I. At the Japanese Embassy
As a travel bug, one of the most painful, annoying and degrading experiences I have ever had has to revolve around the process of getting a visa, and I’m not even talking about a European or American one. My sister for one absolutely detests them, and refuses to go to any country that is well known for having strict visa policies, unless business calls for it. “I don’t need them to try and make me feel like I’m worthless,” she says.
And in a way, she’s right. Where do i even begin? Something i learnt when i went to the Japanese embassy to inquire about visa procedures is that there are a thousand and one questions on various aspects of your life that you have to answer, followed by a thousand and one documents to support everything you’ve said. These include: Are you single or married? How much money do you have in your bank account? Please provide a balance statement. What will you do in our country? Please give a list with a detailed account of your daily activities. Where will you stay? Prove that you have booked a hotel during this period. Where are you working? Please provide a statement that shows your pay for the past three months. Where are you staying? We will also need to have a list of your current assets and commitments.
And I’m just like…
Dude, chill the fuck out. I’m just going travel and see what you got there… do you want my virginity and firstborn too?
It is annoying, but that can be put aside because for months, Wormie and I had looked forward to this Tokyo trip. So instead, I smiled and thanked the officer for the information and said that I’d go home and gather all the necessary documents. (Most people I know don’t even have to think about these things because they’re from one of the 90+ countries that are exempted from visas from practically everywhere.) After three days of running around getting official statements, I returned to the Japanese embassy with everything she said I needed to have (financial statement, housing documents etc.), and this time she took a couple of seconds to flip through the folder before looking up and me.
“Where is your invitation letter?” the Japanese woman said in broken Vietnamese through the intercom. Yes, we are separated by a thick layer of transparent plastic, in case I decide to stab her in the face.
“What invitation letter?” I asked, genuinely surprised.
“You need to have an invitation letter by someone with Japanese nationality,” she replied, “to show you’re going to Japan for a reason.”
I started laughing.
“But I am going there for a reason, it’s stated there – travel. I even gave you a full list of what I was going to do. ”
“This is never going to work! You need to have an official invitation by someone from our country, and they will need to authorize and guarantee your activities in the duration of your visit. Maybe you will be there for a seminar or something,”she said, beginning to lose her patience.
“How am I supposed to get an invitation letter if I’ve never been to Japan and do not know anyone there? And I’m a student!” Somehow I was still laughing, probably as a result of being annoyed, frustrated and disbelieving at the same time.
“That’s just what you need to have in order to enter Japan,” she started laughing the same sarcastic, disbelieving laugh that I was.
At this point of time everybody in the tiny office space was looking at us. I shook my head and smiled, incredulous.
“Unbelievable,” I said, “but thanks anyway.”
And then, still laughing, I picked up my folder and left.
I had already decided that it wasn’t worth it. I’m egoistic but intelligent, and I didn’t need to prove I wasn’t going to go there and hide, get a job and marry a Japanese man. The same reason my sister has always refused to go to the United States because she hates having to queue outside their embassy, under the hot sun, just for an interview. It was unfortunate, for I would love to have been able to go and see for myself what Japan was like, visit all the places I had mapped out and take a million pictures, but it wasn’t something I needed. Not right now.
In my head the gears started turning furiously, directing immediately to a back-up plan.
Fun Fact: if you (as a Vietnamese citizen) wanted to visit a friend in Japan, you will have to submit documents that prove your friendship, including pictures taken together, letters, emails and international phone call bills.