The Joy of Japanese Paperwork

Don’t you just love filling out forms and applications? It’s so much fun, I could do it for days. Maybe there’s a rule, or several, each with it’s own sub-clause that needs individual attention. Maybe you can’t give it all to the same bureaucrat and you’ll be lucky enough to go on an adventure! (if any of my friends mention Charlie the Unicorn to me after reading that, I will choke you to death with my visa application forms). I had such an adventure not so long ago which ended up a nightmare.

I had to renew my visa. What a simple task. So I gather the documents, my passport, my photos and my residence card and I went on my merry way to the immigration office. I signed my name as I entered and wished the doorman good morning (1). Immigration is going well at first; they’re checking over my immaculate handwriting as I dutifully filled out all the information they wanted. They all give each other secret glances that they think I don’t spot. Then they break the news.

Where do you live now, she asks. Susukino, like it says on my form. Ah but your residence card still says your old address. No visa for you until you change it. You can do that at the ward office.

It’s a small hiccup, nothing too serious. I say hello to the doorman again (2) on my way out and head off to the ward office. The place is packed and I have to wait more than an hour and a half before anyone will see me. The gentleman I meet looks nervously left and right as I approach. I explain I need to change my residence card and pass all the papers over the counter. Flustered, he sifts through them, eyes darting between the card, the pages and me.

“Is this you?” he asks, indicating to the card.

“…it certainly looks like me”.

It also happens to have the same name written everywhere as well as the fact that it’s my photograph so I’m not entirely sure where the confusion came from. Why could he think I’d be someone else? It’s not as if something could impersonate me right? Satisfied that I was indeed me, he processed my card (see how exciting this adventure is already?) and asked me to wait another hour while they typed an address onto the card. This office was the inspiration for the manga ‘death-note’. For every minute they keep you waiting, they prolong their existence by that same time frame. Were any of them to try and work quickly or efficiently on your behalf so that you wouldn’t need to grow old there, they won’t no longer be serving their purpose and would wither into dust. Remember this next time you get frustrated at the waiting times in civil service offices; all they’re doing is innocently sucking the life out of you. I got my card eventually but he dropped my papers across the floor, just to give me a few more minutes worth of time there to clean up.

Back at immigration I sign in a second time, and nod to the doorman (3) before getting back to immigration. This time a new civil servant goes over the papers for me. I brandish the new card proudly and he dashes my triumph by refusing to acknowledge it. Instead he asks if I’m the one requesting the visa. Yes, I don’t run a visa renewal service. It’s just me. Who else are they trying to lure here? The secret glances are even more sinister. He looked back to the papers suspiciously. In any case, he says, you’re missing this particular form so you’ll need to collect it before we can proceed. But I had all the forms! I scan through them and sure enough one is missing. I knew I’d already filled it out though so I racked my brains for where it could be hiding. Downstairs I wave to the doorman (4), and head home to look for the form.

It’s not at home. It’s nowhere to be found. I can’t fill it out again so easily, as half of it was signed by the company on my behalf. I pace up and down, retracing my steps until I remember the flustered civil servant back at the ward office. My form is waiting for me underneath his desk where he’d dropped it but he was busy sucking the life out of an elderly man. I skipped over much to their surprise, flashed under the desk to grab it, and shouted a brief ‘pardon me’, before skipping on. The rows of people behind me look at each other inn a mix of horror and ‘could we do that too?’. Nobody has a chance to complain though because I’m already out the door. All those people I left behind though were trapped at the mercy of the queues.

At immigration once agin, I laugh to the doorman as I sign in (5). it is ridiculous how many times we’ve met after all, and each time our brief conversations had gotten friendlier. Upstairs, my application continues but all the finger crossing behind my back has no effect.

“This isn’t you” the new civil servant tells me, holding up my photo.

“It is me! Who else do you think it is?”

“No it’s the wrong shape. Your head’s not the right shape”.

My head happens to be perfectly proportional to the rest of my body, thank you very much. When she starts talking about millimetres, I realise she means the size of the photograph. She offers me a pair of scissors  and explains it’s 2mm too big. Just 2. I’m almost home free so I’m not going to ruin it now. The thought that they might want to keep me here, to change me into one of them, these bureaucratic entities, bolts through my mind. I cut off 2mm of background very carefully so as to not compromise my face and hand it back. But there’s another frown.

“You need to take it again”

“What? Why?”

“This is the same photo you used before. It’s more than 6 months old. You need a new photo”.

Then why did you make me cut off 2mm of this other photo!? Has procedure driven you all mad? No, not mad. They were something else entirely. All these civil servants had been ordinary people once. But now their lives and minds and been taken over and I would be next unless I escaped their web soon. There was a photo booth round the corner so I head off again with the sound of ‘dance monkey, dance’ sung by immigration behind me. Downstairs I casually complain to the doorman (6) about why I’m passing through so much.

I’m back with a new precise sized photo 20 minutes later and greet the doorman (7).

“I promise I don’t live here” I joke half heartedly but he’s kind enough to smile. He calls after me as I pass.

“You forgot to sign in!”

“I’ve signed in and out half a dozen times already. I’m only going to be upstairs a minute anyway (whether I’m successful or not)”

“You still need to sign. You can’t proceed unless you sign”

Oh my God, you’re one of them. I thought I was safe here with you, but you’re just as bad as immigration and the ward office. You won’t let anything move on without the right signature on the right paper. It was like discovering one of the aliens in ‘invasion of the body-snatchers’ film. I sign in with more force than what was necessary.

Five minutes later I’m back with my visa receipt (8) and I burst out the doors, past the traitorous doorman, revelling in my freedom. They almost had me but I got away. They would have replaced me with a bureaucratic entity had I stayed any longer.  People walk on staring confusedly at me and I want to shake them. They’re taking your souls! Minute by minute, signature by signature, millimetre by millimetre!

“You fools, you’re in danger! Can’t you see!? They’re after you! They’re after all of us! Our wives, our children, everyone. They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next! You’re next!”

(Nobody ever gets my film references, do they).




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