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Tokyo: Have you ever had any trouble with immigration in Japan?

by Mark Buckton

Jonathan McDonald
Teacher, 35 (English)
Never. I find that if I’m well-dressed and polite, things go well. I always try to chat a bit to the staff. This makes the process less of a formality and more human. That way if something does go wrong, the staff are less likely to follow protocol and more likely to do what they can to help!

Sandra Meyer
Bar staff, 22 (French)
Personally I have never had a problem with the immigration services in Japan — either in Shinagawa or at ports of departure — because I have never done anything wrong or illegal, and I am of course trying to keep it that way. It is of course easier to live if we have done nothing wrong.

Alfie Goodrich
Photographer, 44 (English)
I’ve encountered the usual dilemma of “the wife is Japanese, she goes through her line; I am English and need to go through a different line,” which has been solved very quickly by an immigration officer, usually, by opening up a new line, taking us through in double-quick time and bypassing the whole [conundrum].

Ifeanyi Akaolis
Corporate instructor, 44 (Nigerian)
Once, having gone through the ups and downs all foreigners face here, I headed to immigration at Narita to get out and go home. For various reasons I was delayed at immigration, met a Japanese woman and returned to Tokyo. Weeks later we were married and now we have a lovely daughter.

Ananda Jacobs
Musician, actress, 30 (American)
Immigration was a bit of a Catch-22 situation for me when I was applying for my artist visa. In order to qualify for the visa, I had to show that I was earning enough income as a freelance composer to support myself, yet in order to work in Japan I had to first have the proper visa.

Andrew McLucas
Sales, 41 (Australian)
I’ve lived here for over 15 years on three-year visas, but once I forgot to go and renew my visa, so essentially I overstayed. But, having a normal job and living in the same place, there was no real negative outcome and it was renewed. I was told, however, not to do it again!

Interested in gathering views in your neighborhood? E-mail community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Ron NJ

    Aside from immigrations officers at airports, I’ve had nothing but good experiences dealing with immigrations officials here, though they could stand to ensure that their employees have at least some measure of foreign language ability given that their raison d’être is dealing with people whose first language often isn’t Japanese. It’s a bit silly for immigrations officials to often only speak Japanese when they have to handle short-term temporary visitors and the like who have no obligation or reason to learn or know Japanese.

    • Eamon

      Right. That’s why immigration officials in the United States (you know, that country with the most immigrants) speak other languages.

      • Ron NJ

        This is an article about Japan on the Japan times; what the US does or doesn’t do is completely irrelevant.

      • Eamon

        You’re making an assumption about what is “silly for immigration officials.” It is relevant to compare what the standards of immigration in the world are in order to deem what’s silly or not. You say “short-term temporary visitors and the like who have no obligation or reason to learn or know Japanese,” but neither do short-term visitors to any other country in the world, yet it is not the norm for immigration officials to speak others’ languages.

        Of course, one can argue that English is the de facto global language so it would make sense for immigration officials to learn it, particularly if they want visitors or immigrants for economic reasons, but they are under no obligation to learn any other language, nor do they have any responsibility to those who have no Japanese language ability. From the attitude of many travellers to Japan, especially from the United States (and occasionally that of long-term residents as well), everyone should be speaking English despite the country being a non-English speaking country.

      • Guest

        There’s nothing outlandish about expecting immigration officials in any country to have some ability to speak (one of) the global lingua franca(s), especially if they are like Japan and aiming to meet a goal of 30 million tourists by 2030.

      • Eamon

        Not at all. What I object to is the insinuation that it’s “silly” for Japan to not be speaking others’ languages when that’s not exactly the norm for immigration worldwide. Perhaps in this circumstance I was over-reacting but I get tired of the “ah silly Japan is so uniquely dysfunctional” attitude amongst many posters on the boards here.

      • Guest

        It’s not “others’ languages” – you don’t ‘claim’ a language based on ethnicity or nationality something. They’re for everyone. And the one that is most applicable and most used internationally is … you guessed it, English!

      • Eamon

        So are you saying that English equally belongs to Japan so you agree it’s silly for them not to be speaking to visitors in English?

        And what I mean by “others’ languages” are languages that are not the official language of Japan. In other words, if a language is official it has been “claimed” by a country. Not that it can’t be used by people outside of the country (see multiple countries with French as an official language), but it has been identified as important to themselves.

        Having said that, Japan has no official language. But it’s hard to argue that Japanese is not one of the important aspects of Japanese culture and somehow English is equally important.

      • Guest

        I wouldn’t be so comfortable contributing the US immigration’s personnel’s use of foreign languages, just for the purpose of aiding foreign tourists or businessmen. In this situation surely English should be enough? For immigrants of course, speaking their native tongue would be more advantageous. Some may of course dismiss US immigration’s use of foreign languages as a cynical political ploy. A stop-gap measure initiated to reduce queues of people entering the country proportionately to the speed that the Homeland Securities Spartan security checks creates them.

        Ascribing to and encouraging the use of English amongst
        Japan’s Immigration service is conversely the same as encouraging the US immigration to use no other language but English. If indeed we are agreeing that
        English as the lingua Franca.

