Getting Japanese Permanent Residency

After Japan’s lukewarm reception to my halfhearted proposal of becoming a Japanese citizen, I decided to re-think the whole strange project. Would citizenship even change anything? Certainly not as much as a quick trip to Korea for plastic surgery and coming back looking like a Japanese 18 year-old. Would it help to invest another ten years improving my already awesome Japanese? Or should I just scotch the whole thing and hang out with topless ladies on the beach in Polynesia like Paul Gauguin? Wow, so many good options.

At the Corner Store

Now, all that re-thinking was sure building up a powerful hunger, so I put on pants and slogged down to the corner store for a bag of Calbee’s chips and a few tallish cans of Asahi. The owner and his wife were at a table drinking shochu and picking the ends off a massive pile of bean sprouts.

“Want some celery?” he said. “It’s organic.”

No hello, no welcome, just celery. Japanese people say the most random shit. And apparently, the Japanese word for “organic” means “covered in mud.” I’m thankful to be learning so much every day.

So I sat down, munched some tasty but gritty celery, and started picking the ends from about a thousand bean sprouts with the help of a glass of room-temperature shochu. Probably healthier than beer and chips, so that was a good thing. We chatted idly about the future and the past, when until after about sprout 500, I began to think, You know Ken, this Japanese life ain’t all that bad. That’s when I got the Fear.

The Fear

And the Fear said, all this goodness could evaporate in an instant. The nice proprietor and his wife, the celery, the bean sprouts, your car, apartment, girlfriend, all gone. You’re only tied to this nation by the thinnest thread of a work visa. If your boss doesn’t like you, better find a new job fast or you’ll be on a slow boat to America. Get laryngitis and can’t teach English, get arrested pedaling the basket bike home from a bar, fly out for a couple months to take care of Mom, anything, and you’re gone. A decade of living in Japan down the drain, just like that. Even the best-case scenario—work here ‘til you’re seventy and then retire, and what? No job, no visa, boom, you’re on the boat.

Holy shit, I realized, I need to get Japanese permanent residency, like today.

Beer is a powerful motivator. Sorry, I meant “fear.” Well, they’re both pretty great. Anyway, after I got back from the store with a six-pack and a bag of celery, I started looking into Japanese permanent residency.

Apparently, the easiest way is to get married and have children. Actually, that sounds like the hardest, but whatever, then the Japanese Immigration Bureau has a vested interest in keeping your ass in the country. As long as you’re here for a few years with a reasonable job and an album full of wedding photos from your fake marriage, you’re set. All of which sounded great, except for the wife and kids part.

Failing that, you have to live here for ten years, without a break, then submit the Terrifying List of Documents.

Terrifying List of Japanese Permanent Residency Documents

  1. Japanese permanent residency application form
  2. ID photo 写真, 4cm x 3 cm
  3. A copy of your current residence card 在留カード
  4. Certificate of residence 住民票 謄本
  5. Certificate of employment from your workplace
  6. Certificate of tax, which includes your total income, tax charge, and tax payment for the last 3 years 納税証明書、課税証明書
  7. A copy of your passport
  8. A Letter of Guarantee with inkan from a Japanese national or permanent resident 身元 保証書
  9. Guarantor’s (身元引受人) certificate of residence 住民票 謄本
  10. Guarantor’s certificate of employment with inkan
  11. Guarantor’s tax certificate for the previous year, including total income, tax charge, and tax payment 納税 証明書、課税 証明書
  12. Essay in Japanese stating your reasons for wanting a Permanent Resident Visa 理由書
  13. Documents demonstrating contributions and commitment to Japan, including letters of recommendation, JLPT certificates, photographs, whatever

The Japanese Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional Visa

Or your can do none of that, like my friend Yusuf, who got Japanese permanent residency after little more than a year, despite knowing a self-confessed six words of the language. The ultimately easiest way to live in Japan forever is to qualify for a Highly Skilled Foreign Professional Visa and then apply for Japanese permanent residency in a shorter timeframe than the average cellphone contract.

Here’s how it works—you either have to demonstrate ten years of unbroken residency, consistent employment, financial stability, properly paid taxes, secure personal and professional guarantors, have no troubling interactions with police or authorities, and write a letter in Japanese proclaiming your undying love for the land of the rising sun—or do, uh, absolutely butt nothing.

Just be young with a Ph.D. and a high-paying job, and it’s Welcome to Japan forever. (There’s a complex and prototypically Japanese points system governing this.) Forget learning anything about culture or customs, just stay in school and mail stacks of resumes to foreign companies in Japan. Seriously, I’m not kidding. That’s my advice.

The Japanese Permanent Residency Application Process

Based upon the Terrifying List and online accounts of others who’d been through the process, the task of compiling and submitting documents was long and involved. And like pretty much everything else on the ‘net about Japan, that turned out to be completely wrong.

