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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Don't Bank On It

mp3/ bank accounts - sarah slean

Banking is fun! It's even more fun in Japan! Let's banking!

I got to spend a day doing it yesterday, and all I wanted to do was open up a personal bank account, and get an ATM card.

For those of you who have never been to Japan, and had the pleasure of dealing with a Japanese financial institution, it should be mentioned that they are probably the Number 1 pet peeve of foreigners living here. Why?
  1. They have never heard of the term "customer service".
  2. They close at 3pm.
  3. ATM's at your own bank charge you after 6pm.
  4. ATM's close after 7pm.
  5. ATM's close on weekends and holidays.
It's the insane, and fucking bewildering, head-up-your-ass Japanese backwards logic behind the ATM's closing that drives people batty. Oh yeah, and the fact that Japan seems to be the only developed Asian country where your domestic bank card won't work. Japanese banks don't work with banks outside of fair Nippon.

Don't ask me why, I have no answers for you.

Things are slowly starting to change now. A few North American financial groups have moved in and started opening up new banks with longer hours, 24 hour ATMs, and great customer service. Two of them are Tokyo Star Bank and Shinsei Bank. Both of these banks offer modern, welcoming interiors; 24 hour ATMs; and no ATM fees. A far cry from my old-school Tokyo-Mitsubishi account. I decided on these as my first choices, and headed into Yokohama with my friend Yayoi-san.

Tokyo Star Bank was first.
Great website (complete with bowing OL, just like the ATMs). Ikea-like open-design decor. Too bad they were racist, discriminating motherfuckers!!

As Yayoi and myself sat in air conditioned coolness surrounded by wall-mounted flat panel screens displaying the latest Bloomberg news and stock quotes, a well-heeled manager approached and proceeded to tell us that they couldn't open an account for me if I couldn't read Japanese. Not even the corporate Big Boys (Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Mizuho etc) do this! Considering all I wanted was the account and a bank card, and that I had no need to really come into the branch at all after (companies deposit to my account, I happily withdraw it from an ATM...), AND the fact that Yayoi-san was with me precisely for this purpose--I was a little incensed. I asked the fellow for his meishi (business card). We left. I tried to cool down outside in the 32 degree humidity. I called my brother who was thinking of moving his business account over to Tokyo Star. He said he had never heard of this before and that I should bring the meishi home and he would "talk to a friend of his".

I calmed down a bit, but decided that it couldn't be left like this. We went back in and explained the situation again, stating that Yayoi was prepared to explain everything written in Japanese to me, and that I would still sign the legally binding agreement.

Nope. They won't do it. "Too much of a risk," he said. "Maybe later if (I) have some problem, (I) will say that I didn't understand."

Now Yayoi was upset, listening to another Japanese person blatantly discriminating against me--and without so much as an apology! Yayoi asked if this was Japanese law (after I mentioned writing to the papers and speaking with a lawyer). His response?


Here's a little background on how Tokyo Star came to be, from the Financial Times:

After its president and chairman were arrested in May, 2000, for illegally inflating asset values, Tokyo Sowa Bank came close to collapse. U.S. investor Wilbur L. Ross Jr. had shown interest in acquiring it, but his company backed out. ``We felt we couldn't invest in a bank that had those kind of business practices behind it,'' says Tatsuo Kubota, a New York-based executive at WL Ross & Co.

Kubota and others may wish they had been a little more daring. In January, 2001, U.S. private equity firm Lone Star made a bet that it could find value in Tokyo Sowa: It bought the bank from the Japanese government for $339 million.

Now, after an aggressive restructuring by Chief Executive L. Todd Budge, a former Mormon missionary, the bank, renamed Tokyo Star Bank Ltd., is one of Japan's most dramatic turnaround stories. Tokyo Star earned $107 million for the 12 months through Mar. 31, 2003, up 60% from a year earlier and a vast improvement over the $2 billion loss it reported 24 months before. Its books look healthy, too, showing a ratio of net income to total assets that's four times higher than giant Sumitomo ......

This treatment from an American influenced bank!

I implore anyone out there looking to open an account in Japan to BOYCOTT TOKYO STAR BANK! And if anyone else has had this happen to them, I would love to hear about it.

So, now I'm pissed. Yayoi-san is pissed. I decide to try Shinsei Bank. They also have 24 hour ATMs with no fees, another of the 'new breed', but now I am fully expecting to be treated the same.

We head down the block, and walk in. It is located adjacent to a Starbucks--as a matter of fact, it looks as if it is PART of the ubiquitous coffee chain. I take a deep breath, relax, and head to the counter with Yayoi.

"Konnichi-wa," the man at the counter says to us both.

Yayoi explains that I am looking to open an account.

"Ah-so!" he says, and turns to me. "How are you this afternoon, sir? Do you have your gaikokojin torokusho (alien registrations card)?"

