Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Another Country

It's very difficult to eat cheaply in fancy London restaurants. Fortunately for me and my sophisticated palate, I can eat well and with a well-deserved beer in Tokyo for about £6. Today surely earned its keep on the beverage front. It has been, and excuse my French, un de ces jours. Over dinner, did reach halfway through Updike's novel, which seems to be about escaping the confines of one's life, and little details keep hitting home in rather horrible ways. Of relevance here, though, only: 'The difficulty with humorists is that they will mix what they believe with what they don't - whichever seems likelier to win an effect.'

I awoke rather happy, which now doesn't bode well for my having Spidey Sense. But all the same, I showered and breakfasted,  and was out the door and still cheerful all the way onto the subway. My app for getting around the city's system gives me a direction and a destination; I of course confused the two, which delayed arrival. Upon finally arriving at Tennozu Isle Station, a mere ten minute walk from the Immigration Office, my destination, in order to obtain my re-entry permit, so that my visa won't revert to a tourist's when I reentry Japan come Sunday evening, I discover the map downloaded and the real-world (though it seemed nothing like the real world around me) map with the usually handy 'You Are Here' did not seem to coincide. So after much deliberation, I set off.
In what soon proved to be the wrong direction. I realised the closest station to the Immigration Office was actually on a separate island from the bldg itself, and so I headed to the bridge. Across, and now surrounded by lorries, truckers, and shipping containers, piled up like Lego bricks. I had now placed myself somewhere on my own map, and was content to follow it block after block until I eventually reached the entrance to the swarming Office. The Japanese, mostly, are content to frustrate the foreigner by the old motto of 'Rocation, rocation, rocation', and no more. Once found, backstreet restaurants tend to be worth the hike/hype; brands like A Bathing Ape deliberately site their franchises in tricky-to-find-but-easy-to-stumble-upon locations.  The Immigration Office had no qualms about over-doing anything. This was proper Kafka kitsch.

Upon my eventual arrival, I approached the main desk cautiously, and procured a copy of the Form for Reentry Permission. It was only once this had been grasped, and as I was filling it in before I could go upstairs to Section D, that I realised I was listening to, broadcast across the main atrium, a polyphonic rendition of the tune to 'I Vow To Thee, My Country', or at least a section from Holst's Jupiter. And this, only days after I'd been subjected to a similarly simplified orchestral version of a few of The Beatles' hits in the sauna. (The gym: 'We see you, skinny Britisher, pumping your seven kg, and we remind you - no matter how good you get, eventually you'll be nothing more than Musak listened to by naked men in a steamy room.') I took the stairs two at a time.

Not so much follow the yellow-brick road, as follow the primary-coloured strips of carpet to the relevant section. No ruby slippers here, though, as you take your ticket to hand in your form, passport and Foreigner Registration Card, and 172, that says, and 119 just flashed up on the screen. A hasty email to work that I may be late, and down in the chairs with the Japanese folk. Why were they here? Were they not actually Japanese? What visas were they on? James Whitcomb Riley ('when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck') would have been out of his depth here. 

Having already filled in the form downstairs, nothing to do here but wait. Nervously glanced at clock. Of course, the Office was only open from nine am until five pm on week-days. Foreigners? With visas? Probably don't have jobs, eh. Number eventually comes up. 'You must go downstairs and get payment stamp, then come back up right to me'. Off I trotted, to the FamilyMart down the stairs that deals with visa payment stamps, and got myself into the queue for the one till of four that issues the stamps. Considered leaving the queue to by myself a biscuit at one of the other tills; would have taken me no time, them being empty and all. But got the stamp, trotted back up the stairs, found my lady, gave here the new stamped form, retreated, reappeared at the call of my name, received my newly-stickered passport, and trotted off to work.

Rang in on the way back to the Tennozu Isle Station on the first island, thinking I might not make into work by the time suggested in earlier email, which was rather prescient, considering the signs to the monorail station I now needed led me three sides of a square, and was told my editor had left the company that morning, and is never to return. I fear not so much Bienvenue au Japon as Bienvenue dans le monde. And after a Sunday of no worry, lazing in park life, finding an abandoned CCTV camera, watching girls ride ponies in central Tokyo, and reading an autobiography of Edward Hopper. I'll take that world, merci beaucoup. But to another country on Thursday, and 30+ degrees c.

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