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.
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
- Japanese permanent residency application form
- ID photo 写真, 4cm x 3 cm
- A copy of your current residence card 在留カード
- Certificate of residence 住民票 謄本
- Certificate of employment from your workplace
- 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
- A copy of your passport
- A Letter of Guarantee with inkan from a Japanese national or permanent resident 身元 保証書
- Guarantor’s (身元引受人) certificate of residence 住民票 謄本
- Guarantor’s certificate of employment with inkan
- 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
- Essay in Japanese stating your reasons for wanting a Permanent Resident Visa 理由書
- 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.” Her eyes seemed to be looking in two different directions, like one towards the window and the other at the ceiling. But maybe she was just tired.
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.
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.