I haven’t really had to deal with any Japanese bureaucracy for quite a long time, although today’s trip to the Immigration Office certainly made up for the drought. The basic premise of this journey was simple. Since I’m going to Hong Kong next week, I need to get a re-entry permit for Japan, otherwise my work visa is canceled when I leave the country. I can’t do this through the mail? Fine. I’m fine with that. I thus have to go in person to the closest immigration office, which is luckily up in Chiba not too far away. I was informed to go there with my passport, fill out a form, and I will then receive the stamp in my passport that will allow me to come and go as long as my working visa is valid. Sounds easy, right?

I went to Chiba, took the monorail to the City Hall station, and found the Chiba Chuo Community Center where the immigration office is housed. I enter and the place looks like a terrible airport terminal waiting area. Boring white walls, boring white furniture, crappy signs all over the place in Japanese and Engrish, and 1 tiny TV against a wall that was playing some samurai soap opera. On the far side is a barricade of counters, where the officers were working and slowly calling people to step up with their paperwork This place was packed. It actually seemed to be primarily packed with hostess ladies and/or prostitutes, either active (with their old man Japanese sugar daddy in tow), or former (older, even fatter and uglier, and with a bunch of kids). Now, of course not all of these women were necessarily sleazy bar hostesses, but I’m willing to bet a good share of them were.

I use the dispenser machine to get a number for waiting in line. I was number 457. I looked up and saw that they were on around 305. Great. I go back to one of the tables and get my form and fill it out. Went downstairs to the Post Office to get a 6000-yen stamp for the payment. Pretty much the Japanese equivalent of a money order, although it’s just a small postage stamp. I remember holding it and going back upstairs thinking to myself don’t drop it, don’t drop it. I come back upstairs and check out what number they were on. 307. What?! About 20 minutes and they had only moved 2 numbers? I knew then it was going to be a long day.

There is actually a Yamada Denki electronics store less than a block away, so I figured I would have time to go there for a quick look around, then come back. I was gone for almost 25 or 30 more minutes. They were on like 312. To make a long, long, painfully long story shorter, I spent about 3 hours walking around the Community Center building, either listening to my iPod, calling travel agencies to finalize my HK plane tickets, or staring at the Yamaha Music store wondering “why is this in a supposedly government building?” When they were at around 450, I went to go sit near the number display on the counter since you can’t really see it unless you’re really close. Finally, they called me, I submitted my application, passport, and Gaijin card. I sit down, and start writing a mail on my phone. Before I can even finish the short little message I was writing, they call me up. I thought there was some kind of mistake. Nope, it was done. In less than 2 minutes, he had approved, processed, and validated my passport for multiple re-entries into Japan. I’m sure the most time-consuming part was him peeling off the printed barcode to stick in my passport. 3 hours of waiting for the guy to give me a sticker.

I don’t completely understand why you have to hand them your application/passport. You are waiting to just give them your paperwork. You’re not waiting for them to process it, because you don’t need a number for that. You are taking a ticket and waiting for several hours just to hand the desk clerk your documents. Wouldn’t it make more sense to immediately upon arrival receive your paperwork, maybe even do a quick check to make sure that’s you, then let you go do whatever for a few hours, coming back at your convenience to pick up your newly stickered passport? I hate government offices like this.

Anyway, I am all set now. Booked my plane ticket on JAL, paying for it tomorrow, then I’ll be ready to go. I’m looking forward to not only having a 4-day mini vacation, but also to being able to buy tons of counterfeit stuff and eat awesome Chinese food for cheap.