My visit to Shinagawa immigration.

This was yesterday, and I want to keep it as a part of my “Japan nice” writing throughout the month. As the regular readers know, throughout the month I am going to be writing just nice things about Japan. So today’s might be a challenge. Let me see what I can do.

My permission to stay usually is up in a November of whichever year, and I put my paperwork in in early September, just in case. You know, I am a lawyer, meaning that I went to law school, graduated, and passed the bar of two American states. Also, I maintain the licenses, even if it means being on inactive status since I don’t take clients.

So to me, this thing of: “what is the rule?” is very big, as well as making sure that paperwork in either in order or in process. The rules matter, because–as you well know–what a mess it becomes when everyone starts writing their own.

It was a nice day to make a trip, and I had the time, so I set out to do it. Some people don’t like Immigration (techncially: Border Control management office, if I read the kanji right), but if you’ve ever dealt with administrative offices in places like, oh, Philadelphia or even Somerville, New Jersey, you have to agree that the process is not nearly as bad. And the people there are rather pleasant, although I know they can be unpleasant, too. Again, focus is on the good in this series.

I suppose I am OK on a renewal, but again, I don’t know. I have three things going on: private work, a new dispatch arrangement, and the lingering matter with IBM Japan, which IBM in America has been delaying throughout 2010 as they did, with other excuses and legal B.S., in 2009.

I don’t know what the criteria are down in Shinagawa, and honestly, I don’t think anyone can tell you. Folks associated with the foreigner union, like my acquaintances Lou Carlet or Dave Ashton, will tell you that there can be surprises. So whatever I have to say, don’t take it for gospel.

Yesterday, I actually achieved my objective of getting the application in. The problem was, I didn’t have the necessary support for the application. I think the first time I did this on my own, in 2006, I didn’t have a thing like a tax statement from the local ward office for the prior year, because I was only here working for a short number of weeks (remember, November). When I had tried to file what we call a “zero return” in Chuo-ku, they refused to accept it because it was less than the stated amount at which I would owe taxes here. It goes like that.

(In America, the IRS gladly accepts a zero return. That is, if everything you’re filling out is straight. If you have earned income in a year of less than the stated amount in the 1040 series instruction book, you are not required to fill out, but you still can. As an aside, since I’m on it: Remember, for IRS you must report your foreign-excludable earned income in Japan. But you still produce a zero return. And it’s OK and sometimes required at home, but here: no zero returns. Anyway . . . )

So this time I had to produce that shomeisho, ideally as part of the filing. I didn’t have it. Shit.

Second, because I have this complicated transition going on right now, and an outstanding labor issue with IBM, I have to document it.

So this got me sent to counter “S”. It’s the one where someone checks to see if you can file the application for a visa extension or renewal. I had to wait a long time (30 minutes maybe), but the person was very polite. And not in the sort of way here that people say “moshiwake gozaimasen” in the utmost of polite ways, (but are screwing you over really.) This was genuinely that I explained the situation, that there are some complicated things, but I want the application filing to go in, and then I will send the support later. After all, I am rather early on the filing.

The person at the counter wrote out some kanji that I could partly make out, stamped it with an inkan or a hanko–I am never sure what the difference is–and sent me back to the counter where you are issued your deli counter ticket.
Since I got my deli counter number, a nice, even “500” ahead of time, they were already up to 475 and so all the time I thought I was wasting at the “S” counter was time served on the application line. Nice.

The late 70’s-early ’80’s quiz shows had those LED style counter displays, and so although this is seriously no game, for some reason I thought about that. Do the numbers flash when they change there? I think they do. Did they used to do that on Password? Only when you won, right? I know the original Password had the counter displays that used to flip, like in the Hind n’ Fore meat market back home (Bridgewater Township) when I was a really little kid.

Unlike a quiz show, at this point I didn’t need to guess what supplementary materials are needed. An employer statement and the tax document. The tax document is already on its way; I picked that up back on my way home in Shibuya. The other stuff requires other people, and so that is going to take longer.

I don’t know how the process is going to go, but just talking about the start, it was much more pleasant than dealing with bureaucracy back home. The Japanese are light-years advanced on basic social services, even though you may not always have it turn out how you want. (I have those stories, too, but again, I am emphasizing the authentic nice things about Japan.)

Being civil and polite is easy in an interview or short situations, but under a daily grind takes some skills, right? And it also requires the consituent/customer/person using the government service also to go along. I know somebody out there is going to think I am talking out of my a** (rear end) about this. But I think it’s safe to say that Japan does civil service better than America.