Monday, 29 December 2008
As I mentioned a while ago one of the things that is meant to make buying property easier in Japan, when one is an alien, is having permanent residency. I didn’t have it when we started the process so, in the spirit of… well, applying, I applied for it. Now this may sound easy, but it is not – actually it is easy to apply but it is a pain in the arse to get everything done for the application.
Now as we know the Japanese as a race love bureaucracy as much as, no, more than, the next nation state, and usually this means that as long as you follow the guidelines and tick all the boxes you should be fine. However the Immigration bureau didn’t sign up to this and to call them capricious would be to describe Usain Bolt as ‘quite fast’. This is not just me, by the way, anyone who has had any dealings with immigration feels the same way and phrases such as ‘case by case’ and ‘depends who you get on the day’ and ‘what a bunch of shysters’ are often heard after a trip of one of their offices.
So, I know that we have to get the required forms, some bits of paper from the town hall to prove I pay my taxes, copy of the marriage certificate, pay slips and other stuff, but then there’s the ‘extras’. Permanent residency is sort of the holy grail of ‘visas’ (it’s not really a visa, it is permission to reside, which is different apparently), so they don’t give them out willy-nilly. If, for example, I wasn’t married to the Guru and/or have a 3.5 yr old progeny running around (and making a lot of noise) then the basic requirement for PR would be 10 years continuous residence and having made a ‘significant contribution to society’ which by the look of it means being a Nobel laureate in pro-Japanese propaganda, or something, so they take it quite seriously. Luckily, if you’re married to a Japanese personage and your contribution to society consists of a 3.5 yr old noisy child then apparently this is on a par with Nobelhood (and thank goodness for that).
So anyway, back to the application. Before submitting the documents we did some research, of course – in one of the Japan forums I participate in there was a plethora of advice, most of it consisting of information like, ‘submit the stuff they ask for and then add…’ some of the stuff they suggest to add sounded quite useful, like degree certificates and references, others quite strange, like a map from your local train/tube station to your house. But then again when we did the spouse visa application we had to submit some daft stuff, like photos of us together, a report on how we met, that sort of thing, so you shouldn’t be surprised. One of the most amusing bits of advice was from a bloke who described the PR application process along these lines – ‘what the bloke dealing with your application does is get your file and start taking bits of paper out, like the application form. He won’t read what’s on the paper, he will just place it on the desk in front of him. He will do this until he has put all the pieces of paper on the desk. If, when he has finished, he cannot see any of the desk uncovered by paper, your application will be approved; if an area equivalent to one piece of A4 is uncovered, he will read your application and decide. If more than one piece of A4 of the desk is uncovered, your application will be rejected.’
So, off we trooped to the Saitama immigration office in May to submit the application. I took along the necessaries and a selection of the optional extras (with full intent on providing sufficient desk coverage). Up came our number and so I started to have over everything – as soon as I started the chap said ‘oh, permanent residency’ as if he were a little surprised – perhaps not the sort of thing that usually happens in Saitama. Once I had given the necessaries I started on the extras, the chap looked a bit bemused when I gave him the map of the station/apartment, but when I brought out the degree certificates he started to look panicked, saying “no, no, we don’t need all this stuff, the application form will do” and started to hand stuff back to me – very odd, I thought, don’t you want to ask me to name all the prefectures of Japan, I have memorised them…? But no, just the docs, as it were.
So, “how long will ask this take?” was the next question; “well, about 6 months to a year, so if you haven’t heard from us by June 2009 then reapply for your spouse visa anyway, just in case” was the response – a whole year!? What are they going to do, genealogy and DNA testing? Probably, is possibly the answer, and I wouldn’t have put it past them. So that was it, really, all we had to do then was wait.
And wait we did, until the end of November when, low and behold, the application was approved. A colleague of mine from the Philippines, who has PR, said his application took a year to complete and whilst it was going on immigration contacted his landlord and his then current and his previous employer, to check he was legit. As far as I can tell there were no checks done on me like that (as, for one our landlord is a right old gossip and if immigration had called him he would have been straight round to us; and two, if they had contacted my employer they would probably have ended up speaking to me as that sort of HR thing would probably end up on my desk). But for us it was almost exactly 6 months to the day since we made our application.
