Banking in Japan SUCKS

So, I love living in Japan, but I have 2 complaints.  Everything having to do with driving, and everything having to do with money is TOTALLY RETARDED!!!  Quite literally, they are decades behind!  I won’t get started on driving, or all my complaints about “things-money”, but I will tell you how inconvenient banking is. So, you live in Japan and think you might want a bank account, eh?  WRONG!  Ask the other Japanese where they keep their savings, and most will say they hide it somewhere in their house.  They don’t understand or trust banks, and in truth, there isn’t much incentive to use them in Japan.  No one is going to break into your house, so your savings are safe there anyway.  There are no interest-bearing savings accounts, so you won’t make any money by using the bank.  But mainly (and this is where it starts getting strange), they don’t have checks in Japan, so it is not convenient to use bank accounts for payments.  No, there are no checks in Japan.  They don’t trust them!!  They ONLY deal in money.  You want to pay your bills?  Cash only.  Want to pay rent? Cash only.  Want to BUY A HOUSE?  CASH ONLY!!  Want to buy a COMPANY!?!?!  BRIEFCASE OF CASH… ONLY!!! Oh, and forget about credit cards.  You think they’re going to trust credit cards?  They don’t even trust checks!  It’s like the fucking Middle Ages over here!! If you want to pay for something and the person or company isn’t near you, what do you do?  Why, put your wad of money in an envelope, of course!!  Just send $5,000 through the mail to pay your exorbitant rent, or bills.  It truly boggles the mind!!  So here’s a question.  If they can trust sending cash in an envelope, and don’t worry about theft… why can’t they trust a check written buy their aunt???????? 

FUCKED! Yeah, so that’s the lay of the land here.  But sometimes you HAVE to use the banks.  You don’t need a bank account, but to pay for, say, airline tickets, you have to directly deposit money into the travel agents bank account.  This is the process I have gone through many times, and it never ceases to amaze me how complicated they make it for NO reason. To do almost any bank transaction you have to use the ATM machines.  But be careful.  They close soon after the bank, for your convenience.  24-hour ATMs are a luxury only a few banks in Tokyo offer (and it’s a big bragging point).  The ATM machines here are ancient looking.  They look like a 30-year-old airplane cockpit.  There are slots, and buttons, and doors, and speakers, and lights, and all sorts of things crammed into the small surface area.  And that’s just the peripheral stuff.  The touch screen is where you have to do everything, and of course I can’t read it.  Because no one has a bank account anyway, you do not have to use an ATM card.  Just start pressing buttons.  There are 12 choices at first, but each choice leads down a rabbit hole of kanji, katakana, and hiragana choices, interspersed with Japanese keyboard touch screens and fields for personal contact info.  When I first had to use the ATM I asked a bank manager to help, but he stood there baffled, and finally just walked away (not very Japanese of him…).  The next person I asked not only couldn’t help me, but then couldn’t figure out how to do her own transaction!!  Whenever I go to the ATM, there is a line.  I can’t help but watch in shock and frustration as other Japanese people try in vain to deposit, or withdraw money.  NO ONE can figure these machines out!!  This is probably a main reason they don’t want to trust checks or credit cards, or online banking, or even NORMAL banking.  They just don’t want to complicate things even further! Well, I’m sorry to compare, but in my experience, there is an EASIER WAY!  Why do they have to make things so fucking roundabout and complicated? 

Oh, and in the end of paying for my $1300 plane tickets… after pressing all those buttons, and entering all sorts of info about me (all in Japanese)… it all boils down to the travel agents bank account and the deposit amount.  No verification.  No double-checking.  No safety whatsoever.  What if I entered the account wrong?!  There’s literally no accountability.  A stranger walks up to an ATM.  Puts cold hard cash into it.  Enters a bank account number to deposit it into, and their own information so the receiver knows who paid.  And that’s it.  If there is a mistake, the receiver can’t help.  The ATMs bank has no account to check.  Stupid! Stupid!! STUPID!!! Some more fun ATM facts: If you do choose to get a bank account (as I did for some reason), the only way to get money is from the ATM (because checks don’t exist)… which charges $2-5 each withdrawal!!!  You will also need your ATM card AND bank book which the ATM scans.  So where’s the convenience in that? Each bank is regional.  You cannot withdraw money from another banks ATM in any way.  The only bank that is national is not a bank, but the Japan Post Office.  So people who travel around Japan a lot DO tend to open a bank account with the post office… but I didn’t for some stupid reason.  So even in Tokyo, if I run out of money, I REALLY run out of money.  No backup plan!  So that’s one of the STUPID things about money in Japan.  There’s a LOT more to complain about regarding the yen, economy, shopping, inflation, and the missing competitive pricing market.  But I’ll rant about that another time.  I’m just pissed because I had to deal with the ATM again to buy my tickets to Singapore yesterday. 