It took me nearly a month to get everything together, only because I’d lived in more than one place during the last three years and had to go to two different city halls, and plus I’m terminally lazy. It’s a medical condition, don’t hate. Practically, the whole thing’s just a few hours’ worth of work. With a modicum of diligence, you could probably take a week off and knock it out.

At the Japanese Immigration Office

So once I had all my papers, I arranged them into neat, labeled folders, made two copies, and took everything down to the immigration office, where they promptly took my papers out of their neat, labeled folders and dumped everything into a big pile, like Nice try. Marie Kondo would not’ve been pleased.

“Any idea how long this might take?” I asked. I’d heard the decision could take up to six months.

“The decision,” said the Japanese lady behind the counter, “could take up to six months. But probably more like four.”

Well, it’s better than six, but still, four months? What could possibly take that long? I was like, lady, we need to replace you with A.I.

Please Japanese Jesus, don’t let me get arrested in that time.

Return of the Fear

I knew I’d well cleared the 10-year hurdle, but since I’d changed jobs a dozen times, and lived in half a dozen apartments with as many girlfriends, would that affect my chances? According to the internet, uh, maybe. Thank God I hadn’t taken a long overseas vacation while unemployed and reset my decade back to zero. Was unemployment bad? I thought it was a good thing. But a few, um, incidents had happened in that decade too. I’d been hauled in by the police for a riding a stolen bicycle and had my neighbor kill herself. Was that on some permanent record? Would they contact the U.S. to discover Mrs. Ganard had written a damning and prescient report card: “Ken fails to pay attention”? Hey, third grade was a rough time.

The decision process for Japanese Permanent Residency is a black box. I got a ticket for blowing a stop sign on my Japanese moped and another for talking on the phone while driving a car. Would that matter? My application included photos of me working on farms and volunteering in schools, and I now wondered if I hadn’t somehow documented my own illegal employment. Would anybody care? There was no way to know. Maybe I should’ve handwritten my essay instead of typing it. Damn.

The Paranoia

After submitting my application for Japanese permanent residency, I began to worry, What would happen if I now lost my job? Would that ruin my chances? Would I appear to be cheating on Japan if I now took a vacation to Singapore? Was I asking too many questions? What if I had a car accident? Suddenly everywhere I drove, children were chasing balls into the street. If Japan’s a safe country, it’s only because everyone’s as paranoid as I am.

Was my internet usage being monitored? Is watching Japanese porn bad, or good? Would men in suits show up to check my fridge for natto? What if I was out of natto? I started buying it in bulk, just in case. Maybe the Immigration Bureau would question the old couple at the store and discover my propensity for alcohol and salty snacks. Of course in this country, that might be considered a plus.

Welcome to the most stressful six months of my Japanese life. Or maybe four. Here, have some celery.

47 Replies to “Getting Japanese Permanent Residency”

  1. Hahaha..

    This really cracked me up:
    “Apparently, the easiest way is to get married and have children. Actually, that sounds like the hardest.”

  2. Hello Ken,
    This is my first post in the near-2 years since I’ve discovered your site. I’ve read every article and nearly every comment, and I’ve benefited so much from them.

    I am moving to Chiba, Japan in 2 weeks to be an ALT. Living & working in Japan has been a dream of mine since my first visit in 2015. I’ve visited Tokyo each fall since then, but total cumulative time in Japan is still under 6 weeks, among the 4 visits.

    If anything, all the articles and comments nearly scared me out of trying for this dream, being a not-young 34-year-old who enjoys his life in the US. As you and others often describe, I was blinded by how awesome “visiting” Japan is, that I assumed that living and working there would be an ongoing heaven. Now I know better, thanks to you and the experienced commenters. All that I’ve read here definitely postponed the dream, but I couldn’t crush it for good, so I’m taking the endorsed advice of going for 2-3 years, then returning home. Since I’ve settled on that, I’ve been 100% excited for this.

    Cuz of this site, now I have a better idea of how bad some days will be for me. It will be rough at times, but at least I won’t be going into Japan completely naïve, expecting the best of times at all times. And I will make sure to enjoy everything I can, or not let things bother me so much, knowing that Japan will be temporary for me.

    So, thank you very much for giving me the proper mindset going into this. You are doing people in my situation a very kind service.

    1. Dude, that’s awesome. You sound like me, since I’d visited something like 7 times before moving here, and had lived with Japanese folks for years. So I thought I had a pretty good handle on the place. Man, I was way off.

      Still, it’s been an incredible experience, and I’m sure you’ll have a great time as well. Or at least an okay time. Or possibly a horrible time. Actually, I have no idea. It’s a big country and if you wind up around some cool folks, things’ll be grand. Just remember, speaking as little Japanese as possible will contribute greatly to your happiness and to that of those around you.

