OLAF KARTHAUS ON
PROBLEMS FOR NON-JAPANESE
CASHING EVEN SMALL AMOUNTS OF MONEY
AT HOKKAIDO BANK
(courtesy of The Community Archives)
From: Olaf Karthaus <email@example.com>
Date: Thu Apr 5, 2001 6:11 pm
Subject: bank en'counter'
Dear community and Issho members
Does it sometimes happen to you that you are required to produce an ID,
just because you are a foreigner?
I mean, not by the police or other law-enforcing government
institutions, but by private companies?
It happened to me this week. I had a few Dollars and wanted to take
advanatge of the low yen.
Thus I went to the local branch of Hokkaido Ginko in Chitose.
"Good Morning, may I exchange these dollars to yen?"
"Yes, of course. Please show me your passport."
This is how the conversation started, all in Japanese
"I am sorry, I don't have my passport with me. But I can show you my
japanese drivers licence."
The clerk looked at it.
"You still live at the same address? Your nationality is still German?"
were the questions I both answered "yes" to.
"I will check if this is sufficient. May I take it with me?" asked the
clerk and when I said that he could, he left.
Another clerk made the transaction and then the first clerk came back
with my drivers licence.
"Everything is okay" Not that I expected anything else.
Then I saw that he held a copy of my licence in his hand.
"Excuse me" I asked the second clerk "do you also require an ID from
"No we don't"
"I thought so. Something else I want to ask: why did you make a copy of
my ID? Showing it to you would have
been sufficient proof for my identity"
"Well, you see we have those regulations....we have to keep the records
for 10 years here in our safe...."
Wow, my drivers licence record will be in this bank for the next 10 years!!
"Is this a policy of this branch?" I inquired.
"No, we are required to do this by law. If you really want to know, I
will look it up for you, since I do not have the laws with me right now."
"yes, please" this answer was clearly not expected by the clerk. I could
see a big "EHHH??" literally written in his face.
"I can contact the main branch by myself and check, if you want" I added.
"No, no problem, I will do that." he reassured me.
Anyway, since he already had my phone number and address I left at that point.
On the next day came a telephone call to my home, while I was absent. It
was the bank clerk. Guess what?
Right! This doubious law does not exist!
The bank made it up! Just because they feel that they CAN do it, they
require ID from foreigners, just becuase they please to.
The law the clerk referred to only applies to transaction with a volume
larger than 500 man yen. And the proof of ID is then also required for
Japanese, and thus irrespectable of nationality.
Lesson No 1 to learn: speak up when you feel uncomfortable, or
unjustifiedly treated different just because you are a foreigner.. It
only costs you two minutes. This example shows that many do not know the
laws and regulations that they so willfully try to enforce.
It will not only make your life easier, but also the life of the
foreigners coming after you.
What happened next?
Today I called the bank, and spoke with the clerk. He apologized on the
phone, which I accepted.
I then continued "well, you see, it all not your personal fault. But can
you imagine how I felt? Being asked an ID without any reason? I would
like two things from you. First, I want the copy of my drivers licence.
Please send it to me."
"yes, I will see that you get it" the clerk responded.
"Then I would also have a written statement from the bank in which you
explain the situation."
"I am sorry, but this is something that I cannot do." the answer came.
He now spoke with a much lower voice, as if he was afraid that his
colleagues might overhear the conversation.
"Listen, what the bank did, and again I do not blame you personally, was
to put me in an uncomfortable situation. I want to make sure that this
does not happen again - neither me nor to other customers."
"Yes, I understand" he replied, "and I will tell my colleagues that
should not ask for ID in cases like yours anymore."
"So, then please send me a written statement of the bank policy up to
now and how you want to deal with foreigners in the future." I insisted.
The conversation went on for a while, but he insisted that he could not
send such a letter.
Lesson No 2: everybody wants to cover up his mistakes. I doubt that the
whole incident will be heard outside of the circle of 2-3 employees that
are concerned with currency exchange. Again, I do not blame that clerk
for asking my ID, but I am inclined to blame him for trying to cover up
to minimize the aftereffects of the bank (not his) misbehavior.
What comes next? The next 'gaijin' stepping into that bank has to show
his ID again? I am afraid so.
What should I do?
Take the whole issue to the branch manager? To the main office of
Any input/critisism welcome, private or on the list.
From: Olaf Karthaus <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue Apr 24, 2001 6:33 pm
Subject: Hokkaido Bank report
Dear The Community and Issho Kikaku members,
maybe some of you remember the incident at Hokkaido Bank in which I,
just because I happen to be a foreigner, was asked to identify myself
before I could exchange 400 US Dollars. A Japanese is not required to
show an ID for the same transaction.
