Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Visa Made my Passport Fat!

Remember what I said about the Japanese being thorough? Upon the return of my passport, I knew it was going to have an addition to it... I was not quite expecting this. Usually Visas are more or less official stickers you collect in your passport. It tells the people in customs and immigration that you belong in a country while giving the traveler their first souvenir. It's not a bad deal.

How the Japanese differ; however, is that the visa sticker itself is apparently just one component. The certificate of eligibility is also attached. If it is actually necessary is not specified, so I am leaving it where it is for the moment. If I have learned anything from years of political science classes, you do NOT mess with government documents, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. Every country has their paper pushers and they usually have enough common sense to want their job preserved. The usually have some degree of authority and are seldom elected, so it is best to just play by their rules.

Even if it makes my passport look like it has gone down on some pork rinds while it was away for the week.
Yes, the week. And I am actually exaggerating here. I sent out my visa paperwork on Tues, March 2nd via priority mail with similar return. I need my passport back by the 23rd, so I wanted to ensure that it would be back with ample time. On Saturday the 6th, I had a priority mail envelope with my untidy scrawl and a fat passport enclosed. The Japanese are bureaucratic, but at least they are surprisingly efficient. Any fellow political scientists interested in looking into this? Compare and contrast the efficiency of government offices in various countries? I bet it could get funded by some grant out there.

So I have my visa and am now official in the eyes of Japan to study in their country. Remember what I said about visas being the first travel souvenir? Well, Japan's is actually quite attractive. The picture I took really does not do justice for the subtle images in it. That said, I feel sorry for a man who has to keep their passport with them and potentially present an image laden with sakura petals in baby pink. It is very pretty, but definitively feminine.

Obtaining this though really makes me realize just how close I am to departing. I am excited and terrified at the prospect of being several thousand miles from anybody I know (I do have a friend in Kyushu, but that is quite a ways from the Kanto region). There's no turning back
at this point, and this is certainly a positive move in my life, but it is not as simple as packing up my bags and just going. Over the next couple weeks, there are many things that will be my lasts and it is going to be hard. The visa just reminds me of that coming up.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane... Don't know if I'll be sane again

I've worked for a Japanese animation convention called Acen in Chicago for the past decade. I've traditionally spent much of my time in programming, but over the past couple years have transitioned into guest relations. Before anybody laughs or pulls the weeaboo/japanophile card, keep in mind that planning any kind of event where over 15,000 people converge is quite the task, more so considering that nobody on staff is paid for their work. For me, the reward is when people get excited over a guest announcement and give huge thank yous for doing this. That feeling is priceless.

Of course, the job is not without its share of stress, even with the best of outcomes. In this case it is the board of directors authorizing myself and another member of the guest relations acquisitions team, June, to attend Tokyo Anime Fair in three weeks to more or less meet with representatives of various animation companies. It's great for the convention and will hopefully give us more options in future years to get interesting guests of honor from overseas. When it was approved at a meeting, both of us were quite happy and immediately came up with any number of potential plans.

Five minutes later it hit me.

Tokyo Anime Fair takes place from the 25th to 28th of March and I have a plane ticket to depart for Tokyo for school on the 31st. Each way to Tokyo is approximately 15 hours with departure from Milwaukee. I will conduct three ways between Tokyo and home over the span of a week, meaning 45 hours hours on a plane. I am dreading the kind of jet-lag I will endure with that kind of turnaround.

Tokyo Anime Fair is going to be great. My mental condition after those flights and complete unbalancing of my sleep pattern will be debatable. My only hope is that my sleep pattern is irregular enough that I may actually be unfazed with the ordeal and come out of this relatively unscathed. I am not counting on it, but can hope.

I love Acen, and for that I am willing to test the limits of my body to travel around the globe. I've hurt my back and knee over the years with them, what's a little sleep deprivation at this point? I have a kindle and a laptop- bring on the horrors of air travel!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Japanese And Immigration Bureaucracy

Before received my official acceptance from Sophia University, I was warned by the International Student office of my school that Japan would send back a package that would not spare the trees. They were correct.

Most other study abroad students, mostly Europe or Latin America in my case, get a few sheets and they are ready to go.

