If you are coming to Japan as a tourist, you will usually only need to deal with immigration when entering and leaving the country, but if you are here long-term (or want to extend your tourist visa, which is possible for some countries) you will need to go to a place called the 出入国在留管理庁. Yeah, that’s a mouthful, which is why I am going to just call them the Immigration Agency from here on. There are several offices around the country, usually in places with a higher population density such as Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, and at various airports, while the head office is located in Shinagawa, Tokyo.
Dealing with immigration authorities is almost never a pleasant experience in any country, and sadly Japan is no exception. Entry and departure to and from Japan, granting of new visa or changing of existing visa status, handling applications for refugee recognition are all examples of procedures under the Immigration Agency’s jurisdiction. The vast majority of people that will need to use the Agency’s services are – by the very definition of the word immigration – going to be foreigners, whose Japanese level will understandably vary a lot from person to person. Yet, despite this fact, foreign language support at the Immigration Agency is still severely lacking. If you have a question regarding your visa status or an immigration procedure, you can email them but you will probably never get a response, you can call, in which case you will probably get half of a non-answer from some underpaid temp staff (if you even manage to get someone on the line that does speak a different language), or you can go to the Immigration Agency in person which might result in a pretty long trip, depending on where you live.
Additionally, if you choose to go in person, the agency will most likely be heavily crowded. If you are looking to submit an application for a new visa/change of status or receive the result of your examination/new visa, then you can expect to wait multiple hours. In some cases, this can take a whole day, even if you go there as early as possible (some people start queuing in front of the building as early as 6 a.m.). If you apply for a new visa you will get the result of your application after a whole month at the earliest, with some visa types such as Permanent Residency taking up to half a year even.
Better to expect a severely outdated process
In general, the whole institution is just horribly outdated, clearly not ready to deal with the recent rise in foreigners coming to Japan and desperately in need of an update. To illustrate my point, here is a personal anecdote. If you change jobs as a foreigner in Japan, you have to report this to the Immigration Agency. Uncharacteristically, there is actually a website that lets you do this, saving you the trip to a nearby office. How modern! However, as if on a mission to prove their own incompetence, the website is a mess. First, you have to register an account, then log in using said account. If you managed to do this, you have to put in all the information that you just put in during account registration again, completely invalidating the need for the registration in the first place. Then you fill in the name and address of your former company, as well as the name and address of your new company, submit and that’s it. But what makes the process infuriating is that for some reason, you need to input any numbers in the address (such as the district code) in FULL-WIDTH characters. In every-day use, as well as any other web form that I am aware off, you are always required to type in half-width characters (for reference, halfwidth is the normal way of writing characters and numbers that you are used to and looks like this: 1991, while full-width looks like this: １９９１). I am not sure why this requirement is in place and if it is a simple oversight or an arbitrary test of your knowledge about the Japanese keyboard.
As you can probably guess from the above, I am not overly fond of the Japanese Immigration Authorities. Unfortunately going there is sometimes necessary, but in almost all cases you will have to go once or twice a year at most. If you have had trouble with the Immigration Agency in the past, let me know your experiences via mail or in the comments.