December 24, 2015

PR or not to PR, that WAS the question

Last week I became a permanent resident of Japan. I received the official approval notice via a 5” by 8” card in the mail. The card said go to the local immigration office to be become a more firmly rooted foreign resident of good ‘ol Nippon. So I did.
I applied for this new residency status last September after I found out that it confers more legal rights in family matters, reduces the visa renewal rigmarole, and makes it easier to get credit from banks. The paperwork for this wasn’t much more arduous than the visa forms I have filled out so far to renew my current visa. To qualify, I had the requisite ten-plus years of residency; no run-ins with the law more questionable than a traffic ticket for driving down a one-way street; and I pay my taxes. So why did it take me this long to do it?

Permanent resident status (PR, or eijuken in Japanese) does NOT mean I am becoming a Japanese citizen. On the other hand, it is official government acknowledgement that I am not considered to be in Japan temporarily. A certain mental limbo has plagued me for years and heretofore prevented me from taking the psychological leap from temporary guest worker/spouse of a Japanese national status to something more stable.

Now I am one of about 677,000 permanent residents here. That’s part of the 2.12 million foreigners in Japan among the total population of 127 million (in 2014).

Many of my peers raised eyebrows in the past when I explained my reluctance to commit to the permanency implied by PR status. Obviously, I was OK with living, working and raising kids in Japan given my many years in country. Nevertheless, I could tell they perceived this unwillingness to commit to the PR option as somehow looking a gift horse in the mouth. A wee bit of Hamlet syndrome. Or just plain irrational. Fact is I couldn’t commit to the “permanency” of the idea. It contained a ring of finality that I couldn’t admit. Having kids and responsibilities eventually changed my thinking. The illusion of autonomy and liberty was overcome by reality. After all, I am lucky and grateful to have a terrific wife and kids, and a good job and livelihood.

We continue to witness massive refugee migrations due to the civil war in Syria and in other troubled regions around the world. Millions of people are giving up everything they have for a chance to live and work in safe, peaceful and prosperous countries such as Japan. 

So rational choice trumped my years of trivial soul searching. Hamlet has left the building…maybe.

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