Now, after all the palaver of applying I was expecting a little ceremony or something when I went back to the immigration office to get the stamp put into my passport, but, disappointingly, there was nothing – no ceremonial stamping, no handshake from the branch director, no word of congratulations from the immigration minister, not even a photographer from the local paper to record the happy event. Just a ‘here you go, and don’t forget to go to your town hall and update your alien registration card’, which I duly did a couple of weeks later.
If all that seems like a bit of an anti-climax, rest assured it was for me too. But the good news is that I got it and so I don’t now have to go back and get a new visa ever three years as this one lasts, in theory, forever. But I do need to get a re-entry permit, which does only last for three years, which is the government’s way of… sorry, another government way of making money from foreigners. And gaining it didn’t make any difference to buying property as we’ve already bought it; oh well…
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Apparently he was Japanese, you know, buried in a field in Aomori Prefecture when he died at the age of 106. It was his brother that was strung up by the Romans; tsk, imagine they must have been pretty narked when they found out. Anyway, read the whole story here.
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
Hmm, has it really been that long since I posted…
Yes indeed it has. Oh well, back now.
So, we’re still in the process of buying an apartment. As I mentioned below we’ve bought this new-build thing that is, I am glad to say, actually being built (I had a peek in the summer and they’d completed 5 of the 10 floors, or the shells thereof, including ours on the 2nd floor, so Marcus and I could go ‘oooh look, that’s going to be ours soon…’). The issue we’ve got at the moment is that we haven’t actually, technically, got a mortgage yet, as in signed a piece of paper that commits the bank to handing over the cash – we’ve signed lots of bits of paper that, in principle, mean the bank will hand over the cash, but not a contract. Normally this wouldn’t worry me too much as we’re not meant to move in until March or April next year, but in these uncertain times… well, extremely certain in the sense that the world economy is in meltdown and
So lots of things have been and gone since I last wrote. We went on our hols en famille, which was nice. We went to stay with the Guru’s folks for a couple of days, which was nice, and then, as they live closer to the beach than we do, we moved from theirs to Kujukuri (that’s 99 Kuri beach for language fans out there, a kuri being an olden days unit of measurement, quite possibly equivalent to one grain of sand, or possibly an elephant, who knows?), which is on the eastern Pacific side coast (for all you geography fans out there).
(carried on in December)
It’s quiet, I don’t have a lot to do so let’s write some more of this.
Update on the flat buying thing, we have now signed a sh*te-load more bits of paper that, I’m glad to say, does commit the bank to handing over the cash. Luckily we haven’t had to decide on the actual type of loan yet, i.e. fixed for a period (up to the life of the loan) or on a tracker type thing, we have to do that in March, just before the whole thing is finished and we move in. obviously at the moment a fixed interest loan looks quite attractive as rates are so low. If we did that we could get something like 4% for the full 35 years, which compared to a UK mortgage would be pretty low. But a tracker would be somewhere under 2% and as interest rates have been astoundingly low for the last decade, and are getting lower, that is also attractive. The annoying thing is that we can’t change once we’ve decided, so going for a very low tracker now and then changing to fixed when the economy begins to pick up in a few years isn’t an option. I don’t know, I guess we’ll see when the time comes to sign, I like the idea of a really low fixed rate so I know what we have to pay every month for the next 35 years, but then again, it’s cheaper, of course, not to at the moment. I guess the key is when, in the next 35 years, will the tracker rate be more than the current deal on a fixed rate? Of course if I knew that I would not be doing this job, I’d be a fabulously wealthy financial consultant who didn’t need to worry about fixed/tracker rates of interest – oh the irony!
Anyway as I was saying we went to the beach. This was a great adventure as Marcus had never been to the beach before so was jolly looking forward to it. So, by various means of transport, not limited to buses and trains but also including feet, we made our way to One Pine Beach near Mobara, part of Kujukuri. It was obvious from the moment of arrival that the locals enjoyed a joke as there were, literally and indeed actually, lots of pine trees there. In fact it was impossible to single one pine tree out that might have been ‘the one’ as a veritable forest stretched along the coast. Maybe they just do it to confuse foreigners.
