May 6, 2019
I was recently asked by a company that I work for to open a new bank account at a bank I've never used before so that they could pay me. This isn't a strange practice in Japan as I've had to open 2 accounts previously for the same reasons. The problems though are many. 1) My Japanese ability is lacking, so doing all this formal paperwork on my own is naturally anxiety-inducing. 2) My husband has few days off and little control over when they occur, so getting his help in a timely fashion is not a given.
How many bankbooks can you have? And how many times is my married name written in Kanji?
Luckily for me, in this case, my husband had a day off that week, so we went into said bank and started the process. My husband asked if he could fill out the forms for me and the teller insisted that I as an adult woman must know all the kanji of my address by heart.
I don't. I really don't. Every once in a while I study up and memorize it again but when I stop writing postcards or supermarket raffle entries for more than a couple of weeks, the information wears away, replaced with dates of my kid's school's special requests, and what those requests are, and the correct order in which to organize my home, and so many more seemingly important bits of information.
The worst one is 城, the "gi" in Miyagi 宮城. I freaking hate this kanji and have never drawn it well. I have tried to memorize it SO MANY TIMES and still I stumble through.
In the bank, I pulled out my Gaijin card and started copying our address, a home just two blocks from the bank's location. We give that form to the woman and receive two more on account of my being American. Now, unlike ten years ago when I last opened an account, Americans living abroad are required to allow their banks to share data with the US government so that the government can excise more tax if our holdings are beyond the 50,000 dollar mark. This had gummed up the works for many expat retirees and those working toward that end, but is unlikely to be of a concern to me for some time. My biggest issue was that the form demanded a Tax ID that I had to google. If you're in this position and you're an American citizen, you can use your social security number.
Then came a form telling me in English that before I leave the country I had better shut down this bank account or I would be in trouble. I didn't laugh, but I wanted to. My name is already on my husband's family grave stone. I'm not going anywhere. When I leave Japan for good, my next of kin is the most likely person to be shutting down this account.
We turned in the forms and I was told that, since the name on my Gaijin card does not contain kanji, my bank card also could not so I had to rewrite the whole form, which I did and signed where it said "signature" which turned out to be another mistake. Despite my having a hanko stamp, they wanted my "signature" but by that word apparently they meant "mechanically print your name exactly as it appears on your ID" which to me says little for security. Anyone can print a name on a form, assuming they can write in print. My 5-year-old could do this for me.
That said, I know they don't always get "signature" but then why use that word on the form in English at all, since it is obviously not what they mean by any stretch of the imagination. They mean "signature stamp or print your name in block letters" but who would go through the trouble of being accurate?
So I started printing and got the forms back again, because my writing of was still utterly failing to convince them of my whereabouts. All this time, from form to form to form, my husband was getting more aggressively frustrated, and I was was feeling a mix of that, shame, and anxiety over not being able to perform perfectly. What kind of a woman can't perfectly reproduce the kanji of the prefecture where she has been living for nearly a decade? Me. That's who. I write novels. I keep my English up. I keep my family's English ability up and that all comes at the cost of my Japanese.
After getting so flustered as to not be able to even write the name of our city correctly, I sat down with my husband and explained that his outbursts of anger were only making me panic more, which was only making this process harder. He got the drift pretty quickly and started trying to keep himself calm as we went back to the desk to ask for yet another copy of the form, at which point the teller allowed my husband to fill in the remainder of the things I had already messed up too many times to count.
So when you start a bank account, it pays to have an address you can write easily and a hanko stamp. Whatever you do, do not actually sign a form in cursive.
A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.