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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Needed: Advice on paying tax in Japan

I was wondering if anyone out there can give me some advice, or point me in the direction of a reliable information source, regarding tax and insurance in Japan.

Until now, when working in Japan my income tax has always been sorted out by my employer. Also, as I have never stayed there for a full year, I think I have escaped from having to pay certain other taxes. My health insurance has also been sorted out either by my employer or university.

As of next week, I’ll be pretty much self-employed.

I don’t want to find myself in the position where a year down the line I am suddenly faced with a large tax bill, so my question to people living in Japan is, does anyone know what I have to pay and how I go about paying it? Is there just income tax, or do they also have what we call Council Tax (charged to households, as opposed to , to pay for local services). Would I be eligible for the Japanese state pension if I payed contributions towards that, or would I be better off sorting out my own? Does anyone know of any specialist support centres / helplines that I could contact that give advice on all of the above?

Also, can anyone recommend a reputable life insurance company?

Finally, does anyone know how one goes about creating one’s Last Will and Testament in Japan, or what the default rules are if one dies without one?

Any advice would be gratefully received. Thanks :-)

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

An Amazing Adventure

Amazing day. A true adventure.

Following 20 hours of non-stop activity I am pretty out of it, but I'd like to note down a few things from today that really struck me as pretty damn wonderful.

It all started at 6am, I'm up to drive to the kitchen at the community centre where the sushi is prepared. 6.30am, I'm at our first outlet, stocking their fridge. I met them for the first time two weeks ago. We see each other for 5 minutes three times a week, so that means I've spent 30 minutes with them in total.

Today, they ask me about Japan - what's it like teaching there? That's a great conversation, all three of us fully engaged as the salmon wraps go on the top shelf and California Sunrise below. The owner's sister-in-law worked there - yeah, loved it! Maybe we'll move out there when the lease on this place expires! I leave there feeling really happy. Things are good.

At 7am I'm at the third outlet. We chat too. I like him. He picks me up on little errors, is often concerned about temperatures, but I'm confident in what I'm doing, and I feel he trusts me now. I can be frank with him, it's great to talk. Meaningful 'thank you's and 'goodbyes' - real effort on his part to make eye contact, and say thank you with his face as well as words. I feel appreciated. I return with the same heartfelt thanks.

8.30am: I'm at uni now, in our CELTA portacabin. I love seeing my coursemates every day.
Does anyone have any sleep I can borrow?
We help each other out with lesson plans. We laugh and joke. We're on this journey together, and I tell you, it really does feel like a true journey. The landscape is changing around us the more we learn. We're all starting to come into our own. Caw blimey everyone should do this!

10.30am and I need to get down to the station for my train to London. I shouldn't really miss a day of the course at all, but I need to apply for the visa in person, and today is the only day we have no Teaching Practice. "Good luck! Good luck!" my coursemates tell me as I leave via the back door.

10.35am: I'm walking down West Street, and see the university's Pro-vice Chancellor of Learning and Teaching on his phone as he crosses the road a little behind me. I want to thank him - we got to know one another through my work as a CILASS Student Ambassador, and the last time I saw him was on stage at my graduation ceremony: he made a special effort to whisper his congrats and give me a big grin as I walked past - he's such a nice guy. He asks me what's next for me: I tell him, and he's really happy. We say goodbye - I thank him for his kindness, and as he continues down the road, in my head I tell him that people like him are what make Sheffield Uni so welcoming.

We're on the train to London now. Sitting opposite me is a man with an iPod, playing his music so loud I feel like I'm the one wearing the headphones. I can't help but laugh at the irony of the situation: the headphone's he's using are actually mine - him having asked if he could borrow them a few minutes beforehand.

But the music doesn't distract me for long: an Indian family come and sit in the seats surrounding us. They speak part English, part something else. The 19-year-old daughter, and mother start to play the card game Uno. ten minutes later I find myself bursting out laughing with the rest of the family as the mother, who is being thrashed by her daughter, keeps on making silly mistakes (like saying "Uno" - only to have it pointed out to her that she has two cards in her hand, not one!). The score at the end: 565 to 28. We all wish each other the best as we get off the train in London. (10 hours later we are to meet again on the return train).

