It’s difficult living in a strange place far away from home. Pair that with a concept embraced by all Japanese, a concept that simply states that all foreigners are inherently part of the “out-crowd” (that is, an outsider) and things just get worse. Nothing you do or say can change that, it is what it is. Some people are nicer about it than others by default, of course, but sometimes the gaijins (outsiders) make mistakes too.
First impressions are a very important thing when living in Japan. If someone does not like you from the outset, they most likely won’t get past their initial disdain. You could save their entire family from drowning, you could give them billions of yen, you could battle Godzilla on their behalf. They still would have that creeping thought in the back of their heads that at one point you were dishonorable or whatever. Even if you killed Godzilla.
The first day here I was feeling a little self-doubt at my ability to make it in a society that does not understand me, or my language. Those of you who know me can attest that I’m a moderately tall and lanky white guy with exceptionally long, brown curly hair. Seems pretty normal in this day and age. Old women stare at me, children run away from me, and most other randoms are too afraid to even say hello. What the hell? When did it become a crime to be me?
Anyway, my first day I was here I was a bit frazzled from not sleeping for 48 hours (that’s a whole ‘nother story right there) and from being perpetually lost no matter where I was. I walked around for hours in an attempt to learn the roads around my apartment, and I got truly frightened a few times because I had lost sight of all the landmarks that marked my starting point. That’d be a real shitter, huh? Lost in a place where people run away from me, and at the very least, couldn’t understand a word I said. After regaining my bearings I went to the store to buy some things for my apartment. Mostly food, some various toiletries, standard fare stuff. There was an old woman at the checkout, maybe in her 50s or early 60s talking up a storm. Usually when you talk to someone you want a response right? Apparently that’s not true here, as it seems every cashier talks to themselves. Anyway in my extremely tired and annoyed state I interrupted the woman with “Lady, I don’t speak Japanese! I speak English!” She gave me a look that I’ve only ever seen in an anime, and someone in line sighed audibly. That’s when I realized I had fucked up.
Somewhere in Aichi, there is a housewife who remembers me as an abrupt asshole. Sorry lady, but I still can’t speak Japanese (yet).
Posted in: japan - life |
All three of you that have visited this site before probably have seen the little netlabel I threw together. I have my own music hosted there for now, and when I have more time, I’ll make it available to the public again on a subdomain (netlabel.gexijs.org)
Posted in: general - music |
Many of my fellow Americans are absorbed in Japanese pop culture; they are simply fascinated by the god-awful noise that is J-Pop/J-Rock or the charming animated tales of large-breasted 13 year-old girls with supernatural powers. Maybe they are excited by the idea of having an obedient and faithful partner just waiting for them as soon as they get off of their plane/boat/flying carpet. Many of these Japanophiles make it a goal to someday live in Japan for a long period of time. Most of them grow out of this notion, are too afraid to actually go through with it, or are simply unable to go for various reasons. For those that do make it to Japan, they might work for a couple of years as a JET/ALT before returning home. They might take steps to try and stay there permanently. Regardless of their individual plans for endgame, all gaijin seem to come to the same conclusion: Japan is simply another place to live. It’s not a magical land of gum drops and unicorn farts and shit; it’s simply business as usual except in a foreign land.
How many of you have simply done something on a total whim? Show of hands, anyone? I’d like to say that my excursion to Japan was the result of a long, arduous process that involved lots of careful planning, an interesting or funny anecdote and years of hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, I can’t.
My interest in Japan stops at the language. Those of you who read the preface and are not mentally-disadvantaged may be able to make the connection that I am not exactly fond of what passes for popular music in Japan. The occasional anime can be fun but only with the appropriate amount of alcohol. Such is life.
Anyway, earlier this year, I was scouring the internet for suitable Japanese language study materials. After some delving and some self-study I started looking into professional instruction. I came across a small private Japanese language institution located in Okazaki-shi, Aichi Prefecture. Intrigued about the possibilities, I inquired about enrollment and found that this particular institution has a very selective application process: factors such as work experience, college background, language ability, future plans, age, and native tongue play very important factors. It tries to keep a fairly international student base, affording more opportunity for language practice. More Japanese is being spoken between students because it may be the only language that is commonly understood.
