I recently had this HUUUUUUUGE headache with my new credit card and its T-point link up but before that, let’s sakanoboru （遡る: trace back [to the past]) and talk about how I ended up owning four credit cards in Japan. I only apply for cards with zero annual fees, by the way. I’m cheap this way.
Story of Card Number One
I did a lot of research before coming to Japan, and I knew that credit cards were famously hard to get, for foreigners. I thought I could go by without one, but when I just got my life in Japan set up, a friend who had been here for three years suggested I get a credit card since it’s presumably easier to book air tickets with them. He wasn’t even working – he was a scholarship student – but managed to get a credit card from Japan Post the same time he opened a bank account with them. I decided to copy him, and applied for a credit card with Japan Post.
They didn’t give me one. I wasn’t discouraged, though. I already had the knowledge that credit cards weren’t easy to get, since I’m a foreigner.
There’s this huge mall near my old apartment in Gunma, it’s called AEON Mall Ota. I used to go there very often. One day, I was stopped by a service staff, who turned out to be marketing AEON Mall’s credit card. She asked if I would like to apply for one, and open a bank account with AEON Bank at the same time. I thought: why not?
That was my first credit card, and seven years later I still swear by how opening up an account with AEON Bank was the best decision I ever made in my early days in Japan. Reason being – not because the credit card is fantastic – AEON Bank has link-ups with Mizuho Bank and Mitsubishi UFJ (and most recently, Japan Post Bank), so I can withdraw funds with zero servicing fees at these ATMs on weekdays before 6 PM. Every AEON Mall and every Mini Stop convenience store in the country has AEON Bank ATMs, so I can withdraw funds from those 24/7. Nowadays this ‘zero service fee’ thing is becoming more common, but back in the day it was a pain in the butt to have to pay an extra charge to withdraw your funds after hours. I remember coming to Japan in ’09 to visit a Canadian friend who was living and working in Chiba. She had to draw cash from a 7-11 ATM at nine in the evening, and she was irritated that she didn’t do it earlier because now she had to pay a service charge. I totally got where she was coming from; back in Singapore, having to pay extra just to draw money from an ATM was unheard of. But it’s apparently been something that’s happened in Japan for a long time. Even now, the bank that my salary used to arrive in, Gunma Bank, still doesn’t waive servicing fees for fund withdrawals.
AEON credit cards let you rack up what they call Tokimeki points, which you can use to charge this cashcard called Waon. You can also use Tokimeki points to exchange for items in the AEON catalogue. I once got a car vacuum cleaner with my points. It was quite lousy so we never used our Tokimeki points to exchange for items again. One time, when the expiration date of the points was drawing very near, I realised I was only a few hundred points shy of being eligible for two tickets to Universal Studios Japan. I was quite irritated. Strike Two against Tokimeki points.
Oh but I do have a gold card with AEON. They gave it to me one day. I don’t know why. But yes. I have one.
Story of Card Number Two
I think it was in 2012 or 2013 that I attended this conference for JETs (I was a teacher on the JET Programme), and one of the talks was on managing finances in Japan. The person giving the talk touched on credit cards, and he said he hasn’t known any foreigner who applied for the Rakuten card and didn’t get it.
I didn’t need another credit card, but my husband had been in Japan for a few years by then, and he didn’t have a credit card. I thought it’d be more convenient for him to have one, just in case, so I applied for a Rakuten card so I could get a supplementary card for him. Sure enough, just like the person at the talk said, my application went through.
I love my Rakuten card because of its points system. Every expenditure gives me a 1% rebate (in units of 100 yen), so racking up points is a breeze. When I use Rakuten online services like Rakuten Travel or Rakuten Shopping, I also get points. Sometimes my points get multiplied, depending on the campaign that the site is organising, and that’s really nice. I can use my points at physical locations as well, not just online services. For example, at Idemitsu petrol kiosks, I can both accumulate points and choose to use my points to offset my purchase. (I drive, so this is really nice for me.) I also use my Rakuten card for small purchases of at least 100 yen, since I know I’m earning back 1 yen. It’s very auntie, I know.
Rakuten points can be accumulated and/or used at many, many locations: McDonalds, cinemas, Domino’s Pizza, the list goes on. I love it.
Story of Card Number Three
This is a pretty short story. Remember my previous post about shaving 8000 yen off my phone bill? Late last year, when I was applying for my 20GB plan (it wasn’t 30, I made a mistake – still, 20 gigs is a lot) I noticed that I could merge my electricity bill with my phone bill, and get points from my mobile provider just by paying for my electricity bill, which will allow me to convert those points into yen, to charge my au prepaid card for cashless purchases! Yes! AUNTIE POWER!
Later, when I was applying for the iPad, I noticed there was a credit card I could apply for to pay for the entire phone bill (which was now merged with my electricity bill). For what, you ask? TO EARN MORE POINTS, THAT’S WHAT. So I applied, I got it, and it’s sitting in my cupboard because its only job is to pay my bills, so I don’t bring it out. It’s so calefare, I bet if my credit cards come together for a round table they wouldn’t even notice the au card is there.
(For the non-Singlish speakers, ‘calefare’ means ‘extra’, as in ‘film extra’ or ‘bit-role player’. Or ‘spear-carrier’, for the more classical-inclined.)
I just went to check my au points balance. I have over a thousand points in there. I can buy an Arashi single just by paying my bills. Haha.
Story of Card Number Four
Card Number Four has a little drama of its own.
