“You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.”

Hemingway -The Sun also Rises-

Immigration, the Saga continues…

“Sir, do you know how many laws you have broken in this country?”

I kind of stare at her blankly, my face a mask of perplexed regret, and I mumble something like “Um, two I…guess?”

“Twelve. You have broken twelve laws in this country.”

She says this impassively, staring at me blankly and I let out a groan which I manage to turn into something that might be considered a remorseful whimper.  The translator sitting off to the side of the table between myself and the Ministry of Justice official groans as well and rubs a hand over his face while shaking his head but he never looks away from the TV set mounted on the wall that he can watch through the window of the little white interview room.

“Twelve?” I ask, my face contorted into a wince. She makes a show of looking down at the file,  at the tomb, of information about me that sits in front of her and looks back up at me.


A moment of silence ensues and is finally broken when the translator lets out a huge sigh and shoots me a barely noticeable side long glance.  Then he lightly shakes his head and lets out another sigh which sounds like air slowly escaping a tire.

The MOJ official blinks slowly, her hands palms down on the table on either side of the  two-inch-thick file and then speaks.

“Do you know which laws you have broken in this country?”

In my years of skimming along the tight rope and reveling in the grey area of things, I have found that on occasion it’s best to just lay it all out there, on the table if you will, and try to be as honest and forth right as possible.  It’s a fantastic way to throw the hounds of the scent if what they have been sniffing around for is prime rib bullshit.

“OK. Well, there was definitely the assault and grievous bodily injury thing. Then the over-staying my visa and illegal residency thing; which I am really sorry about.  Oh, and some late taxes, if you consider that a law…”

I hear my translator snicker out loud and then sigh again and I have to wonder how I am yet again, sitting on the 6th floor of the Tokyo Immigration building in lovely Shinagawa, once again without any legal status in this country and wondering if I am going to be playing blackjack with big Tony and the savages up on the 10th floor after dinner this evening.

Trust No One

I had done it all in what is considered a legal and timely fashion.  September 26th I was at immigration and I was doing the paper work.

I was standing in lines.

I was smiling and paying fees.

Damn these people to hell if they think they are getting GJS this time around.  The speedy and well-coordinated application for a visa extension had been accomplished and I was sent away to await word, via post card, of its completion.

Nearly two months passed, and on November 20th I finally received the post  card from immigration telling me to report by the 26th in order to get my new visa.  A phone call on the same day verified that I had received this and I felt pretty good about it all.  This should have been my first warning sign.

Immigration closes at 1700 Monday-Friday and is not open on the weekends.  So, by the time the 26th had rolled around I knew I had to go.  The thing was, I had the 27th off.  What I decided was simple: I would call immigration at lunch on the 26th. I would explain that I had the following day off and  if possible I would like to come in on that day and take care of everything.  IF though, that wouldn’t work, I would simply cut out of work early on the 26th and go over there before they closed.

I made the call.  Hello. I received my post card. Yes, my name is Gaijinass.  No I don’t have my application number in front of me. I am American.  Yes, I was told to report to the D-5 counter.  Well, if possible I would like to come in tomorrow as I have the day off but if it’s impossible, I can come after lunch today. Really, can you check? Thank you. Sure, I’ll hold.

Shitty immigration on hold holiday music.

Hello, yes I’m here. Really, I can come tomorrow? You’re certain it’s OK? Wonderful. Thank you. Yes, I will be careful coming there tomorrow and thank you for the rain warning. Thank you. Yes, thank you too. Hung up.

It seemed everything was fine and I could go in on the 27th to pick up and finalize my visa. Lovely.

I should have listened.
Fucking Mulder; always right.

Please come with us

Try this: Stand at the D-5 counter on the 2nd floor in the immigration center.  Have someone come to the counter and tell you that you can no longer get a visa at that  counter and they would like to talk to you in “another area”.  Now enjoy the 3 MOJ officials, guards, in full uniform, who come out, one in front of you, two behind and “ask” you to come with them.  Now, tell me your guts don’t liquidate right then and there. Mine sure as hell did.

The situation was laid down simply enough.

That postcard one receives from immigration is akin to a letter from GOD.  The date upon it is not a recommendation but a deadline and the circumstances surrounding that date are not possibly and maybe but rather set-in-stone-absolute-law.

The aggressively pot-bellied MOJ official that screamed at, berated and lectured me up on six put it succinctly in a way only the Japanese could manage.

“You are now an illegal resident here, again.  We know that you called immigration and talked to someone, even though you did not record their name. We saw the call duration on your mobile. your version of the conversation seems credible and we believe it.  That does not matter though. The law is the law and it is broken and you are illegal now. We know that it is our fault but finally it is your fault and that is all that can be said or done about it.  Do you understand?

It remind me starkly of that scene from Goodfellas.


