Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Alien in Limbo

More than ten years ago my AEON branch manager took me to the Katsushika ward office to help me apply for an alien registration card.  I don’t remember the details (it was June, so it must have been rainy), but somehow all these years later, living again in Katsushika, I managed to remember what station to go to and even which exit to use.  Granted, it’s a tiny station, and there are only two exits, but it was still kind of spooky. 

The time between applying for an alien registration card and being able to pick it up at the ward office is about two weeks, and as I remember from ten years ago, those two weeks are LONG.  Without a card you can’t open a bank account, can’t get a mobile phone contract, and thus can’t do so many other things that require either a phone number or a bank account in Japan.  It’s a period of limbo, of false stops and starts, where you get up from your chair and decide “I’m going to do X,” and then realize that no, you can’t do that yet.  Ironically, once you actually get the card you’re still designated an “alien.”  So before you get the card you’re…a pre-alien?  An alien still in its egg? 

It was a lot worse ten years ago.  Back then I didn’t have internet at home (thank heaven my apartment this time around comes already wired), and something as simple as a phone call required a trek up the road to a pay phone with trucks whizzing by.  There was no such thing as Skype, no Facebook, no Twitter (okay, maybe I shouldn’t count those last two as blessings).  The nearest internet cafe was a fifteen-minute walk from my AEON office, a random Peruvian cafe that had two ancient computers and made excellent alfajores and chorizo sandwiches.  In between trips to the pay phone and the Peruvian cafe I remember feeling profoundly lonely and isolated during those two weeks, which is normal enough when you move halfway across the world to place where you don’t know anyone.  Still, a lack of phone, bank, and a sense of personhood compounded the feelings. 

Now waiting for my card is just more of a frustration.  Sure, I could rent a pre-paid phone, but that’s expensive.  I have cash available, though I wish I could pay for things with a card sometimes (really regretting cutting up that credit card at the moment).  Frustration turns to indignation, though, when people insinuate that I’m not a real person until I get my alien card–like that asshole at Softbank today who looked at me like I was a moron when I asked him if I could get a cell phone contract with my official ward office letter of registration instead of my actual card.  No commission for you, jerk.  Or the staff at both MUFJ and Mizuho banks, who claim that I have to be in the country six months before I can open an account (other people tell me they won’t be such sticklers if I bring in my actual card instead of the ward letter).  All foreign nationals hit walls in Japan (or in any foreign country) on a regular basis, but having gotten used to feeling like a local, it’s weird to feel foreign again. 

In the midst of feeling like less of a person, though, things can still happen that can make you weep with joy.  Right after dealing with the Softbank asshole I wandered away from Kameari station and discovered a huge mall with a truly amazing supermarket.  Living in the suburbs, I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to cook a lot of my favorite dishes for a year (fresh herbs are hard to find, parmigiano reggiano costs like $30 an ounce, no oven for roasting stuff, etc.).  But that was before I discovered this food market.  It was as if someone had asked me exactly what I needed to cook all my favorite dishes and then stocked up.  Zucchini.  Fresh basil and mint.  Goat cheese.  Olive oil.  Even tiny little blocks of parmigiano reggiano (pricey, but not nearly as expensive as I’d seen elsewhere) and tiny little tubs of sour cream.  I wandered around like a kid in a candy store for so long that the staff probably thought I was nuts. 

So I’ll be counting the days until I can get my card and my bank book and my snazzy Japanese phone, but until then at least I’ll have plenty of comforting, homemade food to tide me over.

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3 comments on “Alien in Limbo

  1. laxpek
    August 23, 2010

    I’m glad you found the fresh food market (one less thing to worry about). The first week is the hardest. I can’t wait to see how your fall “semester” develops!

  2. shao
    August 25, 2010

    Reminds me of my days four years ago when I had to wait for my social security number, and the pains that usc gave me during the wait. Thank goodness I had you, Trader Joe’s, Sam (and sam’s car) to tide me over. Hang in there and as we know, when all else fails, eat!

  3. gradland
    August 25, 2010

    Shao, I’ve definitely been thinking of you and remembering your struggles of four years ago over the past few days–I have a feeling that what I’m dealing with is nothing compared to what you had to go through! Still, if you made it through then it gives me hope that I will too. 🙂

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Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

tales of travel, research, and life

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