23 March 2012

The fastest and cheapest way to remit money to the Philippines from Japan [Updated]

This post was formerly titled: "I (heart) www.GCASH.jp!!!"

Oh, the difficulties of having to pay bills at home while you're based in a very foreign land. I have told you guys about GCASH.JP through an earlier, short blog post, but man, o man, it is only now I've dipped my hands in it and it's like… holy water! (For you pundits out there: I said it's only like holy water; it is of course nothing like real holy water.) But it is truly a miracle, a real blessing from Up Above. Amen.

Long story short, I have some cash in my bank account here in Japan, and I needed to remit some to my bank account in Manila. How long did it take using GCASH? About an hour, and all from the comfort of my own home. How much did it cost? It cost me around 3.25% of my remittance amount1. That's very cheap! And very fast. Now that's what you call a wire transfer! I  GCASH.JP!!!

Contrast all that now with the time when I transferred using my Japan-based bank's over-the-counter remittance services for the same amount of remittance applied at the same time of the day (nearly 3pm): roughly 1 banking day, and 11.6% of my remittance amount1!  That's more than 3 times the cost!

Okay, the length of time it takes is not really a good point for comparison. I had internet banking set-up for my Japan bank account, and so that helped hasten things up. Plus, I also had to pre-register on to GCASH. Now, to go to my bank branch, I had to actually spend at most around 220 pesos for my roundtrip bus fare and 40 extra minutes for the trip. It was just before 3pm when I got to the bank, and we were told that the transfer might not be made until the next banking day. Otherwise, maybe it could have been just as fast, save for the 40 minutes to travel to our bank branch.

Enter the internet banking facilities of my bank. What actually happens is I first transfer to a pre-assigned local Japanese bank account associated with my GCASH account. I just do it online from the comfort of my own home, no need to pre-enroll my transferees' accounts (unlike BPI, but I heard China Bank and a few other banks allow you to make funds transfer within the Philippines without pre-enrolling as well).

In under 10 minutes, the funds from my Japan bank account is already in my GCASH account. And then in around 30 minutes or so, the funds from my GCASH account are already in my Philippines-based bank account.

I should also mention though that the 3.25% tax for remittance via GCASH is because I have a coupon, given to new GCASH members, expiring by the end of March.  If without the coupon I would have paid around maybe 4%, which is still not so bad, and still nearly 3 times less the cost for transferring bank-to-bank, Japan-to-Philippines.

I should also mention that GCASH's Customer Support Staff are a delight. I interacted with an English-speaking Japanese via e-mail, and then later I got a call from a Tagalog-speaking Filipina who was very polite and very helpful (although she did not really have the answers to my issue that time). Speaking about my issue, I was on GCASH's English website and my bank's is in Japanese, so there was a little bit of a disconnect there even though I could use Google's translation functions, and that led to my problem but I eventually figured it all out. Thanks also to Google!

My local Japanese bank, by the way, is Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation. I would think that services offered through other Japanese banks are on the same level. Being in a city far away from Tokyo, my local branch does not have people who can speak English so that was a difficulty. Just by using the online banking facilities and Google Chrome as web browser, it didn't matter as much that the website is in Japanese.

GCASH, by the way, is a service by Softbank Payment Services here in Japan, and "guaranteed" by Globe (yes, the cellphone company) in the Philippines.  You can do a bank transfer to over 15 other banks in the Philippines, including Citibank, Chinabank, PNB, and MetroBank2. You can also transfer to someone's GCASH account in the Philippines as "Mobile Money" - they can use it as prepaid cellphone load, and a number of other things, but I think it might be difficult to "withdraw" the cash. The remit-to-GCASH-in-the-Philippines option I believe has even cheaper rates. You can also remit to selected remittance centers in the Philippines, like Globe Stores, some pawnshops, and some banks. I can also actually transfer to my GCASH.JP account through convenience stores, but that costs a little bit more and the nearest one is about a 5-minute walk away.

