Permanent Residency

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I recently made the decision, with advice from my immigration lawyer, to apply for permanent residency in Japan. I realized that even though I have lived here around 23 combined years, I still feel like a guest of the Japanese government. Permanent residency, if I get it, is just that: permanent. Excluding the ability to vote, I will be treated like a Japanese citizen, no need to ask permission to start a business or provide a reason when I leave or enter the country. Applying for visas every 3 years isn’t that big of a deal to be honest, but it’s the mentality more than anything that bothers me. I have spent most of my life here but I could be denied a visa at any time. The life I built up in Japan could vanish at any moment at the whim of an immigration official having a bad day. Perhaps that is a bit dramatic, but that’s how entering the immigration office feels anyway.

Before they grant permanent residency though, they definitely do their research. They want to know everything… how much I paid in taxes, how much my parents paid, my Japanese language certification, my work history, my bank statements, my driving record, my school records, a guarantor, my pickleball credentials, recommendations letters, the list goes on. I even have to write an essay about why I want to live in Japan and how I am going to contribute to society. It feels a bit like begging but I have to remind myself that it’s all part of the process and that once I finish, I never have to do it again.

I will say though, if I am denied permanent residency I will have a seriously diminished view of the Japanese system. Japan says it wants to become more international by increasing immigration. And for both demographic and economic reasons, it desperately needs more people. If I am not the type of international who Japan would want here, frankly I’m not sure who is. The one catch is that typically permanent residency requires 10 consecutive years of living in Japan (I had to start over when I left at 16) but I am applying after 6 years because of exceptional circumstances. Not to toot my horn but I have lived here 23 years, have the highest level Japanese language credential, bought a house, pay taxes, have brought hundreds of people here and started a new sport in Japan. Also I’m not saying this is right but I am one of the “desirable immigrants” from Western countries, not a “suspicious character” from Southeast Asia, Africa or the Middle East. It sounds simplistic but it’s true. I don’t agree with categorizing people like this, but the reality is that it happens in all countries and I got a lucky roll of the dice for being born American.

Concurrent to applying for permanent residency, I am registering my house as a Japanese style inn or Ryokan and registering it on Airbnb. Why do I have to register as a ryokan? Great question. To prop up the hotel industry, the Japanese government basically cut the number of airbnbs in half a few years ago. If you aren’t registered as a hotel, you can literally only rent out the property for 180 total days a year. In addition, the local ryokan association in my town got together and decided to limit rentals on certain days when they make money. So rentals during golden week (early May), silver week (late September) and the entire months of August, October and December are not allowed. Since I can’t beat ’em I decided to join their ranks, which is why I am registering my house as a Japanese style inn. It’s more expensive up front, but I’m choosing to see it as a barrier to entry. Like many things in Japan, the bureaucracy makes it expensive and difficult to get started, but once you push through the crowd there are fewer players to compete with. I’m playing the long game, even though it means investing more up front.

All that to say, my life in Japan feels much more entrenched than before the virus. I enjoyed my globetrotting life before but I’m not sure it was the healthiest. In the last year I’ve started working out, eating healthier, and made more friends/business contacts in Japan than ever before. Like the permanent residency or the airbnb registration, circumstances are what they are so it’s better to make the best of them. Dealing with the Japanese bureaucracy is a practice in stoicism but there is a lot of good in it. I’m hoping to take some of the lessons from this pandemic into the post-pandemic world. Before, I tended to think of work as a sprint to make as much money as possible, saying yes to everything as a result. Being somewhat bored for a year, I have realized that I never want to retire anyway. I will go back to traveling the world and a busy lifestyle but I want to remember that it’s a marathon. The pace needs to be set accordingly, running but taking time to take it all in as well.

Back in Japan

After a month and some change in North America, I’m back in Japan for the Winter. Yes, like a few times before I have decided to write more this year, both on this blog and my new Active Travel Japan blog. So here we go.

Traveling back to the US and Mexico, it was nice to see family and the friends that I could, but the fact that nothing was open made it a different kind of trip. I’ve never sat inside so much life, or seen my family sit around for that matter. Everything was open in Mexico so the two weeks I spent there on our Camp Cabo Pickleball Trip were fun. Although back in Japan it’s some more of the same, I do have my backyard ski resort to alleviate the boredom. You can only snowboard so much though so I’m trying to find things to do, hence the writing.

