To see a list of all of the posts in this series, click here. (*^-^*)
Jamie, the girl who never liked coffee. Who swore that she didn’t get it, would never like it– now had to turn to coffee for help. Maybe I didn’t have to, but the exhaustion clinging to every pore of my body argued vehemently otherwise.
Work was (fun, but) grueling.
Exciting things like Tenipuri Festa, the seiyuu party, and the arrival of the first collected volume of manga were obviously the exception rather than the norm. It might sound really neat to have been working on The Prince of Tennis, and it was, but it was also real, hard work. 16-hour days with little, restless sleep, or deadlines before which we stayed up for three days in a row. Have you ever drawn manga for 60 hours straight? If you have, I applaud you because I know how it feels. I needed coffee to stave off exhaustion.
At this point, we were getting maybe 4 or 5 days off a month, and those days, I was filming or doing research for my other jobs, doing interviews, or trying desperately to see my friends. Of course, I liked the job– drawing Tenipuri and getting paid for it, published in JUMP SQ magazine– it was awesome! I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
Well, it was fun, at least, when we worked. I was often having to leave work in the middle of things to go film for the tv show, stay at my own apartment overnight, and then come right back to the studio the morning after, exhausted. Only to find out that Sensei wasn’t in the studio again. (At least I got to leave, which is more than the other assistants got. I often felt bad, so I brought in doughnuts and other candies).
Well, we know that stuck-at-work-but-not-working dance by now, don’t we? I’d promised to not make an issue of it again, and so I didn’t. Not to Sensei’s face. Not to anyone. But oh man, was it hard.
At least, there was something else on my mind. Something that I didn’t like.
And that was my visa.
A Japanese work visa is basically a permission slip (well, okay literally it’s a sticker in your passport) by the Japanese government that allows a foreigner to legally work in Japan. They’re really complicated, and the requirements for work visas differ by what nationality you are, what job you are wanting to do in Japan, and, to be honest, I think that some of it depends on the whim of the person in the immigration office processing your visa. Working for the same company, sometimes I would get a visa approved for three years, and other times only one (you can also get five now). Renewing or changing a work visa requires a lot of paperwork, even more time, and a little bit of money. Oh, and patience.
When I was hired by Konomi-sensei, I had been working on an Instructor’s visa, which basically let me be a teacher and nothing else. Changing it, though, asking Sensei to be my sponsor, and everything was such a hassle that I just didn’t bother. I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d be able to keep the job at first.. or even whether I’d really been hired. Ugh, no way was I going to ask. I had enough stress as it was! (Was that decision right? Probably not, but I got away with it.)
But the expiration date of my current visa, September 16, was coming up fast. If I didn’t extend or change the visa, then I would not be allowed to work in Japan anymore. I’d be kicked out and banned for a year, and have to leave my dreams behind. That was even scarier than getting off my butt and doing the footwork involved, so I started the long process in my miniscule time off.
I went to the Regional Immigration bureau (a huge building in downtown Tokyo where I once encountered a young guy singing Gangnam Style while dancing down the stairs) and double-checked with them what kind of paperwork I would need. I got it all together, which included paperwork from my local city office, and then talked to Sensei about what I would need from him.
I expected him to agree to be my sponsor, even after all we had been through. After all, I was working for him. But I didn’t expect him to take things into his own hands and get his business lawyer to ensure that every bit of his paperwork was correct! He had to prepare business documents that I’d never even heard of just to prove that he had the right to hire a foreigner over a Japanese person. I don’t know how much money that cost him– he did it, never complained, and helped me get it together.
Sensei…… T_______T I’m sorry for being so hard on you!
Right before my visa was about to expire, I went and turned in the paperwork at the Immigration bureau, which took, as usual, all day. Naturally, when I checked in at the window after waiting three hours, they cheerfully informed me that, “yeah, you ALSO need this form, this form, and this form. And you’re crazy, this visa is NEVER going to fly. What exactly are you doing? I’ve never heard of this. Yeah, right, sure it was in Shonen JUMP.” The way that the woman who checked my paperwork said it was lot more polite, but I didn’t even have to read between the lines to see that she didn’t think my chances of getting a visa for this kind of job were very good. (I showed her!)
I had to go wait at another window and talk to a man after this. He interviewed me, which had never happened for my previous visas. Then, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to work while my visa was in processing. I’d have to take a break from work.
Wait. What????? This was the exact opposite of what I’d been told the three other times that I’d renewed my visas! They don’t understand, though, I had no choice. Without my hands, the studio would flounder. There’s NO WAY that they’d get everything done. Not to mention that Sensei had been so nice to me! So, I did what anyone would do who is like fssssh, whatever, your rules suck— I went to get the final paperwork, turned it in, and went right back to work. (I was told that it was okay to work while it was processing the next time that I renewed my visa, as my new visa would be retroactively valid, so I really think that there’s a lot of BS going on in the immigration office anyways.)
It was pretty stressful, though, and I had nightmares about being kicked out of Japan. In my mind, I justified it by saying that I wasn’t getting paid for this time. I was paid on salary anyways, and so I could consider he first half of the month as paid work and the second half as volunteering. I slept even less than before while I was waiting, though.
Nightmares, waiting, and an intense work schedule. In the end, it took TWO MONTHS for the government to approve my new visa, which was a “Specialist in Humanities/International services” visa. Why this and not an “Artists” visa?
According to the clerk (which may or may not be correct BECAUSE THE RULES ARE ALWAYS CHANGING AND WRITTEN NOWHERE FOR THE PUBLIC TO SEE. Sorry, I had to use caps for that), I could use this visa because it is tied to an individual’s college major. I had majored in Media Arts & Animation, so I was qualified through that to work in any art-related field with this visa. Oh. It seems that my animation degree was finally good for something!
I might mention that I have a bachelor’s degree, which is (supposedly) a general requirement for an American working in Japan. But truly, the rules are not clear at all. I was told many times during my nine years living and working in Japan, that an American MUST either have a bachelor’s degree or 10 years experience in the chosen field to be granted any work visa, but I know Americans there who don’t have any degrees and much less experience yet have work visas (that are not married. Marriage is one way to get around this “rule”). Plus, Taylor Swift never went to college at all, yet she’s had concerts in Japan. So, yeah.
You know what? Don’t listen to me about visa advice. Don’t let anyone on the internet (even me) tell you anything about what the requirements are for something so important. Seriously. The only one you should ask if you need advice is someone at the Japanese embassy or consulate nearest you. Call them up and ask, and then ask a few more employees there to confirm their information. You’ll most likely get conflicting reports. Do your best! I know how stressful it is!
http://www.mofa.go.jp/about/emb_cons/mofaserv.html <– Go here to find the consulate nearest you!
So… to put it simply, I stressed out for three months (one month while trying to get the right paperwork in, and two waiting for it to be approved, while I was “not working”). In the end, though, I had a shiny, shiny new visa that was good for three years!!!! THREE YEARS! YES! I wouldn’t have to go through the hell of not knowing for another three years!
I bought Sensei a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne to thank him. He deserved it, he really did.
It’s funny, though, because after stressing out so much over this visa and doing all of that footwork to get it, I ended up quitting less than three months later.
But the funny thing is, quitting Tenipuri was not the end of my work there, by any means.
There are a few more little stories that I want to tell before I get to what happened when I quit! In fact, the next time that I went into the studio, I made a new friend! And that’s what I’ll be talking about tomorrow.
You may have even seen my new friend, who made it into the manga, depending on how closely you’ve read. 😉