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.
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! ;)