Pinching yourself with battery cables or The day I spent at the immigration office

02Apr13

Editor’s note: The following is a personal account of my experience renewing my spousal visa in Japan. Everybody’s situation is a little different, so if you are seeking advice, here are the websites that helped me the most: Blog it Japan, GaijinPot and here is a link to download the application and guarantor documents.

My friend Doug told me to go to the immigration office early. I should have listened to Doug.

I am here in Japan on a spousal visa. I am married to a Japanese national, and the laws here are similar to the States. If you are married to a native, you get a free pass. However, my visa was initially approved for only one year, which means it expires in May.

In addition to the shock that I have already lived in Japan for a year, I felt a sense of foreboding that I would have to go through the visa process all over again.

As I may have mentioned before, getting my first spousal visa was a bear. The main source of consternation is the fact that I need a guarantor. Somebody needs to vouch for me to the government, that if I go broke or become destitute, somebody will take care of me.

Since at the time Lisa wasn’t a current resident of Japan, the rules stipulated that one of her family members needed to be my guarantor. Lisa’s brother Yuichi was extremely kind enough serve in this role.

This year, since Lisa is now a resident of this fine country, she filled out the guarantor form. In fact, she filled out my entire application in Japanese, which provided to be my saving grace.

The rest of the documents we turned in to the immigration bureau weren’t exactly on the up and up. Nothing huge, but we didn’t follow the rules to the T.

In addition to the application and the guarantor form, I needed my resident certificate, called a Jumin-Hyo, and a copy of Lisa’s family registration, or Koseki Tohon. Both of these documents can be retrieved from the city ward office.

Lisa works full-time, so she didn’t have time to go to the ward office, so we used the Koseki Tohon from our original visa application, even though the rules stipulate that this document must be less than three months old.

Whatever, rules don’t apply to us. We hope.

Finally, we needed tax documents to prove that we could afford to live in Japan. Now, up to this point I had been researching “japan spouse visa renewal” on google. Most of the posts I discovered were fairly consistent, however they tended to vary on what tax documents I needed. So I called the immigration bureau directly.

The rather disingenuous gentleman I talked to on the phone, who had a Middle-Eastern accent, told me I needed to bring my nouzei-shoumeisho and kazei-shoumeisho. To this day I have no idea what those are, but he told me I can also get them at the ward office.

So last week I went to the ward office. The poor clerk at the counter spoke no English. The only questions he attempted to ask me were how many copies do I need and where am I taking the documents. Another customer in line spoke a little English and was able to translate.

It didn’t help that I arrived three minutes before the office closed.

Anyhow, I was able to get my resident certificate with no problem. However, since I have lived in Japan for less than one year, I don’t have any tax documents on file. The clerk told me I need to use my wife’s paperwork. At least, that’s what I think he told me.

Rather than send Lisa back to the ward office, she was able to print off a document from work that showed her tax payments and salary information, and we used another certificate that we sent with our first application that proves Lisa works for her company.

We needed six documents in total in order to renew my visa. We had six documents. Were they the right ones? God I hope so.

This catches up to yesterday. My day in purgatory – also known as the Tokyo immigration office.

Prior to venturing off to the immigration office, I had canvassed my co-workers about their experiences. None of them were sunny. Doug told me to get there early. But it was my day off. The immigration office opens at 8:30 a.m. I left the house at 10 a.m., which is still pretty good for me.

Was I ever happy to see this sign.

Was I ever happy to see this sign.

I took two trains and one bus to get there. The immigration office is the only place in Tokyo that is not within walking distance of a train station (or a bar for that matter). The bus leaves from Shinagawa Station and thankfully there were signs everywhere directing people towards the bus stop. They must have had prior experience with lost immigrants.

At least the bus ride was less than 10 minutes long. The line at the immigration office, not so much.

There were at least 100 people waiting in line. It took half an hour to get to the counter.

The clerk looked over my application (once again, mercifully written in Japanese by my diligent wife) and gave me a number.

This first line was merely to get a number. Of course, while I was there, an Asian lady, clearly not Japanese, barged up to the clerk and started asking questions about the application in a language that neither of us understood. The clerk, who did speak a little English, just stared at her in bewilderment.

