I get this question a lot: "I just moved to Japan and need to open a bank account. Which bank do you recommend?"
While many Japanese people would likely recommend one of the big Japanese banks (like Mizuho or Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ); personally, I would recommend Shinsei Bank because they're the only Japanese bank that comes to mind that caters to foreigners. They speak English better than I do. They have an English website. They don't scratch their heads when they see your middle name nor ask about your non-existent inkan. In short, they put more effort into capturing the niche foreigner-living-in-Japan market. The bigger banks don't really do that because they don't need to--they're big and already have massive market share. They're too busy counting their money to concern themselves with English-speakers.
As you'd expect, Shinsei doesn't have as many branch locations as the big boys, but this isn't a big deal for me because I almost never have to visit a brick-and-mortar bank in these days of online banking. However, this could become a show-stopper if you live out in the Japan countryside where there just isn't a Shinsei location in your entire prefecture (as was the case for me when I lived in Tottori). If you moved to rural Japan, then you probably weren't expecting much English service anyways. I certainly wasn't, and it was fun!
In fact, even if there isn't a Shinsei branch anywhere nearby, you could open an account through postal mail--an assuredly delightful occasion to check out your local post office. As much as I love visiting Japanese banks in person (lots of pretty ladies), there isn't much opportunity nor necessity to do so anymore.
As for ATM locations, they partner with several Japanese convenience stores, which far outnumber any official bank's ATM locations. I've never had a problem finding a nearby Shinsei partner ATM. Plus, I find myself eschewing cash lately in favor of e-money options like Edy and Pasmo. Less coin-y mess.
Which Japanese bank would you recommend?
Good luck to you, fellow foreigner!
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