There haven’t been a whole of lot of experiences in my life that I can describe as being “harrowing”, but this certainly is one of them. While many people are amatuer crastinators, I consider myself a pro, but only when it really matters. If we’re talking about getting your work done inside of a company, I’ll get it done quickly, but if we’re talking about signing up for the SATs, signing up for a term at university, paying student loans, or anything that could shatter my life if I don’t do it, I end up not doing it until the last minute.
I overstayed my visa in Japan.After getting a call from my part time employer alerting me that my visa had expired, I immediately jumped online to look at the potential implications, and it would seem that Japan offers two options to the situation;
leave the country on your own free will and return a year later, or
contest it, lose, and then be deported and unable to return for a period of five years.
If I was filled with bricks, I certainly would have shit them. Instead, I was filled with a sense of dread that I didn’t want to share with anyone, as their fear would certainly compound mine.
After the big earthquake, I had my fair share of E-mails from people who were checking into my safety. Based off of the news that they were getting, Japan was turning into a nuclear wasteland with scores of people on the brink of death, and my only option was to give up my job and career and return to America in order to be safe. It had taken me a few years to get comfortable in Japan, finally securing a decent place to live and work, so the thought of giving it all up ate away at me and caused immense amounts of dread. Had I told people about overstaying my visa and the potential results, it would cause undue fear in them, and they would add to my own fear.
A day after the expiration, I rapidly grabbed any and all relevant paperwork at my disposal and made my way to the Japanese Immigration Center, where in a panic, I presented my situation and was told to go to the 6th floor of the 7 floor building. According to the online posts, the higher the floor, the more trouble you were in. Around this point in time I experienced chills for the first time in my life that weren’t directly linked to the flu. I sat down next to a few Latino people, perhaps the only ones that I’ve actually seen in Japan, and awaited my fate. I sat around like an idiot while people were called up to the counter, and then eventually went and talked to the clerk who told to go to the second floor and work things out from there. On the second floor, I was met with a different situation at the counter that works with employment, and they gave me a list of things I needed to present in order to renew my visa. That day was done, so I left and went about collecting all of the items that I was lacking.
Throughout the experience, my boss and girlfriend did a fantastic job of convincing me to stop being so afraid and just work through it all. I couldn’t tell if it was true optimism or feigned optimism, but neither is the kind of person to lie, be wrong, or sell me up a river, so despite it all I managed to calm down a bit. I got more paperwork, made another trip, found that I lacked paperwork, made another trip, found that I lacked paperwork, and now am back for my fourth time. It would seem that I am getting closer to getting my visa renewed despite the situation. This point of the story is being written in the waiting area of the Immigration Center, on the second floor, facing a TV playing a ridiculous Korean drama where some black guy is playing a kidnapper.
There aren’t a lot of reports of people overstaying their visas, but I took it to heart when I read that you must be humble about the situation. My first time at the Immigration Center had me standing next to an indignant Filipino man who spoke entirely in English and had also overstayed his visa. When the staff asked him about employment, he responded that he had none. When asked why he wanted to continue living in Japan, he couldn’t give an answer. They asked him if he had money in his bank account, to which he responded that he did. The staff then completely told him by saying “Then you should use that money and buy an air(sic) ticket. No country for told men.
I didn’t need to answer the same question verbally, as it appeared my application form as “why do you want to stay in Japan?”, with only a single line to write. I thought about my apartment, job, furniture, and tomatoes which were about to go bad, and wrote “In order to work and live”. What a lame answer. I thought about “My life is in Japan”, but didn’t want to come across too desperate or suicidal.
In the immigration center, I’ve noticed that the women are more brutal than the men when it comes to questioning or even helping. I was helped by one who spent a good portion of time telling me that what I did was dangerous, which really helped my self esteem. However, on a previous visit, a woman who was probably from SE Asia and on an “entertainer” visa was speaking in English with a clerk at the counter. The clerk had a fine line on her lip from a cleft palette, and the same expression of a Maoi statue which probably came from being teased as a child. The clerk stood nearly as tall as me, and just by looking at her face it was obvious that she wasn’t the kind of lady to give any fucks or take any shit. I caught the conversation halfway though, and the SE Asian woman was saying that she was married to a Japanese man, but didn’t have any proof, and she accidentally “closed” his phone number in his phone, which I assume meant deleted. The clerk said “come back and bring proof” and conversation essentially stopped. That really stuck with me how cold the clerks could be, but on the other hand, the “entertainer” visa was what all the prostitutes came in on a decade or two ago and the lady was probably full of lies.
It’s amazing how much my mind has been dwelling on this. When I would go to work, I would get lost in the letters of the computer screen with my mind blank, otherwise my thoughts would eventually drift towards how I could possibly uproot myself, sell all the appliances that I had accumulated, and move back to America. I’m not ready for that yet.
Sitting here, watching people argue at the counter about their situations and extensions is a tough one. Sometimes I feel as though I am not fighting enough for this, but then am reminded that in Japan being humble can work towards your advantage more often than not.
For anyone else who falls in the same situation as I have, here’s some advice;
- be sorry
- speak Japanese
- hope for male clerks
- prepare any and all documents beforehand
Also, bring a book instead of a laptop. I think the dude behind me is from a country that doesn’t have laptops, and I have seen his reflection on the screen, staring intently for the past 10 minutes. No reaction to this sentence. He cannot read English. I wish he’d stop looking. Time to save this and close the lid.
Later in the dayA few hours of ping-ponging back and forth between counters and listening to the ching-chonging of all sorts of familiar and unfamiliar languages chattering away, I finally ended up in a closed area waiting for a person who had worked with me twice prior to return with an ultimatum. In Japanese, it was essentially “Do you have the visa extension stamp?”. My heart leaped for joy and I tried my best to uphold my “I’m really sorry about all of this face” against the overwhelming rush of relief. I responded with, “I’ll go get that”.
I wore a suit each time I had visited, since all the white people tend to dress really casual, and I was hoping that an air of Japanesy-ness would help my chances. Seeing some American wearing shorts and a fucking Oakley backpack, or some French guy wearing a bunch of tight, brightly colored nonsense makes me wonder how they are perceived by the staff. Probably “oh, and then there’s *this* asshole”, as they saunter up the counter and make no attempt to speak Japanese. The information about the suit is relevant, but the other information was a tangent. Wearing my suit and not wanting to break out into a full sprint to go buy the stamp, I ended up in some retarded jitter – something between a speed walk and a break dancer doing the robot as I went down to the convenience store on the first floor that sold all of the stamps required for the immigration center.
I got the stamp, spent 4000 yen, ran upstairs, signed a paper, and got my passport with the little visa extension in it, thanked the guy a little too much for just doing his job, then got back on the train and hammered the rest of this out.
I can’t believe how badly I fucked up, and how much I was forgiven for it.
Don’t be dumb like me. Don’t overstay your visas.