1 Relative to the exchange rate based on historical rates shown on www.exchange-rates.org.
2 [UPDATE/ADDENDUM] They sort of advertise that you can transfer to PNB and MetroBank bank accounts, and it gives you the impression that you would need to have an account at only those two banks. But the truth is, you can transfer to probably all Bancnet member banks. But there are some additional requirements for certain banks (I forgot which ones though), and you'll be informed of those requirements as you use the service. Anyways, the one big question we have is: This is somewhat a service of Globe - an Ayala company - and yet why does it seem impossible to transfer to BPI - another Ayala company!?  That is so weird.  But anyway, in the experience I recounted in this blog post, we transferred to ChinaBank.  Tell us in the comments how different your experience might be if you had used other banks, or if you had used ChinaBank as well.

20 March 2012

5-Thirsty in Japan?

In the Philippines, one of the beer companies featured a TV commercial which introduced the concept of "5-Thirsty," i.e. at 5:30pm, after work hours, it's time to invite friends and drink... beer, of course.

Anyway, here in Japan, I've noticed something happening at around 5:30pm as well. And no, it's actually not a 5-Thirsty thing. I've noticed it for a long time now, but it is only today that I paid attention.

It's two things.

Firstly, there are PA ("public address," in case you didn't know) systems in all neighborhoods here in Japan. It has many benefits, obviously, like when there's some impending disaster like a tornado or tsunami or fire and so on, or some message from the local government (and maybe national government?) needs to be disseminated fast.

But, they play chime tunes as well on those PA systems. Like, if I'm not mistaken, at 12 noon, they play a chime to signal 12 noon. Maybe it is to signal lunch break.

In schools, at the start and at the end of every class, or at the start and at the end of public announcements from the school administration as well, there's a chime that plays, that I believe is usually the same sound as the Big Ben's chime.

15 minutes or less before closing time, stores usually play an Auld Lang Syne chime right before announcing closing time.

Today, at exactly 5pm, there's this chime that played again for the Nth time now since I've been here in Japan. I did some search and apparently it's called "the Chime of Love," and the tune is from a song / nursery rhyme entitled "Yuyake Koyake," which I believe literally translates to Sunset Burning. If you haven't guessed yet, it is to signal the sunset and it is meant to inform children, for their own safety, that it is time to go home.

Here's a video capturing the Yuyake Koyake "chime of love" moment during summertime at one rather urban neighborhood in Japan: http://youtu.be/18-YzchO6xs

And here's a video of someone playing a more complex version of the tune on piano: http://youtu.be/k3rtMAr79AQ

I asked a Japanese friend and, considering the different sunset times per season here, he informed me that Yuyake Koyake does not usually play at 5pm. Here are the play times, at least here in Atsugi, Kanagawa:

March, April - 5pm
May to August - 5:30pm
September, October - 5pm
November to February - 4:30pm

For more information, I found this explanation (and another recording of an actual Yuyake Koyake "chime of love" at another neighborhood here in Japan) which might be interesting to you as well: http://youtu.be/Iez63nk6J6w

16 March 2012

Graduation time!

Not for me, though. Not yet. But for many students, March is graduation month. I went to Tokyo today and I noticed a lot of women - mostly younger women - in what I thought was "traditional" Japanese kimono. The first thought was, maybe it was their graduation attire. Anyway, I asked a Japanese friend and I was half right. It was graduation attire but it was not "traditional" Japanese kimono like this:

(Image taken from http://www.1carat.jp/images/kasou/kimono/kimono_img.jpg)

Instead, what I saw were actually called hakama, and they look like this:

(Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hakama)

My friend added that these clothing styles are obviously very different from Korean traditional attire which looks like this:

(Image taken from http://blogimg.goo.ne.jp/user_image/03/c3/684b1b938b472ffdce5e613af44a3080.jpg)

Anyways, I googled "hakama" up and found that at least one definition says the hakama is also a traditional Japanese attire. My friend clarified though that it is not as mainstream as the more traditional kimono.

11 March 2012

Remembering 3-11

It's been a year since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. What an experience that was. Anyways, check out this very interesting visualization (i.e. a dynamic infographic) of the earthquakes in Japan (M3.0 or stronger) in 2011: http://youtu.be/eKp5cA2sM28. For contrast, check out this version for earthquakes (M4.5 or stronger) in the whole world in 2011: http://youtu.be/cwWn_W6ZbT4. These were featured on LikeCOOL. Finally, let's try to remember 3-11 through this well-prepared news video from ABC's 20/20 show from a year ago, that I saw just now: http://youtu.be/9nTlgtf7TME.