No bank accounts allowed at Mitsui Sumitomo for NJ without minimum six-month stays. Okay at Japan Post Office, however.


Hi Blog. As I ease on back into blogging again, let me spend my last evening on the tour with a bit of advice from somebody in the know about how to open accounts in Japan: If in doubt, use Postal Savings. Blogged with permission. More on here about the errant overzealousness of J banks to connect NJ with money laundering. Arudou Debito in Fukuoka

Hello Debito,

I ran into a rather strange situation on March 10, 2008. I work for a international youth exchange (homestays, language study programs, etc), and one of the programs I head is a year-long internship for high school graduates from the US, Canada, and Australia. We just had a couple of interns from Australia arrive last month, and once they recieved their 外国人カード one of my Japanese coworkers (I was out of the country at the time on business) took them to our local 三井住友 branch to open accounts.

We have been using this bank for 2-3 years now and never had a problem with them, but this time we were informed that they would be unable to open bank accounts until they had been here for 6 months, citing new regulations regarding money laundering. My coworker was quite angry and tried to reason things out, pointing out that we had opened similar accounts just 6 months ago for our Canadian and American interns, but was stonewalled. Later that day the president of our foundation called the bank and was told the same story. At that point my coworkers went to the post office and opened accounts there with absolutely no problems.

As I said, I was out of the office until today, when I was told about what had happened. I have heard of other non-Japanese running into the same problem (though I don’t remember which banks were involved), so I wasn’t completely surprised and knew that the bank’s claims were bogus. I called the Australian Embassy and let them know what was going on, and they said they would look into it. I will not be using 三井住友 in the future for my programs, and I am planning on closing my own account there and speaking to the manager as to why I am doing so. At this point I feel I’ve done all I can with the resources at my disposal.

However, being a socially aware resident myself, I thought I would pass this along to you and see if you had any further advice or if you wanted to follow up on it yourself. I am mostly curious about this anti money laundering regulation they cited, which I’m pretty sure does not exist. On the whole it seems pretty discriminatory to me to not allow non-Japanese who hold valid visas and alien registration cards to open accounts for their first 6 months…and if it is true I can foresee a whole bunch of issues popping up (such as eikaiwa teachers essentially being paid under the table simply because they can’t open an account).

Best regards, Ariel

23 comments on “No bank accounts allowed at Mitsui Sumitomo for NJ without minimum six-month stays. Okay at Japan Post Office, however.

  • When I studied abroad at Kansai Gaikoku Daigaku in Hirakatashi, Osaka area, we also used Mitsui Sumitomo, and it was arranged directly through our program, though we were allowed to elect to find an account elsewhere.

    I can imagine that this will be a huge pain in the ass for study abroad students everywhere if they are only planning on staying for a single semester, and I can only hope that the bank’s management comes to their senses soon.

  • Ariel, the same thing happened to me at Mizuho. They told me the 6 months bullshit, too (that was 4 years ago).
    I had an argument with the branch head for about 2 hours. After handing them my business card
    they called my company to check if I really worked there.
    Since our company has really good business relations with Mizuho I have asked our CFO to call them
    to put a little pressure on them. After that everything went smooth.
    In another branch of Mizuho the same thing happend to a colleague of mine. He just took his business elsewhere.

  • On the whole it seems pretty discriminatory to me to not allow non-Japanese who hold valid visas and alien registration cards to open accounts for their first 6 months.

    Indeed. Is this legal? I admit I have no real knowledge of the law in this regard, but I was under the impression that a business is required to offer the same services to non-Japanese as it does to Japanese nationals. This seems to be a pretty clear case of the opposite.

    Does anyone have any links to the actual policy in Japanese?

  • Sounds like someone at the bank misread the regulations. (I believe they say you have to have at least six months *left* of approved residence in Japan.)

  • Eoin Smith says:

    This kind of situation is unfortunate for the innocent person in need of an account. However, it is becoming quite standard in Europe, as it is a genuine and effective method to dissuade money laundering.

