So you've moved to Japan, found a place to live, got your resident card (don't lose that thing) stamped with your address, and now you need... a bank account.
Luckily, things these days aren't as tough as they used to be for foreigners in Japan in terms of creating official anything, but most of the forms you'll be needing are still exclusively in Japanese.
What's more, most banks require you to have a personal phone number to open an account, while you need a (Japanese) bank account to apply for many phone plans. That, or you have to have a hanko (personal seal), as many banks won't accept a signature. See how this can get a little complicated?
Enter two options: JP Post and Shinsei Bank. The former lets you put down your work or share house phone number and a signature, while the latter has forms in English. Going to a specific bank branch (or post office, in JP Post's case) is the easiest way, but we've gotten our hands on all the forms and are here to help you fill them out – because we're nice like that.
Note: when we opened our bank accounts aeons ago, this website was very helpful, but the forms have changed by now – consider this an elaborate update.
Known as Yucho Ginko (ゆうちょ銀行) in Japanese, this used to be the most popular account for foreigners before Shinsei started doing stuff in English. Unlike many of the big Japanese banks, JP Post does not require you to have your own phone number to register: your work phone or any phone that you can usually be reached on is sufficient.
Before you even go to the post office (choose one close to your house or office, as this will be your 'main' bank branch unless you officially change it), be sure to have both your passport and resident card on hand. Copies of each will be made as evidence of identity. Take a proof of address with you just in case, although they seem to not ask for it these days, and if you have it, a hanko (personal seal) to make life easier, but this is optional here.
You'll be asked to fill out a number of forms in Japanese. There are usually two of these, although you might be asked to fill in extras if you a) are American (you'll need to fill in a tax-related FATCA form too) or b) somehow do not qualify as an official resident yet because you've just moved to Japan and are still sorting out some paperwork (they'll make you fill in a non-resident form to technically register you as a 'resident' for filing purposes).
The two forms you'll definitely need to fill out
The blue form shown above is the all-important one; the green one on the right is simply one that states your purpose for the bank account (i.e. are you not laundering money), which you will definitely need to fill in as well but is less of a headache – if your name doesn't sound vaguely Arabic or Persian, that is.
One of our own failed to pull off the trick of submitting the papers neatly in one go because his first name alone, Yusuf, was considered suspicious enough to be on a terrorist watch list. (The whole matching last names with first names properly did not seem to be a thing here). Regardless, the issue was resolved after an extra check, although the need for one seems to also be based on the whim or pickiness of the staff present; we'd never heard of a story like this until it happened. Fingers crossed for you.
Honestly, having someone with you who speaks Japanese does help, but if you know a bit, have time to spare and are willing to practice your kanji in the wild, then you'll probably be able to handle things with our box-by-box guide below.
This is where you fill in your address and phone details. Postcode at the top, then your full address (preferably in Japanese, ask the bank clerk to help you if necessary; word has it romaji is considered acceptable these days too though) in the big white box, and a phone number you can be reached on in the boxes next to 電話番号 (denwa bango). Start on the left, and keep with the usual spacing from there.
Your name (in alphabet, last name first) goes in the lower boxes, while your name in katakana goes in the upper, smaller boxes. Make sure it's your full name and that it matches the name on your resident card – we've had problems in the past when we tried to apply and didn't put down our middle name. If your name is very long, you might be able to negotiate not having to write down the full thing (or you might have to fill out another form, sorry).
生年月日または設立年月日（Seinengappi, mata wa setsuritsu nengappi; date of birth or date of establishment (if a company)）
Fill out your date of birth in Japanese years; tick the correct box (明治 Meiji, 大正 Taisho, 昭和 Showa, 平成 Heisei, show the clerk your birthdate if you don't know), and then fill in the year (年), month (月) and day (日).
金額（Kingaku; amount of money）
The bank clerk told us to put 0 yen here – a zero in the last box, a ¥ sign before that. It signifies how much you're depositing now, not how much you have.
カードの種類（Kaado no shurui; type of card）
Here you get to choose what kind of card you'd like: JP BANK カード (JP Bank Card), Suica付カード (a cash card with Suica IC card function), 一般カード (ippan kaado, a regular cash card) or 利用しない (you don't want this/won't use this).
Confusingly, the JP Bank Card isn't a normal cashing card, but a credit card, and will thus require another application process (and as countless tales of weathered foreign residents will make clear, you will likely be rejected. Try Rakuten instead).