      Hey, you know what’d be great? If you’d post again after you’ve been here about a week, and then at six month intervals. I love that. It’s like watching someone’s mind being blown in slow motion.

      Looking forward to your updates.

      Ken

      1. Thanks Ken! I’ll enjoy giving updates. Or at the very least, vent my frustrations. See you (but not really) on the other side!

        1. Unfortunately not. I’m the poster child for Do as I say, not as I do. But I do think there’s a lot of advantages associated with not speaking Japanese. I just can’t bring myself to speak English in public.

          1. I’m in the same boat…I do play the gaijin card when I think it benefits me, but the only thing that annoys me more than being spoken to in English in Japan is actually speaking English to non-native English speakers in Japan.

            1. Yeah, I don’t really play that card. I guess I just don’t think of myself as that guy, so I wouldn’t really know what to do. Probably be like a Borat kinda thing, where I’d have to be all like, I’ma Borat, can I toucha you boobies?

              Actually, not such a bad plan. Lemme look into it.

  3. Countries having requirements of skilled work force due to ageing population have to relax their norms if they want such manpower.

    1. It’s certainly a tough balancing act that we’re seeing played out all over the world. As moving between nations becomes easier, and the need for workers shifts from one country to another, rules need to balance reasonable immigration with preservation of local economies and cultures.

      I wonder if we’re not witnessing the start of what will ultimately become a Moore’s Law of human global migration.

  4. “..or do, uh, absolutely butt nothing.” – I wouldn’t call getting a PhD absolutely nothing, it’s one of the hardest things I ever did! But I understand what you mean. All the best in your application for permanent residency! The security and peace of mind will be worth it.

    1. Heh, yeah that didn’t come out so well.

      What I really meant is that I know a couple of folks with Ph.D’s who found themselves in Japan just because their company posted them here. And so almost on a whim, they filled out the paperwork for permanent residency, like Why not? Maybe that’ll be useful someday. And they got it while I was still struggling to stay employed and out of jail for ten years.

      So while I absolutely recognize the effort and dedication it takes to get a doctorate, hey, if you’ve already got one and happen to find yourself in Japan, that’s a pretty sweet shortcut to PR. It also appears to undermine the spirit of the 10-year route, which stresses stability, good moral character, commitment to Japanese society, and knowledge of the language and culture. If you’re a 28 year-old with a newly minted Ph.D and a good job, eh, good enough for Shinzo Abe.

  5. What happens if you get said spouse and kids, then broom them in 6 years?

    (Taking into account you can pay any support)

    Pretty common where I live.

    1. Yep, that works here too, although as plans go it sounds pretty horror show.

      First you get a spouse visa and then from there a permanent resident visa. Again, wouldn’t recommend it, but yeah, it’s been done.

  6. I’d been here for about 8 years on various visa situation, but I left for 3 years for a tour but due to contractual stuff I couldn’t get back in time to renew my visa.

    I’d taken my Japanese GF at the time on the tour with me and paid for her to do a mostly online business degree.

    We ended up getting married and I had to prepare a ton of paperwork in Australia to get my spouse visa. After being in japan for a few years I applied for a permanent residence and was expecting a real hard time (had heard/read horror stories).

    At the immigration office my wife and I had a bit of an argument in Japanese over how the forms needed to be filled out and the officer pretty much granted me the visa on the spot – she said we were obviously married if we argued so much 🙂 Letter arrived about a month later I think.

    Didn’t have to take any photos or stories or anything. Like a lot of things here it just depend on what pencil pusher you get, and their mood that day.

    Good luck with your application.

    1. Thanks for all the good wishes. It’s heartening to hear so many people say good luck.

      The bureaucratic process in Japan certainly seems fickle. But then, every process in this country is. Japan’s a maze of rules, all of which can be broken when necessary. It’s a freaking bizarre place.

  7. Hey Ken!

    This is a first post for me, but I’ve been reading for a while. Also occasionally use your post in class to try and illustrate humor. So far, no bites, lol.

    I’ve been in Japan for about 6 years now and just got married. This was pretty informative all round. Hope things in the next 6 (or 4) months work out!

    Looking forward to the next one!

  8. The – I think – sad reality of immigration in all affluent countries in the world (and not only Japan) is: Money doesn’t stink.

    If you have a fortune or a well paid job every country will bend over backwards and say thank you if you want to live there.

  9. Hey Ken,

    For me I got Visas in the following order:
    – Humanities specialist (or something) during university / 1 year as CIR
    – Spouse of Japanese national
    – Permanent residency

    I wanted to get perm. res. based on personal merits and not being married to my wife.
    I seem to remember that there was a provision for permanent residency of 5 years or more work as a Seishain, which applied in my case.
    Does this sound familiar to you?

