20 July 2008

More to say

I am briefly back in Shibata.

I said earlier that I was going to the British Embassy for my visa, but it turns out that it was not actually the embassy but a Visa Services Office run by a private Japanese company. I suspected this when I emailed a couple of times and asked what I needed and the responses I got back were obviously from a less than competent English speaker. I looked at everything on the website and brought the items that I needed for me (the student visa) and then for Yoko and Naomi (student dependent). There were two separate lists of what documents were needed.

We had an 11:50 appointment, so we went about thirty minutes early. The man who was checking people at the door was Japanese and I suspected from his mannerisms that he probably wasn't going to speak to me in English. When I got up to him, I spoke in English and he didn't understand what I said so I had to speak in Japanese, which probably frustrated me more than it should have. Still, though it's the British visa services office for fuck's sake. He started looking through the documents I had and asked where the applications for Naomi and Yoko were. I said again in Japanese, 'An application is not on the required documents for them. There's an application?' There was a large part of my sixteen page application about my dependents so I suspected that this covered it. 'Oh no,' the guard said, 'you need to bring all the documents for student and dependents for the student dependent visa. You can fill out the application inside, but if you don't have everything else, you'll have to come back some other time.' I was pretty upset because nowhere on the website did it say that. I said, 'That's not written anywhere on this list.' The guard became even more mechanical in his responses something that happens in Japan sometimes and means, 'I am not going to help you anymore', so I gave up.

Remind me to write a post about empathy in Japan sometime.

At this point I'm panicking because we spent about 30,000 yen to get down there and Yoko was taking a day off of work, so I said to the Robocop, 'Hold on a second.' Yoko and I looked through what we had and it seemed like we had everything except photos of Yoko and Naomi and their applications and although we didn't have a photo of Naomi, Yoko ran off to get her picture taken. I went to the door again and told the guy what we were doing and he said, 'Oh you can have your picture taken inside.' And I said in my head, 'Why didn't you say this earlier.' He went back looking at my documents and said, 'Oh, you need a copy of your bank book' and I said, 'It's right here.' He looked at it and said, 'No, no, you need copies of the last six months of transactions.' By now, I'm looking at my list of required documents from the website and it says nothing about any of this, which I point out to the guy, but he doesn't read English anyway and is showing a John McCain-like level of knowledge about the Internet. I ran downstairs to copy some more.

By this time, I was trying to call Yoko, but her phone was off because we were in this office, and I'm copying in a convenience store and realizing that we are getting dangerously close to missing our appointment. I ran back upstairs, Yoko showed up with her pictures, and at this point, the guy at the door just waved us through. Yoko was up, I'm was upset — we're trying to fill out this sixteen page application in ten minutes. Finally, we get it done and take a number to wait.

And then we wait. And wait. Apparently the appointment was only to make sure that not too many people come to the office at once, but had nothing with us actually being seen at the time we were planning.

I watched people talk with the interviewer and realizing that everyone is Japanese, talking in Japanese, and I am thinking to myself, there is no way we are going to get through with the documents we have because we're still missing like half of Yoko's stuff. Oh, and I had given up on Naomi's application as we had no picture (this will become important later) and resigned myself to making another trip next week. If, I thought, we at least get Yoko's stuff done, she doesn't have to come back, and because Naomi is under 5, she doesn't have to come anyway. I'm thinking, though, that I will have to submit and give to the office all the documents I will need the next week for Naomi's application and given my experience up to this point, I probably won't even be able to get through the door into the office without the originals.

Finally our turn comes and to my surprise, even though the interviewer is Japanese, she's an English-speaking, competent person who seems willing to help me and shows a little bit of empathy. I explained the situation, and she said that everything would work out because I could come back the next week for Naomi with copies of the documents I had. There wouldn't be a problem and she immediately made an appointment for me. For the copies of originals I was still missing, she gave them to me to give to Yoko to run out and copy, and basically did everything in five minutes. Yoko and I were able to take our pictures (in addition to the photos we submitted) and give our fingerprints and pay our 46,700 yen and finish our applications.

They kept saying you can't mail anything — can't be done, you have to come in. This is why I resolved myself that Naomi wasn't going to get done. The last thing the guy and this is the same guy from the door tells Yoko is that her photo has the wrong color background, but not to worry, if it doesn't work, they will call and she can just mail in another picture. Mail in another picture.

Given 24 hours to think about it, there are like fifteen things I could have done to get a 'photo' of Naomi, by photocopying her passport and if it didn't work, I could have mailed in another. It's one of those obvious things that I should have thought of, but I was under so much stress and trying to figure out what to do to get at least my and Yoko's passports done, that I didn't think of it.

At the end of the day, the US, Japanese, an UK governments will have taken about 80,000 yen from us for visas and passports and everything else, not including all the money spent getting to Tokyo. And yet, we are going to make it to the UK. I think.

Tokyo has been great. Saw N and M, newly married, and H and her brilliant boyfriend C. Had an amazing dinner that I was too tired, but drunk enough to enjoy. N and M have a great apartment near a station in a quiet part of Ikebukuro. The whole weekend made me very hopeful about the future of myself and my friends. Everyone's getting out of teaching English, and using the experience to move forward.

So next Wednesday, I will take a bus at five in the morning to Tokyo, get Naomi's visa done, and be on a bus back to Niigata at five in the evening.