The Suica-enabled option is useful, but if you have a commuter pass, you won't be able to load this on there. If you do want this card, be sure to sign in the box on the right (and that your signature has bled through to all the pages), plus tick your gender (男 for male, 女 for female; transgender isn't an option here yet).
The regular cash card is probably the easiest option, although do note that a JP Post cash card does not work the same way as a debit card – it's primarily to withdraw cash with, not to actually pay for anything in a shop.
口座種類（Kozashurui; type of account）
普通 (futsuu, regular) or 貯蓄 (chochiku, savings), are the options here. You likely just need a regular one.
They give you the option of donating (part of) your interest to charity here. Check 国際協力（全般） for international charities regardless of their goal, 国際協力（環境）to save the environment or 申し込まない to keep your interest for yourself.
キャッシュサービス利用方法（kyasshu saabisu riyo hoho; cashing service method）
How you want to be able to withdraw money. You can either have 通帳とカード（tsucho to kaado, a bank book plus cash card), or カードのみ (kaado nomi, just the cash card). Considering that you have to apply for online banking separately (a whole other kettle of fish) and otherwise have no way of knowing how much is in your account, the bank book option is a good one. Yes, you actually stick the thing in the ATM like the ’80s never left, and it prints all your transaction information and balance on it for you. It's like old-school magic.
暗証番号必須取扱い (anshobango hissu toriatsukai; do you want/need a PIN code for your transactions)
In short, do you want a PIN code or not. Be wise and say yes – you'll be allowed to pick your own after you've submitted the forms. Tick 申し込む（moshikomu) for yes, 申し込まない (moshikomanai) for no.
オートスウィング基準額（ootosuwingu kijungaku; 'auto-swing reference amount'）
This bizarrely named box was renamed from the simple 'standard limit', and simply refers to the maximum amount you can have in your account. The 'auto-swing' is a new thing that means any excess money may be put in a different, interest-free account until you drop down to a manageable number. Needless to say, put in a large number, such as ¥10 million, here. The official maximum seems to currently be set at ¥13 million – fill that in, with a nice ¥ sign in the first box, and you're good to go.
デビット機能（debitto kino; enabling the debit function）
Sounds more exciting than it is. As far as we've been able to ascertain, a Japanese debit card still doesn't seem to function like a debit card abroad, so for your own sake, just put 利用しない (don't enable/use), or 利用する (enable) if you want to try for shits and giggles. It might require an extra form somewhere down the line.
法人番号（hojin bango; company number）
Ignore unless you're a company.
Congrats, you've finished form 1! It should now look something like this:
Most importantly, if you mess something up: rather than having to fill in an entirely new form, just block out the wrong bit with your pen and put your signature next to the wrong bit to prove you are the one who messed up.
Now you can prove you're not up to no good with your bank account with the green form. Going through the boxes again, slowly:
お取引の名義人さま (otorihiki no meiginin sama; account holder)
Fill in your name in the left box. Alphabet should be fine, although writing both romaji and katakana can never hurt. Ignore the righthand bit, unless you've sent someone to the post office on your behalf – in that case, their name goes there.
名義人さまの居住地国（納税地国）は「日本」ですか。（Meigininsama no kyojuchikoku (nozeichikoku) wa Nihon desu ka.）
In short, are you a resident of Japan, and do you pay taxes here? はい for yes – writing down いいえ (no) likely renders you ineligible for an account.
お取引の目的（otorihiki no mokuteki; reason for transactions）
Ah, yes, why would you want to open a bank account indeed? The options here are as follows:
1. 口座（貯金・振込・国債）に関するお取引 (Transactions related to bank account (savings, remittance, government bonds))
- 生計費決済 seikeihi kessai, payment of living expenses
- 事業費決済 jigyohi kessai, payment of corporate expenses
- 給与受取／年金受取 kyuyo uketori/nenkin uketori, receiving salary/pension
- 貯蓄／資産運用 chochiku/shisan unyo, savings/investments
- 融資 yushi, loan
- 外国為替取引 gaikoku kawase torihiki, forex trading
- その他 sono ta, other
2. 現金・小切手によるお払込み等のお取引 (Transactions based on cash or cheque payments)
- 生活費 seikatsuhi, living expenses
- 商品・サービス代金 seihin/saabisu daikin, bills for goods and services
- 投資／貸付／借入返済 toshi, kashitsuke, shakunyu hensai, investment, loan, loan repayment
- 株式配当金等の受取 kabushiki haitokin nado no uketori, receiving stock dividends
- その他 sono ta, other
Remember to circle (not tick) the relevant boxes here – yes, you're allowed to circle more than one. The same goes for the next section, although it's probably easier to just circle one here just in case:
名義人さまのご職業 (meigininsama no goshokugyo, occupation of account holder)
Circle the box for either
会社員／団体職員 company employee, association or society employee (non-governmental)
会社役員／団体役員 company executive, association or society executive
公務員 civil servant
パート／アルバイト／派遣社員／契約社員 part-time worker, temporary worker, contracted worker
主婦 housewife/house husband
転職された方／無職の方／未就学児 retired, unemployed, pre-schooler
弁護士／司法書士／会計士／税理士 lawyer, judicial scrivener, accountant, tax counsellor
The last box is for those working for foreign governments – let's not go there.
