Monthly Archives: April 2013

Planning For a Long Trip to Japan

If you’re reading this then either you’re like me, and interested in travel all kinds of Japanese things, or you know me and have been gently guided towards this read. Either way, you’re hopefully about to join in the start of an adventure.

There are already plenty of great blogs from people doing similar things and I’ll be linking to them in future posts, but I decided to write this because while researching I haven’t found anyone in a similar situation to us:

First of all, we’re a couple. We have a mortgage, we’re well settled in our careers and we have a lot of worldly possessions that typically come with being 30 and ‘settled’ (Car, furniture etc.). The only thing we’re missing is kids! In 3 weeks I’ll turn 31, and that means that I have 3 weeks left to apply for a Working Holiday Visa so yesterday we headed off down to London with papers in hand, hoping the Japanese Government will put a little stamp in my passport which will allow me to spend one year in the country with the right to work part time in order to fund travelling around the country.

I’ll talk more about the application process in another post but you have to provide a fair amount of documentation, not to mention you need to hand it in PERSONALLY to the Japanese Embassy in London.

So find out in a couple of weeks if we get the application, and from there I’ll be blogging about how we meet the little challenges we face in keeping to our travel plan, before continuing to document our trip around, what is, in my opinion, the most exciting country in the world.

Making the Most of our trip to The Japanese Embassy

Living in Yorkshire the trip to London to get our visas was a bit of a trek, so we decided to take our time and turned it into a mini break. In a previous job I would regularly travel to our head office so grew quite used to the hectic city, but it can seem like a scary experience for anyone who isn’t familiar with the place. Hopefully this post will help you feel more comfortable about the trip and give you some ideas of other things to see and make the most of your trip. Chances are if you’re applying for a visa / JET etc. you’ll like Japanese things or be eager to try them. It’s no accident that near the Japanese Embassy are plenty of great places to start. Below are some of my favourites, including walking maps (click here to jump). P.S. if you have a favourite place to recommend why not add it to the comments and help your fellow travellers discover something cool.

First stop is the Japan Centre. (no photos here because they don’t allow it)

This is a great place to buy some snacks, and if you get the early enough you can even buy various ‘pan’ including anime favourite,  Melon pan!

I don’t know why it’s called Melon pan because it tastes nothing like melon, but it is very tasty. They also have a magazine section where you can buy all sorts of Japanese publications. At first it seems quite expensive, but consider they have to import them, add VAT etc. and actually the price is quite reasonable.

Next Door to Japan Centre you’ll find Mitsukoshi Department Store.

As you walk in it looks like its expensive and full of designer pods, and that’s because this floor is! BUT… The store primarily caters to Japanese ex pats and tourists. That said it is a great place to find things. In the basement they have an extensive book store (Known as JPBooks – website here ) full of magazine, CDs, anime and film DVDs.

They also have some exclusive Hello Kitty goods. If you’re looking for somewhere to buy things to help you practice your language skills before you go this is probably the best place as they sell a range of language books, but also have a section dedicated to familiar western children’s stories written in kana. They also have a large range of Japanese style fabrics, kitchenware and household items so you can buy souvenirs before you even leave the country :) oh yeah, there are a lot of breakable a in there so if you’re carrying a large overnight bag be careful. It wouldn’t be a cheap accident.

After all that shopping / browsing you’ll be hungry right?

London has a selection of chains that serve nice sushi, and the Japan Centre has a range of dishes available to eat in and take away, but my favourite London Japanese eatery in the area is Shoryu Ramen. They specialise in, you guessed it, Ramen dishes; not just noodles and stock cubes, this is the real deal. £10ish will get you a massive bowl full of noodles, and depending on what you order a range of soup bases and tasty meat fish and veg.

Shoryu Ramen menus can be found here and they’re active on twitter @shoryuramen – keep an eye out for their pop up shops that run half price deals. There’s a good chance if you’re reading this you or your friends will be into manga, anime, gunpla and other staples of otaku culture. Once you’ve filled up on Ramen a quick walk up to Picadilly Circus leads to the Trocadero which once upon a time was the heart of London’s arcade scene, bringing all the best in new cabinets over for us westerners to hone our Tekken and Virtua On skills before heading over to embarrass ourselves against Japanese players.

