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I looked up the definition of the word 預金{よきん} and my English-Japanese dictionary translates it as "deposit", "savings", and "account". One of the WWWJDIC definitions is also "bank account". I understand "deposit" and "savings", but "account" doesn't make sense to me. The Japanese translation doesn't mention anything about "account" either:

金銭を銀行その他の金融機関にあずけること。また,あずけた金銭。

That seems to suggest that 預金{よきん} refers to the actual money in the bank, not the account containing it. However, I'm confused by words like 預金残高{よきんざんだか}, which is often translated as "account balance", and 当座預金{とうざよきん}, which is "checking account". If you add 口座{こうざ} (account) to the end, it becomes 当座預金口座{とうざよきんこうざ}, which is still "checking account", not "checking account account".

So does 預金{よきん} really mean account, or is that additional meaning tacked on in Japanese-English dictionaries to avoid awkward translations like "deposits balance" or "wire it to my checking"? Or is 預金{よきん} just a short form for 預金口座{よきんこうざ}?

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預金 is the actual money in the bank. It isn't a short form for 預金口座. 口座 is an account in banks.

当座預金 is mainly used by companies and a sole proprietor and checks and bills instead of money are used there. 当座預金口座 is an account of 当座預金 in banks.

預金残高 is a credit balance, that is to say, the actual money in the bank.

In addition, the word "account" have some meanings and it seem to be able to mean money but I don't use the word "account" as the meaning of money but depositing and paying place in banks,

  • According to this dictionary, 預金: [名](スル)銀行などの金融機関に金銭を預けること。また、その金銭。「毎月定額を―する」「―を下ろす」「当座―」「普通―」 Source: dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/227054/meaning/m0u This gives the feeling that 預金 (suru) might be seen as well as the process of entrusting money to a financial instutution, that is just rephrasing for "creating an account". We go back to the idea that in English as well the "account" is "the money" as well, no? – Tommy May 25 '16 at 9:43
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    預金する means " to entrust money to banks" and it doesn't mean "creating an account". People first create own account in banks(初めに自分の口座を銀行に作る) and then they deposit money to own account in the banks. I don't know how to use the word " account" in detail but I don't use it like the meaning of money. And 口座 doesn't mean money. – Yuuichi Tam May 25 '16 at 10:17
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I guess that this is one of those examples where translation becomes really hard and, in a way, a bit ambiguous either way. At this point I would rather see the general meaning in Japanese and associate it to whatever the closest image that I can get in my mind, rather than thinking of a specific word.

However, when we have to translate, we need words and choosing the most accurate ones might be as tricky as interesting.

To get to your question, what does actually "account" even mean in English? Let's look it up on a dictionary. Obviously at first we all think about the "physical account", with the standard meaning of:

a. A formal banking, brokerage, or business relationship established to provide for regular services, dealings, and other financial transactions.

However, if we keep reading we find out that actually account also means:

c. A sum of money deposited for checking, savings, or brokerage use.

(The above examples are taken from here: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/account)

Therefore, if you think that in English as well the word account has the meaning given above I would say that the answer is yes, it can actually mean account (since also in English account might refer to the money, like the definition you give in Japanese).

In the end I guess that the confusion can mostly rise from the fact that in English as well account has different meanings although we usually think of one (example a.).

By the way, another example to add to your question is 普通預金{ふつうよきん} that can be translated as "ordinary account".

I think that also reading the wiki page for 預金 might give more insight:

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%A0%90%E9%87%91

Edit: to add more to it, I think it's interesting here to look at the kanji 預 by itself. This has the meaning of deposit, custody, entrust to etc (think it as the verb 預ける for example). So you can think of 預金 as a sum of money that is being entrusted/deposited to someone/somewhere. The exact same definition of "account" in English that I reported above in case you're putting it in a bank...account. :)

  • That's really interesting about the other definition of account! I've only ever thought of account as a business relationship or a specific entity holding funds, not referring to those funds themselves. I suppose if you consider the word account as synonymous with the funds themselves then the translation makes sense? Now I'm thinking of the translation of 当座預金 as checking deposits, a.k.a. funds in the checking account, a.k.a. checking account. But perhaps the emphasis is on the funds, not the account itself like in the sense of 口座. – skywalker May 25 '16 at 8:21
  • Yeah it was interesting for me as well to find out (hence upvoted), and yeah I guess seeing it that way the translation makes perfect sense. As for 当座預金 well, yeah, I guess you can apply more or less the same reasoning. – Tommy May 25 '16 at 8:24

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