I can’t imagine how many times that occurs each day at the immigration office. Anyway, he shuffled through my application, gave me a nod of approval and handed me a number. My number: 295.

They were now serving number 157.

With a pitiful expression, the clerk apologized profusely and asked me to please wait. Even though I was the one who was going to have to waste away for the next four hours, I felt worse for the poor clerk who had to deal with us dipshits all day long.

But I waited. For four hours. I could have taken the bus back to Shinagawa and had lunch. But the round trip cost is $5 and I wasn’t absolutely sure how long the wait was going to be. I cannot be nonchalant in these situations. I am the kind of person that when I get to the airport, I want to get to my gate as soon as possible and just sit there until the plane boards.

My wife likes to mosey around and shop and do whatever, pushing it to the last minute. It drives me crazy.

Well, Lisa wasn’t with me at the immigration office, so I sat there and twiddled my thumbs. I tried to study Japanese, but it was too boring. I played games on my cell phone, but it wore down the battery. I tried to watch a cooking show on the TV but somebody sat in front of the screen, blocking the view for everybody else.

I finally got up and wandered around outside, buying a coffee, sandwich and candy bar from the convenience store. I found a little garden area on the side of the building that nobody else was aware of. This was the one solace of the day. I was able to eat my snack and read a book in peace in a nice sunny spot.

Slightly rejuvenated, I returned to the waiting area and the numbers had started to speed along. There were only 20 people in front of me. Then 10, then five, then finally, I was up.

The same clerk from before assisted me. He was visibly frazzled. He flipped through my application and said I was all done. A four hour wait, and all he did was browse through my application for less than 30 seconds.

“Don’t you need my other documents?” I asked, and handed over the registration certificates and Lisa’s salary information.

“Oh yes!” he said, and quickly glanced at each paper.

“Am I good?” I asked.

“Yes, no problem,” he said.

I asked him if I needed to pay. The visa costs 4,000 yen (approximately $45), but you can’t pay cash. You have to buy a revenue stamp from a post office or participating convenience store. I had bought my revenue stamp that morning at the post office. The clerk told me I didn’t need to pay until I came back to pick up my actual visa.

I had to fill out a post card that they will mail to me when my visa is ready. He said it will take three to four weeks. For once I was ahead of the curve, because my visa doesn’t expire for another six weeks.

Relieved that I was done, I still had a sense of uneasiness about my paperwork. Did it meet the criteria? Yes. Did we follow instructions perfectly? No. The only thing they really concerned about was if the application was filled out correctly. I also decided, that since this was just a visa renewal, they weren’t so much concerned about all the other information, which were pretty much duplicates of what we turned in the first time.

Still, I was a little surprised with the entire process, being that Japanese bureaucrats have the reputation for being rather strict when it comes to paperwork. Perhaps I lucked out today, or perhaps the clerk was just happy to deal with somebody who had their application filled out correctly in Japanese and didn’t treat him like a jackass.

At the end of the day, I am not looking forward to going through the process again next year, and I also decided that I am going to start arriving at the immigration every day at 8:30 a.m. to get a low number and try to scalp it people outside.

How much do you think it would go for?

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4 Responses to “Pinching yourself with battery cables or The day I spent at the immigration office”

  1. 1 Tari

    Hi, This might be an old post but i think i am on the same boat with you. My spouse VISA is about to expire for the next few months and i am getting the nerve to get this done all over again. Few questions:
    1. Do you submit your current resident card back to the immigration office?
    2. How did you get the new resident card? Did they issue from immigration office?
    3. Did the old Koseki Tohon works?

    Thank you for taking your time for this!

    Tari

    • Hello Tari,
      1) I still have my old residence card.
      2) I had to return to the immigration office to pick up the new card.
      3) Yes, the old Koseki Tohon worked.
      Good luck! Not looking forward to doing again next year.

      • 3 Tari

        Thank you Nicknarigon. i am not looking forward to do it this coming August too. Thanks again for the reply! Just want to double, triple confirm again, I had my first one issued at the haneda airport. So this time we go to immigration office for the new card? Sorry for keep asking, because i might need to go in and out of Japan around that time.

      • 4 Tari

        Oh i forgot to ask how long does it take till you get the new card done?


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