We were to stay at some ‘resort’ place, as they often thought of themselves, but all thoughts of ours were on the beach. Marcus was excited, the sun was hot, we could hear the waves and things looked good. So, the usual dumping of stuff and arguing about what to take to the beach, then off. Down the sandy road we wandered, stopping every few meters so Marcus could play in the sand at the side of the road – it kind of defeated the point, we said, as there was a huge beach full of the stuff just over the way, but you know what kids can be like. Then, as we climbed over the ridge, there was the beach.
I must admit it was a little disappointing, the sand was a kind of light grey, so volcanic, and to me that gives the beach a bit of a grubby look. Also a couple of large shacks sold food and assorted beach paraphernalia, but again on the dilapidated side of used. Still, sand and surf there were, as well as people, inflated inflatables, nary a cloud in the sky to soften the unremitting skin cancer attack and a stiff offshore breeze – all the ingredients for a pleasant afternoon at the beach.
So, beach parasol hired and emplaced, plastic sheet weighted down (for some reason Japanese will only sit on a plastic sheet on the ground, preferable a blue one, although if you have children a patterned one will do. I have no idea why, for example, towels, reed mats, woollen picnic blankets/spreads or anything else will not suffice, but no, it must be a plastic mat – go look at a large hamami (cherry blossom) or hanabi (fireworks) gathering next time and you’ll see. Weird) we hit the waves.
How as you’ll remember this was Marcus’ first trip to the beach and first experience with seawater so, wanting to keep things safe, we were very tentative. Tip toe to the shore and stand at the very edge, water just about to your toes, mmm, nice and warm. So far so good. So then we took a few steps forwards and the water covered our feet – at this point Marcus was laughing and jumping, thinking it all jolly good fun. A couple more steps and the water was shin height, again all good fun and Marcus with a big smile on his face. But then, two waves come together at right-angles to each other and seem to hit each other and Marcus at the exactly the right moment – the upshot was, well, an up-shot of water that went straight up his legs, tummy, chest and splashed into his face and lastly, his mouth. Cue PANIC!
Well, panic it was – it took him possibly 0.02 seconds to get out of the water and to the mat. Then the real fun started. As he was wet the sand clung to him – not good. We tried to brush off the sand but as you know that doesn’t work so and the towel felt like sandpaper – not good. Wash the sand off in the water? Not on your life. Ok, sit there and feel miserable – check. Now we need to go to the toilet – ok dad will take you. Ow, the sand is too hot – not good. Struggle up the beach, round the back of the shack to where the rudimentary toilet block is, think French campsite – breeze blocks, hole in the floor, smell – into a cubicle, no too smelly and nasty to go to the toilet here – not good. Return to mat parasol, repeat 4 or 5 times. Decide to go to shack to get some food and drink, sit down order some basics and a bottle of pop, cut to more whinging about hot sand, hot sun, sea water, toilets, beaches and life in general. State enough is enough and you want to go back to ojii-san and obaa-san’s house as life is much simpler there. Continue until parents realise you have been traumatised for life and beat a retreat to the hotel. Time spent actually on the beach during beach holiday = approx. 42 minutes.
Aah, happy days, now I look back on it.
Luckily the place we were staying in had an onsen, a swimming pool and various other rooms and attractions that meant that staying there wasn’t quite as bad as staring at 4 walls trying not to kill each other, but at times it was close…
Friday, 20 June 2008
Once I got my new job at the international school the guru and I sat down and wondered just what in the hell it all meant. The most important thing was that it meant I wasn’t working for the English school anymore, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, doing my head in. But it also meant that we had to reappraise our plans, such as they were, regarding staying or going.
