I went to the immigration office in Yokohama today. Very post-apocalyptic place. Anyway, I thought I'd write here about my findings, because it might be useful for other foreigners who either quit their job or finish their contract and still want to stay in Japan. Keep in mind that everything written down here was told to me: a European guy with an engineer visa who has been employed as a contract worker in Japan for four years. Things will be probably be a little different if you're a Chinese refugee who arrived in a container.
So, my engineer visa is valid until 2012, and I assumed that I could stay in Japan until 2012 and do whatever I want until then. This is absolutely not true. If you are unemployed by your own choice, meaning you did not get fired but you chose to quit your job or your contract finished, then you have three months to find a similar job in Japan. Or else. Or else what? Exactly.
I asked the immigration bureau about the 'or else' part after explaining my situation, and the counterguy told me that if I can't find a job after three months I have to come back to the immigration for '相談' (soudan - consultation, advice). I'm not sure exactly what this means, and the guy wouldn't give me any extra info. However, if I am any good at reading between the lines, I think it means that it's quite possible to talk it over and extend the job-searching period for a couple of months. I asked what would happen if I found a job 5 months after I quit my job (2 months over the allowed time period), and this should probably be okay, provided that the job is in the same sector, meaning in my case that I have to find a job as an engineer. No butler's cafe for me!
After becoming unemployed in Japan it's customary to go to an agency called ハローワーク (Hello Work)、and register yourself there. Once registered, you will receive a percentage of your previous salary for the next three months. To be eligible to receive this money you have to go to the Hello Work office in your city at least once a week (not 100% sure about this as I haven't done this yet), so that they know you're still searching for a job and qualify to receive the money.
So how does this affect me? Well, in my case this is a bit troublesome (困る), as I'm about to embark on a cycling trip and won't be near 'my' Hello Work office for at least 2 months. If I do decide to stay in Japan and find a job (right now the chances of this are about 70%) then I'll have just under a month to find a job, provided I fly back from Kyushu at the end of May. If the trip takes longer or if I cycle back then I might not find a job in time. In that case I have to go back to the immigration office and hope that they'll be kind to me. If this also fails then I'll have to go back to Holland and try again from there. That's the options I have if I want to stay in Japan.
I'm trying not to think about this too much. It would suck if I went back to Tokyo at the end of May, spend three months finding a job, fail, then get deported. That's the worst case scenario, because I would be spending three months doing something very boring without any positive result. "Well, it won't come to that". Cross my fingers.