Thursday, August 23, 2012

Is it worth contacting a Japanese immigration lawyer? - My visa saga continues

The short answer for me was yes. Contacting an immigration lawyer hasn't yet helped me to resolve my visa issue, but it has helped me to clarify things I was unsure about, and has already saved me from potentially wasting more time.

The first point I've clarified is that in my case of applying for permanent residency, since I'm not married to a Japanese citizen or permanent resident, and do not fall into the 'contributions to Japan' category of desirability, I will have to wait to meet the '10 years legally consecutive stay' requirement. If you are married to a resident of Japan, have been for at least 3 years, and hold the maximum number of years on your current visa, then you can apply for PR after just one year of living in Japan.

It's important to note the legally consecutive part of the 10 years requirement for permanent residency, as many resources in English regarding PR list it vaguely as a 10 year 'stay.' You may, like me, have 'stayed' more than 10 years in Japan, but if this was via various visas then your whole stay may not be legally defined as consecutive. Check the landing permission date /上陸許可/ jyourikukyouka (image below) on your alien registration card to know for sure the date from which your current 'stay' is being calculated. I presume that the new resident card which will shortly replace alien registration cards will have something comparable regarding your landing permission date written on it too. (Update, November 2013: I now have a zairyu card to replace my alien card, and there is no "landing date" info. Only the date that you got your zairyu card. Information about your first 'landing' in Japan on your current visa must instead be stored on your file at immigration, rather than on the card now. This is a shame, as seeing the "landing date" on the old alien cards made everything much clearer regarding the length of your current stay).

Your current 'stay' in Japan is calculated from your landing date

In my last post on applying for permanent residency I mentioned the ‘Points-based preferential immigration treatment for highly skilled foreign professionals’ that started in May 2012. I had hoped that the fast-track feature of needing only 4 and a half years before applying for PR might help in my situation if I could make the 70 points required for the special status. The immigration lawyer has helped me understand that this would not be a solution for me because I would need to stay in my current job while running the new business. An additional issue is that my current period of stay would be reset to zero with the change in visa from my current Specialist in Humanities and International Services visa to the new special status visa. Considering that I'll no longer be 34 years old (worth 10 points) and may no longer make the 70 point threshold at the time of extending that visa and reapplying for permanent residency, this would make my application much less certain than if I simply waited 3 years on my current visa.

I'm now finding out what my remaining options are, such as the Business Manager / Investor's visa which I'd written off previously as not applicable for a small business but with professional help perhaps there will be a way to make it work, or finding out if there is a way of extending my current visa through the new business until the time I can apply for PR.

Though I have conceivably been saved from another 10-month wait to find out an application isn't suitable for my situation, the particular lawyer I contacted hasn't actually charged me for any of the advice given to date (though I offered to pay!). This might not be the case with all immigration lawyers, but it doesn't hurt to enquire. For your reference, applications for visa statuses and PR etc. appear to range around the 84,000 - 157,500 JPY mark.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hagura uri asazuke - light Japanese pickles

As promised in the Hottarakashi Noen Farm field trip post, here is how to make asazuke / 浅漬け / light Japanese pickles. 浅い / asai means light, or shallow in Japanese. (This post is a bit off-topic, not being about baked goods and all, but I thought it was interesting to share.)

You can use cucumber, celery, Chinese cabbage, daikon radish etc., but for this post I'm making it with a kind of gourd called hagura uri / はぐら瓜 which I received as part of my vegetable box delivery from Hottarakashi Farm last weekend. I had no idea it was SO easy!

You'll need:
(adapted from original recipe here in Japanese)
  • 1 large hagura uri, or two medium sized ones
  • 2-3 teaspoons of salt
  • Fresh root ginger, sliced thinly
  • Dried red chillies, sliced thinly
  • Salted kombu (see below)
  • Ziploc bags

塩昆布 / Shio kombu

Kombu is dried kelp, a kind of seaweed. 塩昆布 / shio kombu / salted kombu is strips of kombu cooked in soy sauce, salted and dried. Kombu is high in glutamic acid, which is the amino acid responsible for the mysterious 5th taste of 'umami', and is used in a lot of Japanese cooking to enhance the flavours of other ingredients. Which I guess is what it is doing in this pickle dish.

Thoroughly wash and chop the ends off your vegetable. (Check out the sticky stuff beading out of the uri! It looks like a cucumber, tastes a bit like a cucumber, but the texture is more like melon. With the Latin name of Cucumis melo var. makuwa it's not surprising.)

I then took a vegetable peeler and peeled off strips of the skin, to be left with pretty intermittent stripes down the length of the uri. Now scrape out all the seeds. These came out very easily with a spoon, like a melon.

Chop and slice into chunks the size and shape you'd like to have.