After reading through the very rigorous admission process, I was skeptical about my chances but I ended up going through the hoops that the Japanese Immigration Bureau has set up to receive a student visa..
- The prospective student needs a passport for long-term study.
- The prospective student needs a “medical certificate” that is signed by their doctor, confirming their good health.
- The prospective student needs to have at least 12 years of school experience, basically a high school diploma or equivalent. A college degree is not a prerequisite but is very helpful.
- The prospective student needs to be able to prove they have the financial resources necessary for study in Japan. This includes tuition, rent, and spending money.
- Some prospective students may need to find a guarantor.
- Some prospective students, depending on their school of choice, may need to pay a hefty application fee. This is because your application needs to be given directly to the Immigration Bureau, in person, along with your necessary documentation.
I sent everything away fully expecting to have wasted $250 in application fees. But hey, at least I have a cool passport now, right?
Months had passed with nothing at all in the way of a favorable response. The admissions department seemed to have ignored my questions, but, I knew that I would hear back at the end of August regardless. And I did. Much to my surprise, the Immigration Bureau accepted my application for a student visa. Rather elated, I started filling out forms and booking flights.
Funnily enough, when the time come, I had totally forgotten about the August deadline. My friend and I were talking and the conversation went a little something like this..
Him: Hey did you hear anything back about Japan yet?
Me: Oh shit, no, I didn’t even check.
Him: You probably should.
Me: Yeah, whatever.
(3 minutes later..)
Me: Holy shit!
Him: Yeah, I have ESP.
At this point I really can’t deny that. Anyway..
The process for obtaining a student visa is treacherous, it takes months and months to even get a response from the Immigration Bureau. The school then has to inform each individual student of their acceptance and receive more paperwork from those students who still are interested in studying. Making matters worse, the students also need to have their passports stamped at a consulate or Japanese embassy, usually with a strict time limit, lest they miss their flight.* As I’m not the most organized person in the entire world, this was a bit difficult for me. Constantly worrying about a deadline, especially with a lot of wasted time and money on the line, can take a really large mental toll. While the tuition money could be refunded less some administration fees, it really wasn’t an eventuality I wanted to cope with.
*Experiences may vary, but this was mine.
The school expedited the acceptance documents via FedEx, it took about 3 days to travel over 6,000 miles. The package contained a folder with various letters, an official Japanese Certificate of Eligibility and some other documents that I need to sign and email back to the school as confirmation that I got everything.
The usual next step is to send your passport to the Japanese consulate or embassy serving your location. Don’t throw the certificate or other acceptance documents away like a dumbass, as it has to go with the passport. In America, they only accept postage through USPS, you must pay both ways, and it’s probably smart to choose fast shipping. For the record, I expedited it each way for a rather pricy $37.90. They do some magic on their end, which apparently takes 4 to 7 business days to complete. Depending on your shipping choices, after a (very short or mildly annoying) period of time you should receive your passport with a shiny new visa stamp for Japan.
I won’t get into airfare. It’s as simple as buying a plane ticket from point A to point B.
Congratulations, you may now set foot in Japan on a long-term visa.
Addendum: I intend for this blog to be entertaining, but I don’t want to be one of those “look at me, I’m a gaijin in Japan isn’t it weird?” blogs. I wrote The Path of Least Resistance as a guideline for people who want to study in Japan but are daunted by the idea, or at the very least give them an idea of what to expect. I tried to keep it informative with some light humor. For those people who have made it a goal to spend time in Japan, many of them find JET or similar companies to be the only real route in as a foreigner, but that’s not always the case. Of course, many people don’t have the financial means to get there any other way, considering the cost of tuition, airfare and rent these days. For those that can swing the trip, they might find that studying abroad is a lot cheaper than they think. I have an IT degree, the yearly tuition for this school I looked into is less than what I was paying for my old school, in America. If any high school graduates from America are reading this and want to go to Japan, I suggest comparing the costs of an American university and a Japanese university BEFORE committing to a school. You just might be surprised.
Posted in: japan - life |