First off, I should point out my situation is unique. The majority of English teachers are hired prior to departure and able to secure their Korean working visas in their respective home countries. I, on the other hand, received a 90-day tourist visa on arrival and hand delivered my E2 paperwork to an employer I found in Gangneung. While this does eliminate the shipping and tracking costs of critical documents, I had to plan my visa run to Japan around immigration’s schedule; as soon as they had a confirmed visa issuance number, I could begin to make my way to the closest Korean embassy, in Fukuoka.
So, what paperwork did I hand over?
– Three passport photos
– Apostilled criminal background check
– Apostilled copy of my university degree
– E2 visa health statement
– Copy of my passport
– Sealed university transcript
First setback: although I’ve ferried to Japan before, I had the benefit of a Korean bank account to do a wire transfer as payment. Apparently, Miraejet, the cheapest and fastest option (even more so if you book well in advance), will not accept credit cards. I did make a reservation, and just had to pray I would make it to Busan before their offices closed at 5:00 so I could be assured of a ticket in hand.
Second setback. If you’re making a visa run from Seoul, there’s no question: just fly. Much cheaper and faster than taking the subway to the KTX station (30-60 minutes), training down to Busan (2.5 hours), walking to the ferry terminal (25 minutes), and taking a 3-hour ferry. However, I was on the east coast, and had to rely on a 30-minute local bus to take me to Uljin, a 3-hour bus from there to Nopo-dong, and a 45-minute subway ride from there to the ferry offices. I missed the earliest departure and had to wait an extra two hours… ugh… such is the life of a traveler.
Time was critical on this trip because of the Lunar New Year holiday. Although it’s not recognized in Japan, and thus even if I hadn’t been able to book a ferry for a day or two, I still would have been able to get my visa. But returning to Korea might have been a little inconvenient. Although buses are still running, they’re sure to be crowded with people returning to their families for the holiday, and the small markets in my town are closed for 2-3 days. And, well, I like to eat.
Third setback. Every time I’ve been to Fukuoka, from my first Obon holiday in 2006 to when I passed through on my way to Mt. Fuji in 2010, I have found comfort in the Greenland Espa Capsule Hotel. It’s a good thing I checked Google Streetview to confirm its location, because I discovered the building had been boarded up. No more waking up to a hot bath and shiatsu massage for me.
I shouldn’t have worried so much. There are always options, even if it means taking an overnight ferry for practically the same price. I’m just one who prefers a ticket in hand, especially with the time constraints.
As it turned out, I did end up booking the overnight ferry. I was going to pay 30,000 Won for a hostel dorm in Busan anyway, so with a last-minute Camellia Line ticket costing 90,000 + 15,200 tax, I figured I’d at least get to Japan… as opposed to risking approaching the Kobee ticket office at 8 AM and finding everything booked. I was against this because it’s incredibly inefficient: the ferry departs at 10:30 PM, arrives at 7:30 AM, but boarding starts at 7:30 PM; the price is comparable to the hydrofoil.
I was the sole waygookin on board. The place was packed with Hana Tour groups, families, not too many singles. Only Yen is accepted on board. I was exhausted, having started my day after a night of bokbunja in Bugu…
Lights out at 11:00 PM, on at 5:00 AM. Brilliant, Camellia, why didn’t I think of that? At least most passengers are ready to crash. Even with karaoke and movies available, everything on board shuts down at 11 PM. Waking up before dawn to see Japan out my window was a little inspiring. I still question why so many people choose this 12-hour ferry instead of the 3-hour hydrofoil, but based on everything I’ve seen:
– They come prepared for a nice, relaxing evening: food from home, drinks, activities for the kids
– Maybe they just can’t stand the waves crashing from the fast boat
– There’s something to be said for an early start to the day. We were out of customs by 8:00 AM.
Though I wouldn’t say I was singled out for any particular reason, customs definitely took their time letting me through, asking questions I would have expected from immigration: You were here before? You worked in all these countries? Why are you here? I need to search your bags. Where will you stay?
Etc, etc. All very pleasant and everything, as I had nothing to hide and a huge grin on my face (being able to use Japanese again). Even in Korea, my instinct is to speak Japanese when the Korean doesn’t come to me. Such is the power of my first time living abroad.
Entering Japan, I started to remember. This was home. Weird vending machines. Crazy Engrish shirts. Hot tea in convenience stores (along with America dogs!). I think my heart will always be in returning to Japan. It’s possible I’m just extolling the virtues of my memories here, but I feel drawn to life here in a way I never have anywhere else.
A lot of people told me their opinions on visa runs to Japan, i.e. how much of a hassle it is to leave the country for just a few days and deal with the bureaucracy. I suppose this is true. But for me, it’s an opportunity to visit one of my favorite cities, eat delicious food, and reinforce that traveling spirit. Not to mention meeting new people like my Swiss Couchsurfing host and Youtuber BobbyJudo (sorry, Micaela, maybe next time!). Besides, I had a big shopping list to fill:
– Sencha, as only Japan can do
– Kasutera from Nagasaki, sold in Hakata Station
– Cheese… I can find it in Seoul, but sharp cheddar doesn’t seem to be sold in HomePlus anymore
– Maple cream cookies
– Other random omiyage
Oh yeah… the visa. The main reason I’m here… well, funny you should mention it. The Korean embassy is quite a ways from the ferry terminal, but I had the fortune of staying with someone literally a 2-minute walk to the guard station. You can taxi or bus when you arrive, but I preferred the walk to Nakasu Kawabata Station on the Kuko Line. From there, it’s only 10 minutes tops to Tojinmachi Station past Ohori Park.
Don’t get me wrong, there are decent places to run in Korea. But I do live in fear of being hit by a car, even outside the major cities. Ohori Koen in Fukuoka is one of the best places I’ve trained in Japan (the first being a long run to see Sakurajima at sunrise). Though it’s merely a 2-km loop, the scenery is awesome, it’s convenient by subway, and should I be violently attacked for some reason (yeah, like they’d be able to catch me), the American consulate is at the 900-meter mark.
On to the visa. First step is merely having a passport photo and application form with your visa issuance number and passport. That’s it. I have heard some consulates and embassies require contracts and transcripts, but no one asked me for those. Just a 5-minute visit in the morning and a 4,950 yen fee, and I picked it up the next day after 13:30. No worries, mate.
My visa took all of Monday and Tuesday to process. The return ferries, unfortunately, are at 14:00 and 14:30 (15:45 in the spring), making it impossible to pick up your passport get over there in time for check in. I just decided to go for a 9:30 JR Beetle the next day. Waiting outside departures at the Fukuoka International Ferry Terminal, I have to think about how I feel leaving Japan.
I did what I set out to do – eat ramen from the yatai and get my visa – but there’s still a kind of emptiness in my travels. Just like those I left behind, I’m often able to fill it with alcohol, and mindless Internet time, but I think I’ve reached a point where only true friendship and love will satisfy this itch.
Regardless, I have an E2 visa for two months a return ticket at the end of March.