Tenshoku Part 2 – Changing my Visa Status in Japan

Picking up where I left off in part 1, I had handed in my notice, accepted my shiny new job offer as a music teacher, now all I had to do was work until my notice was up and start my new job and everything would be easy and happy right? Wrong. I had the wrong visa for my new job so first I had to change my visa status. I’ll reiterate that I’m not a legal expert, just a bod writing about my own experience. I hope you find my blog helpful but if you’re struggling, please get help from the pros!

The vast majority of teachers in Japan have one of two types of working visa – the Specialist in Humanities visa or the Instructor visa. The Specialist in Humanities visa is usually the type held by eikaiwa teachers as it allows you to work in private companies. Positions in offices working in Translation, Marketing, HR or what have you usually also require this visa. The Instructor visa on the other hand allows you to teach in public schools. Doing paid work outside your visa remit without permission is against the rules. Unfortunately, I had come to Japan on an Instructor visa so I had to change my visa type before I could start my new job.

Changing my visa status involved 7 happy fun steps:

  1. Get together a tonne of paperwork
  2. Take said paperwork to Shinagawa Immigration Bureau (where all hopes go to die)
  3. An agonising wait
  4. Troubleshooting
  5. Another agonising wait
  6. Returning to Shinagawa Immigration Bureau (where all hopes go to die) to pick up new visa
  7. Relief and copious amounts of sweet foods


  1. The Paperwork

One of the things that I like about my new workplace is that it is a new, growing business run by a small number of individuals who are passionate about what they do rather than a massive McJob eikawa. Unfortunately this means that I was the first foreign employee without a Child of a Japanese National or a Permanent Resident visa so they weren’t really sure of the particulars of the visa change and I had to handle a lot of the paperwork myself. This is what I had to bring to the immigration bureau:

Application form: The Application for Change of Status of Residence form can be found here.

There are two parts of this application form, one that you have to fill in and one that your employer has to fill in. The one for you is simple enough, just your basic information and a photo (which must fit their requirements). The part for your employer is a little more complicated – as well as filling in information on the type of work you will be doing, they need to give some information about their company, such as their capital, annual sales from the previous year and number of employees.

Letter of Release (Taishoku-Shomei-sho (たいしょくしょうめいしょ or 退職証明書)) from your old job 
This is a document from your old workplace, confirming that you have left that job, how long you were there and how much money you made working for them.

Your new employment contract

Your degree certificate Unfortunately it’s difficult to get a working visa in Japan without a degree which I think is stupid and snobby as many jobs (including mine) could be done just as well without one. Anyway, I’ve heard people getting away with a photocopy but officially I think you’re supposed to show them the original or a certified copy. And here is where I ran into a problem. I had left my degree certificate at my parents home in England and they had had a house fire. Thankfully everyone was ok and my parents still have a house but a lot of our stuff was destroyed or damaged. Everything that wasn’t had been put in boxes and sent to some warehouse to be cleaned of carcinogenic soot particles. The long and short of it was that my parents didn’t know whether my degree certificate still existed and, if it did, they didn’t know if they could find it. I asked my university to get me a new one but they said it could take a month. I panicked – my new job needed me to start soon. I needed the visa to start working and I would have no way to support myself while I was waiting for the inefficient wheels of University bureaucracy to turn. Thankfully my mother, my sweet, selfless, slightly freaked out mother (hi there!) dedicated a whole day to searching through boxes and managed to find it.

From your new job: Copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the company and “materials showing the business substance of the organisation.”
The first two are easy enough but ‘materials showing the business substance’ had my employers scratching their heads a tad. In these situations, I find it helpful to think about it from the other party’s perspective – what do immigration want to see for a successful application? Basically they want to know that the company you are going to work for is legit and not some dodgy black company exploit you and have something like you dying from starvation or overwork happening, which would be embarrassing for everyone involved. HR documents, sales and financial records, even marketing materials could do.

Guarantor I don’t know if you actually need need this but you can get a Japanese national or permanent resident to sign a form saying that they are ‘responsible for your behaviour in Japan’ and will pay for your flight home in the event that you can not yourself. So my boyfriend has signed a legal document saying I am his ‘responsibility.’ How delightfully patriarchal.

Your passport, resident card, and health insurance card The last one isn’t essential I don’t think but I’m told it helps your application.

