Banking in Japan can be a strange experience. I know that a lot of expat are infuriated by banks on a regular basis, particularly those living in more rural areas, but until recently I didn't think it was that crazy. Today I am left questioning what banks even DO here.
If you don't know anything about banking in Japan then here are a few of that basics that seem so strange to those of us accustomed to a different system. There are no joint bank accounts in Japan. What this means is that we operate like most Japanese families: the account is in John's name and he makes the money, I keep the (only) atm card and manage our finances. The frustrating part is that if anything ever needs to be done at the bank I can't do it, John has to take off from work, because I'm not on the account.
Living in Tokyo, John and I are able to use Shinsei, which is the most expat friendly bank. It has online banking, and may actually be the only bank that does. There is a hilarious decoder card you have to use to even log into the website. We've never used it much though. I just pay our bills in cash at 7-Eleven. Cash is king in Japan. In fact, I just heard that the first debit cards were issued by a bank last month. That's right, nobody uses debit cards, and honestly credit cards aren't all that common either. Being a Shinsei customer we can use 7-Eleven (and a bunch of other) ATMs for free 24 hours a day, but a major inconvenience for a lot of people is that most ATMs only operate during business hours on weekdays! Honestly, doesn't that defeat the entire purpose of an ATM? On top of that, checks don't exist. Instead people do bank transfers, which can be done in (some?) banks or at the Post Office (which is also the largest bank in Japan). Weird. Many banks close at 3:00 pm as well, but luckily Shinsei has more reasonable hours.
Finally, when we (John) first opened our (his) account it was explained that the account was at that particular branch. If he needed to do any banking he had to do it at this branch, not just any old location. There is also a sign saying you can't actually withdraw cash over the counter, but there is a bank of ATMs next door. Again, weird, but ok. So, it's tax time, and one more weird thing about our situation is that there wasn't really any withholding on his paycheck the first year full year we were here, so we've had to do it ourselves (this isn't typical for expats). John left work early yesterday to take the paperwork to HIS branch to do the bank transfer, but was told they couldn't do it there, in fact he would have to go to the head office which would mean leaving work early again another day. We never got a clear answer on why they couldn't do it, but they adamant that it couldn't be done there. They did, however, offer some interesting advice. If we withdrew the money from an ATM I could take the cash and complete the transaction at the Post Office. We were very skeptical, considering that this is an entire year's worth of taxes being paid all at once in cash. That's a lot of money! But they very cheerily helped John temporarily raise the withdrawal limit on his account and showed us where the Post Office was down the hall (it was of course already closed). So this morning I went back, withdrew the largest amount of money I have ever touched, felt like a drug dealer, and then paid it all to a Post Office employee who didn't even bat an eye.
In happier news, spring is definitely coming. The weather is slowly warming up, and flowers are starting to make an appearance. Only a couple weeks until Sakura Season!