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The Language of Banking in Japan

Banking in Japan opens up a lot of tricky vocabulary, starting with simply opening the account itself.

By 3 min read 1

Banking in Japan can be tricky. Despite Japan at its best being a world of technological marvels, banking is mostly done the old-fashioned way. That means lots of bureaucracy, stamps needed for even the simplest procedure and, of course, plenty of unique banking words and phrases.

Case in point is the procedure for opening an account. Just to have somewhere to save your money you will need to get an 印鑑(いんかん). This is a stamp used for official documents that has been registered with the local authorities. On top of this, you will have to present your alien registration card. This procedure can be tough for new arrivals who don’t have a Japanese person to help them.

Upon opening the account, most banks will give you a couple of things. One is a bank book known as a 通帳(つうちょう). The other is the card that you will use to withdraw money, usually called a キャッシュカード. Depending on how you manage your money, both the card and the bank book may be useful or you may simply prefer to only use the card. One advantage of using both the 通帳(つうちょう) and the card together is that it enables you to keep track of your expenses. The disadvantage is that you have to remember to bring it and your card to the bank with you.

Every time you put the card and 通帳(つうちょう) into the machine and press the 通帳記入(つうちょうきにゅう) button, you will be given a summary of the exact amounts taken out and paid into the account. Pay attention to the 残高(ざんだか) column in your passbook as this is the current amount of money you have in your account. By tracking the money in and out of your account, you can soon spot the places you are making or losing money.

The キャッシュカード also contains a lot of information that you will probably need to send your employer before they can pay you. Most cards have 店番(てんばん) (The number of the branch that you belong to) and 口座番号(こうざ ばんごう) (your account number) written on them. In addition, many cards also have 発行年月(はっこうねんげつ) which is the opening date of the account.

Making a deposit into your account is called (あず)()れ and withdrawals are called ()()し. It is worth asking your bank about their policy concerning withdrawals, as some banks charge you to take money out at certain times of the day/ week. If you need foreign money look for the window marked 外貨両替(がいかりょうがえ) where you can get the major currencies from each country.

One of the hardest words for me when I first arrived was the word ()(り)()み. This is used to send money to another person’s account. Don’t be confused by the similar word ()(り)()え which is used when the people sending the money belong to the same bank, as they mean essentially the same thing.

It is worth being aware that this process requires a handling fee, known as a 手数料(てすうりょう), so if you can pay your accounts by cash, it is cheaper. Most people spend 5-6000 yen a year simply sending their rent to their landlords. Money surely better spent on beer!

Unfortunately, using banks in Japan can be tricky until you start to learn kanji. English is still not used for a variety of services. So it is always worth writing down some of the keywords that are used until you get used to recognizing some of the key ones. While the banks can be overly slow and difficult to use, having an account and being able to use it effectively is essential in Japan.

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  • Barnaby Jones says:

    Japanese banks are somewhat discouraging to say the least. It’s highly surprising how old fashioned Japanese banks are!
    Personally I haven’t been inside a bank building in the last 10 years. Everything can be done online in just a few clicks.



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