14 May, 2012

Visiting Australia in Tokyo

Today was my first visit to the Australian Embassy in Japan (I've once visited the Australian Consulate in Sapporo, though). I must say it didn't feel really a welcoming place. There is a tonne of security, though I guess that it probably the case for any embassy — I'm not really familiar with embassies. We did visit the Japanese consulate in Brisbane. They didn't require our passports, but they did make us leave our phones outside the room!

The security guys at the Tokyo embassy didn't search me, but I felt like it was in an airport: passport presentation, bag search, and the x-ray-arch to walk through. Thankfully they didn't ask me to remove my shoes or belt and I didn't have to throw away my water bottles either!

Once past the large outside walls, we found a bleak courtyard surrounded on three sides by an office building of glass and concrete. It was not clear where we should go, we even had to squint a little to read the cryptic signs. What I wanted was a friendly Australian to meet, but there were no people. We made a wrong turn and ended up outside a darkened conference room called Acacia.

The only person we saw the whole time who wasn't behind glass was someone watering a few pot plants. He, thankfully, was friendly and pointed us to the right office, just inside the front gate (obviously they don't want the ordinary Australians coming anywhere near the nerve centre!), where we found a Japanese-looking lady behind thick glass.

My purpose was to get a new passport for our middle son, who was born ten years ago this year in Sapporo. Yes, he was born in Japan. That doesn't mean he's a Japanese citizen (as I'm sometimes asked), but it does mean that he cannot just take a birth certificate into one of these situations. He has to take his birth certificate (which is just a certified copy of the form my husband filled in at the time of his birth, notifying whomever that our son had been born!), plus an English translation of that, plus a Certificate of Citizenship by Descent.

In all, though, the "interview" took less than 20 minutes. Basically it was paper-pushing and a cross-checking exercise. Now we wait and see what the powers-that-decide in Canberra have any problems with our paperwork. In the meantime, they hold our son's passport in their possession. That always makes me feel nervous, what happens if we need it . . . but it felt less scary than the other option she proposed, and that was cancelling it altogether. The third alternative was that we keep the old un-cancelled passport, but that meant I needed to do another two-hour round trip to pick up the new one. So I went for the middle ground and asked them to keep the old passport and post us the new one.

So now we're home again, after our brush with overseas Australia bureaucracy. My son has enjoyed a rare day-off school with my full attention. We've travelled the trains, eaten lunch at McDonalds, and enjoyed each other. I taught him a bit more about navigating around Tokyo too. I told him what signs we needed to look for (like "Exit 2" or "Toei subway line") and he enjoyed that. I also gave him the map from the subway exit to the embassy and he got us there. I love that kind of hands-on learning. He can be a challenging person to get along with, but as I've found with all my kids, they're much nicer and easier to get along with one-on-one than they can be in a mob.

1 comment:

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Sounds like a good day in all. When I went to the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh for my passport renewal I had to leave everything except my handbag at the entrance post and I didn't feel it was very secure. I know what you mean about them not wanting "ordinary Aussies" in the inner sanctum!

I also had the added challenge that I had to keep my old passport until I had left the country several months after the new one was issued because my visa was a 12 month one and so I was using both documents until I went to Thailand in July-August and got a new visa on my return to Phnom Penh. Complicated.

I love the hands-on learning. There's nothing that makes map-reading make sense to kids more than when they actually have to find their way somewhere using a map. Way to go. And yes, one-on-one is almost always easier than a group!