May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan. This holiday is part of Golden Week, a week long smattering of holidays which have been kind of connected together so that a few, very fortunate Japanese people get more time off work in succession. Many people have to work off and on during this holiday but most people do get today (Friday) and Monday off. Children’s Day used to be called Boy’s Day. Girls’ Day is another holiday (not within Golden Week) called Hina Matsuri, but the government changed the name of the holiday to celebrate the personalities and futures of all children, regardless of gender. The main symbol of this holiday is the koi or carp, who, struggling upstream can be thought of all children in their perseverance as they make their way up the challenging upstream of life and growing up.
Hardly comparable, my life as a foreigner in Japan is quite easy. Japanese people don’t expect as much from me. I am not expected to understand formal customs and rules (despite the sometimes raised eyebrows if we sometimes cannot meet those expectations), but I can’t help but feel that we have been swimming upstream the past couple months with this past week having it all come to a dramatic head.
Minding my own business and enjoying my Golden Week, I decided to head to immigration to find out what the hold up is on our Certificate of Eligibility. This is the piece of ridiculously redundant paperwork we require in order to change from a Temporary Visitor Visa to a working visa, (and a dependent visa for my self employed artist husband). We need this piece of paper to apply for the change of status which allows us to stay here.
The whole process of application was predictably horrible. Immigration authorities in any country are less than pleasant, usually and while the Japanese staff here are quite friendly if you get the right person, they are unable to think outside the box and our situation threw them for quite the loop. Not a lot of people change from a tourist visa to a work visa within the country. They weren’t sure what paperwork we needed and it required about four visits before they stopped contradicting themselves and we had everything they asked for both from ourselves and my company.
But since our Temporary Visitor Visa (Tourist Visa) would be running out on May 13th and since we had a return flight booked back to Europe for May 7th because when we first came here you needed to have a return ticket to enter as a tourist, we were starting to get a bit nervous, particularly since Golden Week was coming and we knew the office would be closed for many of the days and there would be no mail as well.
To make an even longer more convoluted story short, I finally talked to someone who could find my application, still on a desk somewhere, who told me that there was only a 50/50 chance it would be completed on time, before our Visitor Visa expired. With incredulous disbelief, I asked them what I was supposed to do. I had completed all their many trips to immigration and requests, I had photocopied and got official stamps and been there many times-in effect: I had done my job, why can’t they do theirs? They just told me it wasn’t completed yet and they had received many applications in February and March and there was no guarantee it would be done in time. If it wasn’t done before May 13th, and our Change of Status applications weren’t in before then, we would have to leave the country.
Despite my arguing (I have no idea why I always ask questions and argue my point at Japanese immigration-I always know at the time that it’s totally pointless), despite the fact that they have my application sitting there, there was nothing they could do. They recommended I go back to my own country, wait for the document to be sent to my employer who could then send it to me in my country, which I then take to the Canadian Embassy and apply for the visa before reentering. They recommended that I get my ticket in order to return home. I sort of had a feeling that there was something else going on here, like they knew I would be rejected or that something was wrong with my application, but maybe that’s just my paranoia. It is likely just under a stack of other applications, in an unalterable order and that’s just the way it is.
However, upon returning home, it started to become clearer and clearer to me that we had to make some very quick decisions and in saying that, we sort of realized we didn’t have many options. We phoned the airline to see if we could bump back our ticket another week with the hopes that the paperwork might arrive. There was nothing available in our class during the dates we needed and an upgrade would cost about $1500-$1600. Even if we did that, we’d still only have a 50/50 chance it would come on time.
We started to realize that we were leaving Japan. A huge wave of shock and sick to my stomach-ness came over me. What the hell, man? We were just getting settled. I was meeting up with friends, buying furniture, getting comfortable. Admittedly, there was always a small niggling feeling in the back of my head that the documents wouldn’t come in time, a part of me was kinda like, “Nah, they’ll see on our applications we are running out of time and they’ll just hurry up and do it!” There was also a part of me that thought we might get our applications rejected for some reason, but until the prospect of having to leave was right here in my face, it was a lot easier to put it out of my mind. Before Golden Week, my boss asked me about the application, as did one of my coworkers and I told them that I still haven’t heard anything, despite it being a month and I was getting really nervous and stressed out about it. That is when we agreed that the best thing to do was to go to immigration and find out.
(my garden which I won’t be here to see grow…)
So in a day or two, our lives have been turned upside down. With no alternative but to head back to Canada for another summer, we have to take that return ticket. We are now scrambling to ship things home, cancel housing (for which we just paid a months rent), tell my boss, say goodbye to friends and buy some last minute omiyage (souvenirs for friends). It has been emotional and shocking. As most of you all know, I hold no particular allegiance to Canada and I was really looking forward to coming here in a lot of ways. Far from perfect, I prefer it to my own country in many ways. I was happy with the break from it and didn’t have any plans to return for a while. Teaching English has never been my passion but it afforded us the luxury of being abroad.
We try to tell ourselves all the cliches: everything happens for a reason, it’s not permanent, we can come back etc. But it’s still really hard. I feel so grateful for the time I’m able to spend abroad. I am so fortunate. I said to M the other day: “I just leave my home country because I feel like it. I have that luxury. There are people going through various immigration processes everywhere that are trying to escape terrible, horrible situations or people that have no legal recourse or escape. My country isn’t under attack, my people are not being persecuted (unless you count the fascist regime of our current government who is doing their damnedest to destroy our country-but that’s another story-Ahem). I get to spend a lot of my time travelling and visiting other countries for fun because of the lifestyle we have chosen and the choices we have made. That doesn’t mean things always go smoothly. We’ve had similar situations travelling in SE Asia where visas can’t be extended and we’ve had to leave unexpectedly. It just feels a bit different because we were hoping to settle here for at least a year.
So what now? We are scrambling to buy connecting tickets (outrageously expensive on such short notice) and we currently only have a ticket from here back to Amsterdam. M, joyously, gets to spend his birthday in Amsterdam and we’ll do our best to celebrate our crazy lives before we head back to his hometown for another summer of saving money and then we shall see what adventures are next for us. There are many reasons why it probably isn’t going to work to come back here right away but they are too boring and extensive to get into for you, my already far too patient audience. For now, we are trying our best not to be sad and mope (though I have the odd meltdown here and there) and celebrate our last few days here with gratitude and happiness. We don’t know what is next for us, but we will embrace it head on, with curiosity.
Thanks for reading.