Bank Accounts in Japan

How many is enough?

PUBLISHED: 21 May 2013

Money, actual cash, still has an important role in Japan, and having places - LOTS of places - to keep it seems to be pretty important.

Number of Bank Accounts

In August 2002 The Economist estimated that “people in Japan have eight bank accounts each”, they the went on to add further details and explain that actually, if we take all the varieties of banks and bank-like institutions into account, the actual figure is probably somewhere in the region of 13. That’s THIRTEEN bank accounts per person, and The Economist is talking ‘per person’ and not ‘per adult’!

Japanese bank account books
Japanese bank account books

Someone’s collection of bank books. Never mind the quality, feel the width!

These figures are a bit old for my liking so I decided to try to track down the source and get up to date information. After a bit of digging I managed to find the Bank of Japan statistics page that contains the ‘number of accounts’ data - not easy, as they’re buried amongst other information.

Anyway, here’s the latest (Sep 2015) data:

Type of institution No. of accounts
Domestic Bank (Kokunai Ginkō) 775,410,600
Trust Bank (Shinyō Kinkō) 132,423,900
Total 907,834,500

This is down from March 2013, when I first looked at these figures…

Type of institution No. of accounts
Domestic Bank (Kokunai Ginkō) 783,569,400
Trust Bank (Shinyō Kinkō) 137,116,000
Total 920,685,400

Given that there are about 127 million people in Japan and about 13% are children, I reckon this gives every adult a grand total of 8.2 bank accounts. Bear in mind that this does not include the Post Office (the Yuchō Ginko, actually one of Japan’s biggest banks!) and other bank-like entities. This is only accounts held by individuals(kojin).

At first glance it seems as though the figures for 2002 are not much different to those from 2015, also assuming (fairly brazenly) that not much changes in Japan and that The Economist are fairly competent when talking about banks, we have to reach the conclusion that their estimate of 13 or so bank accounts per person in Japan still holds more or less true.

Imagine, for a typical family containing two adults, that’s 26 bank accounts - hey, let’s be generous and say there’s ‘just’ 20. Then go on to imagine the duplicated effort and over-employment that this necessitates for the banking industry in Japan (unless we assume of course that the banks are run primarily in order to employ bankers rather than to provide banking services to customers). Then (best not) imagine who pays the not insubstantial wage bill for all those bank employees, whose sole purpose in life is to make sure you can’t get your hands on your cash!

No wonder going in to a bank in Japan is like stepping backwards in time to the 1980s - reminds me of this.