A Japanese banking adventure

What confusion at Sumitomo Bank, which is currently called Mitsui Sumitomo Bank (SMBC) after a zillion bank mergers.

Anyway, it was the only bank account I have where I didn’t have online banking, so I figured I should get an online account so at least I can check my balances without going over to an ATM. That’s the main bank where bills are auto-deducted from, like credit card payments and utilities.

First I tried to create an online account, well, online. But the online system said my birth date was not registered at the bank, so I had to do it by postal mail.

Note: My account was created over 30 years ago, and at that time you just walked in, told them your name and they created an account for you. You didn’t even have to show ID.

So I printed off the forms and sent them in with a photocopy of my driver’s license.

A couple of days later I got a phone call from them saying they had trouble creating the online account because:

1. The name on my ID was in romaji (Roman letters) and the name on my account was in katakana (one of the two Japanese phonetic character sets).

2. The inkan (personal seal) on my registered account was different from the one on the form I sent in.

The first issue was most confusing because when I first came to Japan I didn’t realize that family names and given names were written in reverse order from the U.S. (I really didn’t know anything at all about Japan when I first came here.) So I had written my name at the bank as the equivalent of “Douglas Lerner,” but in katakana. However, my driver’s license has my name written in romaji as “Lerner Douglas Michael.”

The inkan problem was just that my old inkan wore down and was hard to read, so about 15 years ago I got a new one.

Anyway, I needed some official ID in Japanese, with my name in the order I had at the bank, and also written in katakana. My driver’s license and residency card weren’t going to do.

Fortunately, when I first came to Japan, they were as lacking in formality about creating national health insurance cards, and my name on my health insurance card was also written in katakana, in the same order as at the bank. Since health insurance cards are a common form of ID here, the bank was ok with that.

Also, it turned out I hadn’t updated my address in 30 years.

So a badzillion forms later to update my address, inkan, birth date and other various forms (Japan loves forms), I walked out with a new passbook (I hadn’t used my old one since Showa 12, 15 years ago), my address and phone updated, and a new online account, including one of those password devices that change your passcode once every minute. Plus, since I met certain conditions, I can now use convenience store ATMs, like at 7/11 free up to 4 times a month.

I guess it’s probably a good idea to update your bank information every 30 years or so.


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