        In my experience, the police, immigration and even political officials often have a passable grasp of English, more so than perhaps many people will ever
        know. Getting them to speak it is however, another matter.

        So I would agree with the OP that employees must have at least some measure of foreign language ability, and would add that employees and employers alike should be heavily incentivised to actually make use of it.

      • stoneyzatiger

        I wouldn’t be so comfortable attributing the US immigration’s personnel’s use of foreign languages, just for the purpose of aiding foreign tourists or businessmen. In this situation surely English should be enough? For immigrants of course, speaking their native tongue would be more advantageous. Some may of course dismiss US immigration’s use of foreign languages as a cynical political ploy. A stop-gap measure initiated to reduce queues of people entering the country proportionately to the speed that the Homeland Securities Spartan security checks creates them.

        Ascribing to and encouraging the use of English amongst
        Japan’s Immigration service is conversely the same as encouraging the US immigration to use no other language but English. If indeed we are agreeing that
        English as the lingua Franca.

        In my experience, the police, immigration and even political officials often have a passable grasp of English, more so than perhaps many people will ever
        know. Getting them to speak it is however, another matter.

        So I would agree with the OP that employees must have at least some measure of foreign language ability, and would add that employees and employers alike should be heavily incentivised to actually make use of it.

  • El Anon

    interesting how this quotes people who live in Japan, or got away with minor infractions, but doesn’t talk to people who got into trouble. I imagine that people from China, Korea, Brazil, Phillipines have different mentality about immigration in Japan

    • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

      I know a Filpino who hates the fact that being Filipino means that she is treated like a 3rd class person. She earns more than the average wage in every western countries, but is treated differently. There should be a system where high income people (in the third world) don’t have to continuously apply for visas every time they leave their (host) country. Maybe the US should set up such an office….the NSA seems over-qualified for the task.

  • C321

    It always amazes me the way so many people turn up at immigration looking like they just rolled out of bed and with an aggressive attitude. You might be within your rights to do so, but when you are dealing with people who have any discretion at all, you need to play the game and also show them a little respect by making an effort in your presentation and attitude when you turn up to interact with them.

    • Mike Wyckoff

      The moment the Kyoto Immigration office shows the least bit of respect to foreigners, I’ll do the same. Osaka on the other hand is a breeze, with polite staffers.

      • C321

        Oh dear, it does seem to be location dependent, it’s fine in Nagoya, but I heard Tokyo is not so good. I guess it’s chicken and egg as far as respect goes, but at the end of the day I think if you don’t lay on the respect thick, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

      • 思德

        I’ll take note of that. Is Osaka more friendly in general? I’m considering that area next year.

      • Mike Wyckoff

        There is a certain level of pride Kyoto has and shows it in the oddest ways. And yes, to answer you question, I’ve always found Osaka friendlier and more welcoming.

    • 思德

      Yeah that would be the wrong time to be in a pissed off mood. Something about having to submit to someone else’s arbitrary decision about whether your life can continue as planned or not is unnerving. I had to get an extension in Taiwan before I came here, I got a bit of a runaround and that was frustrating, too. I tried keep a calm demeanor with the workers. A lot of it (unclear posted rules about what documents you need) is not necessarily their fault.

  • http://thehopefulmonster.wordpress.com/ Sublight

    Been pleasantly surprised the last two times I’ve gone to the Tokyo branch near Shinagawa, as I’ve managed to get multiple errands done and be out the door in under 40 minutes. The most time-consuming part is simply getting out there and back.

    • http://durf.org/ Peter Durfee

      The key to Shinagawa is getting there before it opens. If you’re first in the door you’ll be out within a half hour, every time. Going after lunch is a guaranteed recipe for whining on social media about the three or four hours you had to spend in 147th place in line.

      • http://thehopefulmonster.wordpress.com/ Sublight

        Yes, that’s definitely true. I suppose there could be some set of circumstances where one absolutely could not go on any morning and had to show up in the afternoon, but I couldn’t fathom actually choosing to do so.

  • zer0_0zor0

    I’ve had only good experiences with immigration, even when I’ve made mistakes, so I will add my vote of confidence to the many others.

    A job well done should be appreciated.

  • homesickyank

    Be grateful you don’t have to deal with US immigration. The hubby is Japanese, has a green card (we live in the US now), never broke any regulations, yet has been hassled and rudely treated by the bureaucrats of my country. Very embarrassing and infuriating. But people are so afraid of overbearing American officials now, no one will complain.

    • 思德

      If I ever marry a non-US citizen, I am concerned about this very thing. My country’s bureaucracy grows uglier by the minute, and it’s a shame because America is otherwise a great place.

  • crazyfruitbat

    The only problem I see with immigration is that the website is pretty bad. I looked up some forms on the English website and the wife just happened to check the Japanese version and they required different things. So basically if you only use the English version you may find yourself with the wrong paperwork.

    Tenozu isn’t exactly the easiest place to get to in Tokyo but I found the staff pretty friendly and if you have the right paperwork when you get there you can get in and out within an hour.