On the 6th of July, the time had come. I was on my way to the airport to leave for Japan.
Everything had been prepared. I had organized a subtenant for my apartment, canceled my health insurance, bought a new health insurance, changed the addresses of my bank accounts to my parent’s home’s and drewn € 5000.- from my bank account in order to change them to Yen in Japan.
My luggage was packed. One large suitcase with clothes, another one with non-wearable things, like power converters, multi plugs, and so on. One small hand luggage suitcase with things like computers, phones, headphones and other stuff I needed on the plane. Another small bag with my camera, passport and wallet. A big pillow and, as a finishing touch, six Baumkuchen as presents, mostly to new neighbors. Just in case you are wondering, ANAs rules for hand luggage leave some room for interpretations.
I had bought my ticket months before, back in February. A reasonable price with a return flight somewhere in the future next year (I wasn’t planing to use it anyway). My wife had gone to Japan three weeks earlier and organized an apartment. Interestingly, we had no issues getting the first apartment we liked, even though I’m a foreigner, have no job at a Japanese company and no visa yet. My wife doesn’t have a job neither. I went on a tourist visa, because registering my marriage at Japanese authorities in Germany would have taken up to six weeks. Therefore the consulate advised me to do the registration and visa application in Japan once I was there.
I had said goodbye to everyone. My parents and younger siblings brought me to the airport. We went early because I planned to check in my luggage, which is possible up to three hours before departure with ANA. I went to the luggage counter and gave them my luggage and passport.
Then it happened: The woman from ANA looked me, at my passport, at her screen and back at me. Then she said:
Your return flight leaves on January 30th. You are entering Japan on a tourist visa which is only valid for 90 days however. I cannot check you in.
Another guy, I didn’t know his position or why he was standing there, right next to the checkin desk, countered: “German citizens are allowed to extend a tourist visa to up to 180 days.”. “This is true, but the visa must be listed in the passport, otherwise our system will not let me complete the check in,” the lady replied.
Another ANA staff joined the conversation. I explained the situation, that I was married to a Japanese woman, that the consulate had advised me to apply for the visa in Japan and that I could also show them the e-mail conversation. I was then asked if I had something with me to proof my marriage. I showed the wedding certificate, which was stored in my hand luggage.
Another ANA staff, a native Japanese, joined the conversation. She asked me if I had a copy of my wife’s passport so that, once I was in Japan, I could proof that she was actually Japanese. I wrote my wife, but she was already in Tokyo and hadn’t taken her passport with her. Next I was asked if I actually intended to use the return flight. After some more discussion among the three ANA employees, they shared with me the idea to book me on a different return flight that would leave earlier. The Japanese employee asked me to take a seat and wait for about 30 minutes. Then she went on the phone.
After 15 minutes my family and I decided to get some food and asked at the ANA counter if there were any news. There were. They had two options for me: The first was booking a completely different flight, which would have a return date on September 30th. It would cost about € 1,350 and the departure to Japan would be on the next day. “Next day? Impossible!” I hear you saying and I agreed. The second option was to book a flexible return ticket, which could be canceled once I had immigrated into Japan. The price? The ridiculously low amount of € 3,795.29.
I asked how much of the money would be refunded once I canceled the ticket and was told that there would be “some fee” but most of the price would be transferred back to me.
Well, I had € 5,000 with me anyway, so why not spend most of it on another plane ticket? I gave the money to the ANA staff and soon after was allowed to check in.
Fortunately, that was all. I was at the airport early enough to go through the 1.5 hours of this struggle, check in on the flight I booked and still have a quick dinner with my family.
14 hours later I was standing in front of the immigration desk at Haneda airport. “How long will you stay?” the man at the counter asked. “For 88 days,” I replied with confidence.
The fee was € 60.