Friday, June 08, 2007

How Not To Leave a Country.

Again I'm being lazy and blogging something I recently posted on a discussion group. But given the length I really can't be arsed typing it out twice (even if it does blow my semi-anonymous blogging status). It's yet another tale from my multitudinous fund of OE stories - enjoy.

Back in 1990 and 1991 when I was in my late teens I was living and working in Japan looking after a showjumping team. Initially I was all official and had a working holiday visa. All was sweet with the wonder that is Japanese bureaucracy. However after my first six months getting an extension proved to be a difficult task and I had to resort to some unorthodox tactics to stay in my country and in my job. The solution was simple - every three months I'd quickly flit out of the country and come back in getting a tourist visa.

Not strictly legit' but it achieved my aims.

So things progressed along this path for some time but unfortunately for me things changed. You see I wasn't the only Kiwi in a certain area of Hokkaido working in the horse industry and eventually the immigration department wised up and decided to check matters out.

Learning this I made efforts to make my status a little more legal and endeavoured to get my paperwork in order. Unfortunately the system decided not to play ball, in fact it decided to lodge said ball squarely in my fundamental orifice. I ended up in the situation where, not only did I not have a working visa but I also had no tourist visa either.

Matters got worse when immigration rang my place of work and a receptionist (long on looks but short on guile) blithely told them how long I'd been working and exactly how much I had been paid. At this point I decided a strategic retreat to New Zealand was necessary and this is where things began to get a bit tricky.

There I was at Narita Airport plane tickets in hand going through immigration when I struck up a conversation with an Australian. He like me had visa issues and was heading home to rectify matters. He was just ahead of me in the queue, presented his passport at the immigration desk, and a kerfuffle ensued. Two of the largest Policemen I'd ever seen promptly turned up and hauled him off for questioning.

I'm now slightly apprehensive.

I roll up to the immigration officer and hand over my passport. He looks at it, then at me, then calls for the police. Off I'm hauled to a small room and the interrogation, and the bizarre nature of Japanese bureaucracy, begins to unveil. Because I have no visa I'm told I can't be in the country. However without a visa I also can't leave it.
"Simple" says I, "give me a visa and I'll go".
"Not possible", says the not so friendly official,"a visa can only be issued by the Japanese Embassy in NZ"
"OK let me on the plane and I'll apply for one when I get home" says me.
"You can't leave Japan without a visa"


Anyway while all this was going on files had been checked and my somewhat undercover work history was sprung. In no uncertain terms I was told I could face 6 months in jail and/or a hefty fine. Fairly heavy duty stuff for an 18 year old to handle. Suffice it to say I was shitting bricks.

The official sternly tells me I'm in big trouble (btw all this conversation was going on in Japanese), tells me to stay where I am and heads out the door. I. of course, do the complete opposite. As I still had my passport and plane tickets I was on my feet in a flash, out through the other door, past immigration and heading for the boarding gate at a great rate of knots.

Luckily for me the flight was boarding and I scuttled on and wedged myself into a window seat taking care to ensure there was at least one octogenarian between me and the aisle.

Five minutes later there's a commotion at the front of the plane. Very foolishly I look up to see what's going on and there's the immigration official I'd escaped from not 15 minutes before. His eyes meet mine and down the aisle he strides shouting angry imprecations and calling down all sorts of nasty curses upon my head.


A number of options were flashing through my head as he's screaming at me (in Japanese) to get of the plane immediately. I did what any other baka gaijin would do in such circumstances and stared blankly at him pretending I couldn't understand him(despite our prior fluent conversation). The poor man is now a bright shade of red, and heading for purple, as he speaks through clenched teeth in strained english. Again he orders me off the plane.

Time for plan B and in my best 3rd Form German I said;
"Einen bien auschlander. Nicht spechen sie englisch. Sprechen sie Deutsch?"

Now I won't say his face was reminiscent of Hiroshima revisited at this point, but it was pretty close. Veins throbbing his rage was approaching incandescent status.

And this is when my saviours intervened. God Bless Air NZ hostesses who will come to the aid of a Kiwi boy in distress. Pleading schedules, fuel loads, baggage priorities, and other such aviation priorities they efficiently whisked the protesting official off the plane and onto the airbridge. The poor bugger didn't know what hit him. Before he knew it the door was closed and yours truly had flown the coop and was home free and clear.

Needless to say when I applied for a visa when I got home it was turned down. I've never been back to Japan since - I'm still slightly worried about what might happen if I did.

1 comment:

dc_red said...

Great story, Random, I liked the building tension throughout. Interesting they trusted you just to sit there like a good boy and not flee for the safety of the 747 with koru livery.

Gotta love those "can't enter the country / can't leave the country" visa scenarios.