Last week I went to the Japanese Consulate in midtown to sort out my Visa. I was very excited, made sure to dress nicely (not a small feat), and headed to Park Ave and 48th St. Upon entering the building, you need to sign in, go through a security check, and then I was personally escorted up to the 18th floor by an armed guard who did not seem amused by my small talk. He didn’t say a word back to me, or even look in my direction, and the elevator ride was very slow.
Upon exiting the elevator, and thanking my escort (still no sign of recognition), I went through yet another security check, got a ticket number like at the deli counter in a Key Food, and sat down at one of the benches. The Consulate General of Japan was not at all what I was expecting. I figured that it would go one of two ways: either it would be sleek and futuristic, like the lobby of some fancy hotel mixed with the first class section of an airplane, or it would be like the DMV, with horrible florescent lighting, bad linoleum, and office clerks who look like they want to die.
Instead, I walked into a room that reminded me of a study room in a new-ish library. Everything was made out of that light wood that IKEA adores, with warm low lighting, a cushy carpet, and lots of adorable handmade signs in Japanese with little cartoon dogs and smiling Obaachan faces. I would have loved to sit there for a little while, but almost immediately after sitting down my number was called by a friendly looking Japanese man who appeared to be about 60.
“Hi, I’m going to be travelling to Japan in January, and I’d like to get a sightseeing visa for about 6 months.” After doing a bunch of research online, I had found a bunch of places saying that this type of visa did, in fact, exist. The slightly bemused, slightly pitying, “Oh honey, you have no idea what you’re doing” smile the gentleman gave me was my first clue that, in fact, it did not.
“What are you going to be doing?” he asked me, clearly already knowing the answer.
“Just sightseeing and visiting my friends,” I answered confidently. My host told me that when applying for a sightseeing visa it was best not to mention the whole volunteering thing.
“You…. No,” the poor guy was clearly trying to find a polite way of saying ‘You’re extremely stupid and have no idea how immigration works’. “You need more purpose than that if you are going to stay that long.” And with that, he handed me a sheet of paper about the 90 days I can stay in Japan without a visa, and my much anticipated trip to the Consulate General was over in under 3 minutes.
I left the building defeated, giving sheepish looks to the security guards who didn’t seem surprised to see me leaving after such a short trip. At a loss of what to do with the rest of my day (I was expecting to be doing visa related activities for at least a few hours), I decided to buy myself a $24 pair of socks to make myself feel better. Now that I don’t smoke anymore, I find myself buying a lot of things that I don’t need. Retail therapy, I guess.