The kind of tentative plan was that we would stay in Japan whilst the youngster was young, probably up to the end of elementary school or Year 6, so about 10 years old, and then head back to Blighty as that way he’d get the benefit of both a Japanese and a British upbringing (and the concomitant language benefits contained therein). But then I got this job at the international school and so now he’ll get a British education but in a Japanese environment, perhaps the best of both worlds (or maybe going to a Japanese school whilst living in the UK would be better, who knows), and, not wanting to blow the school’s trumpet too long or hard, the education he’ll get here will be every bit as good, if not better, than an education he’d get at a state school in the UK (except we don’t have enough space, especially playground and playing fields, but we are an inner city school so you can’t have everything).
So anyway, he’s 3 now and he’ll be able to stay at the international school here until he’s 16 at least (assuming I stay here as well, or else I find another job where I can blag 10 grand’s worth of school fees along with a better salary, which, let’s face it, is unlikely) – by the way I didn’t try to get the job here for this reason, but I must say it’s panned out remarkably well. So that meant that the guru and I took a short, direct think about what was in the offing and decided it was probably a good idea to buy somewhere to live and get out of the rental sector, so we have.
Well, I say we have but what we have actually bought, right now, is a big hole in the ground with a few foundations that will, by March next year, have grown into a 50 apartment mansion block. The good news is that it is new, it shouldn’t fall down in an earthquake, it’s in Tokyo, near where we live now, near the river and a nice park (with a windmill, no less), we can choose options we want, it’s bigger than the place we have now, it’s close to a railway station that’s only 25 minutes to Shibuya so not a bad commute and, probably the most important one, we can afford it. The bad news is that it is quite close to a railway line (the very one the youngster and I will get on to go to school), the mortgage is for 35 years so I will probably be paying this off into my retirement, the land is designated as residential/light industrial so there are a few not so nice bits around the area (zoning laws are great in Japan) and the station area isn’t nearly as well developed as Kawaguchi (so no big library, no city hall, only 1 supermarket, no sports centre etc).
The town itself is a bit like Kawaguchi in that it is going through a strong phase of redevelopment, with lost of apartment blocks being built on the sites of old factories and warehouses. With this, usually, come more amenities like supermarkets and the like as there are more people to use them – this might be wishful thinking on my part, but we have watched Kawaguchi change mightily over the last 6 years so I have high hopes for the new area.
Of course it might still all fall through as we haven’t really got full backing from the bank yet for the mortgage. What we have is a positive pre-judgement for a loan for an apartment in a place called Mizonokuchi, where we nearly bought a place but backed out of at the last minute (I will write the story of that one sometime), the new place is slightly more expensive so we need to go back to the bank to get a new pre-approval. Once we’ve got that the bank then takes its time to decide whether it wants to give us the full approval or not, and actually hand over the cash. If it does, all well and good, if it doesn’t we get our deposit back but have to pay for the apartment options we chose – not so well and good. Bit of a long, drawn out process this, but there you go.
So, we’re up and running, roll on March 2009…
Thursday, 12 June 2008
You can have it as an option…
Goodness two posts in two days, verbal diarrhoea!
So, as I said yesterday the Guru and I are looking to buy a place and at the moment we are looking at a newly built place just over the river – so new in fact that it won’t be built until next March. What got me is this.
Last night, as I said, after writing blog type stuff I filled out all the forms necessary to apply for the place and the associated finance that is part of the deal. No problem there, but because it hasn’t been built yet there is also a whole load of add on options you can choose, and pay for, for the particular apartment you are buying; so, for example, you can choose better/more kitchen appliances and bathroom stuff and, well, lots of other stuff as well. The problem is that, for some reason, even though the place won’t be finished for about 10 months, the deadline for option choosing is this Saturday.
Now, as a foreigner it is much more difficult to obtain the necessary credit to buy property – it is possible but takes time. We submitted all the paperwork today, the decision from the bank won’t be made until next week at the earliest but if we want options on the apartment that isn’t ours yet we have to make them on Saturday. That in itself is silly enough, but get this.
On Saturday we’ll hand over a deposit and make our option choices. The following week the bank will make their decision, if they say yes then all well and good. However if they say no then the apartment people will smile, say sorry and then give the deposit back and then give us an invoice for the cost of the options we have chosen as the ‘contract’ for the mortgage is completely different and separate from the ‘contract’ for the apartment itself…
So, how confident are we that we’ll get the finance? Well, seeing as it took us 4 banks (which in Japan is pretty much all of them) to get a mortgage for the place we didn’t buy before, not very, although the sole mortgage provider for the new place is the bank that approved our loan for the old place (but as they are different branches I am sure it will be, in grand Japanese tradition, ‘case by case’). What to do…?
