Monday, 10 January 2005


Been quite a quiet week, all told. Well, worky kind of stuff was busy, what with new teachers arriving - and leaving the day after they got here in one case (not a great start to the year!) and the usual problems with visas and immigration that governments all over the world seem to enjoy providing visitors with. Japan is a great country in this respect, for the last eighteen months or so it has been one of the main areas of my job to ensure that every foreigner in the company has a valid working visa and that we comply with all the regulations etc. This would be fine except that it means we (not I, I have a Japanese assistant who actually does the talking, thankfully) have to deal with the immigration department on an almost daily basis. Now as I noted above, I think immigration departments the world over are of a standard, in that they like to make life as difficult as possible if they can, but the Japanese one is especially good in that it refuses, as far as we can tell, to give definitive aswers to any questions that we may ask. So, if we were to, say enquire if it was ok for so-and-so to apply for a visa, considering this is their background? The reply we'd get would be "apply, if it's refused then no, if its accepted, then ok". Can you tell us without the rigmarole of applying for the visa? "No, apply and you'll see". Very helpful. Even better is the 'its decided case by case' answer, which means that a person might get a visa on one day, but on another day with another inspector, might not...

Now I can accept this from a third world banana republic where the size of the donation influences the expedition of your case, but in a scrupulously by-the-book country like Japan, it doesn't seem to fit somehow. Still open to personal interpretation, I suppose. Puts me in mind of a situation from over a year ago, when a teacher was hired to come out from the UK. He wasn't English but had been living in the UK since he was 2, so had been through all stages of education in the UK, including university and then completed a teaching course and was eager to start his first teaching job. Immigration had other ideas, though. He was originally from South Korea, you see, and therefore can't be an English teacher as English isn't an official language of South Korea so he can't speak it. But, but, but... Nope, doesn't matter, he can't speak English therefore he can't be an English teacher. Not the slightest hint that it was because he was South Korean? Well, probably, but of course immigration can use this argument because they feel like it. Doesn't matter that the visas we get aren't even for being an 'English' teacher, they are issued under the spurious title of ''Specialist in Humanities and International Relations', whatever that really means. And of course if the Japanese Embassy in London make an error in processing the visa at their end, that must really be the fault of the passport holder - they should have spotted there was an error and notified the Embassy, even though no-one knows what a visa looks like until they get one, so how would you know there was an error on it?

Seems that some bright spark somewhere has also decided that a good way to speed up the immigration queues at Narita is to introduce ID cards with biometric data on and a fingerprint sample, meaning that one could in effect do away with a passport and just whizz through with the swipe of a card. I couldn't gather if this was ging to be only for Japanese, for foreigners with work visas and/or residency permits, or everybody. I don't know, when I first came to Japan they were still issuing the old style Alien Registration (or Gaijin) Cards. These were much like the current ones, except that the new ones have a signature whereas the old ones had a copy of your fingerprint on it. Personally, because of the connotations associated with fingerprinting i.e. that you a criminal or a suspect, I didn't like these old cards and was happy when they changed them. Now, in the name of security, they are proposing to re-start them. Hmm indeed...


Talking of teachers, some good news on the holidaying front as one of the teachers I was worried about has returned safe and well to Japan. I haven't spoken to him but apparently he is fine and I'm not even sure he was near to anything bad at the time. Another teacher was very close to everything, being on Ko Phi Phi island on boxing day. She is safe and uninjured, which is the good news, but somewhat traumatised by what she has seen, not surprisingly. Her director of studies spoke to her today and said she seems ok, but this will take some careful looking after, I suspect. Also, she wasn't aware of too many other of our teachers on the island, which again is good news, but then again we have a lot of teachers and she wouldn't know them all, so... Anyway, as I mentioned last week, tomorrow is the first day back at school so we will wait and see and hope.


Read this in the paper this morning made me wonder. Chap in car with colleague/partner runs a red light and a crossroads. Coming the other way, approaching the green light, is another car. Second car goes through the green and hits the car running the red light, killing both the driver and passenger in the red car - driver of car going through the green is injured but survives. Simple situation, case closed says a judge. Except yesterday another judge re-opened the case as the parents of red running car driver wish to sue the driver of green running car for killing their son. They say that there was enough visibility for the green driver to see their son's car and therefore he should have taken avoiding action. Also, and this is where it gets a bit more complicated, the green driver was doing 'about' 90kph approaching the crossing in a 60kph zone. So the judge has decided that he will open the case to look, I guess, at manslaughter by the green driver. Personally I think this is just a little bit too screwed up. I mean, the guy ran a red light, so surely any responsibility was then his. OK, the green driver was speeding, but you still wouldn't, shouldn't and can't expect a car to be breaking the laws of the road and of common sense by driving through a red light at a crossing. Or can you?

'Drive as if you expect every other car on the road to be about to do something stupid' is obviously good advice, but still, in this case, I can't believe the green driver is too culpable. Then again I don't drive in Japan, no real need to, so maybe I'm the one who's in the wrong.

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