I’ve got a day off today, which is always nice. The school at which I work on Thursdays has a holiday for the “Foundation Memorial Day.” Basically, the day it was founded, or built, or something like that. Unfortunately, I don’t get paid. Well, nothing’s perfect. Time off is nice.

I decided to take advantage of today to go and sort out some bureaucracy. I’m planning to visit Korea for a few days in late July, and since this is my only free day between now and then (excluding weekends, when the oxymoronically-named public servants don’t serve the public) I had to go and sort out my “Reentry Permit.”

As I live in a big city, it’s not particularly difficult for me, but for those who live in other parts of the country it must necessitate a long trip to the nearest immigration centre. I cycled there in about twenty minutes, although that was something of a mistake, because I came back saturated with sweat. It’s very humid here at the moment, and the slightest amount of physical exertion is repaid with torrents of perspiration. However, the alternative was to walk ten minutes to the subway station, then change trains twice, with all the lengthy speleology that involves. Cycling was, on the whole, easier.

You may be wondering what a re-entry permit is. Money for old rope, that’s what. If you have a visa for Japan and want to leave temporarily during this period, then you have to pay JPY 3000 for the privilege of being allowed back in. In order to do this, you have to go all the way to the immigration centre, fill out a full-page form explaining all the details that you already told them for your original visa, and again at the airport, and again for the alien registration card, along with when and where you are intending to go, and why. Then you hand in the form.

You would expect that you also handed over your money. But no. Instead, at this point in proceedings, you have to leave the building and walk around the corner to a hole-in-the-wall tobacconist. I kid you not. There, you hand over the money, and buy a stamp. Not just any stamp, though; this is a “revenue stamp.” You walk back to the immigration centre, wait for them to call you, give them the stamp, and collect your passport, in which they have stamped a “RE-ENTRY PERMIT” (they can’t make their minds up about the hyphenation) and stapled a blank card form.

That’s it. That’s all you get for giving up your time and paying JPY 3000. A stamp and a piece of card. It only cost about ⅓ of that for the issue of my original visa.

Aside from giving people something to do, and making money for no effort, what is the point of the whole charade? None. Exactly. Damn bureaucrats. Is it anything other than a transparent scheme to make some money off (voiceless, politically unrepresented) foreigners?

The centre is plastered with posters, most of which are of the “Stop illegal working by foreigners!” type. Seriously, though, I doubt that it’s a big problem. After all, there aren’t that many foreigners in Japan to worry about. The problems of illegal work (principally the loss of tax revenue, I should imagine) are the same regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator. If a foreign immigrant works cash-in-hand in violation of his visa conditions, or if a Japanese national works cash-in-hand to avoid paying her taxes, what is the difference? None, I’d argue, unless you want to claim that the foreigner’s actions are somehow “more illegal” because they’re foreign. But that’s all down to accident of birth. Targeting foreigners for illegal working is just a red herring to distract from the real problems in Japanese society. In fact, it would probably be preferable to integrate foreign illegal workers into the social system, where they would be paying taxes. And someone apparently wants their services, after all. But no, it’ll never happen. It makes too much sense.