Banking in Japan: Where to Go, What to Do

So you’ve just made the big move to Japan and now you’re working on acquiring the basic necessities needed to survive, which are—in no particular order—finding work, obtaining a phone plan, seeking a roof over your head and setting up a bank account.

As you’ll soon find out, one crucial difference between Japanese banks and others is that in Japan, they rarely seem keen on selling you something; if anything, they give you far fewer options than a bank in, say, North America might. Whereas western banks are about pushing sales and trying to get customers to sign up for as many cards and accounts as possible, Japanese banks are, at least with foreign clients, simply banks. Isn’t that nice?

For visual purposes, we have included a YouTube video by Kev in Japan detailing the initial banking process, as well as using an ATM afterwards. If you’d like to have this information handy in a text format, just continue reading!


What You Need

Now, which banks are available to you depend on your visa type and current living situation. Even if you’re technically a resident, most banks will refuse you if the period of stay on your card is less than a year. If you’re on a working holiday visa as a Canadian citizen or some other country with similar processes and restrictions, your period of stay will likely say six months, which unfortunately bars you from known “gaijin-friendly” banks such as Shinsei and Citi. Otherwise, if you’re on a work permit or spousal visa or something with a minimum of one year, various banks such as Mizuho, SMBC or MUFG are all possibilities.

Now, the best option available to you if your initial period of stay is for less than one year is Japan Post Bank Co., Ltd., typically referred to as Yū-cho (ゆうちょ)* by Japanese speakers. Of course, you can use this bank even if you’re on a different visa; you just have other options available.

*not every JP Post Office includes bank functions, so you should look for the following sign, both the color and the text:

Though a great banking option, one should be aware that if limited by a shorter period of stay, you’ll likely only be able to open a fairly basic account with some restrictions for the first 6 months. These restrictions include being unable to make wire transfers or inter-bank transfers. The account is restricted to withdrawals and deposits. Still, any employer or company should have no trouble directly depositing into your account. One thing, however, is that you’ll probably need to pay rent and other similar bills by cash at your local konbini or any other necessary office.

With that disclaimer out of the way, a major plus-side to JP Post Bank is that once the 6-month restriction period is lifted (or if it was never imposed upon you in the first place), is the ability to transfer funds between other JP Post accounts for free.

Furthermore, there is no cost to opening an account with JP Post, and this is also usually the case with other Japanese banks, though unlike JP Post, others usually require at least a mere ¥100 to be deposited into the account upon opening.

Opening the Account

Another thing Japanese banks do that other countries don’t, at least not anymore, is give you a passbook. What this is, is a fancy little booklet with a cover you can usually pick yourself from a few available options. Nice personal touch, don’t you think? Now what’s great about a passbook is that it’s a physical hardcopy of your bank details! So if you’ve yet to acquire a smartphone or internet at home, you needn’t rely on a website for your account number and transaction history.

What’s more, is the passbook can be automatically updated at any ATM, and used for transactions in place of a cash (debit) card; as the card can take up to a week to receive in the mail after opening an account. Also, if you haven’t visited the ATM in a while, it will automatically flip the pages on your passbook for you to update information!

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