Right now, my impression of the Japanese Immigration Board, also known as 入国管理局（にゅうこくかんりきょく）is akin to a shamanistic overlord looking over his jungle domain and thinking, “And what shall I make the peons sacrifice to the gods this time?” An imp then pops up on his shoulder and whispers, “How about hours of their life?” Yes, what a perfectly maniacal plot! BWAHAHA.
But no more of my bellyaching. As sour as I am over having my entire day laid out on a stone pedestal and bled dry…
No one ever has a fun time going to Shinagawa, where the Tokyo branch of the Immigration Bureau resides. No one would certainly call it Paradise. Or so I thought.
First, I finally am going to have my work limitations lifted from my student visa. Yay! When you’re on a student visa in Japan, as I have mentioned in my previous post Living in Japan vol. 1.
Working can be a mite difficult. You are severely limited to part-time work, even if you aren’t necessarily going to school that much. There are strict limitations on where you can work. Let’s say I wanted to be a bartender at a club that is open all night. Even if I didn’t have that shift and worked in the morning, it would still be considered illegal. Foreigners and nightlife can’t mix. Guess I’ll be making shots at home and taking them alone.
Then, you’re faced with having to go to the Immigration Bureau and stand in line for hours to turn in a single sheet of paper: Permission to Work Application PDF.
Along with that goes photocopies of your passport, your registration card or your ‘My Number” card, your visa, and the landing permission sticker in your passport. Further information can be found here (Requirements for Permission to Work.). Save yourself the grief and make the photocopies at a location other than the Family Mart inside the Shinagawa building.
No one is Family inside that Mart.
To get to your desired terminus, you have to navigate to a specific section color-coded marked A-D. Most of these places are on the second floor. I’ve never been beyond the ground and 2nd floor, so I don’t know what kind of Gundam-building, Evangelion-esque research is going on higher up… but there is a research wing, so a girl can dream.
That said, the 2nd floor is a literal labyrinth of illogically placed walls and partitions and dazed aliens. The spaces beyond the service counters are inhabited by grumpy office worker zombies. A lack of ventilation creates a dry, sterile atmosphere that leaves many feeling like this:
Meanwhile, the carpet is a battleground splattered with every sort of stain imaginable. One can only begin to estimate how many committed hara-kiri here.
If you are lucky enough to find a place to sit down, you will soon be reminded that you are not alone in your endeavor of dealing with and tolerating Japanese foreign policy. Because there’s literally 400 or more gaijin joining you in your wait.
After cruising around the 1st and 2nd floors to stretch my legs and play on my phone—er, I mean study on my phone—I decided to take a seat against the back wall of section B. There was a Spaniard to the right of me watching what looked to be Scarface. In front of me was a Vietnamese man and his wife, their bodies turned away from one another. A little down a way, there was a Portuguese woman holding an adorable half-Asian baby boy. She was avidly speaking to a Chinese woman in Japanese about how life has been treating her in Japan. There were dozens of Chinese, a handful of Koreans, about twenty Nigerians, a few Caucasians, and a group of Pakistanis.
Not even 5 minutes passed before the vacant seat on my left was swallowed up by a laboriously breathing overweight Pakistani man in a Christmas sweater. Despite my inability to tolerate the sounds of lip-smacking and other guttural utterances, I stayed put and focused intently on my Japanese “cost of living” survey. At this time, the number displayed overhead was 340 something. My number was 620. The minutes seemed to sync with Pakistani Santa’s respirations—each one a wheeze and sigh and groan.
Maybe 45 minutes in, I was considering getting up and walking around. The numbers had just breached the 400s. My outlook for getting out by 6 o’clock was grim. That was when I heard Santa turn to the person next to him and ask in Japanese what number the man had.
The man answered with a chuckle: “462.”
“Ah,” sighs Santa, “you’re soon then. I’m 506.”
Hearing this, I laugh a little bit. This is when Santa realizes that the elf has ears and can understand. He turns my way, having to lean away so his stomach doesn’t hit me, and asks me the same question.
“Six hundred…and twenty,” I respond sadly.
“You’re going to be here until the end!” he laughs.
Unable to say anything because I’ve realized this myself, I lightly bob my head.
Santa licks his lips and continues in Japanese, “Where are you from?”
So I tell him and from there he switches to English: “Ah, New Jersey. I like America. But Japan… Japan is better. What brings you here? Japanese school?”