Sure I could scream and yell; cuss this grotesque bureaucrat out, kick him in the head and walk out of here. I could wail and decry an antiquated system totally lacking in flexibility and insist on contacting the embassy.  But I had a question first.

” I see, may I ask frankly, am I going to be detained again?”

“It’s a possibility, we are not certain yet.”

My extensive experience in both life and here in Japan then led me to believe that another course of action, not the high and mighty act, was in my best interest.  The time-honored tradition of groveling.  Some might look down on me for this but I would dare to say these would be people who have never actually been locked up for any real amount of time and if they have been, have never nearly been locked up only to escape it via begging and pleading.

I have done both.
I let my posture and body language resemble that of toady.  I espoused the virtues of Japanese immigration and the legal system as a whole.  I accepted total blame for the current situation and I apologized for any inconvenience I might have caused the ever powerful and omni-benevolent immigration office.  I even considered hinting that due to his rugged good looks, my MOJ liaison must certainly be a well-known man about town with the ladies, and I could introduce him to one or two Russian lookers I knew if he so desired but I thought better of it.  Then I walked out of there at 1800 with a follow-up appointment for the following Thursday.

Say what you like.  Groveling has its place; and I am damned proficient at it.

You’re lucky you aren’t African

So, she explained that in addition to the assault and grievous bodily harm, the illegal residency, there were also several tax issues, issues involving my avoiding the authorities, association with “undesirable persons” while on probation, exporting controlled chemical compounds without a license and violation of the limitations of a past visa.  I accomplished this while fighting professionally while residing here under a humanities visa; a violation I hadn’t even known about.  She ended the speech with “And these are the things we have on record.”  She then closed the file in front of her and put her hands back on the table, palms down and stared at me.

“I’m sorry…?” I whispered.

She then went on to lecture me on what had changed in the immigration law as of late. Explaining that if I received a new visa I would be given a Zairyu card and would no longer need to carry my passport and alien registration card everywhere I went which was, I was told, the former letter of the law.  This intrigued me and I asked to clarify and to keep our conversation well away from the contents of the file in front of her…

“So, up until now, I had to carry both all the time?”

And now, for the first time since he arrived half way through an eight-hour interview, the translator finally spoke up.

“Yeah man, the new law, way better than that old bullshit doing system.”  He had turned to face me, still in between the MOJ official and myself and I took him in for the first time; normal height, slight of build, worn jeans, cashmere black Hermes sweater, gold chain, gold ring, Rolex. Salt and pepper hair well-kept and swept back.

He was standing now, presumably to stretch, and he said loudly, “Man, it was like, if you are in Roppongi doing some kind of private business, you know? You still need to have it in your hands like this.” And at that, he held his right hand in the air, I guess to signify holding the necessary documents, and then began pumping is hips forward miming the act of fornication with a woman from behind, complete with his left hand making smacking gestures to what I can only assume, would have been the poor imaginary woman’s ass end.

I sat there, stunned, and looked slowly over toward the MOJ woman, who was staring at me, blinking slowly, but whom apparently was either oblivious to what this all meant or simply didn’t care because she didn’t flinch; not a bit.

The translator laughed loudly and fell back into his chair, ran a hand through his hair, then leaned forward and whispered to me, “Don’t worry man. You got no problem. You totally getting this the visa, man.  You’re white. USA passport. I used to work for the Navy, man. You’re lucky you ain’t African man or you would be on a fucking boat floating to the sea already.”

At this he let out another laugh, then shook his head and turned again to watch the TV mounted on the wall outside our little clubhouse.

Later, after the interview was over, he approached me in the hall and explained that he was really interested in learning to fight and wanted me to give him lessons. He had read my file and “Man, you fucked that guy up. Awesome. I need to learn how to take people out. How much per hour?”

Mystified, I told it was 5,000 yen per hour.  He said fine but explained that due to contractual issues he could not give me his contact info at immigration and asked me, very cloak and dagger, to drop my info at a hamburger joint in Shimokitazawa.  His friend was the owner and he would pass it along and then he’d get back to me.  It pays to have friends in bizarre places I have learned, and I agreed to do just that.

Over the next several weeks, immigration made me do many a meeting and interview.  They needed this paper from here, that paper from there and I did it all with a smile.  I would have come to each of there homes individually and done a jig with bells on if it would have helped my chances.  The idea of two back to back special permission of residency visa’s seemed ludicrous, despite the unique circumstances.

The thing is, Japan INVENTED ludicrous.
The thing is, Japan INVENTED ludicrous.

And on the 28th of December, I got my new Visa and on the 29th I met the translator; who is an absolute lunatic.  What I have taken away from all this is an understanding that although Japan is chock full of rules, there actually are none that are hard and fast.  Everything here is a guideline and if you can work the system, you can get by.  I also reaffirmed my belief in groveling as a form of progression through life.  There is a time and a place for righteous anger and proclamations of morality and logic; dealing with ANY Japanese paper pusher is not one of those times.

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