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  • SR: Shounan Shinkin Bank in Chigasaki refuses bank accounts to NJ who can’t read and speak Japanese

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on October 31st, 2008

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
    Hi Blog. Language ability is being increasingly used by more types of businesses nationwide as a means to refuse NJ service. As we saw last week, insurance agencies (such as AXA Direct Insurance) are rejecting NJ for not enough language (however determined). Now consider Shounan Shinkin Bank in Chigasaki, near Tokyo. Forwarding with permission and anonymized.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    On Oct 28, 2008, SR wrote:
    Dear Dave, I am writing this to let you know of an incident we had with one of our new teachers living in Chigasaki and Shounan Shinkin bank, a local bank in Shounan area.

    It is an important issue for all foreigners here who are small business owners and in general foreigners living in Japan, especially in Chigasaki.

    I am an owner of a small English school in Chigasaki and have nearly 50 students. I also have quite a few teachers, mostly foreigners from here and there who live in Chigasaki. They are all here for a pretty long time, married and have their Japanese families here.

    We have recently employed a new teacher for one of our classes, a foreigner, who is originally from Hong Kong but brought up and educated in the US.

    We had asked her to open a bank account in Shounan Shinkin Bank where we all have our accounts; the school account as well as the employees’ accounts.

    She had been there 2 times with her parents in law (both Japanese) but Shounan Bank and their dep. manager had rejected her request and DID NOT open her bank account! The reason is “she doesn’t speak Japanese and she can’t read it” (日本語が読めない、理解できない) Is that a good enough reason not to have a bank account??? If yes, please stop reading here…

    But, most of our teachers and I have a limited knowledge of kanji; when it comes to official documents, we do need help from our Japanese families and friends but we still managed to open accounts there!!!

    We contacted the Financial Service Agency (金融庁)to see what they think, and they have told us it is totally absurd but there is nothing they can do! Then, we contacted the Shounan Shinkin honten and they confirmed their 日本語が読めない、理解できない rule.  After a short exchange of opinions and requests between the main office and my Japanese staff, they promised to apologise and open our teacher’s account. She won’t though!

    When I went to the bank to close down my accounts, I had a long chat with the department manager. I asked him to show me the written form of their rule but they didn’t have it, or wouldn’t show it. But, he did promise to apologise to our teacher and her family… I’m not really sure he thought it was a right thing to do… it seemed as if he was under big pressure…

    All in all, the situation had made me very angry… I have never had this kind of experience in my 13 years in Japan

    We all know a lot about Japan and the Japanese people, their customs, culture that we all have to accept if we want to have a life here, but we also know about their attitudes and insecurities when it come to dealing with foreigners. I wish we could do something to change this… Best regards, SR


    19 Responses to “SR: Shounan Shinkin Bank in Chigasaki refuses bank accounts to NJ who can’t read and speak Japanese”

    1. Johnny Says:

      The school owner here did the right thing in taking his or her business elsewhere.

      This kind of thing is completely unacceptable. Not surprised to see the FSA bury its head in the sand as well.

    2. anonymous Says:

      It is completely humilliating and unacceptable what that bank did. How the bank clerk measured the foreigner japanese skills?, also, if he is a legal resident and his japanese family is present, what is the problem?, the family will provide translation, then. The most unwelcoming parts of japanese society to foreigners are banks and realtors. In cases like this, they don´t treat foreigners with even a little bit of dignity, and sometimes openly humilliate them. In my opinion, the bank rejecting the opening of the bank account is comparable to the discrimination in the deep south in the 60s in the US.

    3. Max Says:

      Quite humiliating treatment.

      The problem is that foreigners in Japan are fragmented, many individual isolated particles inside this united system. I think there is the need of some organization for the rights of foreigner residents in Japan so that when there is an episode like that it could be possible to rally in a pacific demonstration and go in front of the Shounan Shinkin Bank office to manifest in a very pacific way.

      It is intolarable.

    4. Joe Jones Says:

      The bank’s legal department is probably taking an ultra-conservative reading of the new securities laws which, among other things, prohibit banks from offering investment products (time deposits, forex deposits, etc.) unless the bank explains all the risks to the customer and ensures that the customer understands the risks.

      But that shouldn’t apply to a simple bank account, which is basically risk-free as long as you don’t exceed the government’s deposit insurance cap. These should be much easier to open since they are so essential to daily life here. But this is something which the legislators would have to tackle, and so far they’ve been going in the opposite direction (making it harder to open a bank account).

    5. Tkyosam Says:

      I can see why you are all angry, but come on people, how many of “US” can say we received the same treatment at a bank?