2. Shinagawa Immigration Bureau

Screen shot 2016-06-27 at 14.49.00
Shinagawa Immigration Bureau: Most definitely NOT a theme park


Next step is to go to your local immigration bureau, which in my case was the one in Shinagawa. It’s a bit of an eyesore, this bizarre grey oblong far out from the the station so the swanky businessmen don’t have to look at the riff raff. I was expecting long queues (which there were) but I must say I was disappointed in the amount of foreign language provisions there. Some, not all, signs are in English and none of the staff seem to speak it. I like to think that I’m not the type of gaijin who expects everything to be in English for her but, come on, there are many Japanese people who speak excellent English so why aren’t some of them working there?? This is an immigration bureau for crying out loud. When your average Starbucks worker speaks more English than your average immigration official it’s getting ridiculous. I don’t think having a few people around the bureau who speak English, Chinese or Korean and can troubleshoot is too much too ask. The result of my poor Japanese was that I got in the wrong queue and wasted an hour but in the end I managed to hand my documents in at the right desk.

After that you get a receipt that you went to the immigration bureau on that date and fill out a change of status postcard with your address which they will post to you to let you know that your application has been processed.

3. The Wait

After that I went home and entered an awkward period of limbo while I waited for them to get back to me. Immigration’s website says the usual duration for this procedure is a month to three months though I have heard of people getting theirs in as little as 3 weeks.

This time is awkward because the legality of you working is very murky. You needed to have proof you quit your previous job to change your visa but until you get your new visa you are not allowed to do the type of work of your new job. So what on earth are you supposed to do with yourself?? I was fortunate in a way because I had to do some training to get my early-years music teaching certification anyway so I kept busy but boy, did things get tight financially. I am totally confused about this so if anyone would like to share their experiences I’d be very happy to hear it!

4. Troubleshooting

Hopefully you will not have to deal with this step but, on occasion, if there is something wrong with your application immigration will contact you. I actually really appreciated that they did this instead of rejecting my application outright, which they could have done. The letter they sent to me was in very dry, official Japanese though so had I not been able to show it to my boyfriend I would have had no idea what the hell was going on. My boyfriend passed N2 and he still struggled with this letter. It turned out that immigration wanted to see another document from my employer – a 給与所得の源泉徴収票等の法定調書合計表 . Don’t ask me how to pronounce it, but it’s essentially a HR/Accounting document that details payroll information for employees for the previous tax year. I’m not exactly sure why immigration wanted to see this – maybe as my new employers haven’t hired many foreigners before they wanted to make extra sure they were legit when it comes to paying people? Anyway, it involved another jolly trip down to immigration to hand this in.
I’ve heard it said that immigration can ask you for anything, even a hand-drawn map of your commute, so unfortunately it is a case of they say jump and you say how high.

5. Another wait

The HR document issue had scared me a bit so this second wait was worse than the first.

6. Returning to Shinagawa Immigration Bureau

About a month and a half after my initial trip to the immigration bureau I got that change of status postcard I had written for them previously through the post, telling me to come to the bureau. You would have thought I would have been happy but actually I was super nervous – reason being that the post card doesn’t have to stay whether your application has been accepted or declined, just that it has finished being processed. What if I had been declined? Anyway I headed down to immigration post haste with the change of status post card, my Residence Card and passport. Oh and 4000 yen worth of revenue stamps. The status change process costs 4000 yen (my friend has a theory that the reason that usually only grant 1 year visas is that they want to get enough money out of us as possible). You can’t pay in cash, you have to use revenue stamps which can be bought at most convenience stores. There’s actually a Family Mart you can get them inside the Shinagawa Immigration bureau.

So I headed back to Shinagawa Immigration Bureau for a third time. This time my boyfriend came with me so I didn’t go in the wrong queue. After 2 and a half hour’s wait I arrived at the desk. I was terrified. When the lady handed me my new Specialist in Humanities visa I couldn’t believe it, but there it was! Approved to work for one year from that day. My old residence card was punched with a hole punch to show it was voided and I was free to go.

7. Relief and Food

I will never forget how I felt as I got on the bus away from the hated Shinagawa Immigration Bureau. I felt so relieved and like I could do anything. My boyfriend and I went to our local family restaurant where we proceeded to eat ALL the sweet things and chat about our plans for the next year – plans we weren’t sure we could make until the day.

I’m sure many people will think that I made a big fuss about nothing, but as I said in part 1 this process brought me up against my personal demons – a fear of uncertainty, not being in control and a hatred of waiting. Many people might not be so bothered by it but for me this was one of my biggest challenges to date. Since then I have come up against more difficulties in my life in Japan but I have never once regretted this decision. I feel I’m doing meaningful work that makes me happy and is more helpful for my future.

Tenshoku Part 1 – Quitting my Job in Japan

I felt good yesterday. One of those days where you walk down the street humming Nina Simone and the world just seems like a wonderful place. I had no particular reason to be happy –  it was just a normal day.

Admittedly the weather was stunning but I think the main reason I was feeling happy was because of my job. I’d just had a hard but satisfying day at work and I had a moment when I realised how lucky I am to be able to have a job I enjoy in Tokyo.

