Banking in Japan

No wonder there’s a banking crisis. Step inside the branch of a Japanese bank and time stops. Staffed with teeming legions behind all manner of countertops and desks, the placid soul who comes in for a simple transaction is still required to take a number, sit and wait to be summoned, sit and explain their desire, go back and sit down, wait to be re-summoned, and return to sit and finalise the transaction. You’d think that with so many staff each customer would be whisked in and out faster than a sumo wrestler slap down.
I recently opened a savings account with Tokai bank near the dormitory. You would expect them to be used to dealing with Gaijins. I filled out all necessary forms using the standard English alphabet. Inexplicably, when my bankbook was issued to me, my first name appeared normally but my family name was written in katakana.
The next time I went in, I filled out the appropriate paperwork using all English alphabet characters again. The perplexed clerk wouldn’t do anything since I hadn’t written my last name to match the bankbook. She asked me to re-write it in katakana and when I said I couldn’t, she said that the writing had to exactly match the book. My money was held hostage until I learned to write properly!
I called the manager over and he apologised for his bank’s lack of globalisation. Unamused, I asked if a bank employee could write my name for me in katakana. He responded that his staff was not allowed to write on behalf of customers. How then did my name get converted to katakana for my account, I asked. After much sucking of teeth and pondering the prospects of a possibly belligerent gaijin causing irritation to the smooth personalised service that other bank customers were receiving, the manager agreed to “take the risk” and write my name in katakana for me. I asked what “risk” there might be, since he had verified my signature, confirmed my identity with my alien registration card, and compared my photo with the “wanted people” police poster behind the counter.
With cash in hand, I marched out between the two uniformed guards who bowed and shouted arigato.
Outside, I went to get on my bike, which had been thoughtfully moved by another uniformed guard so that its front wheel nestled in next to the other similarly parked bikes. He had moved each of at least 300 bikes parked along the street so that they all were positioned alike. A new Olympic sport, synchronised bike parking? Once I rode off, he began to reposition all of the 176 bikes to my left in order to close the gap.
I went to have a beer.

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