    I wouldn’t take this as an anti-NJ issue at all, it happened to my brother last month in Ireland and he is a citizen of Ireland. I’m sure it will happen to Japanese who have lived abroad for an extended period. If it didn’t also apply to Japanese citizens I’d be very surprised, and then I would understand the frustration.

    The e-mail mentioned new regulations, and I’d reckon that Mitsui is probably implementing this ahead of it becoming law sometime in the future.

  • This is simply appalling. Again targeting the gaijin as potential criminals in a situation where it’s much more likely that Japanese nationals are the ones doing the money-laundering.

    How is making exchange student interns wait 6 months for a bank account going to prevent money-laundering? It’s totally inexplicable, but I bet no-one batted an eyelid when this restriction was proposed at the corporate meeting. Instead, sage heads would have nodded wisely – yes, we need to control those criminal gaijin. They could be terrorists, or funding terrorists, or terrorist fundamentalists even.

    It’s absolutely stunning that people in this society think it’s reasonable to prevent gaijin from opening a bank account for their first 6 months here. In any other country civil rights groups would be all over this kind of bigotry.

  • Ah, good timing! I was just going to email Debito with an update.

    I went to the MitsuiSumitomo branch in question with my (Japanese) boss, the president of my company. We spoke at length with the manager, who was very appologetic and helpful. According to him there has been a law on the books for a long time saying that before gaikokujin can open an account they need to 1) live in Japan for 6 months or 2) be able to prove that they are working for a company (ie: have a work visa as opposed to a student or cultural studies visa). Apparently most banks just ignore it, but recently this particular manager was told by his higher ups in corporate that the government was cracking down on enforcement, so there was nothing much he could do about the policy.

    He did however say that they would make a special arrangement with our company. Provided that our interns made sure that our company’s name and address was on their gaikokujin card in addition to their home address that they could work around the regulation. Like I said, the manager was extremely helpful and seemed just as frustrated with the law as we were, so I’ve decided to keep my account with them.

    I am still concerned about what this means for other NJs, especially those here for educational purposes rather than work. The assumption that NJ are money-laundering fiends is pretty unfair and insulting, but the practical concerns are big as well since (from my experience at least) it is just about impossible to access a foreign bank account while in Japan. Hopefully this is an isolated incident, and the government isn’t starting a systemic crackdown. For one thing I doubt the post office would continue being an easy alternative if this is true.

    One quick tip regarding using post office accounts: if the individual’s name is not in the post office’s registery for that address (ex: they are a homestay student) they will not send the ATM card.

  • First of all, I must say that my visa status is Official, which means you are protected under Treaty of Vienna (no harassment at all from police, really greatfull in Japan) but it also means you are considered a non-resident no matter how long you stayed; also you carry a diferent ID issued by the Foreigner Ministry who nobody at all knows and avoy to use for such things like buying a phone, etc. (fortunately police knows).
    We have no problems opening accounts with Mitsui Sumitomo, accounts for non-residents by the way. The exasperating part is that depending on which Bank, policy changues. With Shinsei Bank, they don’t let you, cause we are non-resident status (even we have an address here and some of us have been living for years) and they don’t open account for non-residents.

    Banks, realtors and travel agencies.
    Maybe a nightmare in Japan.


  • herbalizer says:

    I at one point tried to open an account at UFJ Bank. First, they requested a Hanko stamp from me. Being a foreigner, I didn’t have one but I made a cheap one for that situation. After that was cleared, the clerk, requested my gaijin card. In the front face is written that it expires on (for saying something) may/2007, but it was already aug/2007. Of course I got my visa extended, and that information was on the back. But she obviously did not have experience handling gaijin cards, so she started, with a suspicious attitude towards me, to tell me that according to my gaijin card, my visa had already expired. I got to make use of all my patience to not to send that #$@23″#$” clerk to hell, and I explained how my visa was extended and that information was on the back of the card. She looked back and still suspicious, I finally got trough. Functioning in this society (getting a bank account, finding a house) is, in my opinion, deliberately hard for foreigners sometimes,, and unwelcoming by all means. I believe the case of this entry was simply that they did not want some foreigners to use their bank, so they made the 6 months excuse on spot….

