Remember that time I was going to the immigration office in Tokyo on a weekly basis to try and get my visa status sorted? It lasted quite a while, and featured lots of vagueness.

This morning I phoned the immigration bureau in Tokyo. They have an English homepage which advertises their helpline – operators can speak all number of languages including English, Chinese, Korea, French etc.

The lady answered in Japanese. I told her that I had a query about obtaining a spouse visa – could I please talk with someone who spoke English in the visa department.

“I’m sorry, we don’t have anyone who speaks English in this office…”

I was put through to (if I’m not mistaken) Mr. Tanaka, winner of the Gold Medal for Fast Talking (Japanese Category) in the 1984 Olympics. I asked my question, with him saying “hai” (yes) three times a second.

“Is it possible for me to enter Japan on a tourist visa and then exchange that for a spouse visa after arrival?”

As soon as I had reached my full stop, he rattled off the most astonishing volley of high-speed sentences you’ve every heard. I tried hard not to laugh.

Still, I did manage to catch the overall meaning. Basically, legally it is possible, but he couldn’t say for sure one way or the other whether it would be granted.

Thanks, goodbye.

I then mailed *Twinkle* with the phone number, could she give it a go? She did, and a few minutes later got back to me.

“They said that it’s not illegal, but they can’t say one way or the other whether it would be allowed in this situation”.

I see a pattern forming.

Next stop was the Japanese Embassy in the UK. I’ve never been too keen on contacting them as they tend to be very formal and never really tell you any more than what”s written on the homepage. But today, something magical happened. I was put through to the nicest, most helpful and human member of embassy staff you could ever hope to meet. He didn’t fob me off with official responses, but explained what the reality of the situation was. He then offered me his personal email address and direct line. I started to wonder whether I really had called the Japanese embassy…

The situation is basically this: it depends entirely on the immigration officials on duty at the time that I land at Narita airport, and those officials on duty when I go to the Immigration department in Tokyo. It depends on whether they choose to ask me questions, and if they do, what those questions are. The thing is, if I was to say that the purpose of my visit was to be with my Japanese wife (as she will be by then) they can refuse me entry on a tourist visa. The other option is that I lie, and say that I’m going for a short visit. However, when I get to the immigration department they could then ask what I had given as my reason for coming to Japan, and if they see a discrepancy they could refuse my application for a Spouse visa, and ask me to leave.

I was told that it’s likely that I’d get away with it, but that it was a risk, and therefore the embassy could not recommend I try.

Any thoughts?

So, if I wasn’t to do the tourist > spouse visa thing, I would be left with two options:

1) find a job before going to Japan and enter on a work visa (an employer is needed to act as a sponsor in order to get the visa). It would take until late August to process.

2) wait for *Twinkle* to return to Japan, where she could register our marriage at our local ward office, and then send all the documents necessary for me to apply for a Spouse Visa. This two can take up to two months.

And there was me thinking that it was going to be easy! I should have known better – this is Japanese immigration after all!

4 Responses

  1. This is so incredibly typical in Japan. They love nothing more than to tell you each situation is “case by case” so they can apply prejudice or treat things as subjectively as possible.

    I cannot say that I can guess the outcome of your situation because it is clearly up in the air. However, you may want to consider the worst case scenario should you decide to come in on a tourist visa and if you want to deal with that. To me, the worst outcome is you have to step out of the country to apply for the visa. That is, you may have to go to Korea to apply for a work visa or back to the U.K. for a spouse visa.

    Depending on how troublesome (and expensive) these possible outcomes are for you, you can choose your path.

    If I were in your shoes, I’d roll the dice and come on the tourist visa because I’d find waiting to be together while paperwork was shuffled too maddening. I’d roll the dice and hope they came up my way.

    Since you’re British, the chances someone will turn you down are far lower than if you were from an Asian country. That sounds bad, but it’s just a reflection of reality. The Japanese immigration officials aren’t going to see your marriage as an attempt to improve your economic situation and are likely to go with granting rather than refusing your visa application.

    Things might not go your way, of course, but that’s why you have to weigh the worst outcome and judge just how bad it would be for that to happen. The chances that they would totally refuse you under all circumstances are practically zero.

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks for your comment Shari.

    I think you’re right in that being British, it’s unlikely I’d actually be turned down in the end. The question is, what would I have to go through to get it?

    I was in two minds until last night when I received an email from a friend of mine from New Zealand who did exactly what I’m thinking of doing. He married his Japanese partner in New Zealand, then shortly afterwards returned to Japan (on a tourist visa) with her and went about trying to get his visa status changed to that of Spouse.

    In the end, it took two and a half months for the authorities to grant the visa. During that time, he wasn’t allowed to leave Japan, and he wasn’t allowed to work. The last two weeks saw him ‘overstaying’ as his tourist visa expired.

    Having been in a similar situation myself (at least in terms of being unable to work and waiting for news on visas) I know how stressful that can be. I don’t really want to go back there.

    Additionally, I’m reluctant to go into debt (he said, thinking of the US$45,000+ he owes the British Government for his education!), and I could see that happening if I was unable to work for such a long time. I don’t want to get off to that kind of start in Japan.

    There are also my in-laws to consider. Perhaps usually I would not be so concerned about what others think, but I know that they worry about their daughter, and I think if I was not to work for a couple of months and live off her income that could make things difficult. They are by no means ‘old fashioned’ and we get on very well, but if I was to arrive on a tourist visa we would probably have to live in the family home until I was working. I think that could cause complications.

    It seems that the ‘best’ thing to do is to apply for a job that comes with Visa sponsorship, with which there’s a possibility that I could be in Japan about a month after our wedding. It’s not ideal, but I really don’t want to be pouring my energy into the bottomless pit that is Japanese immigration.

  3. I can very much see your viewpoint on this, particularly with the “no work” stipulation while you apply. That was something I was not aware of given that I’m not married to a Japanese person so the rules are very different for us.

    One point though about “overstaying”. If you have a pending application at immigration, you aren’t overstaying. If a visa expires while an application is being considered, you’re still in Japan legally. I don’t know what happens if they reject your application though. I guess then you’d get the boot pretty quickly.

    I’ll be curious to hear how you go with a job secured in the U.K. before you come over and I wish you luck!

    I know your debt feels like a lot right now, but you can wipe that out in about two years of very frugal living in Japan and three or four years of moderately frugal living. T. and I have saved about $40,000 in the last 2 years and that’s with me working only part-time (and us having to replace a lot of major appliances in the apartment). You can save a lot here even if you don’t make piles of cash, but you have to want it enough to cook for yourself, shop well, and limit your purchases to needs rather than act on desires. You can tackle that debt in no time with some care.

  4. I wasn’t aware that I wouldn’t be overstaying if my application was pending. Nethertheless, I think I’ll give it a miss!

    I won’t say too much about getting a job prior to leaving as I’m only too aware that this is the World Wide Web and thus accessible to all. Let’s just say it limits one’s choices somewhat. But still, whatever I do, I’ll be happy to do it if it means I can be back in Japan with *Twinkle*.

    I’m amazed that you’ve managed to save so much, that’s pretty amazing. I’m all for frugal living as is *Twinkle* – hopefully my 5 years of practice whilst a student will come in handy.

    Just keep me away from the Apple Store. And Starbucks.