A story about a student who made a decent amount of money selling virtual weapons and gold in the on-line game World of Warcraft has been making the rounds lately. The basic gist of it is that a Chinese man who resides in Japan under a student visa was turned in for possibly violating the terms of his stay by a bank worker who noticed he was sending money home frequently.
The thing that really caught my eye was the fact that the police were notified about this by a bank worker. When my husband and I have sent money home, we have had to fill out forms that state why we are doing so. I wonder if those forms have to be turned over to the police or if the bank only has to do so at their discretion. Somehow, I imagine it must be the latter since the former would inundate the police with a lot of inconsequential paperwork. It's not the least bit uncommon for foreign workers to send money home because they are leaving Japan or they prefer to keep the money in a foreign bank because interest rates in Japan for savings accounts are something on the order of 0-.2%.
One important point about this situation is that one does not have to state one's visa status to the bank when sending money home though we do have to show them our foreign resident's card (often called a "gaijin card" by those of us living in Japan). The gaijin card does show our visa status so anyone who did the paperwork for sending money home who scrutinized the card carefully enough would see if one was a student or using a work visa.
The thing that I find troubling about this is the possibility that this is a sort of schaedenfreude (sour grapes) at a lowly Chinese student raking in the dough while living in Japan. Was he turned in because a Japanese bank worker resented seeing him make more money than himself? Or, was he turned in because the bank worker was civic-minded and told to do so? One thing that I can't help but think is that this wouldn't have happened to a white person.
There is plenty of prejudice against foreigners in Japan but the shape of it varies based on who the foreigner is. White foreigners tend to be regarded as equal or "superior" to Japanese people when prejudice applies to them. They may be seen by some as smelly, loud, overpaid and too culturally retarded to ever really grasp Japanese culture but they are not seen as socially lower than Japanese. Other Asians, on the other hand, are seen as being inferior by some Japanese. So, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if a Japanese bank worker might be upset at seeing what he felt was a lot of cash being made by a Chinese person.
The reports about how much money was being made in this endeavor seem to dramatically range from about $50,000 to $1.3 million U.S. dollars. I know on-line gaming and the claim by the police that he made over a million dollars is far-fetched unless this student was serving as a funnel for a huge operation ran elsewhere. It's inconceivable that a single person could play the game enough to acquire enough on-line currency to make that much money, not even if he played around the clock for years. If the market were that lucrative, you'd find people quitting their jobs to play the game and sell virtual items.
Since the visa status of a student allows the student to work 28 hours a week if he has received the proper permission to engage in activities other than specified by his visa, all it would take for the student to not be in violation of his visa would be for him not to spend more than 28 hours a week handling the "paperwork" for selling the items. It wouldn't matter whether he or someone else played the game as I think the Japanese police would be hard-pressed to call game playing "work", even if it was done in the service of item farming in the virtual world.
From a personal perspective, this offers no real threat to me but it does raise an issue I had never considered. I no longer remain in Japan under a work visa. I'm here under a dependent spouse visa which means I should not make enough money to support myself. And I don't do so by a very large margin. However, a very long time ago, we decided to have my husband's salary paid into my bank account in Japan (which is only in my name) because we didn't want to go to the trouble of opening up another account. If a bank worker were to only look at the record of deposits and not consider the source in any way, it may appear that I make a full salary and in violation of my terms of stay. I doubt anything would ever come of this but it does point out how bank activity can be pretty misleading in some cases and why perhaps bank workers shouldn't be monitoring activity and reporting it to the police.