We have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic for over six months now, six of the longest months of any of our lives. And for nearly that length of time, I have also been coping with filing for unemployment benefits here in Japan.
Here’s how it works: in order to receive unemployment benefits, qualified individuals must make regular appearances at Hello Work, the organization that oversees the Japanese unemployment scheme. These appointments must be in-person, and must be every 28 days. Since I qualified to receive benefits for 120 days, that meant that I would need to show up at Hello Work a total of six times, including the initial visit to sign up and the final one to finish things off.
Efficiency Actually Improves
On the appointed day at the appointed time, I showed up at Hello Work on the 23rd floor of the highrise Shinjuku L Tower, filled in my unemployment certificate, dropped it a box along with my eligibility certificate, and waited for my number to be called. After about a 30 minute wait, I was called up, told how much money I would get that month, and sent on my way. And repeat, 28 days later.
The process became so quick and easy that I almost didn’t need to bring a translator. However, I had a feeling that the final appointment would be different. There was no way I would be able to conclude this experience that smoothly, and so I arranged for a Japanese-speaking friend to come with me, just in case, for my final appointment.
The Last Appointment
On the afternoon of Thursday, October 1, the date of my last appointment, the Hello Work office was the most crowded I’d ever seen it. Even the overflow seating in the hallway was full. This would be a long wait.
Finally, after nearly an hour of waiting, my number was called. We sat down with a Hello Work employee, a young woman with long, sparkly nails and a no-nonsense attitude. The unemployment certificate had confused me and my friend, as the language on it is very specific, and so first the Hello Work staffer had to clarify a few points, making corrections in a red pen, slashing across the fields of the form.
As I watched her bejeweled fingers navigate across the paper, I noticed a few stamp pads and several rectangular stamps of various shapes and sizes next to her on the desk. Now, the Japanese have a thing with stamps. They are not used merely for decoration here, but to leave an official mark. In fact, on many official forms, it is not enough to mark one’s signature with a pen, but with one’s special hanko stamp.
In government offices, stamps are used frequently on forms. Granted, we do this in other parts of the world too. Libraries and post offices in the U.S. still use stamps to mark dates and types of post. But these simple stamps are nothing like the Japanese ones, where a small rectangle can hold several lines of text made up of complicated kanji.
Having finished the unemployment certificate, she turned her attention to my eligibility certificate, the document that served as my Hello Work ID. Printed on thick paper, this form includes my photo and identification number, as well as a record of each appointment.
Talons flashing, she set to work stamping this paper with no less than four differently sized stamps. The result was the final record of my Hello Work experience.
“Kokowa saigodesuka, ne?” my friend asked. The woman nodded. This was the last time I’d have to appear at Hello Work. The saga was finally over.
There’s a Post-Final, Too
Except that, surprise, it isn’t over yet! Hello Work is smart.
In order to receive my final payment, I was given specific instructions along with yet another form. To get my last bit of unemployment yen, I needed to have someone from my new company fill out this new form. Once that was done, I needed to enclose that form and my eligibility certificate in an envelope. On the outside of this envelope I needed to write my name and identification number, which was stuffed into another envelope. Then, the whole thing was mailed off to Hello Work.
All of this sounded quite easy. . . except that I was working remotely. So now I needed to figure out how to get this form to the right person in the company, get it back, and then get it to Hello Work. But it was a small price to pay for freedom.
Overall, while Hello Work involves a lot of paperwork and is rigorously procedural, and in spite of the less-than-cheerful offices, the process does work rather well. I was able to get exactly what was owed to me, and turn what could have been a dire personal situation into a good one.
At the end of the day, I have no complaints. And hopefully that’s the last you’ll hear from me on the subject!
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Author: Mo Stone