I just had a humbling experience at the bank.

As you may or may not know, I’m a rather independent person. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I used to take lots of things apart when I was young, just so I could see how they worked and put them back together. I like not having to rely on other people’s help to fix things, or get stuff done, you know?

In fact, part of my motivation for coming to Japan was that it would force me out of my comfort zone- because I knew I wouldn’t understand Japanese life, I knew I would be “off balance” and have to figure many things out anew. When I first arrived, I quickly discovered that you can’t have pride if you don’t understand your surroundings; you need to be willing to ask for help and rely on the kindness of strangers.

After living here for almost a year and a half though, you get into the routine of daily life, and it’s easy to forget the helplessness that was at first a daily experience.

Anyway, I recently completed the registration process for a GoLloyd’s account. It’s commonly recognized as the cheapest way to send money home, but I’d put off the signup process for a long time because it involves mailing copies of your passport and alien registration card to their headquarters in Tokyo with your application form. With the welcome packet, I received general instructions on how to transfer money using GoLloyd’s, and some pertinent terms in Japanese. Armed with their instructions and list of kanji, I went to my local bank to use an ATM to send some money, and quickly realized I was in over my head.

Japanese ATMs are wondrous pieces of machinery (one of which is pictured above), allowing you to complete all manner of transactions, including the inter-bank transfer I needed to do. Unfortunately, only a few ATMs have English menus, and only for basic functions. I fuddled my way around the menu system for a few minutes and got about halfway through the process while a bank employee stood about eight feet behind me, waiting to see if I needed help. I eventually gave up and tried to ask her, but ended up at a teller window after a brief wait in line. The teller then walked me back to the lobby attendant and asked her to help me do the transfer using the ATM. All semblance of self-reliance now gone, she read in Japanese from the help page GoLloyd’s sent (thank goodness they included Japanese instructions- written specifically to Japanese bank staff to help confused gaijin) and walked me through the process. I tried to follow along, but there were too many menus in kanji I didn’t understand, and knew I wouldn’t be able to repeat the process.

I’d heard that getting a separate ATM card specifically for transfers simplifies the process, so after the transfer was done, I asked her about getting one (so I could hopefully be self-reliant in the future). She kindly walked me back to the ATM and showed me that my ATM card stored the transfer settings for future use, making it even simpler than having a separate card for transfers. I thanked her profusely and left the bank.

Leave a Reply