      Of course this sucks for the person wanting to open an account, but in the mean time why doesn’t the person go to a bigger bank like UFJ or Citibank? Last time I checked the interest rate was sh1t in every bank in Japan…

    6. Shrikant Atre Says:


      I share my experience here with none other than BoTM-UFJ Nakano Tokyo Branch. Last year in month of June I went to open an account as I had received my new work visa (Engineer). Despite having all proper documents in place, they refused to open an account with them. The reason given to me was very strange as I should at least stay in Japan for 6 months with that visa and THEN they will open an account. Sumitomo Mitsui Bank Nakano Branch also refused me to open an account on similar grounds. I objected and even wrote letters to Yomiuri and JT but these newspapers did not publish my story. I had even shown to BoTM that I had an account with them in past (1999-2003) but still they did not believe me and told me that its a new rule.

      To my utter surprise, Mizuho Bank Nakano Branch which is just a few blocks away in same Nakano area, accepted my request w/o any problem, and till date I am banking with them. They apparently dont have any such rule. This also meant that I had proper documents. And BTW, my Japanese language is also close to Native level.

      But in this whole episode last year, what I learned was that NJ will be treated as Garbage and are subjected to heavy discriminatory rules when it comes to banking with Japanese Banks.

      Can anyone affiliated to FSA or BoTM-UFJ or SMBC please answer me, do they really have such a rule in place ?

      My question to them will be how in the world they expect that we the NJ carry our salaries in CASH for 6 months if ALL banks in Japan dont allow us to open an account till we complete min stay of 6 months there on a proper work visa ? Anyways, your politicians are already blaming us for the deteriorating law and order situation and it means it will be more difficult to keep cash in our homes every year now onwards.

      There is one more example I can give of strange banking practices in Japan when NJ are dealt with.

      I applied for Credit card with DC and later on Saison through Mizuho bank. Both rejected my applications and when I contacted them for the reason for rejection, their call centers denied to give me any reason for that. I talked with an industry expert later who is a friend of mine. He said that your Visa is 1 year initially and it will be extended by 3 years. These companies see THAT as a risk and deny to Credit card as they feel that you will run away to homeland after taking a big credit simply if you dont get a Visa extension. Laughable ? Its not..! Anyone who needs a Credit Card seriously will feel discriminated by these laws as you are seen from Day one as a suspect, though you have done nothing !

    7. Behan Says:

      Joe Jones Says:
      October 31st, 2008 at 10:09 am
      The bank’s legal department is probably taking an ultra-conservative reading of the new securities laws which,…..

      Reading this reminded me of things like like literacy tests in the Jim Crow South to keep black people from voting.

    8. Martin Says:

      If there are no consequences to their acts, nothing will ever change.
      Just take your business elsewhere.
      But before doing that make sure that they understood they’re idiots…

    9. Fusebokmne Says:

      # Tkyosam Says:
      Of course this sucks for the person wanting to open an account, but in the mean time why doesn’t the person go to a bigger bank like UFJ or Citibank? Last time I checked the interest rate was sh1t in every bank in Japan…

      Maybe you’ve never traveled outside of Tokyo, Citibank doesn’t have much in the way of a network, and to be honest, neither do the 3 megabanks, even in large sized regional cities (Nagasaki is a good example).

    10. jp Says:

      There is absolutely no reason for a bank to refuse someone when they apply for an account. They have absolutely no risk. Credit cards are a different issue. I have dealt with a nuber of banks in the kanto area and most of them are reasonable, but I have had to fight with some to get what I want. Seriously if one bank doesn’t want your business, there are a lot more out there. As far as Shounan Shinkin is concerned, they screwed up and anyone who believes in human rights and the non-proliferation of discrimination should boycott them. Can I claim the previous phrase? Has it been used before? I have had my issues with SMBC, but they remain my main bank. But I am really liking my new service with Sony Bank. Highly recommended.

    11. Peter Says:

      Folks, I sympathise with those who have had difficulty with Japanese banks. For those who do not live in Tokyo or another large metro area, I recommend you to consider Shinsei Bank. They are what I consider “foreigner-friendly”, because they offer application forms in English. One can even open an account by mailing in the application forms. They also have a 0120 toll free phone number for banking and you can speak with someone in English too.

      Their website for internet banking is offered both in English and Japanese. They even gave me a home loan for my house which I bought in Tokyo last year. If I had not had permanent residency status, they would still have given me a loan after meeting a couple of more conditions.

      No, I do not work for Shinsei – just a relatively satisfied customer. They’re not perfect, but for all of their faults, they’re the best option for many of us foreigners living in Japan.

    12. Joe Jones Says:

      Shinsei is good (disclaimer: I work for them) but not always the best. For instance, they won’t let you open an account as a temporary visitor any more, even if you have an alien registration card. SMBC, on the other hand, has no problem doing so.

      The issue of bank availability in the provinces is less problematic than it used to be. There are more banks tied into kombini ATM networks now for easy withdrawals 24 hours a day, and you can do your furikomi online. The only time you actually need to go to the bank these days (at least with most modernized, reasonable institutions) is if you’re wiring money, depositing a foreign check or doing something equally unusual.