All done! Phew, you made it. Now, sit back (don't walk out before you've chosen a PIN, like we did a few years ago only to be chased down the road by the poor bank clerk), relax and sign where they tell you to (luckily sign is 'サイン’, or sain, in Japanese).
Your brand-spanking new cash card and bank book should be with you within a week or two. Welcome to a fully functioning working or student life in Japan; now all you need is to get a phone and pretend you have a social life.
If you really want to avoid any Japanese-language forms, Shinsei Bank is the way forward. Considering their bank cards are linked to 7-Eleven ATMs (meaning free withdrawals, at all times, at said ATMs) as well as to ATMs at many other convenience stores, they offer online banking in English and your card can be used abroad too, it's probably one of the more useful bank accounts to have in Japan as a foreigner anyway.
They even let you choose the colour of your bank card – what's not to love? Although no hanko is required, you'll need a personal phone number to sign up (they'll check this), so if that is a problem and you need a bank account ASAP, go with JP Post instead (and perhaps get a Shinsei account later).
Some of the fancy colour options – check the names in particular
Signing up for an account is rather straightforward: you can either download their English-language application form online and then send it to their head office with a proof of ID (one copy of your resident card, plus an original utility bill less than six months old – if you can't supply that, a residence certificate or juminhyo should suffice), or go to one of their offices and do it in person (for which you only need your resident card).
The upside of doing it in person is that you may be able to get the cash card then and there (plus not having to supply another proof of ID), while applying online means you'll have to wait about a fortnight for everything to arrive in separate envelopes – for obvious safety reasons.
The downsides of the branch approach are that there aren't many physical Shinsei branches in the first place, and that employees may speak little English. If you're not comfortable with that, downloading the forms and then sending everything off is the easier option. They've even created nifty (OK, very old-school) videos to guide you through the latter option, as well as explain any other Shinsei banking 101 questions you may have.
We opted for going to the physical branch; a choice that unfortunately was not without its hiccups. Although the staff primarily spoke Japanese, all the forms – mainly presented on tablets, on which you could fill them in electronically – were in English; you'd be able to at least understand all the steps and terms & conditions.
The second time we went (more on that later), there was an English-speaking member of staff on hand, but generally you should be able to navigate your way through without a single Japanese word, spoken or written (besides perhaps your name in katakana).
A strong note of caution: make absolutely sure that there are no discrepancies between any of your documents, however minor they may seem.
A small misprint (part of the address was printed double) on our resident card meant that we were ultimately denied an account – after 40 minutes of sitting there and having completed everything else successfully, as well as having shown three other valid proofs of address, which we'd taken along just in case but were considered invalid (they all have to be less than six months old, including your residence certificate).
Having gone to the ward office to reprint everything, we went back for round two the next day. This time, things were relatively straightforward, but do set aside a good hour or so to fill out all the forms and process everything.
You'll first be asked to show your resident card and fill in some general information on a tablet in English. When that's done, you'll be taken to a separate desk where they'll check everything and go through the account details with you. And again, all the documents will be in English.
Be sure to tell the staff that you want to transfer money overseas and/or take out cash at ATMs abroad, as these are options that you have to activate manually (if you applied by post, you can do so online or by phone).
Doing everything at the same time is the least time-consuming overall, although you will have to fill out two extra forms (all completely in English again). Having a My Number card with you helps with this, as they'll need photocopies of said card for the overseas remittance function.
Once all that's done and you've chosen a PIN code as well, it'll take about a week to 10 days for everything to pop in the mail (the documents will be sent in separate envelopes – if you applied online, your PIN will be in one of these too), after which you'll be able to set up online banking; instructions are provided in the Welcome Kit.
Et voilà, you're done! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy – provided you have all your paperwork in perfect order.