Anti-money laundering measures snag tourists with traveller’s checks


Hi Blog. I cited Terrie’s Take this morning (see previous post on this blog) about Japan’s half-assed campaign to boost tourism in Japan. Was going to wait until tomorrow to put the following up, but a friend expressed an interest in Japan’s anti-money-laundering policies so tonight:’s been cc-ed in a number of interesting correspondences from complete strangers (thanks), with the following moral:

More phooey on Japan’s vaunted YOKOSO JAPAN campaign: tourists who need to cover a midsize a sum as thousand USD in costs (see letter from University of Kentucky’s Prof. Stradford below) are suspected of being money launderers (meaning Japanese banks will sell large demoninations of travellers’ checks, but then will not cash them unless you have a permanent address in Japan).

Long history of this. I’ve been snagged as far back as 2003 for suspicion of money laundering–for receiving as little as 5000 yen (as a donation) from overseas. Friend Olaf (a Permanent Resident) has been told to display his passport (not required of Japanese) for wanting to change a small sum of leftover USD to JPY. More on the Mission Impossible of getting better service from Japanese banks as a NJ here.

The good news is that Japanese authorities actually responded (and in a timely manner) to Professor Stradford’s inquiries. Good. Not sure if it resolves the situation any (travellers’ checks of that denomination are still just as useless), but at least someone tried to help.

I’ll promote this post to an “anti-discrimination template”–as it demonstrates that it does pay to complain when policies are idiotic. Here’s hoping things go smoothly for Prof. Stradford’s contributions to the Japanese economy. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Subject: Travelers check problems that have begun in Japan
Date: July 6, 2007 3:58:17 PM JST

Dear Sir,

Since the Yurakucho Office does not have an email address, I have to begin by sending a complaint on ‘the use of travelers checks in Japan’ to your offices, which are associated with the “Yokoso Japan” and “Visit Japan” campaigns.

Since the 1980s, the University of Kentucky has taken groups of 3 to 6 students to Japan each summer. We stay at hostels, business hotels, and yado which usually do not take credit cards in order to keep their costs low. However, this requires that we cash large amounts of cash to pay the hotel bills for 4 to 7 people, especially to cover weekend periods when banks and post offices are closed.

During this summer’s trip, I was unable to cash $1000 or two $500 travelers checks at a bank in a single day, as the banks have set a Y100,000 limit on cashing travelers checks in Japan. I was shown the new requirement that all banks were to observe this limitation beginning 1 January 2007. This is very strange as these same banks ‘sell’ $1000 denomination travelers checks to Japanese to use outside Japan. The only way to cash these checks was to show proof that you had a permanent address in Japan. What Japanese person or foreigner needs to use travelers checks in Japan? This is an indirect form of discrimination against foreign tourists, who are now considered untrustworthy to use large travelers checks. Luckily, on this trip I was able to find business people willing to take time out of their day to cash the checks for me at the banks and then give me the money.

Besides this insult, future trips in the summer are now under review to cancel, as there is no way that banks can be sought out everyday to cash small amounts, especially on weekends, or in places where banks and post offices do not exist, such as in Yasumiya on Towada-ko, or at Lake Toya, both places that we have stopped in the past.

We cannot raise the cost for the students just to stay in credit card hotels, and we are not going to limit our trip to only Tokyo and Kyoto, where at least the airport banks seem to disregard this new requirement.

If we cannot get enough cash to pay for hotels for 4-7 people over a weekend, then we will stop this trip.

Thanks for looking into this problem.

H. Todd Stradford
Associate Professor
University of Wisconsin Platteville
Platteville, WI 53818
Phone: 608.342.1674
Fax: 608.342.1088


Subject: Re: Travelers check problems that have begun in Japan
Date: July 7, 2007 10:48:08 AM JST
To: stradfot@XXXXXX

Dear H. Todd Stradford,

Thank you very much for your email. We did not know that this problem existed until you let us know today. First of all, I’m very sorry that this happened and that you had to waste time looking for business people to cash the travelers checks.