My sense from visiting the US is that it’s no longer a country at peace. While Japan has its social problems, at the very least it can rally people around being Japanese. It seems that for many Americans now, political affiliation is more important than being American. Whereas during previous crises like World War II, citizens and politicians alike were willing to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the country, I don’t see that happening anymore. You can argue that Japan is more unified because it’s more ethnically unified, but the US has been diverse for its entire existence so that is nothing new. Its diversity is not going away so it must figure out how to unify people around being American. Even if you disagree with someone else’s views, at the end of the day you don’t know everything and both sides are trying to make America better so just work together. I know it’s not that simple, but that’s what I see looking at the US from the outside.

Like I mentioned previously, the hardest thing for me during the pandemic has been maintaining a sense of purpose. I have been fortunate financially because of the popularity of the Pickleball Masterclass, but that means I could literally sit in bed and watch Netflix all day. I haven’t done that of course, but it’s hard to do something today when there is absolutely no sense of urgency because no one is traveling anyway. I suppose it’s a good time to find purpose outside of work, but I loved what I was doing so I didn’t necessarily feel that need in the first place. I am in no position to complain, these are just my rambling thoughts.

Anyway, a new lockdown in Tokyo has cancelled my planned pickleball coaching next week. Last week people who were going to rent my house canceled as well. It’s just that kind of year. I’m less disappointed now, I feel more deflated. I have come to expect everything I plan to get cancelled so I’m not even surprised anymore. A couple of groups of friends are coming next week to ski and snowshoe though so at least that’s something. If it doesn’t get cancelled that is 😉

More to come, please stay tuned.

Home Base

Buying a house is a thrilling and terrifying experience. Everyone talks about how great it is to have your own place. No one tells you about buyer’s remorse, the cold sweats at night, the sudden realization that you are an adult and don’t even know how to paint a wall, the to-do lists and startling number of zeros that each item adds. The current coronavirus situation only compounds the problem with my tour businesses, this year at least, going down the proverbial drainage pipes (yet another item on my list to fix).

My seed of doubt comes from the fact that I could probably happily travel forever. I like some places better than others, but I don’t typically feel the need to return to one place for long. Even though I live and keep coming back to Japan, I travel all over the country. When I’m not traveling in Japan, I’m probably traveling somewhere else in the world. Last year, I spent only one month entirely in Japan, every other month I spent at least a few days overseas. When I reflect on my guiding and globe-trotting lifestyle, one side of me thinks that I could do this forever because it doesn’t feel like work. The planning and organizing feel like work, but not the traveling itself.

At the same time, even seabirds need a place to land. I love returning to Nagano at the end of a tour. I sit down in my armchair, crack open a beer, and revel in the feeling of having absolutely nothing to do. No matter how tired I am or how hard the job was, that moment of satisfaction makes the long days worthwhile. The main reason I’ve even had an apartment over the last few years is for those few days a month I spend at home.

In the end, there were a few other reasons that convinced me to buy my house. First, I want people from all eras of my life to visit me in Japan. Living in a one bedroom apartment makes that difficult, although I did put my brother on an air mattress in the closet when he came snowboarding in February. Also, renting an apartment is a waste of money, even though it’s a smaller chunk each month than paying for a house upfront. If I’m going to live there a long time, it made more sense to buy. Real estate prices in Japan are not rising, but at least now I’m not throwing away money on rent. Finally, I want to turn my house into a couple of other business. The virus has made me realize that diversification is crucial. Being right next to the Snow Monkey Park and 20 minutes from a ski resort, I’m going to try my hand at AirBnB. I will also host my snowshoe and hiking customers for Active Travel  Japan. I’m going to sell T-shirts online to the Asian pickleball market too. And I want to do pickleball camps for people all over Asia, training them up to compete against the best in the world.

For all those reasons, I’m excited to announce that I am a proud (and nervous) home owner. It’s scary right now because the whole world is in a difficult situation and that makes me wonder if I made the right decision. But I know things will improve and with that, I hope the confidence that I made the right choice.

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To join one of my tours or see the things I’m talking about for yourself, visit activetraveljapan.com or pickleballtrips.com and join us for the trip of a lifetime. We have tours for every season 😉 AirBnB website coming soon!