"Of course," I say, already taken aback by his friendliness. Meanwhile, he has already pulled out the necessary English application forms. I am guided to a chair. A lovely clerk slides a table up and hands me a pen. I am asked to choose a design for my ATM card (I choose plain black with absolutely no kawaii amime characters or corporate logos). I fill out the application in 8 minutes and the girl returns to go over it with me, double checking my info. That's it. I'm told to come back in half an hour or so to pick up my card and account details.

So we go have a double tall non-fat coffee frappucino light with a sprinkle of vanilla powder adn return. It's all ready, no waiting. 24 hour ATM, cool black card, free use at 7-11 conbini, as well as the other banks' machines, international money transfers, online banking, branches open til 7pm, and the girl apologizes to me for not being able to speak better English. I tell her she doesn't need to, it's my Japanese that needs improving. And we're outta there.

Take that Tokyo Star Fuckers!

Go Shinsei!

Next time I'll tell you about my new 007 kei tai...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Gonzo, But Not Forgotten

mp3/ mr.tambourine man

Football Season Is Over

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun - for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax - This won't hurt.

As many of you may no doubt have already seen, these are the apparent last written words of Mr. Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937 - February 20, 2005), as revealed by Rolling Stone magazine. They were written about four days before he stuck a pistol in his mouth, then leaned back, balancing on the precipice, one final time in his writing chair.
Why am I posting this? I can't really say. A large part of me admires the man who lived and died by his own (albeit psychotic) rules. Another part of me thinks he was just a sad, ornery crankpot. Any way you slice it though, he called 'em as he saw 'em--and that ain't wrong. RIP

Back here, on the Japan shameless-self-promotion front:

My friend Chris Cooling and I have just recently started putting together our set list for some upcoming gigs. The idea is a simple one: two guys, two acoustic guitars, one microphone, and a bunch of songs written by artists we really, really like (most Japanese people will never have heard of these guys--hell, lots of westerners will never have heard of them...). Those, coupled with a bunch of songs we are just writing off-the-cuff. We will be breaking out the slide and standards--Paul Westerberg, Ryan Adams, Lennon&McArtney--as well as Rhett Miller, Ray Lamontaigne, Steve Earle, Robbie Robertson, Ron Hawkins, et al.

We don't have a name. So far, we have: The Gin & Tonics, Chinese Noodles, and, uhhhh...ahem, Two Guys wth Two Guitars. (My brother's idea from long ago is Gyaru-ga Tobiskunda, which is a loosely translated Japanese rip-off of Chixdiggit...)

First gig is at Cabana Bar & Grille in Higashi Totsuka, Yokohama on the second Thursday and Friday in October.

See you there?

PS--please forgive the mixed bag of fonts in this post. Circumstances beyond my control, yadda yadda yadda. It drives me batshit, too. J.

Friday, September 02, 2005

"oh, what a blunderful world..."

mp3/ brand new second hand

Ahh. I love the little things in Japan that make me smile. The wonderful playfulness with language, the intelligent inside jokes tha--oh, wait a mintute, I forgot. They actually think the word is spelled like that! Are they mistakes? Or are they incredibly clever?

This shop caters to brand slaves. Namely, Japanese women in their early to mid twenties and up. It is sort of a discount shop, but moreover, it targets the "boyfriends" of said women. Here, in one shop fellas, you will find any and all of the items that your mistress covets. A Luis Vuitton cigarette pouch? Dior choker for her fashionable poodle?

Yes, the Japanese brand landscape. The "brandscape", as I call it. Ubiquitous and shouting to you, blinding the individual from personal choice, telling one what to choose. Neal Stephenson would call the signboarding the 'loglo'...

Looking closer, the loglo is so apropo:

Monday, August 29, 2005


mp3/ clean

Soji. It means 'cleaning' in Japanese. You know, like around the house; or emptying the beer cans, cigarette packs, mangled cassettes, and all the other crap out of your '76 Celica; or mopping the bar after closing up in the wee small hours; or in this case, deleting all the dead-end links, adding new ones, and basically updating your worn out old blog.

My friends Rob and Erin have given me the virtual kick-in-the-ass to undertake said 'soji'. They have a two-month old baby, Milo, and if they can manage to update their web shit, then I sure as hell ought to be able to update mine as well. Erin writes "Tales from the Cribbed" about the realities of new-motherhood at The Diaper Pail (warning: not for the faint of heart--could very well be considered a useful prophylactic for some). Rob shares his thoughts and photos at Dread Pirate Robert (note to Rob: can we have some guitar porn please?). By the way, this is the same Rob and Erin that I dedicated, like, my first blog to.

In my defense, I hereby submit photographic evidence that I am, indeed, too busy to update my blog. First, how I spend my days keeping the intricate machinations of my busy life from breaking down. Second, the working environment and culture-of-business of an ex-pat in Tokyo. And finally, how brilliance and genius are cultivated. Oh yes, and sometimes, however briefly, I take a vacation from all that.

And you think a newborn keeps you busy. Sheesh...

Okay, in all seriousness R&E, this meme's for you:

Thursday, July 14, 2005



Sunday, July 03, 2005

Rocking In The Free World

Wow. Ima okitta desu...sugoi tsukareta.