    I also think if you earn enough money they are not very strict at all 🙂

    1. It’s not only money, it’s stability. It appears though, except for the new variety of permanent residency which I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s received it, it’s easier for single people to naturalize than it is for them obtain permanent residency.

  10. I think overtime and plenty of booze is the key to getting the residency card. I gotta tell in the USA is way worse.

    1. You mean that it’s harder to get a Green Card? Yeah, I believe it. There doesn’t seem anything particularly challenging about getting Japanese PR. Well, except for having to give up 10 years of your life.

  11. Ken, how long have you been waiting – i.e., when did you apply? I applied on November 4, 2018 and the staff member told me it would take about 4 months. It’s been just over 4 months now, and I’m still waiting. I’m in Kanto, but not Tokyo.

    1. Been around two months now. The waiting is terrible, especially since you know they won’t give you any reason if they deny you.

      Did you apply under the I’ve-been-here-10-years condition, or something else? Are there any particular reasons why you might be denied?

      Let me know when you hear one way or the other. And good luck.

      1. Thanks. Well, I have been in and out of Japan since February 1999. This is my third time working and living in Japan. This time, I arrived in September 2010, so it has not been 10 years yet. It’ll only be 9 years this September. The guy at immigration told me about 4 months when I asked him how long it would take, and like I said, it is just a little over 4 months now. I applied on November 4, 2018. I’d like to think that if there were any problems that they would have contacted me by now, but anything is possible in life. One thing I remember that might cause me problems: I did not provide a guarantor, or letter of guarantor. I left it out completely. I wanted to see if I could get permanent residency without asking someone to serve as my guarantor. But when I submitted the doccuments, the staff first went through the application materials to make sure that everything was there. I did not have the correct tax forms from the city hall, so they refused to accept my application. So I walked over to the city hall, go the correct tax forms, and then went back to immigration that afternoon. When I submitted the application again, the guy helping me looked through the materials and accepted them. He never asked me why I did not include a letter of guarantor. Okay, I can post back here and let you know what the outcome is once I hear back from them.

  12. Ken. I love your style. Best laugh I’ve had in a while. (did you ever notice how people laugh at others misfortunes and hardships)
    I truly love Japans quirkiness.
    ほんとにがんばってな

  13. In the process of getting my PhD in Japan under a Japanese scholarship, so I am happy that if I so choose, getting a PR will be comparatively easy.

    Chances are I’ll be going abroad again after 5 years if I stay in academia though. I really do like Japan, even though I’ve only been here a year. Just got my first apartment too! Read your blog on getting an apartment just prior and it helped me out, thanks.

    Anyways, I’ll keep lurking on your blog, enjoying your subtle humour 😉

    Cheers.

    1. Glad I could help out a little bit.

      I actually know a guy with a PhD here who has residency in four countries: U.S., Japan, the U.K., and some place in Europe. How he manages to maintain all of them is beyond me, but he travels a lot.

      Apparently, once you get a PhD you’re a pretty hot commodity and a lot of people want you. Good luck if you decide to go that route.

  14. Ken, speaking of your brief encounters with Japanese law enforcement, it would be interesting if you did a post on the Japanese legal system.

    The international (business) press has been very bearish on Japan after the Ghosn/Nissan arrest and their surprise at the system of pre-trial/ pre-charge detention. I don’t suspect the Japanese are particularly concerned with outside opinion on their legal system or feel any of the “international pressure” to “reform.” Is the Ghosn trial even getting much coverage in-country?

    I’ve never bring my ADD meds on trips to Japan to avoid any risk coming through customs. It just seems wise to avoid getting into to hot water with the legal system, although actual incarceration rates are very low. If it works for the Japanese, who are we to say they have to change?

    1. Seriously, I think you’re really smart to leave your meds at home. I’ve heard stories of people being busted for bringing in both prescription and non-prescription drugs.

      The Ghosn debacle is covered pretty well here, but as you say, Japan’s not likely to change its criminal justice system any time soon.

  15. I enjoyed the read! I may end up going down the same path you are in the future. I really appreciate this; now I have an idea of what to expect. I got some great laughs too

    1. Good luck if you do. If it’s something you’re really considering, it might be wise to try to stay in the same apartment and with the same company for at least years 7-10. I don’t know for sure, but it’s my feeling that stability is something the Immigration Bureau is looking for in permanent residents.

  16. Hmmm. I wonder if they read online blogs of candidates? Good luck Ken. Really when you think of it how could they say no? You’re a shoe in for sure.

    1. Yeah, I worry about that too. Who knows how deeply they look or what information they have access to. Just thank God I never made a Facebook page filled with pics of me doing keg stands and Jager bombs. Sure wish I knew what the process and criteria were.

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