The way in which we return money is by wiring it home to our credit union. For the privilege, you pay 8,000 yen ($85) and get to park your fanny in the bank for 40 minutes or more. This was the 5th time in 6 years that we did this, though it actually has been about 2.3 years since the last time. Each time, the process changes a little. In fact, each time it has become more troublesome.
The last time we did this, we were quizzed a little about why we were sending the money back. This time, we were interviewed extensively about:
- where the money came from
- why the money was being sent back
- who the money was paid to
- our relationship and history with the bank we were sending the money to
They also asked to riffle through the history of transfers we just so happened to bring with us. That is, they wanted to look at the 4 previous wire transfers documentation. This was weird because they have copies of all of those papers, too, but we gamely went along with it. Even after seeing that every other time we wired the money it was to the exact same account and the exact same bank, they kept scrutinizing the information as if there were something missing.
After much fussing and questioning, we were sent off to sit and wait. No doubt they were performing forensic tests on microscopic residue we had left on the documents or some such. It's interesting to note that we don't have a Japanese ink stamp (hanko) and we were chastised for this when I couldn't recall precisely how I signed my name when I opend my account about 15 years ago. The bank lady said that you don't have to worry about remembering how you signed your name if you have a hanko. We didn't want to sass her, but after we retreated to the waiting area, I mentioned to the CH that, while I couldn't recall precisely how I signed my name, at least no one could steal my signature like they could a hanko. Also, only in Japan am I forced to sign my name different ways. In the U.S., I can sign (first name + last name) all the time so I don't have to remember how I did it as I always do it the same way. In Japan, they keep forcing me to write it in various permutations of (last + first)or (last + first + middle) or (first + middle + last).
At any rate, as we sat there, we noticed a few things. For one, the door to the safe, which is about a foot thick and has one of those big wheel handles you always see in safe cracker scense in movies, was hanging wide open with notices for the staff attached to it with magnets. The fact that this is the area where things are supposed to be secured for their bank patrons and it's just left hanging wide open as an ad hoc notice board doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their security. The other thing we noticed was that all of the women had to wear ugly grey polyester suits with fuschia blouses while the men were just wearing regular suits. Also, the women were in the front and had to deal with customers and the men were all in the back. I'm guessing the men spend their valuable time frowning at important paperwork.
The reason for all of the scrutiny and interrogating is that the banks have to comply with (police's? government'?) requests to keep an eye open for potential money launderers. I've read that this applies if you send back more than the equivalent of 5,000,000 yen or more, though I've heard that some people have been grilled for sending back as little as 10,000 yen when they've attempted to do it through the post office. I can't say for sure, but the banks can't really help having to put you through so much as it's not really their choice. Also, it's not personal nor does it apply to foreigners only, though foreigners are more likely to be affected by it since few Japanese are wiring money to foreign banks.
My advice if you want to send money home is to make sure you print e-statements from the bank you're wiring your money to if you don't have an old-fashioned passbook. Also, take your working contract, business card, or a pay statement that proves your relationship with your company. You also have to have your gaijin card. If you're married and operating from an account with your spouse's name on it, then you also need to take your spouse along. This time we were lucky that the CH just happened to take a folder with some extra documents which they accepted as sufficient proof our our relationship with our credit union. I don't expect that we'll be sending money again any time soon as we pretty much tapped ourselves out this time, but I'm going to go a bit better armed next time.