With my aspirations laid out plain, we begin to talk about our lives. I learn that Santa has a son who graduated Harvard and is now in Saudi Arabia working in the banking system. He too had graduated Harvard in the 1980s, lived in America for a bit, traveled the world, and finally decided to settle in Japan, where he wound up, as he put it, “all alone, banking.”
“Japan is a good country. 12 o’ clock at night, a young woman, such as yourself, can go walking around and nothing will happen. In America—”
“In America you risk the chance of getting mugged, shot, raped…” Yes, yes, the world sees America as a dangerous place. We’re savages without structure.
“Before Perry came to Japan, Japan was no different. What you see now is New Japan, good Japan. We know about the samurai and the fighting, but we don’t know much about Japan before Perry came.” Encouraged by my nodding, Pakistani Santa goes on with his impending history lesson, “Did you know that the Japanese used to eat their dead?”
“Yeah, they did,” says the banker. “In the villages, they would lay out the body, and one-by-one the people would take a piece of the dead. When everyone had their share, they would send the body out to sea. You don’t hear about that though in the history books.”
“American history is like that too,” I return, though frankly skeptical about how legitimate Santa’s information is. Mentally, I note to research this eating of the dead at a later time. “So much is left out of the textbooks for the glorification of nicer things.”
“Yeah, yeah. Everywhere is the same. America helped Japan, though, and for that, I like America. But I like Japan more.”
Me too, dude. Me too.
Our conversation subsides a bit. I glance up to the number, to find that we still have a long while to wait. That is when another Pakistani sits down beside the Vietnamese couple and starts talking to the guy in Japanese. Santa then adds something in his native tongue. For a moment, I get the impression that the Vietnamese man and I are being discussed. We look at one another, realizing there’s no escape.
“We were talking about Japan,” Santa says in English, motioning to me.
“And about how no place is different,” I add.
The other banker nods. “Yes, we all want peace. We are all children from the same god. You are a daughter of Eve. He is a son of Adam. I am one with Allah. And my Vietnamese brother here—what was your name again? Gao? Gao here is a very good man. But in the past, America and Vietnam fought, didn’t they? A long, hard battle. But both sides did their best and now there is peace.”
Gao looks very uncomfortable. Me, not knowing what to say, gave a polite smile and tried for diplomacy, “The Vietnamese are very hard-working, respectful people.”
“She just praised you,” says the other banker in Japanese.
Poor Gao barely reacts.
Next to me, Pakistani Santa attempts to cross his legs and shift around in the tiny seat. “No one is different. We are all trying to reach paradise. When we have peace, we have paradise. Perhaps this is paradise too.”
Seriously, this dude.
But I take a moment to consider that. Time has hastened a little due to the conversation, and I am generally enjoying this discussion about humankind. The four of us agree that humanity is essentially aiming for the betterment of the whole rather than selfish, evil deeds. When we see each other as brother and sister, not as who came from where and what job they are doing, no one is really beyond anyone else. It doesn’t matter what we look like. It shouldn’t matter what we believe in. As long as we practice understanding and tolerance, the world will advance.
Quite the topic for the cramped quarters of the Japanese Immigration Board.
Suddenly, I find myself rethinking back to the newspapers in the 7-11 from yesterday morning with Donald Trump’s horrific visage plastered on front. Where is this world headed? What role will I play in it? Then Green Day’s ‘Welcome to Paradise’ kicks in on my internal iPod:
“Dear mother, can you hear me laughin’?
It’s been six whole months since I, I have left your home
It makes me wonder why I’m still here
For some strange reason it’s now feelin’ like my home
And I’m never gonna go.
Pay attention to the cracked streets and the broken homes
Some call it slums, some call it nice
I want to take you through a wasteland I’d like to call my home
Welcome to Paradise, yeah, Paradise.”
I got out of Shinagawa at 7:00 pm, took the hour long trip back home, and all the while I thought about how strange it was to no longer hear the multilingual background noise. For a moment, I felt foreign. Isolated in my corner of the swaying Seibu Ikebukuro train car. It was dark outside, and I couldn’t see beyond what was reflected on the car windows. Sometimes the illuminated bedrooms of the apartment buildings the train whizzed past would give me flashes of people laying down to rest or eating dinner, together or by themselves.
Then I took a deep, steeling breath as the doors opened to the platform of my station. The words the Pakistanis’ had left me with echoed in my mind: “You are never alone. Take care.”