Records of three years of bank dealing in Japan

Dr Dave, 3 days after Landing, attempting to convey to a befuddled bank clerk that the damn ATM outside refuses to take his US card (conversation transcribed to English for clarity purposes):


Ten months and twenty full pages of Japanese phrasebook later: trying to open a bank account in order to cash my first paycheck. After literally half-a-dozen fruitless attempts, I find one bank (みずほ, if you must know) that doesn’t mind the fact that I have: 1) no relatives born within 50 miles of the branch, 2) not been living a few decades on the island, 3) no inkan emblazoned with my kanji name and 4) a suspiciously pale skin color, compared to the local shade in fashion. I am not about to ask if they have multilingual staff on the premises.

In Japan, whenever a foreigner steps into a business asking for service, it is customary for staff to hastily draw straws. Failing that, they seek the one employee who has foreign country’s experience (usually a one-week honeymoon in Thailand). Failing that, they send the youngest trainee with instructions to commit seppuku if things get out of hand.

Two hours, many outdated Japanese-English dictionaries and one slightly rattled employee later, I have a Japanese bank account. It only took us 40 minutes to figure how to spell my name in katakana. It will only take me a few more months to figure out how to withdraw money from it.

Three years later: “Hi, I just lost my cash card in Paris, need to change my two-year out-of-date address, make a bank transfer (without my card) and, oh yea, gimme 50,000 yens in cash, by the way that’s a lovely necklace you got here. kthanx.”

Somehow even ended up with her personal phone number on the back of my checkbook.

This language thing is becoming way too easy, high time to leave the country.


  1. Adam,

    Why leave now? I live for challenge. Anyway, who knows: I may be back one day.
    And also, I might be slightly embellishing the conversation: I wasn’t looking so cocky when I had to fill in a few miles of form in kanji (although I sure looked better than I would have, not even two years ago).

    And regarding the bank teller: who said it was smooth, who said she was cute? (ok, she was).

    Personal Message: Babe, in the unlikely event you may have been studying English in secret for the past few months and are reading this, I want to insist on the fact that 1) I never explicitly asked for that number 2) I burnt the checkbook as soon as I got home 3) you are the one and only.

  2. 1) I never explicitly asked for that number 2) I burnt the checkbook as soon as I got home 3) you are the one and only.

    Oh yeah, you’re smooth alright. 😛

  3. Adam, you’re right. Let me rectify.

    There was never a bank teller, and she sure as hell didn’t write any number on my checkbook. In fact, babe, I never went to the bank.

    That being said, I sure hope you haven’t secretly learnt English.

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