For at least my first few months, I was in the mindset that my time in Japan was limited — I operated under the assumption that I would go back to the U.K. when my year was up and try my best to pick up where I left off, hopefully having learnt a little in my time away and gathered some good memories to look back on.
I’m not entirely sure when this mindset started to shift, but certainly, once the six-month mark passed I found myself giving a lot of thought to contract and visa renewals and realized that perhaps I wasn’t ready to go back just yet.
I was surprised to learn how many of my foreign friends working here long term had started out on the working holiday visa. On applying, one of the conditions is that the applicant should intend to leave Japan once their time is up, but in practice, it seems that there is a significant number who do end up staying — whether or not they had originally planned to do so.
Should you wish to switch to a work visa and extend your stay, you will likely need to get sponsorship from the company you work for or another company that is willing to hire you and sponsor your visa (self-sponsorship is also possible in some cases, but I have no experience of this and can only detail the company sponsorship route).
I enquired about sponsorship a few months before my visa expiry date and was given the paperwork with about a month left to spare. It should be noted that even if you have been working for one company throughout your stay, visa sponsorship is not guaranteed — I spent quite a tense time waiting to hear whether it would be granted to me.
Once you have secured sponsorship, gathered the necessary documents and filled in the necessary forms (your company should provide assistance with this), the process is quite straightforward. Take everything to your area’s immigration office, tell them that you’re there for a working holiday henkou (amendment) and they will check your paperwork.
On my first visit, I was actually turned away by a rather exasperated staff member for not having a certain document, which my company would only send directly to immigration by post. However, in order for it to be sent, I needed an application number — so to be told I couldn’t apply without it seemed like a bit of a Catch-22. I returned a few days later and explained my predicament. This time, the staff member I spoke to was totally nonplussed by the situation and simply handed me a stamped sheet stating which document was still needed and when it needed to arrive by. Once they’ve checked your documents, you’ll receive a numbered ticket to go to the main counter and actually submit your application.
The waiting times at the Shinagawa immigration office were the stuff of legends to a first-timer such as myself. I knew that (for most people) the annual pilgrimage was perhaps the most dreaded date on the expat calendar. I don’t know if I just got lucky or I’d just been doing a good job of preparing myself for the worst, but I didn’t find it too awful. I was there for about 2 1/2 hours in total on my second trip, and 30 minutes of that was spent waiting for the ID photo booth as one woman decided to retake her picture no fewer than ten times.
On submitting your application you’ll get your residence card stamped, so even if the expiry date passes you can continue living and working in Japan while you await the outcome. They’ll also ask you to write your address on a postcard, which they will send back to you when it’s time to come back and (hopefully) pick up your new resident card.
And that’s it! Then you play the waiting game. How long it takes to get your result can vary depending on the time of year and how busy immigration is, but your resident card stamp is valid for up to two months. In my case, it was about three weeks later that the postcard fell through my letterbox. Be sure to check which boxes on the postcard have been ticked, as this will let you know what you have to bring with you when you go back to immigration. In my case, it was a ¥4,000 revenue stamp (you can buy them at a special counter in the Family Mart inside the building if you go to the Shinagawa office).
When you go back — again — you take a ticket and wait around for a while (I think this time I waited about an hour). They call the numbers in batches of about ten at a time and you file up to collect your new residence card. At this point I was still weirdly nervous that I would get rejected, but sure enough when my turn came and I handed over my postcard and revenue stamp, I was presented with a shiny new residence card, valid for another year — this time with my address printed on it and my status changed from “Designated Activities” to “Specialist in Humanities/International Services.”
It was all so quick and simple, I almost felt like asking: “That’s it? That’s all I have to do?”
But I wasn’t going to question it. I was just so relieved that my future in Japan — where I now had a job and friends and a life — was assured for at least one more year.
Having that little piece of plastic handed to me was a bittersweet moment. My working holiday was officially over and the next chapter of my life in Japan was beginning. What new adventures and challenges would year two have in store for me?
That evening, I walked down the same street I had stayed on my very first night: the Christmas illuminations lit my way, just as they had done back then. Different colors this year. The hotel I’d spent my first few nights in had a different name now. Nothing had changed and everything had changed.
I’ve been here for over 20 months now. In a few short months, I’ll have come full circle once again. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay in Japan, but I do know that I’ll treasure the memories I’ve made here for a lifetime.