Journey to Japan 1: The First Big Decision
By Lisa Woods
My decision to apply for the working holiday visa came after months of deliberating, writing lists of pros and cons and general uncertainty. Having studied Japanese language and literature at university and visited the country twice as a tourist, I felt sure that Japan was a place where I wanted to explore in more depth, over a longer period of time. But committing to a year abroad was a pretty big deal, especially for someone who had never travelled alone before, and I really didn’t know whether I was cut-out for such an experience.
committing to a year abroad was a pretty big deal, especially for someone who had never travelled alone before
Looking over all the prerequisites, conditions and necessary documents I would have to assemble, I felt pretty daunted. I spent day after day poring over travel guides, meticulously piecing together my 12-month itinerary – I organised it by season, writing a short paragraph mentioning any cities I wanted to visit or Japanese festivals I hoped to attend throughout the year. I wrote and re-wrote my statement of purpose, trying to sound just the right level of keen – in this, I mentioned my studies and previous trips to Japan, and stressed my desire to improve my language ability and explore more of the country.
In mid-October 2014, I finally took myself and my documents off to the Japanese Embassy in Piccadilly. It was a fairly quiet day so I didn’t have to wait very long for my number to be called, at which point I proceeded into the next room. There were several staff members sat at a counter behind a screen, and to one of these I submitted my application.
It was inspected pretty thoroughly, so make sure you’ve put down everything you want to mention and filled-out everything correctly. Finally I was given a stamped application receipt with a date on which to return to collect my passport – for me this was a week later, although I’ve heard that sometimes it can take as much as three weeks.
For the next seven days I waited, I wondered and I worried. What if something went wrong? What if they weren’t satisfied with my application and denied me the visa? I had this strange pessimism about the whole thing, and for this reason I didn’t really think about starting to do any forward planning or anything like that – I didn’t feel real yet, and I didn’t want to jinx it by allowing myself to believe that it was definitely going to go ahead.
I needn’t have worried though – following my next trip to the embassy, I returned home with an exciting addition to my passport; I had a working holiday visa for Japan and this whole thing was actually going to happen!
A couple of points about collecting the visa: firstly, at the time of writing, the visa fee is £17 and you’ll have to pay in cash. Also, you need photo ID to enter the embassy, so if all you have is your passport you’ll need to bring somebody else (with their passport) to collect it for you – give them a letter of authorisation signed by you saying that this is okay. My friend collected my visa for me like this and there were no problems.
Visa in hand, I finally felt ready to begin my preparations for the year ahead and all the inevitable (but as yet, unknowable) adventures and challenges it would bring.
A few words of reassurance for anybody in those early stages of application/preparation, in case you’re as much of a worrier as I was:
1) NOBODY sticks to their itinerary – I don’t think I ended-up doing a single thing from mine. A year is a long time and it’s impossible to predict how things will really pan out. They don’t check-up on you, so don’t stress too much – they just want to see that you really do want to go there and have some sort of plan for how you want to spend your time. The same goes for the statement of purpose.
2) They probably won’t have filled the yearly quota of visas regardless of when you apply, but if you’re worried you can call the embassy beforehand and ask about it.
3) There’s no limit to how many hours you can work, and although the conditions state that the primary purpose for your stay should be a holiday, you’ll probably need to work full time to support yourself if you plan to stay for the full year (unless you have ample savings).
4) They do stress the fact that you have to leave Japan once your year is up, and you need to show that you are planning to, but a lot of people end-up changing to a work visa during that first year and staying on for longer – the working holiday visa seems to be a common starting point for many.
5) On the other hand, you don’t have to stay for the entire year if you don’t want to. That being said, the working holiday visa is a one-time only visa, so if you do go home early you won’t be able to give it another go in the future, at least not in Japan. If you want to stay for fewer than three months, just come as a temporary visitor – though of course, you wouldn’t be able to work.