So what did I do today (tonight) after waking up from a fitful, post after-party sleep? That's right...I couldn't help it. I logged in to watch the regurgitation of Live 8. Bemused, and strangely transfixed with vague reminiscences of "It was twenty years ago today...", my brother and I bounced back and forth between the Brandenburg Gate, the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Hyde Park, The Palace of Versailles, and only ever so often, on the global uplink, that other major venue...Barrie, Ontario (will somebody pleeeeeeease shoot Celine Dion...?).

It's just not the same anymore. When Bob Geldof brought out Bill Gates (from here-on-in to be known as the surviving Bee Gees) did anybody else have the thought that Mr. Microsoft could wipeout Third World debt all on his lonesome? Never mind the fact that he could have governments weeping, all but on their knees, if he took them to task on their human rights records by withholding technology? Hmmmm....

I guess another way to look at it is more organic and individual, rather than systemic, as this writer from The Toronto Star explains.

I think I have a better idea, though. Let's not be so politically correct.

Face it, some things are just plain wrong. Dictatorships censoring free thought and speech are wrong. If you are afraid of what your people might think, then you are obviously not doing the right things. Especially when you kill, torture and jail them for it (Umm, yeah, China, I'm looking at you). Letting your own people starve, while you live in the lap of luxury, is just plain wrong. Making women second class citizens so you can control their every move and there sexuality is just plain wrong. Hiding behind a perverted interpretation of religious scriptures to rationalize or sanction murder of any kind is just plain wrong. In fact, any religion that advocates killing in whatever form is completely invalid and holds no weight-- moral, political, or otherwise--whatsoever. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I think (paraphrasing just a little bit) that we ALL hold these truths to be self evident. But nobody has the balls to anything about it!

Nobody says, Hey Bob Mugabe! We know the African people have been put in servitude by white colonials but what you're doing is even worse you dumb shit!

Hey, L'il Kim! Yeah you Jong Il. We all know you're a bald faced liar and we still give you tonnes of food and money and stuff and you just continue to put it all into making tinker toy nukes, digging tunnels into North Korea, and selling Ecstasy to Japan. We're calling your bluff you insane little fucker!

What I think we should do is take the money raised from the DVDs/T-shirts/rescuscited record sales for flagging over the hill bands/broadband subscriptions and start a fund. Let's take out these maniacs without apologies. Hello Darfur, Sudan. Hello Myanmar Republic. Hello China. Hello People's Democratic Republic of Korea (that name isn't even oxymoronic, it's just plain...wrong)! Hello the rest of the world!

And then we can give the government over to the people, get them fed and farming, and then do what we do best...


Hello Cleveland!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Spring Theme

mp3/ springtheme - ween

Spring. Yoyogi Koen. Hanami. The new after hours club.

After too many months of cold, dark winter it is finally here--spring. Overnight, what was once a chilly and lonely world here in the heart of the masses of Tokyo, is transformed into a place of light and magic, spirit and energy. Smiles return to faces of young and old alike. The immediate warmth, the healing rays of the sun, the explosion of sakura blossoms on trees throughout the city entices all and sundry to come out and play.

After another long night at the storied Ruby Room, hanami and warm, sunny weather now offer more welcoming after work activities. No more dungeonesque nightclubs with pounding doof!-doof! beats and scores of vampires coming down and trying in vain to get back up. No more entry fees for the priviledge of overpriced drinks and wishing you were just on the train home. No more descents into venues specifically designed to make you forget about the sun, make any trace of daylight fall to its knees and tremble and wither and yield to dark's steel door bouncer.

O-hanami is here, finally. A brief two-week window where all the cherry trees in Japan explode in red and pink blossoms, clinging to branches and life for an all too brief time before dying and gently falling to the earth to cover it with a snow of soft spring petals. And all the while people stake out territory under the trees during their free time, and gather with friends to eat and drink and laugh and basically create a joyous ruckus, and loosen inhibitions that have been tightened by winter chill and layers of shirts and jackets and heavy coats.

On weekends from now on, the parks will be like this, crowded with merrymakers and ubiquitous blue tarps and silver Asahi beer cans. Music and noise comes from every point. There are jugglers and drummers and Caporeira fighters and dancers; vendors of yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, ramen, sake, beer, chu-hi, and tea; drinkers and sleepers and lovers and fighters; animal, vegetable and mineral, all existing together in one small part of the world. Walk amongst it and love it. Or hate it if you must--many can't stand the let's-just-get-wasted-in-public mentality of it all, not to mention the gaudiness and noise--but really, if you are there, then you are a part of it.


Personally, I love it. Yes, it's raunchy and noisy and ugly and far from the romantic historical notions of what it must have been like in the 7th century (though I'm sure that more than a few samurai and bushi got fucked up on sake and beer, and that many a gaily colored kimono was lifted under the cherry trees...), but at least people are enjoying themselves and reconnecting with others after hibernating indoors and on trains all winter.

I will be sleeping Saturday night off there on beautiful Sunday mornings now, surrounded by friends and strangers (thanks Kyu, for the sake bomb!).