Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2014

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The Japanese ATM

Japanese ATM

Often it’s the mundane, easily taken for granted things I find in Japan that fascinate me most. Sometimes it’s the small differences but, in the case of the Japanese ATM, it’s a world apart from the UK equivalent I’m used to. You can probably tell by looking at it that it’s pretty unique in the world of ATM’s, but this is the ATM at the bank I bank with, and I’ve got some interesting facts about it.

The first thing you’ll notice is the screen. There’s an animated male and female teller that welcome you to the machine with a bow and a robotic ‘irasshaimase’ (‘welcome!’ – lit. ‘come in’). Then, you’ll get a bow every time a request is received or when you finally end your ATM session. Finishing said session can take time depending on your Japanese reading skill and general ability to decipher unfamiliar screens filled with flashing messages, numeric matrices and any number of other offers for services and information superfluous to your requirements.

Having navigated the touch screen successfully, you might then have to get comfortable with the other hatches, slots and gadgets outside your current schema. The interface to the right of the screen (near to which is a complimentary calculator – not chained to the counter) looks like a smaller secondary keypad or possibly cup holder but is, in fact, a biometric scanner for your palm. In a super-security-conscious modern day Japan, a 4 digit ID number is too risky for some people. If this is the case, they can go into a branch during business hours and get their palm scanned in order to make use of this secure, labour-saving feature (it might be preferable for visually impaired customers too).

Moving in an anti-clockwise direction around the machine, directly above the palm scanner is the bill hatch. This is the hatch that not only dispenses, but also accepts deposits of Japanese bank notes. Of course, it’s capable of counting banknotes and verifying their authenticity, and even unfolding, uncreasing and flattening them out if need be, but what I find most useful about this hatch is that it’s almost impossible to leave the money behind. It makes a pretty loud noise when opening to dispense notes, but also continues to do so until it finally closes automatically and returns the money to the customer’s account, in the event of the notes not being taken. It made a novel change from the usual slot from which notes, in a variety of ages and conditions, are ejected from in the UK or Europe. Suffice it to say, the notes that come out of a Japanese ATM always look like they’ve been freshly minted. Any other condition would simply be unacceptable here.

So onto the card slot, which is unremarkable – but then you have its wider counterpart on the left labeled ‘passbook’. This slot does indeed accept a passbook, or bankbook. You insert this in order to get your statement recorded. Transactions in and out, charges, transfers and so on. First, you find the correct page to insert it on. It doesn’t matter if the previous printout of your statement finishes halfway down the page, the machine will detect the point to continue printing from and will even turn the page in order to continue printing records that span pages. Upon running out of pages, you will be prompted to order a new passbook through the ATM touchscreen, or you will just be given the book back once printing is completed, whichever comes first.

Beneath the passbook slot is the coin hatch. As you may have guessed, this dispenses coins and accepts the deposit of coins too. It’s pretty unusual to draw coins from an ATM, but it’s even more suprising to find you can pay them into your bank. However, don’t go pouring thousands of ¥1 and ¥5 coins into the hatch as they won’t be accepted. However, if you do test this rule and your coin hatch ends up spasmodically chewing on 6 months worth of shrapnel, you can use the handy telephone embedded directly in the bottom-left of the ATM to place a maintenance request, but make sure you leave before they get there.