Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guest Post: Is Western Union A Good Way to Send Money from Japan?

This guest post is written by foreign exchange specialist Peter Lavelle. How to send money home from Japan is a question I've heard asked many times, and Peter has offered to lay out one possibility for us.

Update 6/11/2012: For a much more extensive article about foreign exchange to/from Japan to which Peter contributed, check out Surviving in Japan.


Expat living in Japan? Then there’s a good chance that you (like other expats) have an ongoing need to send money out of the country. But what’s the best (that is, cheapest and most secure) way of doing so? Well, one of the most famous is Western Union. Is it any good? In this post, I aim to set out the pros and cons of using Western Union to send money out of Japan.


If you’re not familiar with the Western Union concept, it’s simple. You wire a set amount from one Western Union-approved location (you must physically be there to do so) to another, where the person picks up the cash (again, in person.)

Though you cannot receive money from Western Union in Japan, it’s quite simple to send it given that the company has partnered with several large outlets. These include Family Mart and Seven Bank.

How does it work?

As of last month (that is, April 2012) you can send money online through Western Union, which removes a huge drawback to the service i.e. you must physically go to the location to send the money.

However, if you choose the old fashioned method of going in person, then the first step is finding your nearest Western Union outpost. You can do that here (if you speak Japanese.)

Once you find a good location, it’s then a matter of registering. Frustratingly, the Western Union services available at Family Mart and Seven Bank (as well as others) are not compatible, so if you want to send money from more than one chain you need to register each time.

Then, whether you’re using Family Mart or Seven Bank, you just need to send the money. There is a diagram How To for Family Mart here, as well as a demonstration of the online service for Seven Bank here (though it is in Japanese.)

Pros and Cons

The chief pro of Western Union is its speed. It guarantees to have the money available for pick up inside two minutes, which compares to the hours and days it sometimes takes using a bank. Hence, if you know someone in a tight spot, you can get cash to them all but instantaneously.

The other advantage of course is that they’re receiving cash: there’s no bank accounts involved.

On the other hand, Western Union is not suitable for big transfers. This is because it has a limit of Y97,000 per transfer (plus Y3,000 fee)meaning it’s best suited to emergencies (that’s about $1,300 dollars.) If you need to send more, you’re better off using an alternative,unless you wish to incur a Y3,000 charge for each Y100,000 you send.

There’s also the point that Western Union does not publicise the exchange rates it uses, which could leave you open to a poor rate.

Last of all, if you’re sending money to yourself, it’s no good, because someone has to be there to pick it up!


For people willing to make the trip, Western Union offers a fast way to send money out of Japan, without using banks. Yet its lack of transparency regarding exchange rates, as well as relatively small transfer limit, mean it’s best reserved for emergencies.

About the Writer

Peter Lavelle works for foreign currency dealer Pure FX. He’s never been to Japan, but in his line of work has picked up a lot of knowledge about sending money to places. If you’d like to keep up with his exchange rate updates, visit his Google+ page.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

J-Word Play #25 (Answer)

Our last J-Word Play was:


A kudos goes out to Ollie of LinguaLift for sending in the correct answer!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Weekend in PA

I'll be leaving shortly to head to Villanova, where a couple of my friends will be getting married tomorrow. A bit of a drive, but always nice heading back to the origin of my Japanese adventures.

Oh, incidentally, the bride is Japanese. Anyway, congratulations, you two!

I shall return in a few days...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A fine day in May

I learned a new weather-related/seasonal expression. One of the guys in the office commented


I hadn't heard 「さつき」used in ages and I didn't remember what it meant until he said it was "May." 

As you may or may not know, Japan used to follow a lunar calendar (hence why months are represented by 「月」, the character for "moon"). I'm not sure exactly when the names were changed, but sometime after Japan's switch to the solar (Julian) calendar, it also switched what it called each particular month. The old names are still used from time to time, though, as in this expression.

皐月 (五月、さつき) came about by a shortening of an even older name for the month. Because it was during the time when rice was planted, it was originally called 早苗月 (さなえつき). Over time, people shortened that by cutting out characters, and it became さつき.

It seems that 五月晴れ (さつきばれ) is used most often by newscasters or weather forecasters during nice, sunny days in May. According to my research, this usage is/was actually in error. When Japan switched to the solar calendar, all of the months shifted over by one. So even though さつき refers to May, it actually corresponds to what would be June today. This has either been largely ignored or forgotten, though, and the term 五月晴れ was at one point amended in Japanese dictionaries to note that it can in present day refer to May, despite its original use in June.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The dog is the dad

A collection of Softbank commercials. If you don't understand any Japanese, apologies...may be a bit difficult to piece together. But for those who know what's going on, some of these are pretty funny.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

J-Word Play #25

Here's another riddle for you:


Send your answers to blueshoe [at] for a mention if you've gotten it right.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kotowaza #3: Bad news takes flight

Trying to move back into normality and routine, here's another proverb for us to remember:


[Image Source] Dark wings bring dark news.
Breaking it down, we have:

悪事, which is wickedness or evil, though in this case I think "badness" or "bad things" is better.

千里, which I think is 1,000 units in an old system of measurement for distance, but now just means "a long distance" or "far away."

走る, to run or travel.

So bad things travel a long way. In other words, "bad news travels quickly."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An End

From early in our relationship, she decided to keep our relationship off of her blog. Part of it was for privacy reasons - she didn't want everyone to know everything about her. That part I understood. But there was also this element of it either not being professional or it not being quite proper in some way to share those private but important parts of her life on such public media. That part always bothered me, but I eventually learned to accept it. Recently she decided that Facebook also needed to be similarly self-moderated, and our relationship status was hidden. That kind of hurt, but I didn't put up much of a fight...I knew she was going to do what she felt was best. Last night as we talked about it, she said that she saw my point of view and changed her mind. And she wrote about us.

