This week’s column kicks off with a question about Japanese banks from reader S.K.

“I spent a few years in Japan and had bank accounts,” she writes. “Now I am overseas and I was looking for information on what options I have to close the accounts and get the remaining money. My accounts are still active and I can provide the ID and inkan [personal seal] I used to open them.”

I spoke with representatives at three of Japan’s largest banks, Mizuho, Mitsubishi UFJ and Sumitomo Mitsui. I mistakenly assumed that the banks’ respective international departments would handle S.K.’s request. However, each bank advised me to call the branch where the account was held. Not being privy to this information, I fell back on the old standby, “calling on behalf of a friend,” and contacted the branches in my own city.

Mizuho, the first bank I called, turned out to the most helpful of the three. First they wanted to know if my friend had any relatives in Japan, as it would be much easier to have a family member close the bank account on her behalf. While this is understandable, it doesn’t help S.K., and so I persevered.

After some teeth-sucking noise on the other end, the bank employee agreed that a friend might do for the job, but that it would be “rather difficult.” The friend in Japan would need to take possession of the bank book and inkan used to open the account, and there would be need to be clear directives from S.K. about what to do with the money after the account was closed. For obvious reasons, just handing it over to the friend wouldn’t go down very well.

The other two banks were less forthcoming. Mitsubishi UFJ refused to proceed without having the name of the account holder and her account number. Like Mizuho, they said the friend would need to have possession of the bankbook, inkan and extensive proof that he/she was authorized to make this move. Sumitomo Mitsui said flat out that it was “practically impossible” for someone other than the account holder herself to close the account. Their only suggestion was that she should do it “during her next visit to Japan.”

The bottom line seems to be that S.K. must contact the banks herself and take it from there. All three have numbers she can call from overseas, and presumably they could then transfer her to the branch where she opened the account:

• Mizuho: 03-5500-3737

• Mitsubishi UFJ: 050-3786-7350

• Sumitomo Mitsui: 03-5745-5051 (Tokyo) or 06-6258-0012 (Osaka)

If any reader has successfully closed a Japanese bank account from overseas, please share your tips.

Whether or not to pay NHK fees is a perennial hot topic of discussion — one that was covered in Lifelines earlier this year (“All’s fare when it comes to NHK’s fare,” Feb. 16).

Recently, I became aware of another option that NHK is offering, no doubt hoping to get more people to sign up. It’s called dantai ikkatsu shiharai, which roughly translates as “grouped bulk payments.” Under this scheme, the NHK fee is bundled in with a completely separate fee paid to another provider. In this case, it was our cable TV provider who came calling, asking if we wanted to switch over from paying our NHK fees on our own and authorize his company to pay for us under their “bulk payment plan.” According to NHK, this option has been around for a few years now but many people aren’t yet aware of it yet.

Finally, a request from Brenda in the U.S., who is searching for her half sister in Japan.

Brenda’s sister sang professionally as Michi Aoyama in the 1960s and ’70s, and won many fans with her unusual voice and bluesy style. Michi was reunited with her American father, a former GI, when he came back to Japan in the early 1970s. However, her busy career kept her from visiting the States and the family subsequently lost touch with her.

Michi would now be in her mid-60s and may be living and even still performing in the Kanto region. Brenda herself is no longer in the best of health and says Michi’s American relatives would love to get in touch. Can anyone help?

Send all your questions and comments here: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

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