Japan as a big “Stamp Rally” country

For the payment of national pension of Japan, I visited my primary bank in Tokyo, with the transaction document and my stamp, says “Watanabe” in Chinese character.

While completing the transaction, the operator of the bank pointed out that the stamp which I carried today is not the one which I used for opening the account.

In Japan, most of the people maintain plural number of stamps, and keep these at their office, house and other places for their convenience. They have to remember which stamp is used for which transaction, but if you have more than two bank accounts and other transactions, it becomes hard to memorize each of these combinations. It is such as the management of password, if you have more than two e-mail accounts.

I replied to the operator, and said that I have that particular stamp at the office, and I did not bring that exact stamp with me today. Then, the operator asked me to come back to the bank again with the right stamp. Then, I said that I, Shinya Watanabe, is present with my proofs of document including my bank card, drivers license and some others, and I can “sign” my family name as a proof of this transaction, instead of the conventional stamp.

The operator made face, and says that I understand that you are the person who maintains this bank account, but the operator cannot complete the transaction without the exact stamp which I used for opening the account. I was just curious, and kept asking if non-Japanese person tries to open the bank account, what they need to do? The operator reply, “they need to have a stamp which declares his or her own family name in Japanese character.” It means that this Japanese bank applies its own rule to the non-Japanese clients.

For these people who are working for the larger institution, their priority is just to follow the rule, but they could not made a rational, or even creative judgment. For this institution, the ownership of the right stamp is the proof more than the presence of the exact person in front of them. If so, what will happen if someone carry my stamp and go to the bank? I think, they might follow the rule, and accept this transaction, and if some problem happens, they claim that they followed the rule, and it was no way to avoid this.

About the transaction of the bank in Japan, I have one more interesting story. I have a Citibank account in Japan, and I need to complete one deposit, while I was in the United States. To complete the transaction via snail mail, the Citibank required a proof of agreement, which could be the signature or stamp, and this proof is determined when the person opens the account. In my case, I use my signature as a proof, not my stamps.

Before I sent the snail mail to complete this transaction, I suddenly felt uncertain whether I did a signature in English or Japanese, since I opened the account years ago. I made a phone call to Citibank in Japan, and confirmed whether my signature was in English or Japanese. Then, the operator replied that they cannot tell that to me, because of the security reason.

I had no option to do, so I sent the letter with my English signature. Then, the bank sent me a letter via air mail, says, “Your signature supposed to be in Japanese. Please send that back to us again.” By doing this, the transaction takes extra 2 weeks. It was just my own mistake, but since then, I became extremely careful about my own signature.

Everyone knows that Japanese culture of using stamp as a proof became only a convention, and no one believes that this is the actual proof of the agreement completed by the stamp holder. To copy the stamp is quite easy, and any person can make the fake one, if they want. As a proof of the agreement, theoretically, the credibility of stamp is quite low. Only the “trust”, that people expect each other that no one uses any other persons’ stamp, has been the proof of this convention.

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