I'm at the Japanese embassy. I recognise the security guards and like to think that they recognise me - of course they don't. Once scanned, I'm in, press the button for a ticket for the visa section: no sooner do I have '47' in my hand than '47' flashes up on the "next" sign.

The chap taking my application for a spouse visa is very friendly. We chat about our respective degrees whilst he meticulously checks the great pile of documents I've provided. I accidentally give him the wrong bank book - he is wondering how I am going to convince them that 417 yen (£2) is going to keep me going for a month. I swap it with the post office book, we laugh.

Everything is in order, I reckon we can have this in the post to you tomorrow, he tells me. I'm delighted. In the midst of the mirth the person at the next counter turns to me, "hello Joseph!". It's a Japanese friend from Sheffield. Funny, I'd expected to see someone from Sheffield here. We sit down and talk about his plans for the summer - he's off to see a match at Wembley tonight, then tomorrow, Penzance.

Before I leave the embassy, I ask if Stephen is in today. Stephen is the legend. He has provided me with so much advice, help and support as I've prepared for my visa application, and I want to thank him in person. He appears at the window, a little bashful as I thank him. "Looking forward to your next podcast!" he tells me. "Me too! (as soon as I have time for it!) I reply.

I leave, grateful, and careful to say goodbye and thank you to the security guards who I like to think know me, but who don't.

I'm then getting off the Tube at the wrong stop and trudging for about 45 mins in search of the river Thames. I'm starting to slip into that old thinking mode: I'm tired, Im lost, I'm not going to find a cafe round here. But then I catch myself. I stop, stand still. How about if I approach this in a different way? How about 'I'm heading straight towards the place I need to go, although I don't know where that is yet. The exercise is good for me, I enjoy exploring London.'

suddenly, things are a lot easier.

Eventually I find myself in Trafalgar Square. There's a bookshop, and in the bookshop, a cafe. Perfect. I order some italian milkshake, shake all the sugar off my chair and onto the sugared carpet, and get my pen and paper out. Time for some lesson planning.

The train journey had provided me with ample opportunity for brainstorming - an idea was now taking shape as to how this lesson could look. I scribble it all down. I'm there for two hours. Writing. Thinking. Listening to Patrick, the little 4 year old at the table next to mine with his mum and dad. He's really happy watching the cars through the window.

Look! A blue one!

Oh, it's gone now. Mum, the blue car's gone!

The two Scottish businessmen on my right have been here since I arrived, slagging off their clients.
"I get angry with my colleagues too. They just can't do it right, I can't trust them, so I do it myself". 
I'm happy i don't work for them.

I turn back to the child talk, it's like the pot of gold at the other end of a rainbow that has somehow found itself with one foot in an oil-slick.

Piccadilly Circus next for Curry Rice. It's a genuine Japanese restaurant. Not a Chinese Japanese restaurant or a British Japanese restaurant but a real Japanese one. The staff are Japanese, and so is the curry rice. It tastes like home.

I'm full, and standing watching the crowds go by. Wow! It's exhilarating! So many amazing stories walking by! I want to film it and speed it up. But I don't.

If I had a tripod it would be ok. I could pretend I was a film-maker then. But filming handheld I'd probably get arrested as a terror suspect.

I have two hours until my train - back to St Pancras International - and what a beautiful station it is since the trains to Paris came to call it home last November. I sit in Costa Coffee, still devising my lesson plan whilst trying not to listen to the conversation being held by the Japanese couple beside me. I can't not listen! In the end, I move to the other end of the cafe.

I'm happy to see the train back to Sheffield is one of the new models = power socket for laptop = can work more on my lesson plan. I do. There's a man opposite me who's also got a laptop. It's a Dell. Then a man on the table the other side of the corridor gets his out and starts to type. As if in response to this two more men then appear and plonk a shared Sony Vaio down. We look quite funny, A lady walking by stops and laughs,

"Look at you boys with your toys. Is this some kind of competition?!"

