Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nobody could make this up

"Welcome to Japan."

It was a promising start to an email that was from a relocation company in Tokyo, the people who had just taken over the details of the shipment of my possessions from Canada.

The movers had come at the end of August and squirrelled away my worldly goods, whereupon they were taken first to Toronto and then to Vancouver, before being loaded onto a boat to Hong Kong.

I have no idea why we had to go via China. Maybe it was ex-Commonwealth love for Hong Kong or because all goods come from China, so they feel obliged to drop back in once in a while.

Last Tuesday, I was informed the shipment with my beloved artifacts had left Chinese shores and would arrive in Yokohama in a week. Yokohama is south of Tokyo, so still a good 700 miles from Sapporo but considerably nearer than Vancouver. At this point, everything would need to clear Japanese customs.

The relocation company requested I mail them the following documents in preparation:

(1) A clear copy of my passport showing the photo page

(2) The customs form I had filled in when I entered Japan, stating there would be unaccompanied articles to follow.

(3) A copy of my most recent immigration entry stamp.

(4) And finally, a copy of my work visa page which must be valid for at least one year.

The one I was clearly not expected to have was number (2), the request for which was followed by a slightly panicked note saying "Hoping you have chance to complete this form during your arrival in Japan??". There was no need to worry, I had remembered to fill in the appropriate form in duplicate, keeping one copy back for this purpose.

No. The problem was so much worse than that.

I had a visa, but it had been issued for a single year since the start of my position last July. This meant it was only valid for another 8 months.

Hmm --I hear you say-- perhaps you could renew your visa now and ask for the process to be expedited?

Such a course of action might well be worth investigating, if my passport had any free double pages.

It does not.

I have two single pages devoid of stamps, but a visa requires a clear double page. My plan was to renew my passport when I returned to the UK at Christmas, thereby acquiring a whole book full of deliciously blank sheets for inky fingered border control guards to smudge up like kids on a crayola high.

Could extra space be quickly added to my passport? The UK passport office has the following to say on the subject of additional pages:

27. Can the Passport Office add pages to my current passport if it is full?

Well then, perhaps I could renew my passport in Japan instead? It transpires, however, that the British Embassy in Tokyo no longer issues British passports. Rather, you must send your application to Hong Kong (anyone seeing a sinister pattern emerging here?) who then send everything away to the UK. The processing time --the webpage ironically entitled 'Help for British Nationals' informed me-- would take at least four weeks.

I leave Japan in 5.

And I'm not back until February 25th.

With my cat.

If I was just heading off on a single jaunt for those two months, I could probably postpone my trip, clear everything through customs and then leave the country knowing all is well in hand. As it happens, the exit next month marks the start of a round-the-world trip that sees me spending a week in India, home for Christmas in the UK and then onto Canada to work at my old institution for 7 weeks. Awesomely great. Awesomely awful to cancel.

Fortunately, the relocation company I was now dealing with seemed to have a practical mindset. Their suggestion was we send in the documents as if there is no problem and see what happens.

And if they send everything back to Canada…. well, I'll see it there.


  1. Wow, that is a wild story and I certainly don't envy that headache. I hope everything works out for you!

    Thanks for the comment - and for buying my ebook! I had never attempted anything like that before, and realize I am no professional writer - but thought I could share a few basic tips, and be somewhat entertaining as well!


  2. Thank you! I'm sure eventually it'll sort itself out, it just has the small potential to be a cold winter.

    I thought it was great. Like you said, they were not complicated points but some of them I'd never thought about.