Pool Cleaning

Yes, my elementary schools have pools.  And just like everything else, the kids are made to clean it.  Well, today I finished class with the cold-as-ice 2nd grade teacher and decided to check out what all the noise was at the pool.  Up until now the pool was a dirty, leaf-filled rusting empty basin.  But this time when I looked in I saw a sea of colored hats.  The students of elementary schools in Japan don’t have the sailor uniform most people associate with Japanese students.  They just wear a white shirt, blue Smurf-pants, white shoes, and their class hat.  Each class has its own color.  For instance, 5th graders wear orange hats.  They tend to be bright colors.  All the primary colors are represented. Anyway, the pool had been cleaned enough to show a brilliant blue background to these hats.  And the pool is big.  REALLY big for a dinky elementary school.  I was surprised.  The whole school was inside the pool.  Kids running around with brooms, and brushes and buckets full of leaves.  I swear, these kids are just being trained to be worker ants.  But I guess it saves a lot of money for the school board, and teaches the kids… something. 

Go Nensae Cleaning Pool


Oh, and welcome to my new blog!  Though I am still tweaking it, this address will remain the same, and I suspect I’ll be able to write pretty often.  It only makes sense to have one, since it seems everyone on the planet has one now (even my MOM!), and I probably have more of a reason to keep people updated than most.  


 So here it is.  Check back often, and learn about the weirdness that is JAPAN!!


My New City Rocks!!!

So I finally live in a city where shit happens.  My last city was about the same distance from Tokyo as Worcester is from Boston, and 2 states away (90 km).  Now I live in the next state over from Tokyo (which is a state, or prefecture technically, if you didn’t know).  My last city was full of old people and farmers.  This city still has plenty of farms, but it’s nothing but young people and families, and I can see club searchlights scanning the night sky.  Some people call it a bedroom community to Tokyo.  My old apartment building was filled with car mechanics and angry-looking men.  My new apartment seems to be full of 20-something’s and a fair share of hostesses and hosts (a uniquely Japanese phenomenon).  They all seem to be just waking up when I get home from school at 4pm, and at about 8 or 9pm they head out to their jobs where they get paid to talk to the opposite sex and refill customer drinks in hostess/host clubs (but are not prostitutes and ALWAYS go home alone).   I live right near my school so I ride my company-supplied bike to school through streets filled with kids.  I’m surrounded by schools.  At least 3 elementary schools, 2 junior high schools, and 2 high schools that I’ve noticed.  Because I taught at this same elementary school for a month last year, many of the kids who graduated to junior high school know me, so my ride to and from work is filled with shouts of “koo-dis sensae!” (”Mr. Chris”).  It’s a great place!  Not anything like Concord, but better than the Worchester my last city was like!   

I drove to Tokyo on the back roads to save on the expensive tolls, and it still took too long (over 2 hours), but if I were to take the toll roads it would be 50 minutes to anywhere in Tokyo.  And that’s just because I live 25 minutes from the nearest entrance ramp.  If I lived on the other side of this city I’d be 25 minutes from Tokyo via the expressway.   The prices here are a bit cheaper I think and the variety of import goods (booze is all I look for anyway) is WAY better than my last city.  My apartment itself is like apples and oranges from the last one.  My website shows pics and layout of my crappy old apartment.  This new one is bigger, brand new, has a loft, 12-foot-high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, a real bed, closets, and even a storage unit outside.  The only drawback is they managed to make the kitchen even smaller than my last, and gave it the shittiest electric burners ever.  It takes over 10 minutes to boil water for ramen!!  So I guess I won’t be cooking any huge feasts.  But because I live in the loft, the whole downstairs is free to entertain, so I can finally have company.  I was so excited I went out and bought some modern furniture and lamps to snaz it up.  I still won’t have internet until next week (probably when I send this out), but I’ll be getting the same over-internet-phone setup I had before (but not as good a per-minute rate) so I’ll be able to call abroad occasionally (and maybe even YOU!).   

