Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The master plan (part 4)

Japan has a very strict but clear visa policy for foreigners. For tourist from countries within the European Union it's quite convenient to enter the country and stay at least for 90 days. Even longer if you extend it or do a quick hop to Taiwan or Korea from what I heard. But of course, a tourist visa doesn't allow you to legally work in Japan.

I decided to become a student in Japan at Tokyo Riverside School and had to go through the process of a visa application through the school I picked. The Tokyo Riverside School would handle the actual visa application to the Immigration Office or MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Not to be mixed up with MOFO (...) of course, hehe. If the school checked my documents, they would send them to the MOFA. Then the MOFA would send me a so called Certificate of Eligibility or CoE, stating that I am good to go for the visa application at my local Japanese embassy. So you just take the CoE there and they hand you the visa after 1 week.

The school asked me to fill out the following documents:
  • Document of personal records: this included my entire school and work history, my reason for learning Japanese, previous visits to Japan, family and other personal information (hand-written)
  • Formal application form of the school: again, this included my entire school and work history, previous visits to Japan, family and other personal information (hand-written)
  • Document of paying expenses: a formal document stating how my sponsor would pay for one year of living in Japan. Of course, I was my own sponsor (again, all hand-written).
  • I also had to send in: all school certificates, job certificates, annual income/tax sheets from 2010 to 2012 and a formal statement from my employer than I'm actually working there.
  • Since I was my own sponsor I had to provide a bank balance with the necessary amount for one year of living in Japan.
  • Everything had to be original, mostly hand-written and officially stamped.
Needless to say that this took quite a while. One of the more funny moments was that my original IHK certificate of my job education from 2006 had the wrong date on it, it was labeled 2005. As I called them to issue a new one, they wondered why I called them after such a long time. Well, looks no one actually cares for your bloody certificates, right? My employers obvisouly didn't...I quickly received a new one though, even in German and English with a detailed description, in fact better than the ones I had before.

The actual application process was as follows:
  1. Fill out the school application form
  2. Make a mistake, start to fill out a new one
  3. Make another mistake, start all over again
  4. Send them by email for pre-check
  5. Fill them out again
  6. Make another mistake, start all over again
  7. Curse all living beings on earth and destroy the world with your rage
  8. ...
So this was quite an annoying process. Documents in Japan do not even allow corrections on them as we know them (i.e. Tipp-Ex). If you make a mistake, you have to cross it with two horizontal lines, put your personal stamp over or above and write the correction next to it. The forms I received from the school were way too small for my hand-writing and all the information I had to fill in. It was really a pain in the ass to fill them out, trust me. But since I had the luxury of mailing back and forth with Verena at the school, we managed to get everything done eventually.

Another rather unusual request was that I provide the school with a bank balance statement of an amount equivalent to 2 million Yen. It had to be stamped and signed. My bank doesn't even have an official stamp for that, so we just put the neatest looking one on to the document. Almost all forms and documents of the school were created with the view of a Japanese person, so quite a few things didn't even apply to how things are handled in Germany.

But you live and learn and eventually all documents were filled out correctly and sent to the school. That moment was a very relieving one, I can tell you.

After that was done I needed to wait for the Japanes bureaucracy to do its thing. But no rest for the wicked, there were many other things to think about and handle. For instance; how would my health insurance be like? What about taxes, unemployment notice, selling my stuff, my company car, my current job, etc. Most of these things simply required some internet research and a couple of phone calls. The biggest surprise to me was that I was actually covered by a student health insurance by the school, which took away a great deal of estimated expenses from my Excel sheet. Another good thing was that even if I'd return after a year in Japan, I'd still get the unemployment benefits from my old job. They look back 2 years and calculate from that, which gave me great relief in case things go really down the drain and I need to go back without any money.

But what was maybe the greatest relief of all was the fact that my landlord, a non-profit organization in fact, told me after the responsible employee checked out my flat, that I didn't have to renovate or renew any of the major parts of the flat. No actually what was even cooler was the fact that the couple who moved in after me wanted most of the stuff be left as it was, so I didn't even had to strip down some of the special things that I took over from the tenants before. I could save more time and had less to worry about. Life was good.

The last thing left to do (except selling all my stuff and packing up the rest) was to talk to my employer about my leaving of the company. Again, fate has been kind to me. During a sales meeting, our CEO and my direct boss talked to me about it and suggested that I simply take an unpaid leave of some sort. They would grant me the opportunity to give life in Japan a try and would even allow me back in my position (or another) if I choose to return. They even gave me a certain amount of money to cover my private pension fund for a year. That was more than I ever dreamt of and showed me how appreciated I really was. Something I will never get used to and never know how to handle properly. I was just grateful and happy, knowing that all things were safe for my return and the road ahead was under a lucky star.

That being sad and being around June on the timeline now, it was time to enjoy and celebrate my last summer in Berlin. And what a great last summer it was. I tried to keep the expenses at a minimum but enjoy the city, the music, the weather, the food, all that was still important to me and I don't regret a minute.

I sold some stuff at flea-markets with my friends, went to open air concerts at Mauerpark, went clubbing at Ritter Butzke and Sisyphos, received my 2nd Dan at an Iaido seminar, started horse riding again, had a lovely good-bye party at Golgatha Kreuzberg and many other things.

I just leave you with some pictures of a memorable summer in Berlin to wrap up the master plan. Even though my planning wasn't at an end and many things undecided, I want to go on and tell you more about how things actually developed in Japan (I'm here for over 3 months after all, time to catch up).
Club der Visionäre Berlin

Sunset at Teufelsberg

The NSA station on Teufelsberg

The Kreuzberg

Our flea-market stall at Katermarkt

The first Capri of summer
Berlin at it's best!
I miss Fassbrause...
Childhood memories unearthed during packing up
More memories
Spending quality time with brother and friend/colleague, re-living our DJ times

My presents from my good-bye party. So lovely, thank you all!