Banking in Japan without bankbooks

Posted by in Mike's blog

I discovered a new app called Moneytree a few months ago, and in the past few days I finally got it set up the way I like.  Now I can bank like it’s 1999 again (as opposed to 1989)!  This isn’t a sponsored post…I just really really enjoy the way this app has made our lives easier.

A bit about banking

As much as I’d like to be an expert on different countries’ financial systems (OK, not really), I’m not.  What I know is what I and other normal people experience as users/clients/customers of banks.

ATMs in Japan are fantastic machines.  I haven’t seen one without a touchscreen yet.  We use them to do all of our basic banking transactions, including depositing change (!), as well as to transfer funds (furikomi 振込).  We can even use them to send money overseas to our Canadian account by sending a furikomi through an overseas remittance service (we use GoRemit, formerly GoLloyds).

In Canada, I have distant memories of banking before the internet.  I remember chequebooks (I still have one…and I brought it to Japan for some reason), I remember bankbooks, and I remember collecting change and rolling it up before I was able to deposit it.  In Japan, bankbooks (also called passbooks, or 通帳) are still very much alive and well.  From what I understand…they are the NORM.  We used them religiously for 3 years.  We hadn’t set up any form of online banking because we were afraid of the big bad kanji involved.  It’s one thing to use Google translate to try to understand how to use appliances, it’s another thing when large sums of money are involved.

The only way for us to understand the activity going on in our accounts was to go to the bank and update our bankbooks, which we can also do at the ATM.  This was inconvenient.  It needed to change.

Internet banking: Yes, it’s possible

We have accounts at Fukui Bank and the Japan Post Bank.  After we had been here for a while we learned that we could do our banking online (in Japanese) if we could get through the setup process.  Both banks required us to apply for mail to be sent to our house with temporary passwords.

The Fukui Bank process was pretty easy after some troubleshooting.  Here’s the application page for Fukui Bank.  We ran into an error, but thankfully there’s a page that lists Fukui Bank’s “error codes”.  Our error involved the phone number that the bank had on file – it turned out that when Mary’s supervisor at her former school helped her set up the bank account, she used the school’s phone number!  A couple of days later, a postcard arrived from the bank and we were able to access our account on the Fukui Bank website after creating entering a few different passwords – but everything was still in Japanese, of course.

Japan Post Bank’s setup process was a little more involved, but doable.  Here’s the application page for the Post Bank.  We had to use the bank’s website to create a temporary password, generate a PDF, print it, stamp it, and put it in the mail.  Several days later we received an envelope full of papers, one of which had a login number to be matched with our temporary password.  This initiated a long process with several different passwords (none of which allowed more than 12 characters for some reason) before we could see our money on the internet.  Still in Japanese, of course.

The Moneytree app lets us see our money in English

Internet banking had the potential to make our lives slightly easier, but Moneytree was the change that we needed.  I can see my money from my phone.  Also, it’s in ENGLISH.  Transactions are still in Japanese, but they are handily converted to katakana, which we can read, and the app has little pictures to depict types of transactions – trains, highway tolls, everything.  Our power bill gets a little lighting bolt icon.  The app supports big banks (like the Post Bank) as well as small, rural banks like our very own Fukui Bank.  It works with our credit card – which isn’t tied to either of the banks that we use, and it does point cards for people who are really into those.

Setting up internet banking was really only for Moneytree.  We have little interest in using Japanese bank websites.  They are ugly and sluggish.  We might use the Post Bank website to transfer funds someday, maybe.

Gone are the days when we packed the kids in the car and drove to the bank just to check our account balances.  We are finally free from bankbooks!