The apt comes with a bilingual TV too, which is pretty fuckin’ cool.  I declined the offer of a TV in my last apt, and don’t regret it, but I have to admit Japanese TV is pretty amusing (think “Iron Chef” but 10 years later).  Not that I understand it 100%, but I do understand most of what’s going on, and of course with the bilingual function I can watch news and American movies in English.   My new job is 100 times better than the old one.  If I ever knew what I was missing, I would not have taken that last job.  It is a good company (and I still work for them on Tuesdays for extra cash), and the last job helped me learn SO much more than I would have at an easy job like this, but MAN this is SO much better!  My salary was a little more at the last job, but the way I worked things out with the extra classes and my car rental, my net take is now more anyway.  So not a bad step - better job; better location; easier work (mellow school, and good lesson plans are supplied for me, so I don’t have to create my own anymore); less hours (8-4, instead of my old 12-hour schedule); fewer classes (2-4 per day instead of the 6-10 I taught before); better house; longer vacations (2 months paid!!); and more money.  Shit, if it were IN Tokyo I’d sign a 3-year contract!   

Please read about my recent Thailand trip.  THAT was an amazing experience.  It was like a totally opposite culture from Japan as far as friendliness goes.  Except the really young kids in Japan (the ages I teach), Japanese people are just not friendly.  No one ever smiles or anything.  Maybe they’re just suspicious of me because I’m not Japanese, but I don’t think my smile is scary or anything, so when I smile to my neighbors and say hello (in Japanese) I’m consistently surprised that NO ONE responds with even a nod of recognition.  It’s like they all think they live in NYC! But Thailand!!!  Man that has got to be THE friendliest place on Earth!!  They are SO DAMNED charming!  My face hurt I was smiling so often.   Other than the people, I will admit it wasn’t so different from many of the other developing counties I’ve been to.  I didn’t go south to the beaches, so I missed a huge part of Southern Thai culture.  I stayed inland and to the North where I thought I’d find less touristy places (as if that exists ANYWHERE in Thailand…).  I didn’t see too many tourists and I didn’t find ANY resorts, so that’s good.  But the streets, architecture, rickshaws, clothes, markets, and most everyday things were somewhat reminiscent of Nepal, China, or Honduras (minus the rickshaws).  Chiang Mai, in particular was a LOT like Kathmandu.  But the people really make a country, so in that respect Thailand stood out from the rest.  If I didn’t have such a connection to Nepal I might even prefer Thailand (but Nepal is hard to top since it feels like home to me). 

  If you’re in Thailand next July, Ash, I might have to scrap my plans for Mongolia!  I may have developed an addiction to Thai smiles!   The Japanese girl, Kaz, I fell in love with… I mean, met… might have convinced me to teach in Thailand next.  She’s teaching Japanese at a university near Chiang Mai, and it seems like a decent deal.  I thought if anything I’d head to Hong Kong to teach English after Japan, but as cool a city as Hong Kong is, I think I’ll have had my fill of glitz and big money cultures.  Sheesh.  I feel like I want to go in every direction at the same time.  I’m not even THINKING of leaving Japan, but I can’t stop thinking of Nepal, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Berlin, China (YES, my most loathed country also has a peculiar allure), Singapore, going back to school, and of course continuing my travels so I can fall in love with yet more countries!!!  GOD, I’m scared my life isn’t long enough to do everything I want.  You know what I mean, Dhara!! 

  So that’s what’s up with me.  I’m really happy in the “here and now”, but don’t want to think about the long run because it’s just too big a future to wrap my tiny, little mind around.  OK, ok, ok.  I really do have all your old emails (and many others’) sitting here staring at me unanswered, and I feel guilty every time I open Outlook.  Now that I have so much free time at my new job (tons of sitting around time between classes, and 4 hours after lunch!!) I WILL get back to each and every one of you individually.  It will take WEEKS, but I will do it… and update my RTW travel stories from TWO YEARS AGO!!! …and so much more I hope.  …in time.