It is true that there was a law passed on January 4, 2007 that requires banks to confirm the identity of anyone (Japanese or non) making a deposit or money transfer of 100,000 yen or more. The same law has been passed in many other countries with the aim of preventing money laundering and the funding of terrorism. When I looked through the laws on the FSA website (, it seems that you may have been treated unfairly, but I do not fully understand the laws myself so I will contact our headquarters and have them look into this further.

Please let me know the names of the banks that would not change your travelers checks for you (as much as you remember, city and branch name if possible).

Rest assured that we take your claim seriously, and will follow through until you get a satisfactory answer.

Best regards,
Christopher Bishop
Japan National Tourist Organization
515 South Figueroa Street, Suite 1470
Los Angeles, CA 90071
TEL: 213-623-1952
FAX: 213-623-6301


Subject: Re: Travelers check problems that have begun in Japan
Date: July 11, 2007 12:09:30 AM JST
To: stradfot@XXXXXXXXXX

Dear Professor Stradford,

We are very sorry to hear your frustration regarding the lack of email access to Yurakucho’s office and the Japanese banking system. As you may know, Japan is still a very cash oriented nation. It may be more efficient to take advantage of ATM services. Starting July 11, 2007 Seven (Eleven) banks will provide ATM services. Seven Eleven convenient stores are located widely across Japan and this hopefully will aid you and your colleagues to retrieve cash. One can take out as much as 500,000yen per day. Please go to our website for more detailed information: We hope this information can help you. We are sorry for all the inconveniences caused regarding your travelers’ checks. Moreover, we hope that you can still send 4-7 people to Japan. Please do not hesitate to contact me at any point in time if you have any further concerns.

Kind regards,

Takae Ishizuka
Web & Marketing Specialist
Japan National Tourist Organization – JNTO
One Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 1250
New York, New York 10020

Tel: (212) 757-5641 Ext. 20
Fax: (212) 307-6754
“The East of Ordinary”

4 comments on “Anti-money laundering measures snag tourists with traveller’s checks

  • News from Japan Probe:

    7-Eleven ATMs Will Finally Accept Foreign Cards
    July 12th, 2007 by James

    Some good news for all of you who withdraw money from foreign bank accounts:

    Visitors to Japan now have easier access to their cash after more than 12,000 automated teller machines at 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country began accepting foreign cards Wednesday.

    So far tourists in Japan have been mainly limited to ATMs at certain foreign-owned banks or the post office if they want to avoid queuing up to exchange money.

    The ATMs will operate in English, Korean, Chinese and Portuguese, and unlike post office ATMs, they’ll be open almost 24 hours a day!

  • OK, so they can get money through ATMs, But if they already have large amounts of money in traveler’s checks, what are they supposed to do with THEM?

  • From: Todd Stradford []
    Sent: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 3:10 PM
    To: Takae Ishizuka
    Subject: Re: Travelers check problems that have begun in Japan


    Thanks for the suggestion of the 7-11. 7-11s only seem to be rare in rural Hokkaido and a few other places. I have had problems on using credit cards and ATMs in Japan in the past, as the owner of each ATM seemed to control the amounts and cards that can be used. The 7-11s coupled with the post offices might work for our trip. I would just have to set up an account in the US that would allow large overseas ATM withdrawals.

    -Todd Stradford

  • Dear Debito,

    We are still looking into the issue and hope to have a response by the end of this week (will keep you C.C.’d). In the meantime, please remove all non-public email addresses from this page (all besides,,

    The reason is that we will get spam if they are publicly posted like that. I think Mr. Stradford would probably appreciate the same.


    Christopher Bishop
    Japan National Tourist Organization
    515 South Figueroa Street, Suite 1470
    Los Angeles, CA 90071
    TEL: 213-623-1952
    FAX: 213-623-6301




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