The petrol kiosk near our house, Idemitsu, has their own credit card. I mentioned that I can rack up Rakuten points there – yes, that’s great, but Idemitsu’s credit card gives a really good discount on petrol. We’re talking three to five yen off every litre of petrol. And we can still accumulate Rakuten points while using the Idemitsu credit card, because there are Rakuten point cards without the credit card function we can insert into the machine to communicate with our Rakuten account – we just use the credit card to pay.
Every change of season the petrol kiosk will run a campaign. Dedicated staff from the sales side of the company will come down to the petrol kiosk, set up their booths, and try to get customers who’ve come to pump petrol to sign up with their credit card service. The draw? 16 boxes of tissue paper. Branded ones okay, not chapalang brand one! Scottie, I think? AUNTIE OF COURSE GIAN LAH.
Sorry for all that Singlish. I think a lot of you reading might be Singaporean, but I will be courteous and translate ‘chapalang’ (cheap; lousy) and ‘gian’ (hanker after) just in case some of you out there gong ang moh one and don’t understand what I just typed.
So anyway, ever since the petrol kiosk opened, my husband has been stopping by the place whenever there’s the credit card campaign. He’s also quite auntie and believes that even though he might not get the credit card approved, at least he has 16 boxes of tissue paper. So he’s been applying, and twice he’s gotten the rejection letter from Idemitsu informing him that he doesn’t qualify for some undisclosed reason.
So this auntie decided to step in.
I bravely filled in the form during a campaign, got my 16 boxes of tissue, and waited.
I didn’t get the card.
I was so ticked off. I’d been looking forward to this card because it was a JCB card. My AEON card is a Visa, my Rakuten is a MasterCard, my calefare au card is a MasterCard (I didn’t care about it much so I just picked randomly) so to be the best I ever was, I need to catch’em all right? (Yes this auntie is also a Pokemaster.)
Also, Nino from Arashi is the spokesperson for JCB and he has this line in the commercials that goes: “JCB de”, which means “I’ll pay with JCB”, and I really want to emulate him so it became imperative that I got that JCB card.
(My life is inundated with pop culture and memes. #noragrets)
I was so upset that Idemitsu rejected me that one day I woke up and decided I was going to apply for a JCB card with Yahoo! Japan. I already had a Yahoo account, and that is all you need to apply for a Yahoo credit card. I sent in the application, and also registered a supplementary card for my husband.
I later found out Yahoo!’s credit card is neck-to-neck in terms of application approval with Rakuten, i.e. the chances of you applying and getting the card is very high. Also, new applicants receive 3000 T-points just for applying, and 5000 T-points for the first purchase with the credit card.
Before this, my family owned a non-credit card T-point card to accumulate T-points. I say ‘my family’ because the card was applied for in my husband’s name, conferred by the welcia chain of drugstores. A brief explanation: T-points are very similar to Rakuten points, in which you rack up the points and use them in exchange for cash at physical or online stores. T-point cards are accepted possibly even more widely than Rakuten point cards; I’ve used them at coin parking, pharmacies and family restaurants.
Anyway, the application went through, and 3000 points appeared in my T-point account. I couldn’t wait to receive the card. I didn’t want to use the points just yet (they expire in September) so I just left them there.
About a week later, a couple days ago in fact, the cards came. I was over the moon. FINALLY, I COULD COPY NINO AND SAY “JCB DE”.
(Nino isn’t my favourite Arashi member. I love them all equally. Serious. They’re like my sons. Weird, but it’s the closest thing I can come up with to describe how I feel about them.)
And then I tried to link up my T-point account with my card, and… it… didn’t work. I panicked a little, until I remember my T-point account was in my husband’s name, because we registered the old T-card in his name. I took his sup card, keyed in the number on it, and what do you know, the accounts matched up. Apparently, you need the names to match.
I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, though. Linking up the T-card meant my Yahoo! ID would possess my credit card number but my husband’s T-card number. It was kind of confusing, so I emailed the T-point website.
Their customer service is very good, by the way. Emails get replied to within the day if you send them early. They say 24 hours, but I exchanged mails with them about four times and each time they replied within 12.
Anyway, the T-point enquiry person said the T-points are linked to the Yahoo! account that applied for the T-card, not the credit card (even though the credit card functions as a T-card; confusing, I know). Because the names on the T-point account, the T-point card and the Yahoo account need to be the same, they unfortunately couldn’t link up my current T-point account to my name, since it was my husband’s name that was on the account. I would thus lose my points – all my points, including the 5000 points for first purchase – once I linked up my husband’s T-card to the T-point account. I was quite upset at this, since technically it means I would lose 8000 yen’s worth of points. I kept trying to go around the problem, asking if I changed my husband’s T-card to a new Yahoo! account in his name, and then linking my new T-card to the T-point account, would it work – the answer was no.
Two take-homes from this: one, don’t be greedy. Two, if you want to apply for a Yahoo! credit card, make sure your T-point account is also in your name.
I still like using the Yahoo! card though. T-points are actually great since they’re accepted in exchange for cash at places like Doutour Coffee, FamilyMart and the Skylark group of restaurants (Gusto, Jonathan’s etc), all of which I go to fairly often, so you can use the points to offset your purchases.
I don’t know who is still reading up till here, but good on you. I hope this helped you in some way. Oh and just in case you’re wondering, my credit cards are linked up to my bank accounts: AEON, Rakuten and Yahoo! are linked to the AEON Bank card, whereas my au card is linked up to my Gunma Bank account (calefare is calefare…).
Multiple credit cards do help you save money and the points system is great, but if you’re not a micro-manager like me, it may be best to just stick with one.
All images pulled from Google.