  • I ran into a similar issue there (Mitsui sumitomo), I was told that from the day that I arrived in Japan ( I had given up my visa and reentered on a tourist visa, then changed to a spouse visa) was considered my arrival date and 6 months after that date I would be able to use online banking but not before then because I did not want to give them my employment information. I opened an account that day. The government does not require employment info to receive a spouse visa. I went to the bank 6 months after the aforementioned date, made a special request, and one day later I had online banking access. It was a pain in the butt. I spent a lot of time explaining my situation to all sorts of managers, but in the end I got what I wanted without giving into copies of my gaijin card or giving employment info. I have a feeling that someone at the branch that those students visited was il-informed as to company policy. This is most likely a huge misunderstanding/misinterpretation, because bank policies from my experience are very explicit, and money laundering is something banks monitor and report, not police themselves.

    Correct me if I am wrong. Cheers.

  • Policies can differ from branch to branch within banks here, and I would be surprised if this were a bankwide policy.

    I opened an account with them last year after I had been back in Japan a month or so and had no problems.

    That said, why turn away business?

  • Eion said “it happened to my brother last month in Ireland and he is a citizen of Ireland.”

    Your brother was refused a bank account because of his nationality? That’s what happened in the case we are talking about. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • Ahh…maybe 12 years ago it was easier then,
    I got my Mitsubishi account while on tourist visa and just a few weeks
    after arriving here, plus I refused the hanko idiocy and went for the sign.
    It is the same account that I’m using today.

    On the other hand to get a credit card was harder, they refused me by letter
    (without any explanation but just apologizing for at least 10 lines….).
    I got so angry that went to that credit card branch office and asked for
    a manager. Explained to her the situation and asked her for an explanation.
    She told me that to get a credit card you need (even a Japanese) to be working
    for a company for at least 6 months (and for me it was like 3…?).
    I pushed pushed pushed and they collapsed….. victory. But it was a tiresome experience.

  • Grant Mahood says:

    Doesn’t the GOJ use postal savings to cover pet project costs that they haven’t included in their official budget requests, kind of like raiding a giant cookie jar or piggy bank? It seems that the government isn’t shy about using money it is concerned might soil the hands of the private sector.

    But seriously, the postal savings bank, slowly being privatized, is still mostly run by the GOJ, correct? Why are they willing to run the risk of being used to launder money while forcing privately owned banks to turn customers away?

  • Grant Mahood says:

    Perhaps I jumped to a conclusion. Are these regulations the internal regulations of certain banks, or regulations among banks, or are they government regulations? I should have gotten clarification before posting. I posted thinking that they were new government regulations. Can anyone clarify?

  • Recently my company demanded I open up a Mizuho account. I went at lunch time and made one on the spot without producing a gaijin card (a driver’s license was fine).

    Obviously they had no way of checking how long I’d been in Japan. But working for a Japanese company and speaking Japanese probably helped my situation. The branch was also located in a major business district.

    I think it seems to be up to the discretion of branches and their staff. It seems that they are armed with a number of obscure laws/rules and use them when they feel it is necessary.

    –Yep, that sounds like a fair assessment to me too.

  • James almost as far north as you can go without a re-entry permit says:

    Let’s get serious about money laundering. Why doesn’t have an interview with any of the Russian consulate staff in Japan. They could tell us that money laundering happens a lot. Shiploads of goods landed at many Japanese Ports end up having 2 payments. The official payment minus deductions for port fees, fuel, repairs and maintenance (possibly phoney)and a second payment routed by the purchasing companies overseas to some tax haven. Let’s ask why Japanese imports haven’t helped the tax bases of many exporting countries. Let’s get an estimate of how many Banks and import companies are wiring money to Cyprus or Liechtenstein. Money laundering is done by the people who already have bank accounts.
    Debito there’s a column in the above subject.

