This summer, I was almost thrown out of Japan. I had forgotten to renew my residency visa, normally a misdemeanor solved with a grovelling written apology to the Home Office. But Japan is growing increasingly nervous about illegal foreigners, who are blamed for everything from pushing up the crime rate to stealing Japanese women.
So I found myself in front of a dyspeptic immigration officer who served me deportation papers, meaning a one-way ticket home and a five-year ban from the country. "Would you like to appeal," she asked, and I almost laughed before replying "of course". There followed a conversation that could have come from the pen of Franz Kafka:
"Why do you want to stay?" Because I live and work here, and I'm married to a Japanese woman.
"Anything else?" My wife would have to leave her family and return with me, or we might have to divorce. My university would have to find a new teacher.
"Is that all?" I'd be upset.
In the end, I was given "special permission" to stay, along with a finger-wagging lecture from my interrogator.
Japan struggles to win the loyalty of gaijin because it often presents itself as a sort of hermetically sealed racial club. Foreigners make up just 1.5 per cent of Japan's population, many of whom are Korean and Chinesewho were born here but are still classed as "aliens". The country accepts 10 asylum seekers a year.
The sense that being Japanese is "unique" and that gaijin are exotic imports who will soon go home is deep-rooted. Perfectly decent people say things like, "Japan is going to the dogs with all these foreigners", before remembering my presence: "Oh not you David-san. I mean the Chinese."
Nevertheless, the number of registered foreigners has grown by 45 per cent in the past decade, and the PM can be seen on TV trying to woo more tourists to Japan - a sign, perhaps, that the current anti-gaijin hysteria is but a pothole in the long road to a multicultural future.
Foreigners arriving for the first time in Japan were once guaranteed a soft landing, thanks to the country's voracious appetite for language teachers. British backpackers could find themselves earning nearly £1,500 a month to chat with office ladies who treated them like minor royalty.
Many hopefuls have been saddened to learn about a policy by the largest chain of schools to "protect" its 450,000 students by banning client-employer contact outside the workplace. Many of the 30-something managers who will try to enforce it met their wives in classrooms, after they were wooed by advertising that promised the chance to meet exotic foreign men.
The company's website promises to "create an age in which communication crosses ... lines of nationality, race, culture, and language; an age in which people can communicate whenever, wherever and with whomever they choose".
No sign that the firm understands such wonderful ironies, but of such potholes is the future made.
Summer in Tokyo is a sweaty test of endurance for most, but for someone who sunburns under a 40-watt bulb it's torture. This week, after another walk through the blowtorched air to get to my university, the office staff presented me with a wide-brimmed hat. "We noticed you getting redder and redder and were worried," they said. I almost cried. Things like this come along at just the right time to remind me why I stay here.Reuse content