God, I’m So Illiterate!

I’ve just come back from immigration where I went to hand in a double application for both spouse visa renewal and permanent residency. Everything seemed to be in order, but at the end I was asked to fill in a form that gave my permission for immigration to make copies of some documents.

I may have been in Japan for over a decade, but my Japanese skills are sadly lacking. I passed level 2 of the Japanese test back in 2000 and have steadily forgotten everything since. All right, my Japanese isn’t that bad, but certainly not good enough for today’s situation…

The gentleman behind the counter rattled off in Japanese how I needed to list the documents by name on the form, which to him, was just a formality, with no need for debate. For me, however, this was far from simple. While I understood what I needed to do, I first pleaded that I wouldn’t be able to write the names of the forms, e.g. 住民税納税証明書 (certificate of residence tax) to which he responded that I could write them in English. I told him I wasn’t sure of the English translations, and he, showing signs of impatience, said I could just write the hiragana, which would have been okay if I could read the document names in the first place.

I figured I’d just try to copy the titles of  each document, but on realizing some of them didn’t have clear titles and the names were instead embedded in even harder sentences, I gave up and returned to the counter to beg for someone else to write them.

Typically, since I was the one applying for a change of residence status, I would have to write them myself. Clearly the immigration official couldn’t understand at all why I was having such trouble and I eventually had to ask him to circle the kanji I needed to write. Unfortunately, he did this rather willy nilly, wrapping unnecessary kanji within his halfhearted circles, or cutting other characters in half, leaving me wondering whether to include them or not.

Perhaps it was more difficult for me because I’m self-employed and had to produce a number of forms that would normally be handled by your employer, but I think it’s more accurate to say my Japanese is woeful for a potential permanent resident and I have no excuses for being so illiterate.

However, since this isn’t an application for citizenship, but merely the right to stay long-term in Japan, I certainly think I’m qualified. I’m in my 12th year in Japan, 5th year of marriage to a Japanese national, I’ve bought a house in my name and we have a 2-year-old son.

In fact, since I owe a Japanese bank the cost of my house, I’d  like to think permanent residency was a given.