Being gaijin in Japan

Today something strange happened: for the first time in more than 3 years I have been here in Japan I was treated not like a Gaijin that wants to rob, steal, or cheat, but like someone that might have serious intentions to remain here.

All of those foreigners who have lived in Japan, or at least all of those I know, have had very similar experiences. I just want to mention one, which makes clear what it means to be a Gaijin (Foreigner) in Japan.

I was here a few month, my contract at the university was (and is) Associate Professor. Due to a lot of travels abroad, conferences etc, I needed a credit card.

So I asked the representative of the Hokkoku Ginko (北國銀行) which normally is somewhere around JAIST to visit my office, and asked our secretary to translate. I explained my situation to the clerk, and without a second of hesitation I was told: “We don’t give credit cards to foreigners.”

Japanese bank clerk to Associate Professor at a state founded university: “We don’t give credit cards to foreigners”

My reaction to this was also quite quick, without much hesitation: “Then I don’t need your service anymore!”. At that point our secretary took over and calmed down the situation, and finally she found a different way for me to get a credit card from a different bank.

Anyway, this episode tells quite clearly how foreigners are treated in Japan with respect to money, or trust.

Now for the positive part: Today I went to sign a contract for a new flat, actually Maisonette, two floors etc. And I was surprised that after a background check of my work circumstances, the respective company accepted to get payments via bank transfer (instead of the usually required additional credit card I didn’t need), and even more surpisingly, didn’t need the income statement of guarantor (a backup person who guarantees to pay the fees in case I decide to stop paying, something absolutely necessary in Japan. I only ask myself how I will do that when I am 60 and still moving house?).

There is this small amount of happyness – but honestly, it is spoiled by one fact: Maybe all this happened only because now I am married to a Japanese, and in case I wouldn’t the same procedure and the same pain did wait for me.

Anyway, whatever the reason is, it made me a bit happy, and looking forward to our new living space!

8 Responses

  1. casey says:

    I had a similar experience of being denied a credit card recently. After receiving the rejection slip in the mail, I called the credit card company to ask why I had been denied. After all, I have a stable job, permanent residency, etc. etc. They said the reason was because I had no credit history in Japan. Well, how can we establish credit history if nobody will give us a credit card??? Anyway, the I had no problem getting a loan for our house, so I don’t know what the standards are.

  2. Masumi says:

    日本はもっともっと開かれた社会でなければ、と思います。
    ノルベルトさんの指摘には、いつも「はっ」とさせられます。ありがとうございます。

    そして人種を超えて信頼しあえる日本人もいることを、どうぞ忘れないでいてくださいね。
    国境は関係ありません。

    • コメントを有難うございます。忘れませんよ!原理的に国境の関係がないのに、実際に日本にだけじゃなくて、どこでもあります。

  3. Mattia says:

    My lessor told me specifically that having a Japanese national in my family (i.e. if not me, my wife) would have saved me from having to get an external guarantor – we are both Italian.
    That said I never had problems with credit cards and I hear there are definitely some foreign-frendlier banks than others.
    And on the topic though, Italy is not so different from here in many cases.
    I guess what makes it weird here is the mix of lower thrust in foreigners (which is unavoidable imo) and medieval habits (like key-money or this guarantor thing which turns out to be a life insurance with a third party beneficiary… in fact I can get discounted health check-ups now that I have a guatantor (*_*) ).

    • Hi Mattia, thanks for your comment. Yes, sure enough, there are banks that are more reasonable. Maybe I am too much used to this super-local Ishikawa bank (in total they have about 5 or so offices outside of Ishikawa).
      The guarantor thing is really a pain. This time of course my wife’s family. But I ask myself, what happens if we decide to rent a new house at the age of 60 … whom should we ask for guarantee?
      Now, the health check, that is something I have to invest 😉

  4. Mattia says:

    – you can use a so called guarantor companies (what I have now[1]) or
    – you can be a permanent resident by that time
    these are the options I know of. I’m also guessing that if you’re retired and have a Japanese pension (let’s not get into how unlikely the previous sentence is) things may be different for a landlord or lessor/intermediary company.

    I also discovered that intermediary companies tend to be a pain to deal with. Talking to owners directly is much easier and open to friendly outcomes. Intermediaries make a point about not “disturbing” owners with silly questions from potential lessees and they are unsurprisingly strict.

    Last, I think things are slowly changing, at least in Tokyo: more and more places (compared to 5 years ago) don’t require key-money and/or give you a free month rent if they still want key-money.

  5. Ref says:

    I assume it was a VISA card you were applying for? Report the bank’s policy to VISA headquarters in the USA. See if you can’t apply a little gaiatsu.

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