David Chart's Japan Diary

March 27th 2005

It's only a quarter past six, and I'm shattered. However, I have, unsurprisingly, been packing for the last couple of days, and I had a lot of late nights last week trying to get everything done.

Last Thursday, I gave my last English lesson in Okazaki, to Yamazaki-san, who was also my first student. I've been teaching her for almost a year, twice a week for the last few months, so it was a bit sad to be finishing. She said that she'd enjoyed the lessons, and when I suggested that we could meet up if she came to Tokyo, she suggested that she could have a lesson. Now that's keen.

Friday, of course, was graduation. The first two periods of the last day of term are 'lessons', but they're always a bit different from standard lessons. This time, we discussed the novel we've been reading. We were set homework to write about our impressions of the book, and Kato-sensei typed up and printed the essays (short essays) written by those who had, including me. We read the impressions, and discussed what we thought of them. Kato-sensei said that my comments were great, good enough to be published if the Japanese had been perfect.

That provoked a slightly odd internal reaction. Obviously, it's nice to be praised. On the other hand, I'm a published author. It's well-established that I can come up with concepts suitable for publication. The problem is the Japanese, so being told that that was the only problem is a bit, well, disappointing, I suppose. On the bright side, my Japanese has got to the point where I can read a novel in Japanese, and then write a commentary in Japanese that gets fairly subtle ideas across in a convincing way. I've published authors with that level of English, although they needed heavy editing. Come to that, I've published native English authors who needed a heavier edit for grammatical correctness than I did. (Once.) So maybe there's hope yet. I'll just have to keep practising.

As we were leaving for the graduation ceremony, we received our final report forms. (Final for nearly everyone; only two members of the class are staying on.) We got them as we were leaving because Kato-sensei nearly forgot to give them out altogether. Mine was rather dull; A for everything except overall grade, which was A+. My best result so far, which is slightly odd since, with illness, tax, and immigration, I think this was my worst term for actually doing homework. On the other hand, after four quarters in the top class, one would hope I'd be getting accustomed to that level of Japanese.

The graduation ceremony was long. A lot of students always leave in March, because that's when a maximally-extended student visa expires, no matter whether it started in April or October. This year, over thirty had chosen to attend the ceremony and give a speech. These varied from no words at all (seriously) to really quite long, and over all the ceremony took a couple of hours.

After all the graduation certificates had been presented, I received a prize. This was a 'kaikinshou', or a prize for having a 100% attendance record over the period of my time at Yamasa. I managed not to miss a single period over the whole time. The certificate, which I was expecting because it's mentioned on the website somewhere, is nice. The 5000 yen (about $50) of book tokens, which I wasn't expecting, were also very nice. Given that there were no such presentations at any of the earlier graduation ceremonies I attended, I guess that no-one else graduating in the last eighteen months has managed it. (You have to keep it up for at least a year to get a prize.)

I think my high attendance rate was a very important factor in my success in my studies. There were a few days when I struggled into school with a stinking cold, sat there like a zombie, and probably failed to learn anything. However, I think those days were more than balanced by the days when I really didn't feel like going to school, but did anyway, because I wasn't going to miss any days. It's a good piece of discipline, because it's relatively easy. Going to school doesn't take much mental effort, so while you might really not be able to do homework, you can almost always drag yourself to class. Once there, even if you can't concentrate very well, you generally learn something, or at least don't forget things you've already learned. The teachers like it as well, because it makes it easier for them to plan for lessons when they know who's going to be there.

Unfortunately, I couldn't hang around too long after the ceremony, because I had to go to immigration. Declan, from the International Office, went with me in case there were any problems, which is not actually part of his job description. However, I'm the first student to try and get a visa in my position, so he wanted to see whether it would work; if it works for me, it will work for other people, and that's important to know.

Things were, in fact, extremely smooth. It looks like the people in the Immigration Information section really did know what they were talking about, because the application was accepted quickly. That doesn't mean I have a working visa just yet. Instead, I have an 'application' stamp in my passport, which means I can (and, indeed, must, if I want the visa) stay in Japan until they have processed the application. So, from next weekend (unless the approval is mind-bogglingly fast), I'll be legally overstaying my visa.

In some ways, I'd like them to take a long time to decide, because the visa runs from the date they do the stamp, so the longer it takes them the longer I get in Japan. On the other hand, extending a visa is not too difficult, and I believe I'm not supposed to be "really working" until I get the visa. I get the impression that that rule is not very strictly enforced, though. After all, you need contracts of employment before you can start the application process, so you have to have work to be doing. You are allowed to prepare for work and so on, as long as you don't actually start getting paid, at least as I understand things. So, I'll be doing work preparation rather than work for a few weeks.

According to Declan, who has dealt with this bit many, many times, if they take your form at the office it means that they will, eventually, give you the visa. They may ask for more information, but they hardly ever finally come back and say no. Let's hope he's right.

Tomorrow will be busy, because I have a lot of admin to do before leaving, but things should get a lot more relaxed once I'm on the train to Tokyo. Barring what I still need today, everything is now packed or in rubbish bags, or belongs to school.

It's quite hard to believe that my time at Yamasa is really almost over. It's been a really good year and a half, and I suppose it genuinely qualifies as a 'life-changing experience'. Deciding to stay in Japan is quite a change, after all. I'm sad about leaving school, and my friends disappearing to various parts of the world, but I'm also looking forward to what comes next.