Put the slices into a large bowl and toss them around in the salt. Divide the slices into Ziploc bags and flavour them thusly: either use a pinch of all three of the flavourings (kombu, dried chilles, fresh ginger) or use just those you fancy. I experimented with using a bag of uri for each flavour, and then also did an all in one. The kombu bag and the all in one pickles were the winners in my opinion. I would note here that you wouldn't need all of the ginger shown in this picture, as it gets quite spicy with all the salt...

Try to push out as much air as possible from the bags and seal. Put them in the fridge for a couple of hours and they are ready to eat. Tasted better the next day too.

Left to right: ginger, chilli, konbu, all 3!

Since these are not true, fermented pickles, they are perishable and so you'll need to use them up within 3 days. They are good as a snack with cold beer on a summer evening, or as a side dish with your meal.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Field Trip! - Hottarakashi Noen Farm, Tokorozawa Saitama

series of posts from visiting interesting little (and large) cafes, food-related establishments and other places of inspiration.

The other weekend I joined an event organised by Minami Aoyama Yasai Kichi - BBQ at Hottarakashi Noen Farm. There was to be a tour of the farm, helping out in the vegetable plots while the farmer explained about their methods and then a barbecue of fresh-plucked veggies, beef and chicken. I was curious to learn about small scale farming, to meet a Japanese farmer, and very interested in the 'have a go' part of the day too.

Tokorozawa is about an hour from Tokyo on the Seibu Ikebukuro line. We met up, bright and early, at Kotesashi station (小手指駅) and took a bus from the south exit about 15 minutes to the farm, where Nomura-san was waiting for us. Nomura-san does not fit the Japanese farmer stereotype. He's young and fluent in English thanks to time in Australia, and he started Hottarakashi Farm after working in other fields, without a family background in farming. Most farmers you hear reported about in Japan are elderly, and the future of their farms uncertain with many being sold to large agricultural corporations or for other land use after they retire.

Nomura-san explaining about radishes

Nomura-san explained to us about the name ほったらかし農園 / Hotttarakashi Noen - In Japanese 'hottarakashi' means to neglect, or to leave something alone, such as an untidy bedroom. As I understood it, the idea with the farm is to 'leave it alone' as much as possible, by avoiding using chemicals, not being too neat or fussy, to create an environment where insects are part of the ecosystem and vegetables can be grown with as little interference as possible.

We set off on our little tour around the farm and saw nasu / 茄子 / aubergine (eggplant, if you prefer), growing on beautiful purple-stemmed bushes with lilac coloured flowers, sweet potato / さつまいも / satsumaimo leaves sticking out of the soil, huge courgettes / ズッキーニ / zucchini and cucumbers / キュウリ / kyuri growing on the ground. Nomura-san showed us the range of different types of tomatoes we'd be eating later, including a blackish variety. Apparently, when one tomato on the plant suddenly starts ripening, it's likely to have been damaged by bugs - early ripening is a way to try to have a chance of maturing and depositing some seeds onto the ground before that fruit spoils.

We were shown the edamame bean / 枝豆 (未熟な大豆 / mijyuku na daizu / young soybean) plants, grown both with and without a protective covering - when edamame are grown without the cover most of the leaves get eaten by insects if you're not using pesticides, so the covering helps reduce this. Bugs thriving is to some extent an expected and desirable thing at Hottarakashi Farm, where they are finding a balance between the productivity of the land and letting nature do its thing. They mentioned that planting certain crops together, as companion plants can help repel certain pests.

Our first task was to help out in the carrot / 人参 / ninjin field. About 20,000 carrot seeds had been planted and two tiny rabbit-ear shaped leaves were poking through the soil at intervals across the plot. We were to pull out everything else that didn't look like the carrot leaves. The carrots are not as hardy a plant as many of the weeds / 雑草 / zassou, and so doing this task now would help improve the carrots' chances as they mature. During this task we learned that 'leaving it alone' didn't mean there wasn't hard work involved... (picture from before our weeding: left, and after: right)

Next we got to select a few seeds we wanted to plant, were allocated a plot of land each (about 3 paces by 2 paces), and we got to have a go at planting our own little 畑 / hatake / allotment plot! We were told we could visit our plot again to tend or harvest as we liked, but that in general the plots would be largely left to fend for themselves, and any successful veggies picked and used by the team. This part of the day was a lovely surprise, I've never planted my own allotment before :)

White: Zucchini, pink: daikon, green: edamame

The afternoon was a blur of cold beer, BBQ food and chatting in the welcome shade. There were about 15 of us who made the trip out with Yasai Kichi, some customers of the restaurant and some friends of the owner. If you're interested to possibly join a future trip, check out the Yasai Kichi site to see future plans.

Hottarakashi Farm also do a veggie box delivery service! You can order as a one-off, or set up a regular monthly (etc.) delivery, and a box of local vegetables will arrive at your door in Japan, straight from the farm at exactly the time it's in season and tasting best. To order, go to their ameblo site (in Japanese) and send a message to ask for details. The current price on their site for a regular box is 2,100 yen + delivery charge (delivery was 315 yen to my place in Tokyo).