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
The decline and fall of Japanese civilization, pt.2
So in the last few weeks there have been a couple of instances which have contributed to the notion that
The first one was a couple of weeks ago. In the past large numbers of women have come/been enticed/forced to come to Japan to work in the ‘water’ industry – I don’t mean as hydroelectric engineers or plumbers, but as hostesses and, at times, more besides. Now, some of these ladies were from the
Inevitably a group of these people took their matter to the court and inevitably each and every court in
This, of course, opens the huge can of worms of parental recognition of offspring. In this country if a father doesn’t recognize a kid as his own then the kid is hugely disadvantaged as the kid will have no residency papers and the like as these things are always done through the male/father and if you have no father (on paper) then you are a non-person. So anyway hopefully this will now come an end, though I won’t be holding my breath.
The second all out assault on the homogeneity of the Japanese people (I rather liked that phrase so I thought I’d use it again, I hope you don’t mind…I also hope you don’t mind about me not writing anything for a month, oh well) came this time from the Diet, or parliament, which makes it even more odd than the High Court telling the govt to sort itself out. This time the Diet unanimously decide that the Ainu People, predominantly of
The last thing for now is that the guru, the little ‘un and yours truly are in the throes of buying a permanent place to live in this country. I have applied for permanent residency, somehow secured a mortgage and nearly bought a flat that would probably have fallen down if a magnitude 5 sneeze had hit it, let alone an earthquake. I promise I will write more on this soon, but tonight I have to go and fill in more forms for a place we saw last Sunday and we like the look of. This time it is a new build, have a look here for more.
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Now as everyone knows
So, you may be thinking, this is probably a long segue into something interesting because it sure as shit hasn’t got much going for it right now…and you’d be right.
In true X-Files fashion (remember that show, seems so recent and yet so distant – when I first came to Japan, in 1996, I had never really watched it, but soon after arrival Andy (my soon to go mad travel buddy) and I bought a 17th hand tv and video and, after the aforementioned going mad period, I ‘discovered’ the X-Files and spent no small amount of cash renting series 1 to about 7 from the place over the road from my first apartment. I think I may have wooed the Guru by persuading her that she didn’t want to go out for dinner but wanted to eat cup ramen and watch Mulder saying “it’s aliens Scully, they’ve taken over
Oh yes, in true X-Files fashion aliens have taken over
As everyone knows the Japanese have about 16 different alphabets, but even though they have all these unnecessary ways of writing, the syllabary (if that’s the right word) is fairly constant. In its basic form Japanese 5 vowel sounds and whilst they look like the roman ones: a, e, i, o, u, their sounds are different. I’ll try and make sense now
OK, so bear with me. Japanese vowel sounds are short, so if you want a long vowel sound you have to double up, as it were. Now, looking at the way I’ve written the ‘sounds’ for you there, go down the list firstly making the short vowel sound…
OK, now do it but doubling up and long sounds like saying haaaaaat but just making the ‘a’ sound.
OK, now do it again but this time change the pitch to correspond to the notes from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind…
Now is that spooky or what? The basic Japanese vowel system, and basis of their whole language, is based on an intergalactic cosmic tonal scale from a Steven Spielberg movie! Startling stuff, eh? And, if that were not enough, when I confronted the Guru with this startling discovery she kind of sighed, then pulled the ‘skin’ off her face, revealing her true, green skinned, bug eyed alien form underneath and lisped “it’s a fair cop, guv’nor”. They never said that to Mulder…
Sunday, 9 March 2008
Friday, 1 February 2008
So I figure it’s about time I wrote something down. Er…
So a lot has changed over the past few months, not least the fact that I have changed jobs. If you may remember I was working for an English school, the fools having been foolish enough to make me Principal in 2006. this was fine while it lasted but I discovered that the higher up the tree you go, the more shite it gets – might only be true for that particular company but more likely it is a truism all over the world. Anyway I wrote in spring/summer last year that I was trying to make myself more marketable, I don’t know if I managed to do this or not, but I think it put me in the right mindset.