These days it’s sadly pretty dead on that front, but it is home to Tokyo Toys.
This is like an Aladdin’s cave of character goods and cosplay goods. Again, the prices seem high compared to what you might pay in Japan or on the net, but they have overheads and there is nowhere else that I know of in the city to go and buy this stuff. Personally I find its a great place to pick up small gifts for friends when I make a trip down here, key rings, plushies and the like. Check out their website before you head down, (and yes, they even sell oppai mouse pads).

Finally, if you’re planning a long trip to Japan you’ll need to think about what you can fit in you bag, how you’ll wash it, make sure it isn’t too heavy etc. and that might involve getting some new gear.

Uniqlo only have 4 high street shops in the UK that I know of, and three of them are all within walking distance of each other on Oxford/Regent street. Uniqlo develop a range of great fabrics that are light, hygienic, waterproof, sweat proof, saggy butt proof (trust me it will make sense when you see it). In fact I could probably cover all of their innovations in a separate post, but several other fashion bloggers have already done a better job than I could so let’s leave it here that they’re worth checking out. If you can’t find your size in store they have a website and more often than I care to remember they send free postage codes out so a quick Google should save you a fiver.

Well that’s probably enough for one day. Of course there are lots of other great places to see in the capital (Buckingham Palace is just a walk through the park, about 5 mins from the embassy) so once you’ve got the paper work out of the way go and have some fun.

Getting to all of these places is pretty easy, and the map below will help you find your way around:

View Larger Map
Where are your favourite places you’d recommend to London newbies? Dont forget to pop them in the comments :).

How to apply for a Japanese Working Holiday Visa in the UK

The process of actually applying for the visa was pretty straight forward. Save some cash, fill in some forms and hand them in at the Japanese Embassy in London (or Edinburgh if you live further north than York at time of writing, the embassy website will let you know where to go).

OK, so there’s a little more to it than that, and with that in mind I’ve split the application process across two parts: How we filled in the forms and if you scroll a bit further I’ve talked about how to get to the embassy if you’re not familiar with London.

London Tube Map

The first thing I will say is that most other blogs I read while preparing my own application made a point of having to go back and collect their passport from the Embassy around a week later. I don’t know if this changed recently but when we handed our forms over today the man behind the desk said if we pay and bring back a pre-paid special delivery envelope they can SEND THE DOCUMENTS BACK TO YOU! Hurray! Now it’s not like I’m trying to hide my application from work but having to pay out another £100 in rail fares and book a last minute day off was not something I was looking forward to.

Another common question that doesn’t get answered is ‘Have you been refused a WH visa?’ The assumption is that unless the quota has been filled, or you blatantly don’t match the criteria, you’ll be fine. I also assume that anyone who has been refused wouldn’t want to pour their time into telling everyone about it. We find out next week whether or not we’re successful and if I’m rejected, I fully intend to put an update for anyone else applying.

On to the real info!

Japanese Embassy plaque

This information is all available in detail here on the Japanese Embassy website and you can download all of the forms you need there. I am not a representative of Japan etc. and recommend you read through their information fully before applying. Also, things do change, so if any of the info below turns out to be wrong, please do let others know in the comments.

Personally, I found reading other people’s accounts more helpful than the information on the embassy website alone as they put it into plain English. I also thought it would be useful for fellow wannabe travellers to put up my completed documents here so you can ‘take inspiration’ if you need it.

Checklist:

A valid passport

If you don’t know what this is, you’ve stumbled at the first hurdle. Sorry.

£1.5K in cleared funds (or £2.5 if, like me, you haven’t bought a return flight yet)

You will be asked to show the last three months worth of bank statements to back this up. Why 3 months? So that the embassy can see you ‘own’ the money. You haven’t been lent it the day before you apply etc. Other people have written how they accepted a bank statement with a letter from parents explaining it was a gift but I can’t vouch for that. My missus had her money in an ISA rather than a regular account and this was also fine if you’re wondering.
An application form (you can download it here, and they had some available at the embassy).

