8. Bureaucratic Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
Vince had a healthy distaste for paper work - tax forms,
application forms, competition entry forms never agreed with
him. He always felt guilty after filling them in. It was not
that he lied. It was just that the forms never asked the
right questions. He always seemed to be in a category that
wasn't covered by the appropriate form.
Not surprisingly, he found most distasteful of all the
mountains of paperwork that was required to stay in Japan.
He had gone down to the local government Midori ward offices
to register as a foreign resident in the days just before
the finger-printing law was abolished. He had the print
taken from the index finger of his left and wondered what
would happen if the yakuza got a hold of him and chopped
that finger off as Japanese gangsters had a habit of doing.
The whole process was speeded up by some sympathetic clerics
in the ward offices and it had still taken an afternoon to
get the paperwork through.
Before they could obtain a foreigner's registration card,
both Vince and Connie had to get visas beyond the normal
three month tourist allotment. This had always been a hassle
for the Patchworks. In their first year, it had meant a trip
to smog-ridden Seoul and a two hour wait in a queue outside
the Japanese embassy. When they had finally got their visas
after two days, Vince had discovered that Connie's was
correct - a spouse visa for one year - and his own was an
entertainer's visa for three months. It had taken Vince two
further days to convince the officials in Seoul that he was
an instructor not an entertainer. This was a significant
clerical error although it might sometimes have been
difficult to tell the difference between foreign teachers
and entertainers in Japan.
When he went to renew his visa, Vince was relieved to
discover that he didn't have to go to Seoul. He was given
the morning off work and told to go down to the Immigration
Office in Ikejiri Ohashi. Vince and Connie arrived there at
8 o'clock in the morning to discover that there were already
40 people waiting. When he finally reached the front of the
queue, the woman behind the counter took one look at his
form and told him that he was in the wrong office. As a
resident of Kanagawa Prefecture, he would have to go to the
office in Yokohama. It was already 9:30 and Vince saw his
morning off ebbing away.
At break-neck speed, he raced down to Sakuragicho station on
the Toyoko line and caught a taxi to the Immigration Office
near Yamashita Park. Breathlessly, he raced upstairs and
found that he was in a room with 80 other people. Each and
every one of them looked very grim and Vince could only
think that the happy ones had already been given their visas
and sent on their way. Grimmest of all were the two men who
sat behind two counters, looking as if they needed a
cigarette. All the seats faced them, so it was impossible
not to look at their downcast frowns.
An hour and a half later, when he was finally called up, the
two men looked grimmer than ever. It was nearing lunchtime
and they would undoubtedly be able to get that long awaited
smoke soon. If that was the case, they seemed in no hurry
with Vince's visa. The man who called him up fired a couple
of questions at Vince, looked totally unsatisfied at the
answers and asked him to sit down again. Vince obeyed
hesitatingly. He was, however, very relieved when he was
recalled a matter of minutes later and presented with
another visa. Legal for another year.
Somewhere during the duration of his second visa, Vince
discovered how to play the game. He filled out the papers
beforehand, ambled into the office at 4:55 in the afternoon,
five minutes before closing time. The man behind the counter
didn't even look at the papers or scrutinise his passport
for some criminal record. He merely lifted his hand and
stamped it. Vince and Connie left Immigration at 4:57,
wondering if they had created a new world record for the
fastest double visa in Japan.