Although I've mentioned Yoshie before, I don't write here a whole lot about my personal life. Writing and publishing a blog post right after a breakup is probably some kind of faux pas akin to writing and sending an angry letter or email immediately after a perceived transgression. But honestly I'm not holding up as well as I had hoped, and this is one of the few tools I have at the moment for trying to achieve some kind of catharsis. I trust most of you have been where I am sitting right now, so you'll forgive me for using the blog for this once. If not, don't have to keep reading.

Yoshie and I started dating a little over two years ago. From the start our chances of making it work were against us; she was a musician struggling to earn some degree of success and for various reasons wasn't really looking for a relationship. I was working on JET on a per-year basis and knew that I would most likely go back to the States within the couple of years. On top of that, she lived in a different prefecture, about 3 hours away by shinkansen. But I really liked her, and despite remembering the difficulty of my previous long distance relationship and having sworn them off, I found myself telling her that I would do it again to be with her. She took some time to think about it, and I visited her in Saga once to spend some time getting to know each other better, and about a month later she asked me to be her boyfriend. I'll never forget that date because she included with her request a note that although it was April Fool's day, this was definitely not a trick.

We had our share of tough times, as is to be expected of any relationship. But one thing I love about her is that she is always striving to be better. A better person, a better pianist, and at the time a better girlfriend. In our relationship, we had few real fights. There were times when one of us would get upset or angry, and the majority of the time the other person would listen and we would have a dialogue. I remember being pleasantly surprised by how understanding she was and how she would try to adjust to make me happier. It took me a long time to accept and feel comfortable with the fact that she played piano at a gentlemen's club. I don't think I ever really liked it, though I was happy sometimes that the hobnobbing with big shots opened doors for her. She knew how I felt, though, and went from keeping her work and private lives separate to letting people at her work (coworkers and customers) know that she had a boyfriend. She stopped going out anywhere alone with customers because I didn't want them to think it was a date. And when she made changes like that in consideration of my feelings and insecurities, she did so and moved on and never complained about it.

Near the end, the past few weeks and months, things have been more tense. She has been striving to find a direction for her life, and though she doesn't know with certainty what she wants to do yet, she knows that she doesn't want to be in Saga forever. She knows that she wants to improve her musical skills and fulfill her potential as best as she feels she can. And she knows that although she thinks she will want marriage and children with someone she loves in the future, there is still a lot that she wants to do before that. I saw the direction things were going and how most of her time and energy has been going to her work, leaving little time for us...and it's something that I knew I couldn't handle for an indefinite period of time. I understand her need to do what she's been doing. If I had as much talent at something as she does with the piano, I'd want to see it through as far as I could. But the fact is that my focus and aim for the future right now are on wanting to build a family. I think I need to ultimately be with someone who is of the same mind on that, though I'm further from that goal now than I was only a couple days ago...

Last night she told me that it was ok to cry. I replied that I was probably mostly ok because I had kind of seen this coming and had been able to prepare myself. I guess I was wrong...the pain and sense of loss are here in force, but they just didn't come until things were finally ended. Thinking back on happy times, knowing that I'll probably never see her face again or brush her cheek. Breaking up is tough, especially when you still love each other.

I told her that if she wants any of the pictures from Facebook of her performing, she should probably take them soon. Kind of funny...the pictures in my room I can take down and put in a box, but then there's also the chore of "de-relationshiping" myself on Facebook. She told me that she doesn't think she will throw away or delete any of her pictures of us. I know at least for the physical photos it will probably take me a while before I can get to that point. Until then I'll box up the most important part of my life for the past two years, and away that will go...out of sight, out of mind is the hope.

We agreed to minimize contact with each other from here on out. I'm going to write her a letter and she will write a reply. We agreed that if any big events or difficult trials come along that it will be ok to contact each other. Maybe someday we'll be friends. She told me that one of her goals is still to make it to the U.S., hopefully at least for a short study abroad. If and when that happens, she told me, she hopes she can see me and my mother and sister, and my friends Ben and Chikako again, as friends. She told me that maybe one day in the future if she moves to America and she and I are single, maybe we'll meet again. I told her maybe. It's a nice dream at the moment, while we're both freshly torn up about this. But I hope she can move on and find happiness, be it in her career or in another relationship, or both.

As she was talking about keeping in touch, I started to tell her that it was probably best if we didn't, and she stopped me. She said that she knew that but just didn't want to think that we wouldn't see each other again, that she wouldn't hear my voice. That she didn't want to say goodbye. I said ok. Then I said goodnight.

I know it's no use wishing things were different. Neither of us was at fault. If not for the long distance; if one of us were willing to move immediately to the others' country; if one of us were willing to ease up or slow down on our goals, or if we had some kind of definite timeframe...but there were just too many things working against us, and the odds won out. It's not always about love, because we had that. But ultimately I think this is the right decision for both of us.

Once I get through this pit, I hope I can be happy thinking about this. I am so grateful to have spent two years with such a wonderful person. I learned a lot from her, about life, about relationships, about myself. And I desperately hope she finds her happiness.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good news, everyone!

The "what were they thinking?"-ly named businesses still exist.

Hmmm...Actually, I think that's a good candidate for the "characters I am going to maliciously recommend if anyone ever asks me for some cool kanji for a tattoo" list.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Well I'm back. My trip to Japan was very...mixed, for personal reasons that I won't go into here, at least not for the time being. Still, I'm glad I went and it was good to see Yoshie and my friends.

Posting may be slow while I reacclimate, but I'll get back into things.