    13. Drew Says:

      I applied for Credit card with DC and later on Saison through Mizuho bank. Both rejected my applications and when I contacted them for the reason for rejection, their call centers denied to give me any reason for that. I talked with an industry expert later who is a friend of mine. He said that your Visa is 1 year initially and it will be extended by 3 years.

      I have a line of credit with TMB and with Saison and neither of them ever saw how long my visa was, or how long I’d been in Japan. I provided my driving license as my form of ID in each case, and in neither case was I asked to show anything more. Saison did phone me up and ask which visa category I had (Engineer) but didn’t ask about anything else and was happy with my verbal answer over the phone.

      I suspect that, same as with Softbank, a lot of the problems/misunderstandings happen because the individual employees that people are talking to don’t know/understand the rules. I also think that a lot of customer service employees don’t want to be caught in a mistake and tend to be hard to convince once they’ve said something. I tend to go into situations having read the rules/etc (in Japanese) and will have no problem standing my ground if I am asked (by a company in the private sector) to show different documents than a native Japanese would.

    14. Drew Says:

      One more thing about dealing with banks and the like:

      I’m not a Kanji genius; I’m sure that most Grade 4 kids have better Kanji skills than I do, but you can be damn sure that I can write my name, address, company’s name and address, job, etc., without even thinking about it, and with looking fairly fluent and natural. Being able to communicate at least that much often goes a long way to eliminating your “foreign-ness” as a factor.

      (And no, I have never considered and I will never consider “not being able to do business in English” as a form of discrimination. If you chose to live in Japan, you probably knew what language they spoke before you got on the plane.)

    15. Shrikant Atre Says:


      Great to hear you got the Credit Cards alright. Let me explain that part again. I can speak almost Native level, have passed JLPT L2 in 1990 and since then used Kanjis quite well. I can read the Japanese forms Mizuho Bank supplied. I even got it checked from their counter lady for appropriateness. The “PROCEDURE” of getting back to you is what I am mentioning here. The individual can never know it. What happened after 3 weeks of application (each time) was the credit card company sent me a sorry letter with a customer service executive contact number. I then called up and spoke in Japanese and asked WHAT WAS WRONG with me ? Why me, anyone would be surprised when they answer stereotype, “No, we cant tell that, but we are sorry …!”. It was then, I tried to find out all probable reasons. Visa extension of 3 years may be one case as one of the industry experts I spoke with. And all other things (including my license, Japanese INKAN and residence proof, bank details was very well). To let you know HOW these companies have changed, I tell you that I once had a BOTM-DC Credit card with me when I had stayed in Japan for 4 straight years. I had never defaulted on any payment, still that same company has THIS TIME said NO…! Any clues ?

    16. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Shrikant, at least you’re getting a telephone number where you can call them to argue. My rejection letters contain no name or phone number at all — a total lack of accountability!

    17. Drew Says:

      Shrikant, Sorry, I wasn’t referring to you specifically when I talked about reading and filling in the forms properly in Japanese, that was just a general tip for others who try — you did say before that your Japanese was almost native level.

      I do wonder, though, how they knew how long your visa was for. My suspicion is that you showed your Alien Registration Card as your means of ID… Maybe you have a driver’s license that you just didn’t show, or maybe you don’t have one, or maybe they asked you to show your Alien card anyway, I don’t know.

      As an aside, my suggestion is that everyone get a driver’s license, even if it’s just the moped-only one that can be had by just taking a multiple-choice test. It’s unfortunate that it’s the case, but I’ve found that it has really helped to have some piece of photo identification that is the same as what a Japanese person would have. “Can I see your Alien Registraion?” “Here’s my Driver’s License.” works in about 99% of the cases, and it means that you aren’t giving away irrelevant information like your country of origin, how long you’ve been in Japan, your visa category, or when your next renewal date is.

    18. The author of the Shounan Shinkin bank letter Says:

      Thanks so much for posting my letter, I appreciate it very much!!
      There were more responses than I had expected…it’s so nice to know
      people care.

      Thank you to all who responded and for sharing your views and experiences!

      And Debito, thank YOU so much for caring and your effort
      to make this country a better place for us all.

    19. Yo Says:

      This is completely understandable – sorry for a dose of reality. The fact is you cannot enter into a binding contract in a language which you do not understand – e.g. insurance contracts, bank accounts, etc, etc. It’s quite understandable that a regulated bank needs to ensure that their contractual relations are legally binding.

      — You are assuming 1) foreigners cannot understand Japanese, or cannot bring people that can help them understand better, 2) native Japanese can completely understand contractual legalese Japanese, 3) these companies cannot explain the legalese to their clients (which they by and large do nowadays in simpler language to anyone before signatures), 4) these contracts are binding no matter what (then why the 7-day “cooling off” period allowed in Japan; is that because people understood 100% of what they were getting into just because they were native speakers?) No, there are ways to avoid potential misunderstandings without having to resort to blanket exclusionism by nationality. Otherwise blind, illiterate, or otherwise impaired Japanese should be refused too. But they’re not. Dose of reality back.

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