The man opposite me smiles and says, "Mine's bigger than theirs!".

I respond by stroking my MacBook in mock-seduction, "Yes, but it's not necessarily size that counts..."

The carriage is filled with laughter. The woman moves on. We men now pretend that it didn't happen.

On the two hour journey home I near the completion of my lesson plan. It's been real fun, and I feel it's a good plan. Yep, I've achieved a lot today.

As the train pulls into Sheffield a man runs down the aisle with a coffee, shouting "F*ck!". We smile, pack our laptops away, and head out onto the concourse. I feel music is needed to accompany my walk up through town to the SushiMobile. Ah yes, I was going to associate this time with the new Coldplay album wasn't I?

And then there I am, walking up past the illuminated fountains, listening to the first track on the album. ...and I'd not noticed this before, but crikey, this first instrumental track really does sum it all up! There's the sense of a great history of 'stuff' leading to this moment (a moment lasting several weeks), this moment marking the dawning of a new and truly exciting era. But it's not all about anticipation, it's glorious and exciting in itself, every bit!

I think back on the day. I'd met so many people, so many lovely, kind, funny, happy people. Even people who might in some novels be thought of as insignificant extras - like the man in the Post office who sold me the Recorded Delivery pack for my passport. I forget what it was that he said to me, but it was kind, and not in his job description - I appreciated that.

And now finally, I'm here, in bed. *Twinkle* is with me (via emails to and from her mobile), telling me to go to sleep and blog tomorrow. (I can't, I need to let it out, it's been such a good day).

None of this would have been possible without other people. And with only a couple of exceptions, that's other people who were and who basically still are complete strangers, whom I will never see again. Together, this amazing pattern has been woven. Bloomin marvellous.

LIfe. I highly recommend it.

(OK *Twinkle*, I'll go to bed now...)

Night Night.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When 5 miles makes all the difference

So our family register and associated vital docs required for applying for my visa took only a little over 48 hours to get from Tokyo to the Parcelforce depot 5.4 miles away from where I'm staying here in the North of England.

I would be pretty delighted by this, were it not for the fact that the documents are still sitting in the depot, as the driver was unable to find our house this morning despite the address being correct.

Thus, with the human phone lines now closed (and the voice recognition system doing a superb job of not recognising my voice), tomorrow I shall visit the depot at about 6am, and hopefully intercept the driver, or at least put him straight on where we live.

Well, it wouldn't be a proper story without a last minute hiccup would it?

I've emailed the embassy to tell them I'll be there at 2pm on Wednesday - fingers crossed they don't choose to add to the drama.

Right, on with the lesson planning.

Joseph

[EDIT]

That's the thing with living in new-build - it's not on the map. Have provided driver with detailed instructions on getting here - fingers crossed!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mish-mash

Seems like the Internet doesn't like wet weather. It;s been gradually dying as the mist has set in tonight. It happens in Wales too. After a heavy rain shower, one has to disconnect the router from the mains and put it in the tumble drier for a while.

Skype has been fun. I'd call someone and say 'hello' as soon as they answered, but due to the 10 second delay they'd hang up before they heard my voice.

It's not the best of timing as I've got my weekly coaching call tonight. Looks like I'll have to skunk off down the road to our rival, Sheffield Hallam University, and see if their connection is any better.

Condolences to Sophie on not making it through ...but wasn't she fantastic?! I think that with the exposure she's had and the talent she has she'll go a long way.

It's now 7 days until the exam. I've started off revising the easiest of the three sections (newspapers). I'm happy with my progress, but am aware that I need to face my fear of the writing section. Tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow; as well as selling my bike in the morning, I have an interview tomorrow for the 4-week intensiveCELTA (Tefl) course after lunch. I tell you, it looks blooming tough. 9.30am to 6.30pm daily, plus a minimum of 20 hours preparation / homework per week. Five assignments too.

