Here’s a not-so-surprising fact: I hate having to renew my visa. This is a sentiment that resonates with every single foreign resident living in Japan under a visa. The only consolation is that we know that we don’t have to visit this place until we have to renew that visa. Therefore, the worst case scenario is if you have a one-year visa.
Going to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in Minato Ward is exactly the kind of journey that can sour one’s day, and it’s clear why.
It’s for that reason that some foreigners have opted to go to smaller branches when renewing their visas, but some find that these smaller places don’t process visas as quickly as the enormous Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau.
Since I live in central Tokyo, I don’t even bother to go anywhere but to the infamous Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau.
To go there, one has to go to Shinagawa and then take a bus. This bus provides what I believe to be the best prophecy of what is yet to come. The lines to board the bus can be incredibly long, and grumpy police offices walk around them to establish a sense of order.
The cramped bus offers a hellish ride to the Tokyo Immigration Bureau as you pass by multiple warehouses. If this is your first time visiting this place, you’ll immediately wonder why the immigration office is on an artificial island right in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but warehouses. The site can be very gloomy, as if you had entered an apocalyptic future where the big metropolis was nothing but rubble and containers.
The first time I went to the Tokyo Immigration Bureau I decided to walk there from the station in order to get some fresh air and enjoy the neighborhood. Little did I know what I had signed up for! I had known that opting to walk instead of taking the bus meant wasting valuable minutes, but I didn’t know that I’d be walking in an industrial area that made me feel that trucks would crush me alive as I tried to cross the street.
I didn’t make the same mistake again, and ever since opted to take the insanely packed bus.
As stated before, the building is located right in the middle of nowhere, making it look quite strange when taking the surroundings into account. However, the building itself is normal if not completely unremarkable. The same can be said for the interior. It’s an immigration office, and the whole place screams of it. In that regard, it’s not different from what you would expect to see when visiting government buildings in other countries.
As you stroll through the building and make your way to where you’re supposed to go, you will come to the realization that you will truly be waiting for a long time. The line to board the bus is always the first clue of just how bad things can get.
And that’s the thing, even if you get there early you will be waiting. Arriving early is always key, but not everyone can do that, and every single minute counts.
If you know your cannot get there at ungodly hours, then be prepared for what will possibly be a very long wait: bring a book, listen to some podcasts, work on a task or assignment you have to complete, or use your phone as much as you can (and don’t forget to bring a portable battery!).
I’m telling you, people have started and finished doctoral theses while waiting here!
But it all seriousness, bring something that will keep you busy, and don’t rely on your phone if your battery dies quickly and you didn’t bring a portable charger with you, and make sure you don’t fall asleep!
Now this is something that will vary greatly, and not everyone goes through the same experience; and while some can enter and exit the building without any complaints beside the long waits, other people will experience terrible mistreatment and racism.
This is something that can be observed in immigration offices, consulates, embassies, and airports around the world. Therefore, it comes as no surprise. It really is depressing how utterly normal witnessing or experiencing mistreatment and racism at one of these places is. It’s just a given. You’re bound to see something.
During my last visit, a woman was been chastised for filling out all forms using a friction pen. The woman could not comprehend what she had done wrong, and in order to prove their point the staff erased every single thing the woman had written as she screamed a very loudly and desperate, “NO!”
The staff could have erased only one thing to show why writing with a friction pen was not permitted, and then given the woman new forms to fill out. However, erasing the whole page made the woman feel powerless.
A visit to the Tokyo Immigration Bureau can a very draining experience that is only exacerbated by other factors that take place inside.
When visiting, try to get there as early as possible so you don’t have to wait for many hours. If you know this is not a possibility, be prepared to survive those sweets when visiting, try to get there as early as possible so you don’t have to wait for many hours. If you know this is not a possibility, be prepared to survive those waits. Bring something with you to keep you entertained or productive. Also, remember that you are not going to see the best showcases of the human displays, and that those mistreatment could also happen to you. Do not let them make you feel smaller what tarnish your experience in Japan; as sad as it is, it’s very common to witness this in such places.
Once you get your visa, you know that you won’t have to return to this place until you have to renew it again. Go out to celebrate that! Get some champagne, and relax.