By Oscar Johnson
Imagine training full-time as a Judoka; sitting at the proverbial foot of a sushi master as an apprentice; rounding off your floral arranging expertise with intensive ikebana courses; or simply learning the Japanese language. A cultural visa may be just the ticket. Lasting longer than a tourism visa, it allows renewable stays for six months or a year at a time. Lacking the academic and institutional requirements of a student visa, it lets you study what, where and how you want.
A cultural activities visa mandates a certain amount of time be spent studying your cultural fancy. It doesn’t automatically allow you to work in Japan but it is possible to apply for such permission, or a working visa, after arriving. This means a would-be chef can get some hands-on experience or, better yet, avid martial artists can test their skills working weekend security at a rowdy Roppongi nightclub.
The sponsor gets a certificate of eligibility at their local immigration office, which the applicant uses when applying for the visa at a Japanese embassy or consulate. Don’t have a sponsor? Take heart. The determined should know there’s nothing illegal about vacationing in Japan on a tourism visa; should you happen to line up a sponsor before you return home - who can argue with destiny?
Of course, if mom and dad will not spring for your six- to 12-month study trip you’ll need some serious savings. Whatever you study in Japan - like most things here – it will likely not be cheap. You can apply for a work permit after arriving on a cultural visa. If granted, however, you’ll be limited to working only 20 hours a week and still be held to the requisite amount of study hours.
Nonetheless, many students of Japanese culture find that, much like their topic of study, countless nuances make for varied applications of the rules – and a richly rewarding educational experience.