While living in Japan it is important to learn how to use the various banking services. The Japanese word for “bank” is ginkou, however, most Japanese understand the term “bank.” There are three major banks in Japan: “Tokyo-Mitsubishi-UFJ,” “Sumitomo-Mitsui” and “Mizuho.”
To convert foreign currency to yen, follow the signs to a kawase or gaika ryougae (money exchange counter), and take a number from the automated dispenser. When it is your turn, your number will be displayed on an electronic signboard, and called out loud.
The word for bank note, or bill, is shihei or satsu. Japan uses four different bank notes: sen en (one thousand yen), ni-sen en (two-thousand yen, which is rarely used nowadays), go-sen en (five thousand yen) and ichi-man en (ten thousand yen). Japan also uses six different coins: they are ichi en (one yen), go en (five yen), juu en (ten yen), go-juu en (fifty yen), hyaku en (one hundred yen) and go-hyaku en (five hundred yen).
Learning how to count money properly is also important – 1, 000 yen is not issen en, but sen en, 10,000 yen is not pronounced juu sen en, but ichi-man en.
The method of opening a kouza (your account) differs from bank to bank. The kouza-mei (the account holder’s name) is usually registered in kanji, but for non-Japanese it can be in either katakana or English. In Japan a hanko, or inkan (personal seal/stamp) is generally necessary, but for non-Japanese people many banks will accept your signature instead.
Katakana is Japanese script based on foreign word sounds, and does have its limitations. For instance, in Japan there is no such word as “victor,” because there is no ‘v’ sound in Japanese, so it may be written as “ヴィクター,” or “ビクター.” There are no official katakana rules, so you can choose your own spelling.
You can access your account in person, or more likely by using your bank card at an ATM. If you want to withdraw money from your overseas account, or get a cash advance on your credit card, places are usually limited to post offices and 7-ELEVEN convenience store ATMs. Also, some overseas credit cards are not accepted in Japan, so remember to check beforehand.
When receiving money from overseas in the form of a money-order, expect banks to charge a fee of roughly 5,000 yen per transaction. For instance, if you have a money-order valued at 10,000 yen, after paying the fee, you will only receive 5,000 yen, so it is best to get money sent from overseas in a lump sum, or check Japan’s post offices, where the fees tend to be less.