I already reported that I complained to the bank and I asked the list
about the measures I should take.
Here is the outcome.
In a nutshell, I wrote a fax to the headquarters demanding a letter of
apology which I got.
URL of my letter http://www.geocities.com/okarthaus/dogin041101.html
URL of the apology from the bank
For those of you interested in the details, please continue to read.
With the help of Arudou Debito and my wife I wrote a letter of complaint
and faxed it to
Service of Hokkaido Ginko at the main office. Two hours later I got a
from the manager of the Chitose branch. He wanted to
meet me as soon as possible, and was even willing to drive all the way
from Chitose to my home in Sapporo the same evening.
I didn't want that and we agreed to meet in my office the next day,
Thursday, April 12.
In order to have a witness of the discussion, I had asked Arudo Debito
to come, too. Then, a Mr. Sasaki, the branch manager
and the person in charge for foreign exchange, a Mr. Namatame, came
exactly at the appointed time.
David worked on my computer but was all ears what we were saying across
the room at the coffee table.
I accepted their apology for asking for my ID and for making a copy of
it, which, by the way, I had not yet received,
despite the statement that it was send on Monday. 3 full days for 50
kms? Even the Japanese postal service is not THAT
slow, I thought.
The bank had more than a full day to think about excuses, so I was not
surprised when Mr. Namatame came up with one.
"You see, we need an address to contact our customer, just in case we
made a miscalculation. Last year it happened to us
that we had to give some money back to a Canadian customer. I had to
drive to the airport to reach him, just before he left
I thought for myself "and for this you need a copy of the passport?"
But I said loud "why then don't you just trust your
customers? Everybody fills in his address on the sheet required for
money exchange - Japanese as well as foreigners -, so
there is a contact address for just this case. There is no need for
making a copy of an ID."
They acknowledged this, but replied that it was just out of convenience,
or custom, to make copies of IDs.
Since the topic of trust was brough up, I continued to stress that
foreigner customers should be treated as trustworthy as
Japanese. Many foreigners are in Japan for a living, and live a life not
much different from Japanese. Then, please treat us this way.
As the final point in our discussion, I brought up my request for a
letter of apology.
The reasons I gave where the following:
1. Foreigners in Japan already experience discrimination in
the banking sector, e.g. problems in receiving
loans or credit cards. This is hard enough, so please do not impose more
hurdles or humiliations to us.
2. Just an informal apology is not enough, because I want to make
sure that such an event does not occur anymore. Not in
Chitose and also not in other branches of the bank.
3. As a member of The Community, we already filed complains in
other instances, e.g. to NHK and to a publisher.
Getting a positive response shows us that the offenders are
serious in improving the situation. It shows us that
it is worth to invest our energy and time, and that the life for
foreigners can be improved!
After I made my claim, the unexpected came: Mr. Sasaki agreed to write
such a letter! I had to ask to reply what he just
said, just to be sure I understood correctly. Dave turned around and
confirmed what I just heard.
Yes, the unbelievable was possible. Just one hour before Debito told me
what he had heard from a friend who works in the
financial sector, 'Banks do not issue written apologies. Maybe they are
afraid that it might be used in a lawsuit.'
But here we sat, and it WAS possible.
Mr. Sasaki would write a letter, but asked for some time to do so. I
expected that it would take a few weeks, but when
Debito asked how long it would take, Mr. Sasaki said it might take one week.
This was fine with me, and we rose from our seats. I thanked them for
their time and for taking this issue serious enough
to pay me a personal visit. Resolving the problem of copying IDs from
foreigners only will be a valuable step (as small as
it might be) for the improvement of our living conditions.
One week later, last Thurday, Mr. Sasaki and Namatame showed up in my
office to hand me the letter
(jpeged at http://www.debito.org/doginshimatsusho041801.jpg
personally, which was much more than I expected. I thought it would be
send by mail.
Most important, the letter includes a passage that the Chitose branch
notified the main office that foreigners might object
the copying of ID and that it should be abandoned.
This note was then distributed to all branches of Hokkaido Ginko.
Why am I reporting in such detail?
Because it shows how one can make a difference. If I would not have
complained, the discriminating actions of the bank
would have continued.
The immediate and thorough responses from the bank show that complains
from foreigners are taken very serious.
Last but not least it shows that the banks are cooperating in
eliminating occurring discrimination.