Extending a Visa in Japan, Part 1

This is a bit ridiculous but, owing to the way that my company made my contracts, by the time I leave Japan I will have been working for three years and one month. That wouldn’t be a problem except my working visa was for only three years. Doh.

So, this morning, a bright, windy January day, I set out for the local Immigration Office (“nyuukokukanrikyoku” / 入国管理局), armed with a whole bunch of paperwork, my passport, alien registration card and health insurance card. We are allowed to apply for a visa extension two months before our visa expires. Luckily, my company actually provided me with all the paperwork I needed, already filled in, and a whole bunch of instructions about what I should do in order to renew my visa.

According the pretty vague map my head office provided me with, the immigration office seemed to be located really close to my apartment. Without giving it too much thought, I walked to the big circle on the map which was labelled “Hamamatsu Godochosha” in English. I still don’t actually know what “godochosha” translates as – but it’s not “immigration office” as far as I can make out.

Anyway, I reached the area indicated on my map, and then I was stumped. I could see a lot of official looking buildings, and none of them had signs in English. Before leaving my apartment, I had bothered to check the kanji for “immigration office”, but didn’t realise that that wasn’t “godochosha”. I guess I had assumed that, seeing as the immigration office is the kind of place that a lot of foreigners need to go to, there would be a huge neon sign pointing to the building saying “get your visa here!“… or at least a sign saying “immigration office”. But no. Nothing.

Hamamatsu Godochosha/Immigration Office

So, I was standing just outside the light coloured building on the left of the picture above and I stopped a woman coming out of the building and asked “godochosha wa…?” She told me, in Japanese of course, that this building was the “godochosha”, but then asked me what I needed. I said “visa” and she pointed me towards the tall dark building in the middle of the picture, which she said was also “godochosha”. So I went over to the other building, entered, couldn’t see anything in English, and asked a guy “visa wa…?”. I wasn’t sure if the guy worked in the building or not, but he didn’t seem too sure about where anything was. Anyway, he took me to an office and told me to ask there. I asked and was told it was in another building – you guessed it – the building I was originally standing by!

I walked back over to the other building, and looked more closely. Right by the door, in teeny tiny writing, I found “immigration” in English. Sigh.

I went into the building and was again faced with a heap of Japanese. Fortunately, this time, there were some translations, but still no clear “get your visa here” sign. I eventually figured out where to go and found myself in a tatty looking room. I knew I was probably in the right place, even though there were no signs in English, because there were other foreigners in there. In amongst a multitude of languages, I was surprised to find that the staff still only spoke Japanese. The lady I spoke to was kind and spoke slowly, but made no attempt to speak English (or any other language besides Japanese) for the whole 45 minutes I was waiting in there. I don’t mind having to try speaking Japanese in most circumstances, but I do find it amazing that in a place like an immigration office no one speaks English!

Anyway, after a very long 45 minutes, I was finally called to the counter and given my passport back. My passport now has a stamp inside it saying “application” and the date. Yes, I am now only part way through the application process. In two to eight weeks I should receive a postcard at my school, which will alert me to go back to the immigration office. Then I will be given the actual visa extension.

It’s a real hassle, and I imagine if someone who couldn’t speak any Japanese at all had to do this it would be really hard. So, yet another reason to learn Japanese while living in Japan! ;)

14 thoughts on “Extending a Visa in Japan, Part 1

  1. For me, Japanese, what you described about the people at the immigration office offended my feeling pretty much. Because the nuance of your story is telling me that the people at the immigration office should or must communicate with non-Japanese in English. What on earth are you talking about. Why can’t you speak some more Japanese besides “visa wa” or “godochosha”? Do you look down on us? I strongly believe that if Japanese had the same situation, some or more than half of them would try to speak in their language in spite of wrong grammar or horrible pronunciations. Simple question for you. Are you a racist?

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    • Sakura, I’m sorry if I offended you. That certainly wasn’t my intention. What I meant was that, in a place such as an immigration office, in a city with a huge foreign population such as Hamamatsu, I was really surprised to find not even one sign saying “visa” in English or Portuguese. And yes, I do think that people who work in places which deal with foreigners on a daily basis should have at least one member of staff who can speak English (the most common language).

      Japanese is a really difficult language to learn, but I assure you that I can speak basic Japanese. If I hadn’t been able to, I probably would never have found the immigration office in the first place. At the end of my blog, if you noticed, I actually reminded my readers that it’s really important to learn Japanese while living in Japan. I know many people who don’t bother, and it’s hard for them, but it’s their own fault. I have terrible grammar, but I speak Japanese every day in order to get by here.

