Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cell Phone Search and Word of the Day

The entirety of today was spent in a quest to get me a cell phone. That is why, today's Word of the Day is Keitai (kay-tah-ee), which is the shortened word for cell phone (the full word is keitai denwa). In Japan, there are three major cell phone companies: AU, Softbank, and NTT Docomo. Thank the big man upstairs, that my host brother is a good guy, and so he and his girlfriend took me out to look at how much it would cost to buy a cell phone. We tried AU first, because he thought they might have a special discount for students, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case, so we moved on to Softbank next, which was just across the street. The store was really slick looking, snazzy, and their phones are also really nice (they had a disney set of phones that I loved). Another good thing about Softbank is that they do have a 'scholarship' thing where, if you're a student you can get a way reduced price. That's great news right? I mean, five bucks a month? That's a deal. What's not so great is that those 'advisors' at my school still haven't given us a Student ID, proving that we are in fact legally going to a Japanese institution for study. Yeah, after a month of waiting, they're going to do that (as well as sign me up for classes, the syllabus of which I've yet to see), the day before school starts. Great plan, huh? And it just so happens that the student plan at Softbank ends that very freaking same day. Oh yes, Becca's infamous luck strikes again.

So we went on from there to Docomo's store, which was not nearly so snazzy looking, but which did have an hour wait, and after that wait, we got to talk to a trainee clerk, who broke down the prices on her little doodle magnet-o-pad thing, and after hearing the entire spiel, my brother, his girlfriend and I went to Denny's to have coffee and for him to explain the different packages to me (btw, Denny's here is NOTHING like the Dennys back home, though it is the same company). Anyway, so here's what was explained to me: the premium choice would be Softbank, except that the scholarship deal is more or less impossible for me to get, so there's really no difference for me there, however, if you have a Softbank plan, you have unlimited calling to other Softbank subscribers. AU was both expensive and not all that special. Docomo was good because, while the other two companies offer only two year plans, Docomo offers either a one year or a two year plan. The catch is this: if you get a one year plan, you have to pay the full price of whatever phone you pick out, whereas if you get a two year plan, you get a phone for free, but when you cancel it after one year (since I'm only here one year), you have to pay a penalty fee of about $100. This penalty fee is the same across the board for the three companies, when you void your contract. So, naturally, I was leaning towards the one year plan. The problem is that all the phones offered (at any of the stores) cost at least $200, most of them more, which then means that paying the penalty fee at the end of one year, with a two year contract, is the best deal. So, after making that decision, we went back to Docomo and talked to the girl again, and she basically broke down the prices and everything. The cheapest deal you could get was a $10 a month bill, which buys you 25 min. calling and then texting. I opted for one more step up, at $20 for 55 min. and texting, though they went up to about $60 a month. No surprise, everything here is expensive (it boggles my mind that people can actually afford to live in this country). So, as it is, I got a two year contract, which made my phone free (only selected models), and it gets me 55 min. a month of national calling, and then internet and texting, though after a certain amount of internet usage, they tack on fees, so my brother advised me to just not do it much (I think I can handle that). And no, my free phone can't cook me dinner or play 3D movies or anything, like what you expect Japanese cell phones to do, but it can do basic stuff, like I need, and that's just fine. Another thing with Docomo, is that you can opt to pay a bill, or have it charge onto your credit card, which I did. One thing to note, however, is that the first payment (today), is more expensive because you have to pay for other crap too, like a memory card that goes in your phone, etc.

I would love to tell you how to do all this stuff on your own, but I have to give a standing ovation to any foreigner who managed to get a cell phone on their own. Not only is the jargon complicated, and the concepts difficult to understand, but no one speaks any English to you, and they use the most polite form of speaking, which is more than even I can keep up with. It took us three and a half hours to get all this accomplished, and I wish I could advise any cell phone buyers better than that, but all I can say to you is, good luck! The only advice I'll offer is that you should bring your Alien Card (a must), and your passport both with you, as well as a School ID from your Japanese institution, if you have one. Alrighty then, that's all for now

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