Red Tape: A thorn or a blessing?

Post a Comment » Written on March 31st, 2010     
Filed under: missions
Every three years we have to renew our visa in order to be allowed to remain in Japan legally. The stamp in Hydi and all three kids’ passports says their current period of stay expires today, March 31st 2010. So last weekend I downloaded the forms and began filling them out. Monday morning I took the whole stack with me and got to the closest immigration office around 9:15AM. It was already crowded and I noted that there were some 15 or 20 people ahead of me as I took my number from the little machine.

I asked one of the agents about my paperwork and he said I needed a few more forms so I found those and spent the next 30 minutes filling them out. Finally they called my number and when I tried to turn everything in they said Hydi needed to be there in person. I asked if I could just turn in the kids’ stuff and the guy recommended that I do it all at the same time. He also told me I needed to get a couple more forms from our local city office proving I had paid taxes etc.

I quickly drove back home, called Hydi and agreed to meet her as soon as she finished teaching, and then went to the city hall. It took a while to get the first form and then I went up to the tax division and we discovered that since we have been in the U.S. last year there were no taxes paid. I promptly called the immigration office to ask for direction, only to get the recording saying they were now on lunch break! Grrrr…

I went out to eat lunch and came back, calling again promptly at 1PM. The first 10 or 15 times it was busy. Then I finally got thru, only to get a long recording of options that didn’t apply to me, and finally a short message saying the lines were really busy at the moment so please call back later… click… dial tone. Grrr…

I listened to that message numerous times and finally found a number for the central Tokyo office of immigration and got thru to someone who told me what to do. That involved getting a couple of documents from city office and then going home to get a couple more forms from previous tax filings. By then it was time to pick up Hydi so we headed back to the immigration office.

Traffic was bad and it took nearly an hour to get there. When we did the line was really long… something like 70 people in front of us. We settled in for the long wait and after an hour or more they finally called our number. The guy looked over our documents and asked; “Why aren’t your kids here?”… Turns out any kid over 16 is required to be there in person. I apologized and tried to look sad… he was in a nice mood and decided to process the stuff for us anyway, with a stern reminder to bring the kids next time. He also gave me one more form for Hydi and an envelope to mail it back when we get it filled out.

So finally we headed home with the task partially completed and it was well after 6 when we arrived to find 3 hungry kids.

It’s tempting to get angry or frustrated by all the red tape. Then again I guess there are a few things to be thankful for. In comparison to stories we hear from other missionaries in other parts of the world we are probably pretty fortunate.

  • In 17 years of missionary work in Japan I have never once had to pay a bride to anyone.
  • The government actually gives us their blessing to openly and freely do our work, with a “religious work” visa.
  • As long as we don’t break the law, we are pretty much guaranteed that we can renew this visa as many times as we like.
  • Even though the system is complicated and the rules very particular, it all works! If you do everything like you’re told, it is always possible to get things done the way they are supposed to be done.
  • Last week Hydi was in Manila for an educators’ conference at the International School. Security is a big issue in the Philippines and there were armed guards everywhere. The school alone has something like 50 or 60 armed guards in its employ. Our kids’ school has ZERO armed guards. Actually I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an armed guard in Japan other than the guys who collect money from banks and ATMs.
  • Japan is a safe, clean, friendly and convenient place to live.

Bureaucracy can be frustrating, but if it means having an infrastructure that works I guess we don’t have much to complain about. No, actually I’d have to say we are pretty blessed!

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