My Short Trip to America

I went to America the other day, but I'm already back in Japan.

Actually, it was my shortest trip to America, having been there for less than an hour. In fact, I was back in Osaka eating lunch 15 minutes later.

As part of the paperwork for selling my house, a few of the thick stack of associated documents needed to be notarized, so I had to visit the US consulate in Osaka (officially, the Consulate General of the United States of America, Osaka Japan).

I knew that I was getting close to the building when I saw the police assault bus and a dozen bored-looking policemen loitering around.

As I arrived at what I thought was the front of the building, there was a big sign yelling “NO ENTRY” in Japanese, and something like “No Entrance Except For Official Business” in English. I did a double take at the door, which really looked like the front door, and decided that having some random documents notarized was probably official enough. An unofficial-looking person was exiting the door, so I went in.

I have moved a bank vault door before. This door was glass, but heaver. I think it was concrete lined glass, or something. It looked fairly normal from the outside, but could stop a tank. I'm sure it was designed just for that purpose.

Inside (now on American soil, God bless the King), it turns out that it was the correct entrance. “Welcome to America,” I had to think to myself because nothing else about the short experience so far made me feel the slightest bit welcome.

I'd brought my camera (because I was planning on taking advantage of being in Osaka to stop by a big camera shop before heading back to Kyoto), so I had to surrender that and my cell phone. I didn't have any liquids with me, so didn't have to surrender those.

A somewhat elderly Japanese policeman with the a most pleasant way about him took my stuff and processed me through the metal detector, and a light body search with a wand like at an airport. I then exchanged an ID for a visitor pass, and was allowed through another 15 ton door to the elevators.

Other than a pictures of The President, VP, and Sec. State on the wall, you'd never know that this was a US Government office. No marines. No English. Well, the 5" thick glass doors might be one clue.

The 4th floor is th American Citizen Services floor. The elevator opens up to a waiting room large enough for about three small card tables and two benches. More pictures on the wall.

I paid the $70 it costs to have three items notarized, and waited for my turn for about 20 minutes.

One will find bureaucracy, pettiness, corruption, and other bad things in any government. On my trip to the consulate, I ran into pettiness in the form of one Sara Revell, who is a/the notary there.

Laws differ from state to state, but except for in Louisiana, a notary is a trivial job. It doesn't require much in the way of intelligence, and it's about as difficult and expensive to get a notary licence as it is to get a driver's licence. A notary witnessing a signature merely attests to the fact that the person singing a document is the person they claim to be. In performing this function, the content of the document is not relevant. They don't have to know nor care what the document says.

One of my documents made a passing reference to a separate document I hadn't brought. I didn't bring it because it wasn't needed here, but she wanted to see it. This was ridiculous; not only did she not need to see it, but she had no right even asking — it's not her friggin' business! Her business here was to ascertain to her satisfaction that my name was what I claimed it to be (which my passport apparently did), and that the signature on the document was mine. Oh, and to accept my money — that's her business too.

So, here was the situation:

  1. She already had my $70.
  2. She knew that I needed the service, or else I wouldn't be there.
  3. There was no one hundreds of miles, except her, who could do what I needed.
  4. She was behind a 3-inch-thick glass window.
  5. It was almost lunch time.

She had 100% of the power and we both knew it. Sara Revell treated me with all the compassion that one expects from low-level civil-servant twits in positions of power that exceed their intelligence. It just makes my blood boil — I can not being to tell you what I felt about this person (because my parents read my blog and I don't want them to know what filthy, angry words I know).

After returning to Japan in a decidedly foul mood, I had lunch at a restaurant in Umeda that was delicious. And the camera store was fun, too, so it wasn't an entirely wasted day.

All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

I also had to have documents notarized at the same office, and was served by a stocky gentleman who was fast, courteous and didn’t ask any pesky questions. (although I now wish I hadn’t given my OK on the deal that he processed, that was certainly none of his fault.)

— comment by nils on October 15th, 2006 at 11:12pm JST (15 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

and, by the way, the “Don’t park a truck bomb here” bus has been there in front of the building since at least 1994, but I think there are more bored security guards around the building perimeter since 9/11.

— comment by nils on October 15th, 2006 at 11:14pm JST (15 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

Notaries can be mean some times. Seriously, your definition of a notary was great. We really don’t do much.

— comment by mobile notary on November 2nd, 2006 at 6:33am JST (15 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

I recently went to the US Embassy in Tokyo to renew my passport and get a birth certificate for my newborn son. I was not looking forward to the trip because I expected to have a similar experience and encounter a Tokyo version of Sara Revell.

Once through the all the security, including surrendering all electronic devices to a nice Japanese guard and then a salutory salute to the Marine (there are Marines at the Tokyo Embassy) all went well. Despite living 10 minutes away from the embassy we arrived shortly before lunch and were very unprepared. The staff was extremely helpful and patient and worked into their lunch break to assist us. The final part of the process, where we raise our hand and swear that the document that we submitted are true and authentic was administered by an officer who was initially upset at us for coming late and being unprepared but he dutifuly assited us and congratulated us and sent us home with a smile. Cheers to the professionals at the US Embassy in Tokyo.

I am sorry to hear about you bad experience Jeffery. I hope the Osaka Consulate can learn something from the staff at the Tokyo Embassy.

— comment by Richard on December 18th, 2006 at 12:47pm JST (15 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink
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