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Doing the Japanese paperwork dance

Bureaucracy is an art in Japan. For almost any endeavour to go smoothly, it’s important to have the right boxes ticked, the correct forms filled-in, and the proper processes in motion.

One of the early experiences for a missionary is a trip to the City Office. It’s here you have to register your new address, sign up for national health insurance, and do all the paperwork needed to be a legal resident in Japan. Visiting the various counters in the correct order and with the correct forms—all signed and sealed in the correct fashion—is essential to ensure a smooth visit.

Another experience is a visit to the bank to open your first Japanese bank account. Inevitably there will be a document missing or information not quite matching. This means another trip to the City Office, another morning given over to filling in forms, and another visit to the bank.

When we moved to Aomori in northern Japan, we went through all of this red-tape again. As I waited at the vehicle licensing authority to reregister our car, I was struck by the stacks of paper forms and the lack of computer screens on the workers’ desks. I felt a mix of frustration and smug pride welling up, as I remembered how we did all of this online and by post in the UK—just download the forms, fill them in at your leisure, and post them off with any fees already paid by card. Surely that is how things should be done!

Now we are on home assignment in the UK for a year. My frustration remains, but my pride has disappeared as I find myself reading screen after screen of information and remain unsure of which forms I need to download. Calling the number listed sends me into a circular menu system regurgitating the content I have already found online.

How I long to spend a morning in the city office with a friendly clerk to tell me what to do!

When you move to a new country, there are many things that are done differently. It is easy to become frustrated and even judgmental, but we must graciously submit, as far as is biblically possible, to the customs and authorities of our new home. We might even find that our ways weren’t necessarily best after all.

By John, an OMF missionary

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Pray for new missionaries who have many new things to get used to when they go to the field (not just Japan!).
  • Pray for missionaries who just desire to reach Japanese people for Christ, and are frustrated when they get tied up in paperwork.
  • Pray for all missionaries, that they will recognise prideful and judgemental attitudes in themselves and that God would give them grace to overcome these.

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