February 20, 2006

Banks in Japan Suck

Guide books all warn you about the poor state of medical training and to avoid unnecessary visits to the doctor (which I really haven't experienced personally too many issues - but I have heard from friends and read news) --- but as guidebooks are tourist orientated they don't mention that banking systems are extraordinarily shiot for any long term resident - hell they suck even for visitors who deign to try and cash a travellers check.

Japan has a long history of thinly veilled trust of anyone. Blame the Shinobi and overpowered governmental and religious leaders. I already knew that the during the Edo period, the Shogun kept a Daimyo's family at the Edo palace as glorified hostages to prevenmt rebellions - its pretty risky to start a rebellion when your entire family is behind six or seven walls each with their own set of armed guards who are just as much keeping them in as keeping others out. At least the shogun might let the family home every few years - but you have to walk. Not very nice if you live East of Hiroshima or in Hokkaido (I suspect there wasn't a bridge at that stage). But I've learnt some other interesting new factors of mistrust that were rooted in your good ol' "smile nicely and act cordially, but if he looks shifty cut-off his head and murder his family to prevent vengeance or just the stench of his seed infecting the world" ancient Japan. Thanks to Tamori's Japonica Logos.

1) Japanese Samurai's would bow in another master's house with their hands positioned on the floor to prevent their nose being broken. If your hands are positioned poorly the master of the house's servants could push your head to the ground and break your nose/knock you out and decapitate you before you realised nobody had put the teapot on yet.
The hand positioning is still the official 'traditional' way to bow to someone. How nice. Your bowing correctly, I guess I won't try and break your face after all.
As I recall you make a diamond on the floor with your hands. Raise your index and tall fingers slightly to create a spring/cushion warning device. When you bow, position your nose/face to fit in the diamond.

2) When greeting each other samurai would shake hands. In Europe a tradional right handed shake was performed to show you weren't going to use your sword-arm. The four armed shake also existed to display even more trust (and make sure that hand stayed with yours). In Japan not only were all four hands used - it was well known how useful ambidexterity was - plus I think the use of martial arts to dismiss anothers hand was also probably common. So instead of a simple clasp a nice box was made. You clasped your own right wrist to show that you weren't about to reach over to your left side where your katana was, and to be sure if your opponent (oh, I mean old friend who you haven't seen in a while) tried any funnny shit your hand would still be in the right place.

At least this one isn't done any more.

3) When presenting a cushion to a friend joining you for sake (after they've bowed and eluded your attempt to crush their face on your tatami mat) you must do so in a way to not only show you aren't hiding a shiv or kuni or other sharp stabbing implement hidden in its folds but also so that if you've accidentally let it there from the last guest your visitor gets an easier grasp on it than you and you can all safely laugh about it later.

So next time your homestay parent is fluffing those cushion - know that you are actually meant to be paying attention that you don't see the tell tale glean of a knife in there.

4) The other interesting fact was that Tatami Mats used to be dedigned to the exact right height and thickness to provide a man with a shield against bow fire. One of the more famous proponents of this alternate use of teh floor covering (if I understood the Japanese VTR properly) met his demise when someone invaded his home with a musket. Apparently tatami was not bulletproof.

So what does this have to do with banks.

Well you just don't trust other fuckers with anything in Japan. As such banks have tailored themselves towards people who HAD to use them --- namely rich merchants, and foreign business. As such they have no time, money, or anything other than simple conviniences and standard politeness for your average Joe (or Kenji).
Interest rates are non-existent. Fees are exhorborent on anything. Waits are long. And people seem extremely irritated to do something relatively simple like a cash a cheque. Or take money, or put money in your account (please use the ATM*). OR open past freaking 3pm for a person teller, or 9/9:30 for the ATM. They may even refuse you from 7/11s 24hr ATM outside working hours, or on holidays. Really, until I was told banks close at three I was starting to really wonder why they had ATMs (except so that tellers could tell you to stop harrassing them and please use them instead).

They gave me lots of shit whenever I tried to cash Travellers cheques. And charged me about $30 each time I did that. They charged me about $80 to telegraph money home (I've switched to the post office who charges 20 bucks, plus $5 that gets lost in currency conversion)

Now I got three cheques from my Aunt, Grandma and Father for my birthday. I was filled with dread the moment I saw them. Even worse, not knocking my relatives, I wasn't expecting more, but they are for relatively small amounts - about $25, 50, 100 each.
My bank said it will cost $25 to cash the checks, each. Meaning their respective values are 0, 25, 75 or roughly half what they should be. So he suggests I take them to , the bank they are for. They tell me its not only $25 to cash them but $8 more to ship the money from Tokyo branch, where my cheques are for. This is ridiculous for it to be more epensive at the bank of the check than at other banks (I tried a third bank who also said it was $25 there).
That's not to say the whole thing isn't fucking ridiculous that Bank of Canada let my Aunt write a check for an amount that won't get out because the fucking banking system in Japan decides to take it all in tax and fees. It's pathetic and stupid and extremely, extremely frustrating.

What's Japan's solution to banks sucking. Keep your money (say over ¥60,000,000) in a shoebox in your closet so your bitter ex-girlfriend and her jobless mates can steal and ditch it in a canal in Saitama (but at least your not dealing with gormless banks).

So next time your complaining about banks genrally fucking sucking about your country - at least your not stuck in fucking Japan where the post office is actually a better financial instution than all the banks freaking combined.

*ATMs in Japan do kick ass. They do plenty of stuff, deposits, statements, withdrawls, transfers, and at least 5 other functions I can't understand yet. But they are fee heavy. And as at home, using another banks, or the convinience store's ATM costs a fee.



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