In December 2015 I started the long process of changing my job and visa status. I trained as an early-years music educator during this time and for the last few months I have been teaching music to young children in a lovely studio in Daikanyama as well as other locations such as Tokyo American Club.

This decision was one of the best I’ve ever made but I can’t deny that the job change process was painful. I have a strong internal locus of control and freak out when I have to put my fate into the hands of bureaucratic processes over which I have no control. I feel like a bit of a drama queen going on about it now, but honestly at times I really did struggle. In case anyone else is going through the same thing I thought I would write about my experiences.

This is part 1 of 2 in which I discuss quitting my job. I want to make clear that I am not an expert in immigration and can only speak about my own experiences and the resources that helped me through.

Why I quit my previous job

As you may know, I came to Japan on a contract with a English teaching dispatch company. In many ways this job was a great introduction to Japan. I taught English in schools in the day and in companies in the evening. I experienced so many aspects of Japanese society, from kindergartens to hospitals, to major Japanese companies and Tokyo Metropolitan Government. I learnt many things – including that I actually liked teaching and was sort of alright at it, both of which surprised me.

I’m not really motivated by money so I believe that, at least in your 20s, a job should be one of two things: either it should be related to your interests and further your career progression or it should have the kind of hours and stress levels that don’t interfere with your lifestyle.

My job wasn’t ticking either of these boxes. I was working long and unpredictable hours, sometimes leaving the house at 7.15am and not getting home until 9.30pm. I could have handled this if this was a job relevant to my interests and ambitions but it wasn’t. I like teaching, yes, but my passion is music and the arts – if I was spending so much time teaching I wanted to be teaching these. In addition, although I liked many of my colleagues as individuals, there were several aspects of the company that made me uncomfortable. I was making good money but I had come to Japan to experience Japan and I didn’t have the time to do this. When the long, unpredictable hours and the company’s harsh policies on sick leave started to aggravate a health condition that should be manageable the job became not worth it. After 5 months, I decided I wanted out.

Handing in my notice

転職 (tenshoku – changing jobs) can be a bit of a taboo in Japan. In a country where lifetime employment is still common, quitting your job can be seen as a betrayal. I’ve known Japanese people who have faced harrassment after handing in their notice, been denied leave they were entitled to or even been told they were ‘not allowed to quit.’ Of course the situation is different for foreign employees who usually have yearly contracts rather than lifetime employment, but still, ending a contract midway as I did can be really frowned upon.

To immediately clear up a widespread misconception: yes you can change your job in Japan. It is not ‘work for us or go home.’ Your former employer may make threats but your working visa is valid until it expires, even if you change your job.  Take care however, because you cannot renew your visa without an employment contract so if you are changing jobs be sure to leave enough time to arrange everything before your visa expires. Additionally, you have to notify immigration within 14 days of quitting your job and from that point I’ve heard that you can only stay in Japan for 3 months without working.

Japanese labour law states that, ordinarily, workers are required to give 2 weeks notice to their employers before leaving their job to avoid paying damages. However, I’ve heard of contracts that demand 30 or even 60 working days notice. Whether these are in fact legally enforceable is a grey area so if you need to quit in a hurry I would encourage you to seek support from a union (the General Union are good) or a legal expert. My contract asked for 30 days notice and and I chose to give this and a bit more. I wanted to make things easier for my company and I also cared a lot about my students and I knew if I didn’t leave enough time they was a chance they would lose out.

Handing in my notice was stressful. I timed it really badly and did it at a point where almost the whole office was listening in to the tense conversation (no private meeting rooms for me). My company tried to make me stay longer and asked searching questions about the precise reason I was leaving. My advice would be to anyone about to do this is to be polite but assertive. You don’t have to give a reason why you’re going and they do not have the right to make you feel guilty about your decision. You are probably not being selfish or hurtful, changing jobs happens and your company should accept it. I got through this stage by being on it with the paperwork (give a signed and dated letter of notice, make multiple copies) and by standing my ground even while I tried my best to make everything as convenient for my company as possible. Ultimately, it’s an uncomfortable conversation but your company can’t actually do anything to you. This too will pass. If in extreme cases you are experiencing violence, psychological abuse or power harassment of course please get help. I recommend the General Union as an excellent first port of call who can help you get the services you need.

I don’t want to tell people what to do but I see so many people working in Japan who seem stuck in a job that’s making them miserable, because they feel they have no options or they are scared that things could get worse. You do have options. Yes things could get worse, yes the transition process can be rough. I certainly do not recommend jumping into the unknown unprepared – do your research and do not take my word for it. But often the risk and short term pain leads to long term gain.

For me it was definitely worth it.

Check back for a post on changing my visa status soon!