Things are slowly progressing on the job front. I'll be sent a pre-interview assignment to complete for a Tokyo-based English school next week - but I've also been put in touch with someone who teaches in a university where apparently there may be an opening. If I were to get that job I'd be living in Kansai (3 hours west of Tokyo on the bullet train), and thus *Twinkle* and I would spend about ten days a month apart when she goes to Tokyo on business. Not ideal. If I wasn't needing a visa I wouldn't be having these problems. I need to call the Japanese embassy about the spouse visa option again. It's finance that's the problem there (need to show a regular income, not ideal if self-employed as *Twinkle* is).

The British Embassy in Tokyo called *Twinkle* today. She's applied for a 'visitors visa (marriage)' - they want proof of our relationship. My response has been to post about 60 photos dating back to 2005 of us being a couple in a special web album. I've suggested *Twinkle* send them the link and the username / login I provided. They may say they want to see printed copies (because printed photos are more real than digital copies of the same photos?!)

I'm enjoying working in the library these days, but it is all a bit surreal. Kind of no-mans land, with routine gone, and the course over, but not over. It feels pretty weird.

Anyway, I'd best get down to the office.

xxx

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Japan: Exchanging a Tourist Visa for a Spouse Visa

Remember that time I was going to the immigration office in Tokyo on a weekly basis to try and get my visa status sorted? It lasted quite a while, and featured lots of vagueness.

This morning I phoned the immigration bureau in Tokyo. They have an English homepage which advertises their helpline - operators can speak all number of languages including English, Chinese, Korea, French etc.

The lady answered in Japanese. I told her that I had a query about obtaining a spouse visa - could I please talk with someone who spoke English in the visa department.

"I'm sorry, we don't have anyone who speaks English in this office..."

I was put through to (if I'm not mistaken) Mr. Tanaka, winner of the Gold Medal for Fast Talking (Japanese Category) in the 1984 Olympics. I asked my question, with him saying "hai" (yes) three times a second.

"Is it possible for me to enter Japan on a tourist visa and then exchange that for a spouse visa after arrival?"

As soon as I had reached my full stop, he rattled off the most astonishing volley of high-speed sentences you've every heard. I tried hard not to laugh.

Still, I did manage to catch the overall meaning. Basically, legally it is possible, but he couldn't say for sure one way or the other whether it would be granted.

Thanks, goodbye.

I then mailed *Twinkle* with the phone number, could she give it a go? She did, and a few minutes later got back to me.

"They said that it's not illegal, but they can't say one way or the other whether it would be allowed in this situation".

I see a pattern forming.

Next stop was the Japanese Embassy in the UK. I've never been too keen on contacting them as they tend to be very formal and never really tell you any more than what''s written on the homepage. But today, something magical happened. I was put through to the nicest, most helpful and human member of embassy staff you could ever hope to meet. He didn't fob me off with official responses, but explained what the reality of the situation was. He then offered me his personal email address and direct line. I started to wonder whether I really had called the Japanese embassy...

The situation is basically this: it depends entirely on the immigration officials on duty at the time that I land at Narita airport, and those officials on duty when I go to the Immigration department in Tokyo. It depends on whether they choose to ask me questions, and if they do, what those questions are. The thing is, if I was to say that the purpose of my visit was to be with my Japanese wife (as she will be by then) they can refuse me entry on a tourist visa. The other option is that I lie, and say that I'm going for a short visit. However, when I get to the immigration department they could then ask what I had given as my reason for coming to Japan, and if they see a discrepancy they could refuse my application for a Spouse visa, and ask me to leave.

I was told that it's likely that I'd get away with it, but that it was a risk, and therefore the embassy could not recommend I try.

Any thoughts?

So, if I wasn't to do the tourist > spouse visa thing, I would be left with two options:

1) find a job before going to Japan and enter on a work visa (an employer is needed to act as a sponsor in order to get the visa). It would take until late August to process.

2) wait for *Twinkle* to return to Japan, where she could register our marriage at our local ward office, and then send all the documents necessary for me to apply for a Spouse Visa. This two can take up to two months.

And there was me thinking that it was going to be easy! I should have known better - this is Japanese immigration after all!

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