Our Plans Have Changed (again)

Brett’s calligraphy: the orange characters on the left are his sensei’s example and the orange circle on his work means he got it right. Brett is left-handed, but Japanese calligraphy must be done with the right hand, so it’s very much an effort for him.

Brett and I thought we had all our future plans nailed down before we left Japan, but events have conspired to once again have us change those plans. It turns out we won’t be going to California in January after all, but back over to Japan instead, with a stop on Kaua’i along the way!

The big unknown for us now though is how long we’ll be staying in Japan this time.

This is the quality of work he hopes to eventually produce. (Photo courtesy of Wanto Shodo Kai-Easy Bay Japanese Calligraphy Association)

Brett has decided to apply for a long-term visa to continue studying calligraphy. He loves the art and the discipline and is improving with each lesson. He has been sending work from his classes here in Portland to his sensei in Japan who told him he is indeed a serious student and suggested he apply for a cultural activities visa to continue studying in Japan. So, paperwork for the visa will be submitted in early October, while we’re in England, and Brett should find out if the visa has been approved sometime in early December. The visa is good for one year but can be extended for another year or two if studies continue and he is making progress. I would travel over to Japan with Brett and enter on a tourist visa, but immediately apply for a dependent visa once we’re in-country. Approval for that typically happens within a couple of weeks. The chance to live in Japan full-time for a year or more would be a dream come true for us, something we have long wanted to do but never thought possible. Best of all, in my opinion, because of our three-month stay this past spring we have a much better sense of what a long-term stay would entail, both the positive and the negative.

We also have a Plan B because approval of the cultural activities visa is not a given. If Brett’s application is rejected we will instead do another three-month stay like we did earlier this year, from mid-January through mid-April. Japan has changed its rules for the tourist visa and visitors can now stay 180 days total (maximum 90 days at a time) during a 365-day period versus just 90 days as it was before. This means we can potentially do long stays in Japan twice a year. We have some pretty firm ideas for what we’ll do after that which include a stay in Massachusetts at the end of May for WenYu’s graduation from Wellesley.

We have negotiated housing with the same landlord we used earlier this year. Even though the monthly cost of renting from her again would be higher than renting our own apartment for a year, by doing so we would not have to deal with setting up and paying utilities, buying furniture or household goods, nor incurring the very high upfront rental fees that are required in Japan (anywhere from three to five months rent, some of it non-refundable). All of those, if averaged out, would increase the monthly cost of living there to the same if not more than the cost of renting a furnished place with the utilities and Internet provided. We loved the location where we stayed before as well as its proximity to our son’s home. O-san said she would love to have us back again, and for now we know we have a place if we go for just three months, but she has asked us to inform her the minute we know whether Brett’s visa has been approved or not and she will extend the rental for us. We asked for a different apartment this time rather than the one we had before as we could not imagine staying in that one for a year – it was just too big and uncomfortable.

A few weeks ago I looked to see what it might cost us to go to Japan in January and was surprised by how low the fares were. Brett and I had also been talking about wanting to visit Kaua’i again to see friends and prices for flights from Portland to Honolulu in January also turned out to be very low. So, after some discussion with Brett and with our friends, and deciding on dates that worked for everyone, we went ahead and purchased tickets to both Japan and Hawai’i. We’ll be staying at our friends’ home in Kapaa for nine days (and they have a car for us to use so no rental car!!), and then we’ll be flying on to Tokyo from Kaua’i. We are greatly looking forward to being on the island once again and seeing what’s changed in the time we’ve been gone as well as catching up with friends there. I’ve already got my fingers crossed for good weather (January can be iffy), but even if it rains every day we know we’ll still have a good time and enjoy every moment.

By purchasing our tickets early we were able to afford to fly first class to Honolulu and economy plus for the long flight to Tokyo all while still staying well below our budget! I had enough Hawaiian miles to cover the flight for both of us over to Lihue from Honolulu, and the fare from Kaua’i to Tokyo included the trip back over to Honolulu from Lihue, which saved an additional $40 over what we would have had to pay if we booked those flights separately on Hawaiian. The total price per person for the both long flights was less than a typical one-way first class fare from Portland to Honolulu, and less than we used to pay for roundtrip fares in economy for the girls to come home to Kaua’i at Christmas. Plus, the two long flights also include two free checked bags for each of us, a nice option especially if we end up going to Japan for a year’s stay (however, we unfortunately will have to pay to get our bags from Honolulu to Lihue on the Hawaiian flight). The upgraded seats are worth every penny to us because after our very uncomfortable 11-hour flight from Tokyo to Portland in economy where we couldn’t cross our legs, let alone move, we vowed that if all possible we would do no more long-distance flights unless we could afford to purchase more comfortable seating.

来年日本に帰国します Rainen nihon ni kikoku shimasu – we are returning to Japan next year! We are so excited – not only will we get to be in Japan, and see our son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids again, but we get to return to beautiful Kaua’i as well!

