Visiting the big immigration bureau in Shinagawa is not exactly a pleasant experience. Located just far enough from Shinagawa Station to justify a crowded bus ride in an area with absolutely nothing to see or do, coming here is one of those dreaded necessities of life for the average English teacher in Tokyo. While it won’t ever be a trip to Disneyland, there are a few things you can do to make your visit a little more bearable.
(1) Arrive Early
The earlier you arrive, the faster you’ll be seen: you’ll be given a number at the appropriate window and then you must wait for that number to be called. And so it comes as no surprise that people are queueing up quite a while before opening time!
The amount of time you’ll have to wait seemingly has an exponential relationship to the time after opening you arrive. Things have improved a lot since when I arrived in Japan, but I recall my longest wait: 5 hours from when I strolled (in mid-business hours).
(2) Bring EVERYTHING, plus Copies
It’s best to have EVERY bit of paperwork and documentation ready and on your person when you come to immigration. What is required of course depends on your purpose. But whether you’re renewing your “Specialist in Humanities” visa, applying for a change of status or anything else, you’ll want to have both your original and a couple copies of all your important docs: passports, ID cards, city hall records and tax slips, etc. The stone-faced employees here usually don’t make copies for you – you’ll have to use a coin-fed one. And if you don’t have something handy then it’s back home to repeat the whole experience again on another day.
I also recommend taking and keeping a set of photos on you. There is a photo machine at the building if needed but you may be waiting in line for that, too. Instead, photo machines are all over the place in Tokyo, outside convenience stores and drugstores and in stations randomly.
(3) Carry Your Own Entertainment
Before corona, the experience of going to immigration involved a long crowded wait in an institutional space not unlike a airport layover – without the gift shops. Nowadays usually people in line are given numbers and wait outside. The result is the same though, because there isn’t much to do or see in this industrial area. A book or fully charged phone battery will go a long way!
(4) Get It Done Early!
Taking care of your visa and coming here is already stress enough – why add onto it by waiting until the last second? It’s not uncommon to be told some piece of paperwork you have is slightly different, or you’re missing just one receipt or just one stamp… and to please come again. Get started on collecting and submitting your paperwork as early as they’ll let you and you won’t have to worry about missing your deadline or begging for an extension.
Finally, it’s good to keep a positive frame of mind. Not just because it makes the frustration of dealing with the paperwork and process so much easier, but because sometimes you just can’t get what you want. You may have to resubmit a few times. You may only get another meager 1 year extension instead of 3. They may turn down an application because of some obscure technicality. Dealing with this bureaucracy-on-steroids that exists everywhere here is part of the experience of the teaching life in Japan – so make the best of it!