Sep 1, 2018
A couple of weeks ago, I opened up the letterbox to discover a letter to me from the Japan Pension Service. The thickness of the envelope surprised and worried me, and I opened it up to discover a new pension book. This was just baffling, but then I pulled out a wad of invoices. They were spread out in installments, but added up, it became clear that the pension service had decided I owed them several hundred thousand of yen.
I was horrified. I was only just coming off unpaid maternity leave. I didn’t have that much money lying around! I took the whole lot in to my Japanese husband. Firstly, this was because I knew he would be better able to decipher the large amount of kanji contained within. An explanation, I hoped, would be forthcoming. Secondly, and more importantly, my pension is through my husband. I work part-time and my yearly income is below the 1.3 million yen cut-off, and that means I get classed as a dependent spouse. My pension payments are paid in part by his company, with the other part deducted from his salary each month.
To my intense relief, my husband looked through the contents of the envelope and informed me almost straightaway that I did not have to pay that money. This was not because he was going to pull some money out of thin air and pay it on my behalf, either. There was a mistake somewhere. He called his company to try to find out what could possibly be going on, but they didn’t have any answers.
The next step, as annoying as it was, was to go to the Japan Pension Service office in person. Luckily, my husband actually had another day off the next day and so, with baby and toddler in tow, off we went. We suffered through the usual problems - a bizarre car park, an elderly “guard” needlessly directing us into a space, a frowning woman at reception who was not at all happy to see us and definitely didn’t know how to help, my son deciding the benches looked ideal for jumping on - and then we were off to another numbered counter and another employee.
After confirming my ID and checking everything out, including my husband’s own pension-related documents, the man took the invoices and the newly-issued pension book away. He returned only my regular pension book and embarked on an explanation, of sorts. The Japanese pension department is indeed on the hunt for more payments (my words, not his!) and the system is flagging “foreign-sounding names” (his words, not mine!). The documents had indeed been issued in error.
It appeared to be relatively easy for the pension office worker to sort it out from there, but he did want to know if I had my passport. This was so he could put a notice in it in case I got flagged again for pension payment evasion, but this time at the airport when I was trying to enter or exit the country! I didn't. I live here and shouldn't technically need my passport for every little thing. Still, I kicked myself a bit over that one; requests for my passport are annoyingly common when it comes to government departments, unfortunately, and I should have been ready. My husband is convinced I’ll be fine and this isn’t likely to happen, while I’m a bit more uncertain. Hopefully, my husband is right about this one!
I wanted to share this story not to complain about Japanese government departments (however justified or not this might be) but in case this happens to someone else. Whatever your feelings are about the pension, it still pays to have everything in order. If you unexpectedly get issued a bunch of bills from the pension service and you have every reason to believe you shouldn’t, like I did, try to follow it up and get it sorted!
I'm Australian and married to a Japanese (post)man. We live in Chiba with our two children, where I work as an English teacher. I try to post something here once a week, and I also have a personal blog over at http://lyssays.wordpress.com/