We fought and we won: How we (finally) got a Japanese credit card

Posted by in Mike's blog

This post signifies a MAJOR victory in a battle we’ve been fighting since our first week in Japan:  We are now the proud owners of a bona fide Japanese credit card!

Way back in the day when the Bunny rode around Fukui in a stroller, we took her to the main post office branch in the middle of the city on our initial quest to get a credit card.  We aren’t fans of spending money we don’t have, but in our first week here alone we ran into the beginning of a growing list of things that we couldn’t do without a card.  When we went to that post office with the Bunny in her stroller we sat for what felt like HOURS (in reality, only two of them) while a nice post bank lady tried to explain the application process to us.  She walked us through paperwork, step by step, and at the end we even got a free hand towel.  This was attempt number one.

While we waited for our card to come in the mail, we encountered some frustrations:

ARGH! #1: When we wanted to shop online, we needed to either use our Canadian card (with Canadian dollars) and pay to exchange them into yen or (when possible, not always), go to a convenience store to pay in cash.

ARGH! #2: When we ran out of cash, we had to go to the bank.  At the time, we had to walk.  We hadn’t yet figured out how to use convenience store ATMs (they cost ¥105-¥210 per use), so we walked 1500m to our nearest Fukui bank.  This wasn’t always a happy walk.

ARGH! #3: We needed to use a credit card to pay for part of our monthly internet bill.  We had to draw from our Canadian account…but sending money to Canada is a pain.  Also, currency exchange fees add up.

Finally, we got an envelope in the mail from the bank!  There was no card in the envelope.  There was a letter in the envelope.  The letter was in Japanese.  It took a few days, but Mary’s supervisor translated it for us.  Her translation: “You can’t make a card”.  Mary inquired further.  She said “because you can’t”.  We got someone else to look at the letter…and there really was no explanation.

We began attempt number two at Fukui bank.  We got most of the way through an application form with a banker, but we got stuck.  We tried to enlist Mary’s supervisor to help us finish it – she didn’t want to.

We gave up for a little while, and categorized the credit card thing as a luxury that would be nice…maybe…someday…  The 90% completed Fukui bank application form sat in a paper pile for almost a year.

ARGH! #4: Tried to use PayPal.  PayPal was angered by our move to Japan and shut down for us until we either moved back to Canada or…got a Japanese credit card.

Then we got a car.

We wanted to go places.  We wanted to go to far away places.  In Japan, all highways are toll roads.  We were shocked to discover that the tolls could be rather expensive – we paid ¥5000 to drive 250km last summer on a highway.  It hurt.  We paid again to go home.  There had to be a better way!

There is.  It’s called an ETC (express toll collection) card.  With it, we could pay less on highway tolls at all times, and much less (half!) at odd hours.  The catch was…

ARGH! #5: ETC cards require credit cards.  (There’s a way around this, but it’s painful and expensive).

ETC cards need to be used in conjunction with fancy transponders.  Our car came with one!  All we needed was that elusive credit card.

Almost a year had passed since our first attempt, so we tried again at Fukui bank.  This time we brought a Japanese friend to help with translation and advocacy.  The bankers insisted that the application form had to be written in kanji (Chinese characters that we don’t understand), so she helped us write on the application form.  When the bankers saw someone who was not the application writing on the application form…they cancelled our application.  This was attempt number three.

We thought of a bold, new strategy.  If we snagged an application form and completed it with our Japanese advocate somewhere else (NOT the bank), we could send it in the mail and no banker would be wise to our inability to master calligraphy in a 12 month period.  We put our new plan into action.  This was attempt number four.

Finally, we got an envelope in the mail from the bank!  There was no card in the envelope.  There was a letter in the envelope.  The letter was in Japanese.  After translation, it was remarkably similar to attempt number one.  Our Japanese advocate called the bank on our behalf to further inquire…and they didn’t have a reason for denying us.  It wasn’t about income.  There was something that they didn’t seem to want to say…

ARGH #6: I’ll say it.  We’re foreigners.

Later, I came across an interesting article on Surviving in Japan called HOW TO: Apply for a credit card in Japan that presented a radical new idea: Online application forms.  I could completely bypass the kanji problem with Google Translate.  There would also be no bank employee to see how white we are and start the prejudice train (though our last name kind of stands out).  I spent an evening looking around kakaku.com for something that sounded fun (airline points?  sure!  RFID chip that can be used to board trains throughout the country?  May as well!  Comes with an ETC card?  VERY YES).  I filled out the application using the SiJ guide as a reference.  This was attempt number five.

Finally, we got an envelope in the mail from the bank!  There was no card in the envelope.  There was a letter in the envelope.  The letter was in Japanese.  THIS TIME, the letter wasn’t a veiled attempt at saying “we don’t trust foreigners”.  It wanted us to confirm some information and stamp things.  More of these envelopes came and went, until today.

Today is different.  After 5 attempts over 2 years…

Today we got an envelope WITH A CARD IN IT.