So here I am. Owing to a set of circumstances largely beyond my control, I find myself living and working in Japan. I could tell you the circumstances, give reasons or excuses, but telling you isn't going to help. Let's face it, life – and other four letter words – happen.
I Fought The Law... It Was A Score Draw
My final months in Japan have turned into a minefield in which I trawled my way through the legal system – twice.
Firstly I planned to get married. On the face of it, it sounds quite simple but, oh no, not in Japan, at least not for Johnny Foreigner.
If that weren't enough I quit work following my discovery that Pimie Lever is actually an anagram of Evil Empire and that my bosses would have had Darth Vader running away like a screaming girlie.
Best things first – marriage. Upon reading the m word you will immediately conjure up images in your mind – a church, some other religious building or maybe a registry office. Friends and family gathered to witness the event, or at least a couple of witnesses to hear the vows. Now erase ALL of that.
There are, of course, elaborate ceremonies that may use the templates of different religions (and Christian style ones are popular here) and parties – generally family oriented with obligatory work colleagues and pre-determined gifts of money – but that's all WEDDINGS, not the legal act of marriage. In essence marriage happens like this:
- Get a form from your City Office
- Sign it yourselves and get a couple of people to sign as witnesses – but you don't all need to be present at once
- One of you takes the form back to City Office – bada-bing!
You're married. No bachelor's party, no bridesmaids' dresses, no 'I do's.
For a foreigner there are a few more hoops to jump through. You need to show you're not already married, which involves your planned marriage being displayed at your embassy. You're not likely to find an English version of your marriage forms, so you either need to understand Japanese or act on trust. I could have been signing anything. Then comes the certificate. To get an English document, you need to get a special type of certificate, get back in touch with the embassy and get an authenticated translation. If you want the marriage recognised in the UK, that's not a gimme either, there's more. Then there's all the regular paperwork. Once married, a new family register is required for the new household. Normally the man would be head of the household, but as I'm a gaijin this defaulted to my wife. All this involves repeated liaison with your local City Office and the one in your official town (often different) – in person, if you will. We did all the essentials, including parts of eight processes on the day, but banking details – in a third town – was a trip too many and Suzu may forever keep accounts in her maiden name, not through any desire to keep it that way, but just to save the hassle.
Anyway, that was the easy stuff. At my workplace the company, affected by the recession, decided to further its own demise by wildly slashing expenditure on frivolous things such as teachers, apparently not such a big requirement of language schools. If they'd actually analysed what they were doing, then fair enough, but they just thrashed about without looking at individual schools or the impact of cuts, plunging us into operating contract – breaching oversized classes – never mind the quality, feel the width! We were left with a farcical situation when, at the main annual recruitment time, we had to turn away students because our classes were already full because we'd downsized at the exact wrong moment. All par for the course, perhaps, but one aggrieved student met a journalist, who was incredulous yet sat on the evidence rather than report or make enquiries.
Then I was victimised for internally voicing complaint. Never mind my exemplary student numbers and previous praise, I was repeatedly threatened with disciplinary action on entirely unjustified teaching grounds – being given a warning letter within days of being offered a new contract – because we'd had an incompetent head office minion temporarily at our school who left a trail of mistakes for us to clear up. Visits to the Labour Centre deemed that there was a case to answer and they scolded the Evil Empire on a couple of occasions, but that doesn't really work, does it? So there followed visits to legal consultants who said the same thing. My wife followed a meandering path through legal aid systems which ultimately showed only that you could pay in instalments, not actually get financial help – even after I'd had to leave due to stress and had no source of income.
Once again, everything I said seemed to be accepted as true, met with a declaration of regret, very sorry and all that, but no-one would actually support my cause, because that's the system. I got sympathy by the bucket load – current and former colleagues, students who were already aware of mismanagement in the Empire and even lawyers. Yet I was sorely disappointed to learn that the Japanese don't seem to care when a system doesn't work. It doesn't matter if the system's wrong; the system is king and nobody can laugh at the emperor's new clothes. At various points, my thoughts were "I'm outta here. I'm leaving everything in the hands of my lawyer."
Instead, I plotted my departure from Japan. I've spent two years here and seen many things – a geisha in Kyoto, volcanic steam rising through the drainage system in Hokkaido, encountered all sorts of animation from the inspiring children's movies of Hayao Miyazaki to stuff quite unsuitable for children, been amused by the sight of a young woman in a formal kimono chattering into her mobile and much more. I've made sticky rice for New Year, I've seen wild bears on the beach and I even got married. It's a fascinating country, with so much to recommend it... for the visitor. Now I'm fleeing back home, but with my new wife in tow, to see what's left of Britain after the recession. Skipping the legal action proved wise – the Empire has fallen, with the mismanagement descending into recrimination. Ha! Of course, we had to come through another minefield to get here, in the form of my wife's visa application – no benefits for immigrants and as the assessment was as a couple, best not for me either. We'll be like seagulls, circling the rubbish tip for leftover food before long. In the words of Yosser Hughes, "Gizza job!"