming and going, asking me a varying degree of pointless questions, he returns, finally, with what could only be described as a big grin on his face. “We’re going to make you an account,” he said smiling as if I was the first foreigner to ever brace his bank’s presence. “We’re going to do it,” he added, satisfactorily.
Me and my Japanese friend were moved to a booth, where we went through the process of ticking boxes that pertained to agreements I couldn’t read, and him, the manager, making jokes about not choosing a PIN number like ‘1234’, before eventually, after the sun had set and days were lost, he presented me with a welcome pack for his bank.
“Your card will arrive in seven days from now,” he said, maintaining his grin.
“Call me if you have any problems,” I said, maintaining my lie.
It is more than possible to open a bank account in Japan. Such banks as the Post Office don’t require you to have been a resident for six months. Other banks would prefer you to have proof of income and to prove that your Status of Residence exceeds one year, others, well, I suppose it depends on the circumstances. Everywhere in the world, I would assume that opening a bank account is based on an individual bias.
If you do want a bank account, I would suggest going to the bank prepared. Take with you an inkan, your passport, your Residence Card, your last pay-check, proof of address, and most importantly, a telephone number. Even if they don’t ask for half of the above, having them with you will help to allow the process to move (somewhat more) swiftly and effectively.
I would also highly recommend Resona Bank, because, unlike most Japanese banks, they offer a Visa Debit card, which can be used for online shopping. Most other banks in Japan only offer a basic deposit and withdrawal account, which is good for having your salary paid into, but not a lot else.