Monday, 29 December 2008

The right to reside

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

Jesus Christ!

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

We like Wordle

See here for the full image

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

(started in October)

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 no one is lending anyone any money any more, we’re getting a touch restive that the bank won’t commit to the cash handover at the moment. It’s not that they’ve said they won’t, it’s more that they haven’t said anything for a while. Anyway, I’m sure it will happen sometime.

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…