    –No doubt. Wanna write it? 🙂

  • This sounds a bit strange, that you have to live in Japan for 6 months to open a bank account. I opened mine on the second day I moved here, and I also asked the International Office of our university if they knew about that and/or had ever had any problems. Answers: no and no.

    If foreign students arrive here (on student visas), the international office takes them to the city office for registering, and from their (with their provisional gaijin card) straight to the next bank to open an account. However, we mostly use local shinkin banks, none of the large city banks.

    The strange thing is, if a foreign student recieves a scholarship from the Japanese government, then he/she must have a bank account in Japan to get the money. No account, no money. So if the student cannot open a bank account, how is he to survive 6 months in Japan without money? And, if he stays only 4 months for example, will he never see his scholarship, because he cannot open an account?

  • Chris Dunn says:

    Look on the bright side. If you want to launder money you only have to wait 6 months and away you go! You won’t get caught because the government seems to think money laundering is done only by people in the first six months of arriving in Japan! Criminal masterminds each and every newly arrived person to Japan but after 6 months you’ll have lost that edge and become dull and witless, unable to even scam a mouse. That, or after 6 months of waiting for a bank account you have simply just given up your evil plan of laundering money and become a good law abiding person. At least that seems to be the government’s thinking (or total lack of) on the matter. Also Confucious once said, “man who want clean money from bank must be joking.”

  • This “money laundering” excuse is a pile of horse manure.
    1) Japanese bank accounts’ features (be it online, be it via ATM) allow for domestic business only. Wire transfers to other countries need to go thru a counter clerk – filling in loads of documents, paying huge fees, having a dozen of different hanko from a variety of useless and overpaid kachos and butchos, y’all know the story.
    2) If I would need to launder my yen, I could take them on a plane quite easily – I have yet to see someone check briefcases of outbound passengers… I can’t imagine someone bringing cash into Japan – interest rates being as they are… 😉

    Basically, you need an address in Japan to open an account. I’ve had no problems so far during the past 22 years.

    Confucius also say “Japan bank man crazy – only let yakuza launder money”.

  • About Japanese banks, instead of the Postal office bank, one can
    > also go to Shinsei Bank. You don’t have to be in Japan for more
    > than 6 months. But Shinsei Banks is very inconvenient. It has only
    > few ATMs in tokyo. Not all ATMs in convenient stores accept Shinsei
    > bank cards and if they do, you cannot transact in them for 24
    > hours. One time, I walked for 10 kilometers just to withdraw money
    > at night!
    > I tried also applying for credit cards. Some of the big banks,
    > after submitting my application online turn-down my application in
    > less than a minute. I think their system automatically disqualifies
    > NJ, maybe. Not sure about this but it happened. Some asked for
    > eijuuken and won’t even continue talking to me without me having it.
    > However, there is good news in all of this. Saison and Shinsei
    > Banks are very ok with foreigners applying for credit cards. They
    > don’t require eijuuken or any illogical requirements. I applied
    > credit cards in Saison and Shinsei Bank today and said, they will
    > get back to me in 3 weeks.

  • I have actually encountered the same problem myself. I landed upon Japanese soil for the 2nd time last year (first year was in Spring 2006 in Sapporo) for studies at a university down here in Kansai. Since I am receiving a JASSO scholarship the University here demanded of me to open up a bank account or equivalent for them to transfer me the money. So we went to the post office, opened up savings account with no difficulties. One week later the Post Office called me stating that they had done something wrong since they were not allowed by the Japanese law to allow us to open up accounts, but since the University already had wired money to it they could not close it. They just canceled several of our features: so now I can’t wire money till and from the account. That also goes for automatic payments and stuff. Since that only affects my phone bill I haven’t been that angry about it, but it do cost me 300yen per month as a fee to pay at LAWSON when I use their services. One other bothersome thing is that I ahve to carry a lot of cash when my university give me the monthly stipend in cash.

    I know that my government back home have similar laws so I can’t say that Japan is any worse than what Japanese would be subject to overseas.


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