There is a space for a passport photo on the form. We didn’t know whether it had to be the full 45×45 mm as British passport pictures are generally 35×45 mm. I handed a regular photo over and it was fine, they stuck it on for me. The Embassy website also has really clear instructions on how to fill this in so I won’t go into detail, but don’t worry about filling in every box. Things like ‘country issued I.D. number’ don’t apply to most people in the UK.

A C.V. or personal history.
I took my existing work CV and cut it down so everything fit on a single side of A4. I would put it up here but obviously a lot of personal details on there. If you need help writing a CV there are plenty of websites out there that can help.
I heard of people being asked to rewrite some of their documents and figured it would be best if everything was written to fit on one side of paper.

A written reason for wanting to apply for a working holiday visa.
You can read my written reason clicking this link (BenBradyJapanWHVApplication). This was probably the hardest part of the application for me because at first the question sounds quite daunting. Why DO I want to go to Japan for a year? In my head the answer is simple, I have always wanted to have a go at living over there and love many aspects of Japanese culture, but one line wasn’t going to cut it here. Everybody has different ways of writing documents whether its a school essay or a workplace user guide, and We found it easiest to tackle this from the angle of “What can’t you do on a regular Japanese holiday?”; from here we started listing bullet points of all the things we knew we wanted to try while over there. After we had a few we left it for the night and came back to it the next evening. With a fresh mind we started writing these bullets into a full sentence and before we knew it rather than a gushing love song to the country we had a full page of good solid reasons for wanting to spend a full year travelling around the whole of the country.

A full itinerary for the proposed trip.
One thing that isn’t clear reading the embassy site or other blogs is exactly how you should structure the itinerary. After all, planning a month of regular life in advance can be difficult, let alone a whole year in a foreign country. Luckily we found this great example on Adventure Paul’s blog (big thanks and kudos) who had already written something that sounded like what I had in mind. There are hundreds of things to see on all of Japan’s islands and lots of good books and websites to check before you fill this bit in.

My personal favourite is this one from Dorling Kindersly:

Dorling Kindersly Japan Guide

It’s full of colourful pictures, maps and a few more original places that really get your excitement levels climbing compared to more text heavy info guides. You can get a better look inside at Amazon (and help support this blog if you use this link)
.

So with all of this in hand we ventured into the Embassy. Leaving our hotel 5 minutes from Kings Cross we followed the Victoria Line down to Green Park.


View Larger Map

Getting off the tube we took the Buckingham Palace exit. You should see this fountain in front of you (although it won’t be sideways – will fix later :P.fountain in Green Park

and this is where you came from

View from the fountain

You walk out into the park, turn right and follow the fence along (or go up to the road if you prefer) and in about 2 minutes you’ll see the Japanese flag waving outside. If you come out of the street exit from the station and can see The Ritz, you’re pointing the wrong way:The Ritz

We walked through the door and were greeted by the nicest security guard I’ve ever come across, and working as a music photographer I’ve met a lot of nice security. Any bags or bits and pieces you have will need to go through a security scanner, a bit like an Airport. I don’t know what is / isn’t allowed in the Embassy buy my bag had deodorant, DSLR camera, and all of its accessories, and other normal travel things. This was fine, although my mobile did set off the metal scanner.

After the scan we walked to the reception where a kind lady checked we had filled in the correct application and told us to press the ‘visa’ button. You get a number, and when it’s called you go to a window. All very informal so far. The waiting area had a comfy leather sofa and after about 5 minutes our numbers were called.

The man behind the counter read through all of the details I’d written thoroughly and asked me to fill in a space on the application I’d accidentally missed about she were travelling. We haven’t bought our tickets yet but told him we intended to fly in July.

He then asked me how old I was. My heart skipped a beat because this was the thing that had worried me. I’m 31 in May and the criteria states you must be 18-30 inclusive at the time of applying for the visa, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was cutting it close. I answered and after what felt like forever (but was likely only a second or two) he nodded and said ‘Ah, OK’ and smiled.

number ticket and receipt

And that was it. We had to go and buy the envelope so they could send our documents back (and pay the £23 fee upfront) but this time next week we should have the visas and we can go about planning how we rent the house, sell the car and expand my freelance work contacts. Either that or cry into a cup of sake and blow the two and a half grand I’ve saved for the trip because we’ve been refused.