Tokyo Immigration Office

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After becoming ever more curious about applying for a Cultural Activities Visa in Japan, I decide to go on a mission to gather information. At home, I pick up some paperwork and head over to Shinagawa to visit the Tokyo Immigration Information Center, in the hope that they can answer some of my questions.

A note on their website claims that “This is where all inquiries should first be made concerning immigration issues, wherever you are in Japan.” Luckily for me, I am already in Tokyo, otherwise, this would have been quite the journey. Also, seeing as I am in need of information pertaining to immigration issues, it looks like I am heading to the right place.

Much to my delight, as I exit the train station in Shinagawa, I find that a bus service regularly runs to the offices I am here to visit. Everything is running a little too smoothly.

How to Leaflet & Alienate People

I am greeted outside of the immigration office by hoards of people giving out paraphernalia advertising their respective companies or cults. A woman is spreading the joy of Christianity, a man hands me a document offering, “Legal Support for Aliens,” and another man is holding a sign demanding China stop the act of organ harvesting. It’s all very exciting.

Inside the Immigration Center, I head over to the Advice and Information Counter. I take a ticket, 147, and then take a seat. The woman at the counter is talking to a young French couple in broken English. Every few seconds she lets out a yawn or scratches her head, illustrating her own apparent boredom.

Eventually, the French couple leave. The woman at the counter presses a button and the bright red display shows the number 145. She waits less than three seconds before pressing the button again, 146. She waits less than three seconds before pressing the button again, 147, my number. She watches as I approach the counter, her finger hovering over the button to call the next number, her eyes filled with a resent that I might sit down before her within my three-second window. I take a seat just as she sighs. I understand that maybe I am the one hundred and forty-seventh person she has seen today, not counting the people she frantically skipped, but this is her job. To counter her obvious state of disregard, I greet her in an overly cheerful manner, smiling as I sit.

Propose End Counter for the Third Time

The woman I talk to speaks limited English, looks bored, and probably hates her job. I enquire as to the application form that I should take in reference to the activities I want to pursue in Japan. My questions are generally ignored, and at one point the woman randomly says, “So you want to stay in Japan to study Judo?”
“No, I didn’t say anything about Judo.”
“Okay, but if you are studying Judo, you need to go to End Counter B, second floor.”
“Okay, I actually…”
She cuts away my words with metaphorical scissors of despair. “End Counter B,” she reiterates. “Second floor.”
“I am sorry, I have no interest in…”
“End Counter B,” she says, before letting out a long sigh.
So much for the best place to visit for information and advice.

I head to the second floor, to End Counter B. I queue for about twenty minutes, before finally reaching the front of the line. As I approach, the woman, slightly more miserable than the last, looks me up and down and says without any hint of emotion or benevolence, “Passport.” Just one word is all she spares me. I hand her my passport. She adds rather sternly, “What do you want?” I explain I want to collect an application form for… Before I have a chance to finish my sentence, she says, “Application, go queue over there,” before pointing to a queue of about thirty people.

The Man Who Queued Too Much

I join the queue. Wait thirty minutes, before finding out that I am in the queue for application checking. I am not here to have applications checked, I am here to collect application forms and ask for advice. So far, neither of these two things have transpired.

Eventually, I give up, and return to the first floor. I wander over to the desk marked simply as ‘Information’. “Excuse me, where can I collect an application form?” I ask.
“Here,” says the woman, as if she wants to add the word, ‘obviously’, but does so only with her tone. Instead, she walks away, and after about five minutes of her chatting to another woman in a small office behind a desk, she returns and begrudgingly hands me an application form for a Cultural Activities Visa.
“Thank you,” I say. No response. My politeness falls on deaf ears. The woman just flashes me a frown that contains the absence of all the hope in the universe, before trudging off into a sea of misery.

Three counts of rudeness in one hour. It is no surprise that the hundreds of people here waiting with folders or loose paperwork look so dejected. Of all my time in Japan, a country that prides itself on politeness and good customer service, this is the rudest I have been treated and the smallest I have felt. The service here is dreadful, unhelpful, and has filled me with no confidence at all going forward. Perhaps this is the hidden agenda. Make everyone feel unwelcome so they never come back to complete their applications. Regardless, I have to come back, most likely next week to try once more to retrieve the information I need for this post.

Outside, I am handed more leaflets for various different things. A woman tries to give me a newspaper. I say I am fine. She asks me where in Canada I am from. I say I am not from Canada, but England. She mutters something about Elton John, and then walks off, seemingly disappointed. After wasting what was effectively a whole day, I leave with none of the much sought after advice I had taken the trip to receive, instead, just an application form that I could have quite easily downloaded online and printed out myself. Disgraceful.

You may also be interested in Matty’s experience in obtaining a Japan work visa here.

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