Toothpaste

The mouse finds herself still on the bigger island. Apologies that this post has nothing to do with the Big Island except that the mouse really misses it and hopes to get back soon.

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When Jane and Michael Banks asked Mary Poppins about her plans, she said, “I shall stay until the wind changes.”

That line has been running through my head over the seven weeks we’ve been back in Japan, punctuated by the purchase of a tube of toothpaste. I’d packed a travel size, thinking we wouldn’t be here long, but it was gone quicker than you can say Good Oral Hygiene. So I went to a drug store, and when I reached for a tube of toothpaste, I swear I saw a chorus of Merry-go-round horses and animated penguins flit past singing, “I shall stay until the toothpaste is gone,” with just a bit of and English accent.

I lost my permanent residence status because we were gone for more than a year, so I had to enter Japan on a tourist visa, which will expire on December 30. So yesterday, we girded our loins and faced the horror that is Tokyo Immigration. It’s an awful building, woefully understaffed and strategically placed a 20 minute bus ride away from Southeast Nowhere, nestled among ghostly warehouses on a piece of barren landfill. It is a charming reminder of how much Japan loves foreigners.

The delightful Omotenashi you may experience in a hotel or a Hato bus tour is a thousand hemispheres away from the bland face of bureaucracy that greets the growing sub-population of foreigners who shuffle through the doors of the immigration building. Don’t let the hordes of adorable toddlers you see in Tokyo fool you; Japan is dying and desperately needs an infusion of fresh blood, while it stubbornly ignores both that need and the population itself.

But I digress.

Information told us to go to counter D. Counter D sent us to Counter C. Counter C sent us to Counter B. The staff were sympathetic but all said the same thing. “We understand that you lived here for three decades, dutifully paying taxes and now you’re here with a sick husband who has no other family. That’s sad, but we have no visa category for it. So bug off. Rules is rules.”

Before I turn back into a pumpkin, I have to get out of Dodge. (A classic example of the mixed metaphor, Jane and Michael, in case you were wondering.) So I made a tentative airline reservation for mid-December and, this morning, I forced the very last bit of paste out of our new tube of toothpaste. I wonder if, along with her floor lamp and goldfish bowl, Mary Poppins’ magic carpet bag also contains a new tube of Aquafresh…and tuppence to feed the pigeons outside the immigration building.

The thing that bugs me more than anything is the number of desperate faces I saw at immigration, people who want to stay, need to stay, in a country that needs them but doesn’t want them, while I desperately want to leave, am forced to leave, but really shouldn’t. If there’s a lesson in there, I’d really like to know what it is.