      Finally, to answer your last question: read my blog. And then decide if you think I am (a) a racist or (b) someone who loves Japanese culture and embraces it as often as possible.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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    • Well, English is the lingua franca. An office that deals with foreigners all the time should be prepared for it. That means being able to communicate with everyone… in English. It used to be French and maybe in 50 years it will be Chinese.

      It is true that in Japan a lot of people don’t speak English, and that’s OK, but having notions of English should be compulsory just to be able to apply for that kind of job.

      It bothers me a lot when English-speaking people abroad don’t speak any other languages (and are not willing to learn) and expect everyone else to speak English, but that’s a different thing.

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    • Sakura, In England we understand that many people can’t speak fluent English and so most public offices produce instructions in many different languages. It is just a basic courtesy. Nothing to get a chip on your shoulder about. Many foreigners do try to learn Japanese while in Japan, but we don’t have the luxury of spending years and years learning kanji over and over again like you do at school. So spare a thought for us and realise that as adults, it may take us longer to master a very difficult language. Also official situations such as renewing visas and dealing with complex procedures requires quite a high level of Japanese ability. I also found your tone of message quite offensive to imply that Haikugirl is racist. Why on earth would she be in a foreign country if she were?!

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  2. Aliiii, you should have asked me where the immigration office was ;) – it took me ages to find it, too, but I can now direct the confused masses to it, should they need it! I might put super clear instructions on my blog, actually.
    Hmmmm, actually the guy who stamped my passport asked me if I could understand Japanese, and I said “sukoshi”, but he then continued to attempt to speak to me in English! Maybe it depends on who’s talking to you. Also, 99% of people in that room with me were speaking Portuguese, so if the staff there are going to learn any language… I think Portuguese is spoken in Hamamatsu a lot more than English!
    Think Sakura’s reaction is a bit harsh, though. Yes, we should learn Japanese in Japan. But an immigration office could do with at least one sign in English or Portuguese – they know that some people who need it won’t know all the right kanji. Similarly, I’d expect an immigration office in the UK to have signs in multiple languages, not just English – it’s about catering to your customers.

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    • Haha – yeah, I should have asked you, Gwynnie! You’re lucky that you got the guy who could speak English a bit. I have to say though, the lady I spoke to was very kind and spoke very slowly to everyone I saw her talking with.

      You’re right, of course, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had spoken to me in Portunguese! Haha!

      Isn’t it amazing though, that there’s not even one simple, obvious sign in various languages. Kanji can be so hard to figure out, even if you can speak some Japanese!

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  3. Yeah, when I lived in Fukuroi I also had to go to Hamamatsu for immigration and took me forever to figure out which building it was… Wasn’t as obvious as I thought it would be. It was actually in a different location when I first arrived, and in a brown, old, shack-like building with no signs, so I actually (stupidly) ended up waiting for two hours at the foreigner employment place, which I thought was immigration since it looked like an official building and had foreigner in Japanese on the sign outside. A nice Brazilian couple were shocked I was waiting that long in the wrong place and showed me to the immigration office – (the old, unofficial-looking building), which was closed by that point. Then of course they moved it to where it is now a week later so I had to do that whole song and dance.

    I had similar problems finding the office in Shizuoka-shi too, as it’s in a regular tall building and the sign is up high where most people wouldn’t look (and rather small too). I walked around the block 6 times before I finally found it. And normally I’m excellent at finding things! You would think though that these places might be a little more conspicuous…

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  4. While it’s always nice to have people who speak English / Portuguese / insert language of choice here, the fact is that this is better than the situation you find in many public facilities in English speaking countries, where the signage is often English only. Next time you go travel to an English-speaking destination, compare your experience at passport control e with that of the Japanese on the plane. It can be quite enlightening.

    Having said that, the people in the immigration offices in Japan can be distinctly unhelpful , and at times downright rude (I speak fluent Japanese and have had to control myself from causing a scene a few times when confronted with public officials here, including the police, who think that I don’t understand what they’re saying, and are less than polite with their language).

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    • Thanks for your comment, Marc. I’m sorry you found unhelpful or rude people in the immigration office. I guess I was lucky in that respect – they did seem very kind and tried to help everyone when I went to the office in Hamamatsu.

      Next time I go abroad I’m going to be thinking about this issue a lot I think!

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  5. I agree with you; Ali, but I guess British people in general are not known for their willingness to speak other languages and that can get on the nerves of other cultures where the norm is often to speak three or more! I´m willing to bet the immigration service in Britain doesn´t have signs in multiple languages, possibly because there are so many languages spoken in Britain!

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    • Yeah, you’re probably right about the immigration service in Britain. But I’ve always thought it’s pretty good on the Tube – they have multi-lingual announcements sometimes. I guess British people are generally lazy because we speak English. People in other countries end up having to learn other languages because no one speaks their language.

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