What to do with all those fresh aubergines and courgettes? To commemorate what would be Julia Child's 100th birthday this week (Wednesday 15th of August), I decided to have a go at her ratatouille. It tastes so much better than it looks ;)

Also included in our first box was a large green marrow-type vegetable, which I was informed was actually a Japanese 瓜 / uri / gourd. This gave me the chance to find out how to make something new - asazuke! Light Japanese pickles... I'll share the method with you in another post.

My own little shop probably won't be doing much in the way of savoury dishes, but perhaps the occasional quiche, or even as Nomura-san suggested, vegetable cakes! Carrot cakes, zucchini cakes... Hmm, it's got me thinking now.

Monday, August 6, 2012

1st attempt at permanent residency in Japan denied

What a blow that was. After waiting 10 months for the verdict on my application for permanent residence in Japan, I received an ominous non-delivery notice from Tokyo Immigration at the weekend (ominous because when you apply for a visa or the eijyuken you fill in a simple postcard that usually just gets mailed to you once your application is successful, telling you to come and get it). Sure enough, when I had the brown envelope redelivered, there were a couple of sheets of photocopied paper inside, saying in Japanese and English that my application had been unsuccessful, and circling the reason. Nice that they let you know it wasn’t successful and that they give you feedback about why.

In my case, the reason for rejection was that I didn’t meet the requirement for living in Japan consecutively for over 10 years. I’ve been living in Japan for over 11 years now, but legally speaking, surrendering my visa at the end of the JET programme when I visited the UK for 2 months before returning to my life and plans in Japan, meant that the counter was set back to zero and so I’m still a couple of years away from 10 legally consecutive years. I had wondered and written about this in my post as I applied for permanent residency, but it's such a disappointment to have this confirmed as the verdict, and to have waited so long to find out. If you want to check for yourself from what date your own period of stay in Japan is calculated from, it's the "landing date" 上陸許可 jyourikukyouka written on your alien registration card (when these cards are shortly all replaced with the new resident card system I presume there will be something comparable written on those too. Update, November 2013: I now have a zairyu card to replace my alien card, and there is no "landing date" info. Only the date that you got your zairyu card. Information about your first 'landing' in Japan on your current visa must instead be stored on your file at immigration, rather than on the card now. This is a shame, as seeing the "landing date" on the old alien cards made everything much clearer regarding the length of your current stay).

The good news for me is that the other items on the reasons for denial sheet (photo below) don’t appear to have been problematic:
  • Show good conduct
  • Have adequate means to support myself
  • Be paying taxes, etc. For full details of requirements see my previous post

My options now seem to be to a) wait another couple of years and re-apply, b) try reapplying myself to see if another staff member or period of policy might shine a more favourable light on my case – anecdotally you do hear of people being accepted earlier than the stated 10-years, c) contact an immigration lawyer to see if there are any other options or whether reapplying with their help would increase my chances at this point (this lawyer lists fees of 126,000 - 157,500 JPY to help with PR, with you only paying half if unsuccessful, another promising laywer who also appears to help with business incorporation is here, no prices listed on the site).

While dashing about on the internet looking for solutions I also found something else potentially relevant, and very new and so I thought I’d share it here:
Since May 2012, Japan has started using a points-based system with the snappy title of ‘Points-based preferential immigration treatment for highly skilled foreign professionals’ (same info here, easier to navigate without all the cartoons). This is a way to make it easier for measurably 'desirable' types of people to live and stay in Japan in view of the declining population, particularly the number of people of tax-paying age. I’ve heard about similar systems being used for immigration into New Zealand and other countries.

There are 3 streams - academic research, advanced specialized professionals, and business management. The details are here (pdf), but it’s along the lines of a bachelor’s degree is 10 points, being under 35 is 10 points, level 1 Japanese proficiency is 10 points, having a promised salary of a certain level is worth a related number of points, with 70 points being the requirement for preferential treatment including only having to have 4 years and 6 months consecutive stay in Japan in order to be considered for permanent residency.

Reading between the lines, the points based system appears similar to the more losely defined ‘contributions to Japan’ element of the existing application process – where people with nobel prizes and ability to make impactful, positive contributions to Japanese economics or society would be granted permanent residency more easily. It’s not easy to reach the 70 points, but it’s possibly more attainable than a Nobel Prize. I’m currently wondering if based on my current professional experience in Japan, I might just be able to make the cut.

I guess that as Japan’s population problem advances over time (see points 2 and 6 on this page of the MOJ's site), the point system will need to be relaxed or additional systems implemented so that more willing tax-paying foreigners can successfully make long-term stable lives here without the need to be superhumans to be accepted.

So I’m currently looking into this new point system, and I’ve also contacted an immigration lawyer to see if their services might be meaningfully employed to help me try again. I’m certainly not giving up!