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Friday, January 30, 2015

Culture Shock: Hankos, Bank Accounts, and Automated Car Parks

First of all, many MANY thank to Nezumi-san who saw the previous post about my struggle with my appliances and left translations of the controls in the comments section.  Thanks to him I was able to set my water heater to a more reasonable 45 degrees (down from a scalding 48 degrees).

Another reader left a comment asking about bank accounts.  As many of you already know U.S. citizens the world over are seeing their local bank accounts closed.  Banks in many countries have declared US citizens (and US Persons) persona non grata because of the American Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) which obliges them to report these accounts to the United States.

Alas, I cannot speak to that personally.  My spouse opened an account with a local Japanese bank about a month ago - a process that meant that he had to get a hanko.  This a personal stamp/seal that is used in lieu of a written signature and it looks like this:

Photo from
When he asked about making it a joint account, they were reluctant to do so.  Why?  Well, they said that normally the only name on the account is that of the person earning a salary (usually the man) but the spouse (usually the wife) holds the passbook.  I have no idea if this is true or not - can anyone confirm or disprove this?
Nezumi-san left this response in the previous post.  Very interesting. Thank you!
"As for the bank account thing, joint accounts are not common here -- in fact, I'm not sure they're even allowed. Husband and wife will usually both have their own accounts; you should be able to open one of your own. 
As far as the wife controlling the purse strings, that is the traditional model: husband brings home the paycheck, wife controls access to the money, giving husband small allowance each month. But that is by no means universal, and in any case does not preclude the wife having her own account. Most do, I think, even in the traditional mold, for "rainy day" savings (hesokuri)."
The result is that my name is not on our local Japanese bank account and so FATCA is not an issue for me or the Japanese bank since my spouse is French and FATCA only applies to US citizens.  Can I still use the account?  Absolutely.  I brought the passbook and the hanko down to the cellphone store and was able to get a phone and bill the charges to that local account. And all this leads to a very important question:  Do I have to report this account on my FBAR (FinCEN Report 114)?  My name is not on the account but I can, using a debit card or the hanko/passbook, access those funds. Is there someone at Treasury  in Washington D.C. I can annoy with this question? :-)

Some readers expressed surprised that Japan is so high-tech.  I find that to be a very reasonable reaction.  Consider the images of France that diffused all over the world: bucolic pictures of happy French farmers, wine, cheese and little local stores. Go to France and the reality is something else.  It's not that the images are entirely false, they are just not the whole story.  French farmers are not always happy (imagine that),  not every French knows or cares about wine, and many people buy their cheese (and bread) from the hypermarket chain store.  Yes, the French countryside is beautiful but there is also that monstrosity called La Defense with its skyscrapers and concrete jungles.

Same applies to Japan (or any other country).  There are the images that appear in magazines and on TV;  there is our interpretation of those images and the emotions they evoke;  and then there is the more complicated reality.  Japan is a modern country with a lot of high-tech products and services that make daily life much easier.

For an example of very practical tech here in Japan, have a look at the automated car parks.  Our building has one and it's wonderful.  Drive the car onto a turnstile, insert card, push button and the car gets parked automatically.  No driving deep into the bowels of the earth with its tight turns and low ceilings only to arrive at the parking space and having to get out in the cold (or the heat) and then taking the elevator (and the day's shopping) back up to the apartment.

Here is a video of a very fancy system in a high-end condo (our apartment has a simpler one but the principle is the same).  Enjoy.


Tim said...

It does not surprise me at all that Japan is so "high tech". In fact I would argue in some ways that the US is one of the lowest tech countries on earth.

I stayed in La Defense during my first trip to France arriving late at night from Britain(Channel Tunnel) so La Defense was literally the first part of France I saw other than Gare du Nord. Again to my earlier point I would argue that France is much more high tech than many people believe. I would say generally the US is probably better at producing technologies than consuming them.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Good question about FBAR requirements on your husband's account! I suppose technically there could be a requirement to file, since you can effect disbursements from it, even though it is not legally your account...

All I can say is in my case, there is no way on earth I would ever report my (non-US-person) wife's accounts on my FBAR form. Let's see, whose wrath would be preferable to face, Treasury's or spouse's? Easy call.

Ellen Lebelle said...

Love the see-through garage! Not sure I'd want to stare at my car all evening, though.

Unknown said...

Hate to say but but I think it means you have a "financial interest" in the account...
Happy to ask, tho, when we're in DC!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

OK, I want the automated parking, I hate parking and the idea that someone else will simply handle it is amazing and pretty wonderful in my book.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, I've thought the same thing. Most of the folks I know in the US, for example, still use checks. And I've had to rescue Americans in Versailles whose credit cards don't work. :-)
La Defense is really hideous.

@Nezumi-san, I have the same problem. It's my French spouse's account, it's his salary (I can't work here) and he's already pretty annoyed that the French bank tried to get him to sign a W-9.

@Ellen, It is very cool indeed. Tho I agree with you about staring at the darn car all evening.

@Lucy, Yes, please that would help.

@anonymous, I find it to be a major convenience. Just drive the thing onto the turnstile, push button, walk away. Very nice.

Tim said...


When I stayed in La Defense, this was many years ago they were still extending it towards the west with new construction even though the older Eastern part was already pretty hideous at that point.

My gut sense of Paris is that the more upwardly mobile tend to live towards the South and West(including Versailles). This is the France of movies and fairy tails. The "other" France is towards the north and east of Paris aka La Banalieus. This is part of the country that is not nearly as "romantic", however because of transport logistics oddly enough most tourists(other than the small number of short haul business travelers passing through Orly Airport) at the very least have to pass though the likes of Saint Denis and Aubervilliers.

*The first morning after I slept overnight at La Defense I decided to walk into the center of Paris by foot. I remember passing from La Defense into Neiully Sur Seine(the richest town in France) thinking Neiully Sur Seine was more like the France and Paris portrayed in American movies and culture.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, Neuilly is definitely a post neighborhood. Every heard the expression NAP? It stand for Neuilly, Auteuil, Passy - three very expensive neighborhoods...

Maria said...

There are public automated car parks in Spain, as well. There's a big one in Vigo and then there's a tiny one in Segovia. That I know of. So far, though, they really haven't caught on much.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Maria, Very interesting. I had no idea that they existed in Europe. You say that they aren't really catching on - do you know why?

Maria said...

Probably because the Spaniard doesn't trust a machine that takes away an important investment. Even if he gets it back. (The automated parking garage in Segovia was exemplary. There is only one platform and one attendant. The day we parked there the attendant later went to lunch and left a person parking his car. The person parked the car on the platform and left without making sure it was correctly placed. It wasn't, his car didn't go down, and others who wanted their cars back couldn't get them back, me included. We all had to wait until the attendant came back and we all had to help him push that car correctly onto the platform to get ours out. Not encouraging.)Besides, if you're out shopping and you want to take some bags back to the car, you can't.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Maria. Interesting. I see the point about the bags - that would be a problem.

Just for fun, my friend JJ just sent this quotation out - I thought it was hilarious:

“The factory in the future will have two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

​"L'usine du futur n'aura que deux employés: un homme et un chien. L'homme sera là pour nourrir le chien; le chien pour empêcher l'homme de toucher aux machines."

Warren G. Bennis​ (1925-2014)