25 thoughts on “Our Plans Have Changed (again)

  1. Brett’s calligraphy is beautiful! Here’s hoping the visa is approved. Also, I had no idea it had to be done right-handed. Being married to a leftie, with a leftie daughter, I can understand how difficult that must be. It’s probably really good for his brain, though. 🙂

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    1. For a left-handed person, Brett has a remarkable degree of control with his right hand – he’s almost ambidextrous. But this has still been something of a struggle (because the kanji is also so new to him), so it’s amazing to see what he has accomplished in such a short time. He loves doing it though!

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  2. How wonderful for you! And how nice that Brett is doing so well with his calligraphy. And that you will get to spend all that time with your grandkids. It’s wonderful that you two are so flexible and able to change your plans as opportunities come up. Yaay!

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    1. We are very excited about the possibility of being in Japan for a year, but also a little bit nervous. This opportunity comes at a good time for us as we’re still not tied down anywhere. Gathering all the paperwork for the visa is going to be a challenge though, especially since we’ll be in England. Some things will have to be translated, but Brett’s sister has said she will take care of getting that done. It’s all pretty exciting though, even if we only get to stay for three months especially since it includes a visit to Kaua’i and with friends on the way.

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  3. How wonderful! I have read your posts about Japan in awe. Looking forward to new ones. Very happy for you.

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    1. If Brett gets the visa we will definitely have to develop a different rhythm versus just being visitors for a few months. Both of us will definitely have to do some more intensive language study – we can get around just fine over there, but knowing more of the language would make it a more meaningful experience. We stuck close to Tokyo on our last visit; next year we plan to get out and away a bit more, even if we’re only there for three months.

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  4. I am just RIDICULOUSLY excited about this!!! Apparently *I* was not ready for you to “settle down” in California, hahaha! 😊

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    1. LOL! We are still most likely going to settle in California, but that’s been delayed a bit for now! We are very, very excited about the new plans – we talk about it daily, things like what we would want or need to bring along with us if we’re staying for a year and so forth (although we could buy most things we need at one of the base exchanges and/or commissaries). I don’t think either of us is really ready to settle down though – most likely if Brett doesn’t qualify for the visa then we’ll just keep traveling for a while longer.

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  5. Very good! I will keep goof thoughts toward Brett getting his visa. What a treat to be able to spend an entire year so close to the grands! I got some good tickets from Vegas to Honolulu for November- Southwest! I think that is way Hawaiian has gotten so low. Fantastic to get First Class!!!!

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    1. Staying near to our son’s home, and getting to see our grandkids almost daily is the biggest draw for us, plus we would like to help our son and DIL more with childcare, etc. so getting the visa for a year would be a dream come true.

      November will be a good month to visit Hawaii – the weather should be lovely. We are still pinching ourselves over the prices we got for those flights – my jaw dropped to the floor when I spotted that fare for first class (on Delta). I looked at Southwest’s fares just to make sure I was getting the best deal, but they couldn’t beat it.

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  6. Wow, that certainly is exciting news! Will the fact that your son lives there make it more likely that the visa will be approved or does that have nothing to do with it? It would be wonderful if you could spend a year or more with your family there. It’s very impressive Brett is able to use his right hand for such intricate work. It’s also great that you’ll get to go back to Kauai! 🙂

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    1. Sadly, having family in Japan will have absolutely no effect on whether Brett gets a visa or not. It’s based on a lot of other things, including things like how he will use what he learns in the future, how it relates to his past work/experience, etc. So, no guarantees.

      I’ve always been in awe of how much Brett can do with his right hand – I’m right-handed and can do nothing with my left hand!

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      1. I’m mostly right-handed, but do certain things left-handed. Even so, I don’t think I’d be able to do Japanese calligraphy left-handed, so it’s very impressive.

        Too bad they don’t take into account that you have family there, but even if the visa is not approved, it’s good that they extended the number of days to 180. Would you stay 180 consecutive days or does it have to be broken up?

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      2. You can only do 90 days at a time but I couldn’t find out how long you have to be out of Japan before you can enter again. Back in the past people used to go up to Korea for a few days and then reenter, but I’m not sure that’s allowed these days. If we do two trips per year, we would go in the spring (cherry blossoms and our grandson’s birthday), then again in the fall (autumn leaves and our granddaughter’s birthday).

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      3. That’s interesting. I was going to ask if you could go to another country nearby for a few days and re-enter. I remember people doing that in the past, but your plan to go in the spring and fall sounds good too.

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    1. We will see – we just learned this morning that EVERY document he submits will have to be translated into Japanese – yikes! That is going to cost $$$. That includes all income statements as well as birth certificates and other supporting documents.

      I hope it works out too, but even if we only get to stay for three months again we will be happy.

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  7. WOW! How exciting! I am thrilled for you and Brett! I love that he is enjoying calligraphy and I had no idea a cultural visa was a thing. That would be wonderful if you could stay for a year (or more) but great news that Japan extended the number of days to 180 per year. Can’t wait to follow along on your continued adventure!

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    1. He does really enjoy doing it even though it’s a challenge for him. He is quite a good artist, but this is something completely different.

      We had no idea the cultural visa was something he could pursue. But, we are thrilled as well that we can now make two three-month visits a year – if that’s all that happens we’d love to go in the spring and then back in the fall (which is also lovely in Japan), and be there for both grandkids’ birthdays.

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