Don’t Bank On It

Opinions - May 2nd, 2008
Ian de Stains

Ian de Stains, OBE is the Executive 
Director of the BCCJ

Japan’s banking system fails to impress

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a fan of Japan. Three decades of living here has not dulled the excitement I feel when I wake up to the first cherries of spring, nor the wrench in the gut whenever the earth begins to tremble. But I have a confession to make. There is one thing about Japan that drives me almost to the point of despair: the banking system.

When so much about Japan impresses with its efficiency, why is it that doing the simplest of tasks, such as paying a bill, becomes a feat of Herculean proportions? Try to do something slightly more complex and you are met with systematic barriers that are feudal in their impenetrability.

I recently tried to open a new account for a professional group with which I’m associated, in a bank at which I’ve had a personal account for years (and which also provides my housing loan). It took over an hour and involved a series of increasingly frustrated conversations with increasingly senior members of the bank staff before they would even accept the application form. Twenty minutes later the form was rejected because I had written by name as Ian de Stains when my gaijin registration card has it as de Stains Ian. Clearly not the same individual.

The same curious logic was at work when I came to renew a credit card that I’ve had for many years. I could be either Iande Stains or Ian deStains because the computer would not allow more than one space in a person’s name. When the card was finally issued my name appeared as Yando Sutanesu. I cancelled it.

In retrospect, this may appear to be no more than a slight irritation; I could even imagine fash­ioning a comedy out of it. But there is more to it than that. This is a country that claims to have seri­ous ambitions; the powers that be have said their intention is to make Tokyo an international financial centre to rival London and New York. And that, of course is where the real comedy begins.