This guide was written from my own experience changing from a student visa to a cultural activities visa in Tokyo after switching research fellowships in 2015. The Shinagawa office, which is the main immigration office for the Tokyo area, recently changed the structure of how and where documents are handled, so older information on the internet may be out of date. I cannot speak to any matters that might complicate this process, such as other employment, marriage, children, etc., or any other details about the immigration process outside of my experience below. The opinions and information presented here are my own do not represent those of the Japan Foundation or any other group or government organization. Information that may not be included here can be found on the Tokyo Immigration Bureau website.
So here we go!
Documents you will need before going to immigration:
- Application for Change of Status of Residence 在留資格変更許可申請書
The applications for changes in status of residence are specific to the type of work you want to do, so be careful that you actually choose the cultural activities version, which can be found in PDF here, the 芸術・文化活動 form under the list of applicant forms.
- two page application you must fill out
- one page application your host institution must fill out
- One photo of yourself taken within the last three months size 4 x 3 cm affixed to your application
- Proof of your specific activities – I was able to bring my Japan Foundation papers, but also needed my host institution to provide something stating the specific nature of my study (research theme, etc.). I combined this with my proof of affiliation, which was not looked upon kindly. I would suggest having something separate drawn up by your institution.
- Proof of your grant/income – this is any documents related to Japan Foundation, most importantly your grant letter, which includes the amount of money you’re regularly receiving.**
- Proof of your affiliation with the host institution – You definitely need this, as a separate sheet of paper from the form your host institution will fill out. Things will go most smoothly if it contains your official status (研究員、研究生、), the length of time you will be affiliated, and a description of your activities.
** I also brought my Terms and Conditions booklet, and earmarked the page in Japanese that specifically states I needed to be on a cultural activities visa, because people at the information desk when I first inquired about what counter I should go to kept insisting I wanted a research visa, not cultural activities (which are two different counters), and wouldn’t believe me when I said otherwise. This was also useful because the people approving my documents working at the proper counter were ALSO confused about whether or not I should be allowed a cultural activities visa because they weren’t sure if Japan Foundation counted as a fellowship or income, despite my insistence. Again, I suggest bringing your booklet and marking the Japanese visa page!
The Immigration Office Process:
Now that you have your paperwork together, to proceed with the change of visa/status of residence, you will need Counter B (Orange) on the second floor of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau (Shinagawa). This is confusing because there are two B counters, a short one directly in front of the escalator from the first floor, labeled “B 申請（在留調査）7”, and long one on the left next to the waiting area, labeled “B 申請（在留調査）Application (inspection for status of residence)”. The latter (seen above) will have numbers above each individual inspector.
Step 1: First take your completed application materials to the “B 申請（在留調査）7” counter. Here, they will inspect your documents and make sure everything is in order. They will then give you a piece of paper confirming what type of visa you are changing to (cultural activities) and a number, to be used at the second B counter.
Step 2: Take these materials for an extra “Cultural Activities Inspection” at the counter on the FAR LEFT of the “B 申請（在留調査）Application (inspection for status of residence)” counter. It does not have a number, but is labeled “研修・短期滞在審査部門（相談窓口）”. Here, they will confirm your “cultural activities” status and put a stamp of approval on the sheet of paper given to you at the first counter.
Step 3: When this is done, you then wait in the waiting area for your number to be called at one of the adjoining six inspection counters at the “B 申請（在留調査）Application (inspection for status of residence)” counters on the left. When your number is called, they will inspect your documents, and give you a postcard for you to self-address. This postcard will be mailed to you when your visa/change of status is approved, and you will need to return to the immigration office (to A1 counter) promptly with your passport so that they can change your old visa materials out for new ones.
Also note that you will NOT be able to keep any materials you turn in to the application counter, so be sure to make photocopies of your grant letters if you may need them for the future and ask them for your terms and conditions booklet back (which they were fine with).
If you do not fill out part of the form correctly or do not provide the proper letters of affiliation, etc., you will receive a letter by post telling you what is missing and demanding you turn it in to the office within 7 days. You CANNOT fax or email these materials—they must be received via mail or in person in their original forms. I generally found that the high speed of mail by post in Japan meant it was best to just mail the materials directly to them immediately rather than drag myself all the way out to Shinagawa again just to turn in one form.
Now, if you’ve completed everything properly, you should receive your self-addressed postcard in the mail within 1-2 weeks.
The postcard will tell you to go back to the immigration office to the A1 counter on the second floor. The card lists the documents that you need to bring with you: The card itself, your passport, your zairyū card, and a revenue stamp.
Here’s the tricky part—they say you need the “revenue stamp” to go along with your materials, but the card does NOT tell you what a revenue stamp is or where to get it.
Great, right? So here’s how to proceed:
Step 1: Go back to immigration armed with your passport, zairyū card, and postcard, and buy a revenue stamp. These can be found on the first floor of the building in the Family Mart convenience store. There is a special line just for buying revenue stamps, and there are several kinds available.
Yours should cost whatever they marked on the card—mine was 4,000 yen for change of status, and this seems standard. You will receive a literal stamp, which you take with you up to the A1 counter.
This is what the stamp actually looks like:
IF YOU GO TO A1 COUNTER WITHOUT A REVENUE STAMP they will kindly (or maybe not so kindly) tell you to go back downstairs to get one, packaging your materials in a little folder with instructions on how to buy a stamp (just as I told you above). Here they will also fill out your receipt form where you affix your stamp to prove payment. If you chose to bring your materials to A1 counter without your stamp, they will tell you that you can skip the A1 line when you return with your stamp and directly turn everything in at A3 counter.
This is basically an extra step you shouldn’t have to do. The reason you probably want to purchase your stamp first (aside from avoiding this unnecessary step) is because when you go to A1 counter they will give you a ticket number. This will be the number you wait for (watching the screens posted on the column seen above) once they’ve started processing your materials. So if you get this number and are put into the line rotation before you go get your revenue stamp and for some reason the revenue stamp line is ungodly long, you might start getting anxious about when your number pops up. In any case, save yourself a lot of trouble and just buy your revenue stamp first and bring a book for your wait!
Step 2: Wait for your number to be called, and when it is, go to counter A4 (or A5, if they’re using that one too). Here, they’ll double check that all your information is correct on your passport and new zairyū card, which should reflect your updated visa status/date of expiry.
Step 3: REJOICE! Your epic trips to immigration are finally over.
The second trip took me about an hour to an hour and a half due to the need to buy the revenue stamp. It’s always a good idea to bring a friend or some work to keep you company.
Hope this was a useful guide for people! Best of luck!