Over the summer I had a number of interviews for hr/recruitment related jobs for banks in Tokyo – this was something of an eye opener, as you might expect, not least for the fact that I had to spend about a week in the library trying to find out what it is exactly that banks do to make money. Actually that’s not true, I spent a week in the library trying to get to a point where I could sound like I knew a little bit about how banks make their money. Luckily I have now forgotten everything I read because these none of these banks were that interested in me (nor me them, really, except the wad I might have expected had I joined one of them, they do seem to pay well).
But what I did see was a position as hr manager for another school in Tokyo, this time not an English school but an International School that happened to be quite British in its outlook, curriculum, teachers etc. So after some to-ing and, but of course, no little amount of fro-ing as well, I landed the gig. Even for these guys it took three interviews including one that lasted most of a day! I started here at the back end of November but as part of my lengthy and extended escape period from the last lot I had to return there 4 times in December to ‘finish things off’ – which meant I went to Nishi Kasai and sat there doing not very much at all, but it did mean that I got paid to the end of the December by those guys and the new guys – double salary action, nice…
Being the new guy meant that I got to work for most of Christmas as well, so whilst for the last 10 years or so I’ve had around 10 days off over crimbo and the new year this time around it was Christmas day and new year’s day only (though boxing day was the last day to return to last lot, so it was something of a bittersweet working day). Therefore exciting stories of Christmas adventure are somewhat thin on the ground this year as, basically, I worked. We did go to the brand spanking new train museum in Omiya (in fact the youngster has dragged me there twice), which was good in a lots-of-trains-can-only-keep-me-interested-so-far kind of way, which, I hardly need to add, isn’t nearly as far as they can keep a 2¾ year old boy interested.
Christmas day was full of the usual presents-and-food shenanigans, this year I even got some presents myself, which was most pleasant after last year’s rather dismal showing. The youngster got lots of car/train action, which, well, I was going to say kept him quiet for hours but in reality they kept him interested and loud for hours. The Guru also received presents aplenty, though I’ll be buggered if I can remember what she got, now that it is February after all.
On the Japan front things have been quiet as well. Quiet is the operative word for the new PM, Somethingsomething Fukuda (sorry, can’t remember his first name…might be Yasuro…). Anyway you might remember that I nothing but ambivalence for Silent Shinzo because, as far as I could see, he didn’t do or say anything of note, or anything at all. Well, Fukuda makes him look like Outrageous Abe (I wanted that to be alliterative, and it kind of is when you say it, but it doesn’t work when you read it, if anyone can suggest a synonym for loquacious that starts with ‘a’ then I’d be happy to edit). I digress, so, Fukuda, even more quiet and crap than the last extremely quiet and crap bloke. Goodness how we all hanker for the excitement of the Kid. Along with much of the rest of the world the people of Japan are worried about recession – no, the media are telling everyone that they are worried about recession, making it a truth even if it isn’t.
Lots of other things have happened, none of which I wrote down (though at the time saying ‘I must write that down and write about it in the blog’) and now, of course, can’t remember. As you might expect the usual white collar crimes have continued unabated, the usual frauds, embezzlements and backhanders that keep Japan Inc ticking over nicely, whilst erstwhile parents have continued to show their credentials by murdering their offspring (and vice versa to be fair).
One story I did like from a few months ago was about a bloke who got legless, literally. Chap was riding along a motorway in the countryside somewhere in Japan with some friends and strayed a little too close to the central reservation barrier. Apparently he felt the bike twitch a little so thought he had clipped a stone or something so he slowed down a little and moved in a little and then carried on regardless. It was only when he stopped at a junction a little later that he realised that his right leg below the knee was missing – that and his mate coming to stop beside him and then handing over his newly liberated limb. Apparently the bike twitch he felt was his leg catching on the barrier and then being ripped off – without him noticing a thing! You have to wonder, all mad these bikers (or extremely hard)