This is the pile of paperwork that I had to dig through. This may not seem quite as impressive by the photograph, but it did add up- and I did a couple pieces. You know the "thick envelope" that people associate with acceptance to a University? I received one of those for all purposes... all for a couple semesters of study at their school. As they send it to my school as opposed to directly to my address, I had to pick it up and hope that I would somehow not lose something important.

In all honesty, the paperwork sent is mostly understandable. Japan wants to ensure that any foreigners staying longer than 90 days is registered and has a purpose for remaining in the country. However, they do go a little overboard in sending an official letter of acceptance and several other documents specifying my student status in addition to the certificate of eligibility that the school obtained from the Japanese immigration offices. It certainly seems redundant to have all of these components to submit for my visa, but I doubt this is different from the United States as we are notorious for our red tape.

Not all of this is red tape. Some of this is legitimately useful. After 15 hours on a plane, I am going to want to know exactly where I will need to go for language testing (the day after I arrive... which will not be particularly fun) and how I pay for my housing. So while I may be indirectly responsible for the destruction of a 200 hundred year old tree by applying to this school, at least they are thorough.

To me, this is just one step closer to getting overseas. After having a heath setback at the beginning of the month (I recommend avoiding open abdominal surgery if at all possible), this was a very nice reward.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dissapointment of the Dorm Experience

I've been assigned my rooming for the year I will be in Japan. Like virtually everyone who studies abroad I was hoping for a family home stay as opposed to a dormitory arrangement, but was not so fortunate. The reasons for disappointment are varied and range from the obvious to the atypical.

It is obvious that a dorm experience is less productive for my language skills. It is quite natural to use my native language in any situation where it is possible - a situation that is more easily averted when removed from fellow foreigners. Even after three years, I find it much more comfortable to write or read something in Japanese, kanji be damned, than to speak. Even in English, I have always had a greater affection for the written word than verbal expression. So I'm questioning how I will react when surrounded with a mix of Japanese and foreign students.

Speaking of students... the greatest apprehension I have to dorm life abroad is the ever present concern of fitting in with the average college student. At 27 years old, there's just a wee bit of a generation gap that concurrently amuses and befuddles me. I should be glad in a sense because something would be wrong with me if I was the same person now that I was at 18 or 20 - but it means that there is often more differences than similarities at school. Even amongst fellow nerds - particularly the overzealous ones - it can be awkward. So my story for the next year may be one of being a fish out of water for all the unexpected reasons.

My obnoxious green notebook will be armed and ready for these moments. Most of my fiction ideas have come while pretending to pay attention in political science classes over the past couple years so the change in setting is likely to be positive. Who knows, I may find I have a sense of humor that is not necessarily measured in shades of black after this. Not counting on it, but just a thought.

At least I won't be sharing a room. I can handle itty bitty spaces, but spare me the drunk roommate and everything that goes with it. At least I will have a place to hide when I suddenly feel much too old for my fellow companions.

I do question how much living arrangement will really matter given my goal of doing as much wandering as my budget and decrepit knee will allow. If I want to study contemporary Japanese society in grad school, I'd be a fool for not taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. If I am going to go well into the hole of debt, I'd best make it worth it. Material for grad school would certainly go a long way in justifying the cost.

So while I am slightly disappointed with the room situation, it's done little to damper my excitement, nor has it affected my goals. I just better learn to block out my instinct to use English and get over my hesitation to speak and accept that just because I cannot express myself with the same eloquence in English that I CAN manage the basics in Japanese after all this time. I can't be any worse than the kanji.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Neverending Vacation Syndrome

Thanks to the arrangement of the Japanese school year (April is the traditional start of the year, July the end of the first semester and September starting the second half) I have a copious amount of free time and no obligation beyond my couch. Much like summer vacation, it is liberating for the first few weeks until you realize that there is only so much sleep you can catch up on, books you can plow through or crafty villains to save the world from with a twitch of my thumbs. For this reason, there will be rambling on topics interspersed with updates of my status as my departure date approaches.

Boring for everyone but me, but invaluable for staying the vacation mind rot. On the plus side... it only gets better from here.