It’s good to be back in Japan. The language I don’t speak. The alphabet I can’t read. The food I can’t eat. What’s there not to love?

After thirteen long, coma-inducing hours on a Boeing 777 sitting next to a Japanese salaryman who hardly moved and had the nerve not to order a drink, I arrived in Tokyo the day after I left Texas.

I brought a fresh change of clothes with me on the plane and an hour before we landed, went into the bathroom to pull a bit of a Superman. I quickly took off the comfortable travel wear I had on and put on an outfit that more resembled business casual. Now, I’m not in the habit of bringing a change of clothes with me on a plane, but I had a reason.

You see, I’m no longer a legal resident of Japan. I don’t have a valid working visa. I come and go on a tourist visa. If Japan were a third-world hellhole, I bet I could come and go as I please. But this being the land of order and dramatic confessions in police custody, I decided it would be best if I looked less like a bum and more like a citizen of the world.

After debarking I walked towards immigration and was directed to stand in the line of a middle-aged immigration officer with a pair of thick, black glasses and comb-over. He was exactly the type of immigration official I feared, one that I couldn’t charm, one that would see that this was my third time to arrive at Narita without the appropriate visa in just over six months, one that would do the appropriate thing and send me to the little room.

For those of you who don’t know, the little room is the windowless cell located near the immigration line that the officials take people to when they question their motive for entering the country. I was told by an acquaintance that this room was usually filled with women wearing saris, men donning turbans and children screaming bloody murder. All true. Given that everyone in the little room had a shade of skin other than white, I immediately felt a sense of camaraderie with my fellow detainees.

I pretended to read the New Yorker I had with me, but of course, was listening to an officer grill the man who sat in the chair in front of me, this poor, elderly Punjabi who valiantly gave a lame reason for coming to Japan. He fixed cars. The man could barely walk. Clearly, he wasn’t used to telling lies.

When the immigration official assigned to me came into the little room to grill me, I was ready. My posture was devil-may-care and I sat on the chair with my left ankle over my right knee. I had my designer shirt tucked into my fitted pants and a smile on my face. My body language asked, “What seems to be the matter?” but my heart was screaming, “Fuuuuuccccckkkkk!”

After I explained to the officer that I was staying with a “friend” (aka my partner), I said that I was using Japan as a base to travel Asia. Martinis at Raffles anyone? I must have been smiling too wide or my heart must have been beating visibly thru my shirt because I started to think I was loosing this battle and that I would have to follow that poor Punjabi into that smaller, little room where the immigration officials take you to beat you senseless and to make you listen to J-pop. Thankfully, I gave the officer my partner’s business card and he immediately recognized the company my partner works for and showed me the way to baggage claim.

Crisis averted, at least for me. But what of the poor Punjabi? My guess is that if he didn’t come up with a better reason for coming to Japan, he’s currently in a holding cell. No joke.

So I resume my life as a trailing partner, an expat, an illegal, a wetback. Lunch at Beacon anyone?

Advertisements