Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Banks and Cell Phones

Today was ‘doing the dirty work’ day. By which I mean to say, time to shut down all bank accounts and cut cell phone contracts. Luckily, I had my host mom with me which prevented any wrinkles in the process, and while I might have managed the bank accounts flying solo, I’m fairly well convinced that the cell phone situation would have drowned me. My ardent advice to anyone not planning on living here for more than a year would be not to get a cell phone as the entire situation surrounding them is way too expensive, and almost impossible to get in to and out of unless you speak perfectly fluent Japanese.

So we started our chores by going to the post office (first to drop off one of the many boxes I’m having to ship back home). Incidentally, you can ship rather large boxes of stuff home for not too much cash if you use surface shipping, though it takes a month or two to get them. So, after depositing the heavy box into the wafer-thin arms of the mousy girl behind the counter, my host mom and I took a number and waited to be called to the bank side of the post office. Here in Japan, the Post Office is a multi-headed beast. It not only serves as a PO, but also sells insurance, acts as a bank, and performs other services that I no nothing about. A few years ago, the PO was privatized, which is when it took on these many masks, and that is also the reason why it is open/running 7 days a week (which is handier than you know).

So, when our number was called, we went up to the counter and my host mom said that I wanted to close my account. I was asked to produce my bank book, my inkan (personalized stamp), ID, and my cash card. Having presented all of these to the lady, we were asked to go sit down and wait. I was called back up three different times to input my PIN number into a little, shielded calculator-like machine, and then the last time, I was giving a receipt, asked to sign a slip of paper, and then was presented with the remainder of my account (19 cents), and my bank book which had a ‘void’ sticker on it. And that was one check off the list. Pretty painless, huh?

Next, we hopped a bus to Sangenjaya and went to the Docomo store where I got my cell phone all those many months ago. We took a number and waited in the longest line of the day, despite it being before noon on a weekday. After about 45 min. we went up to the counter and my host mom talked in length to the lady beyond. I’m assuming she was saying that I wanted to cut the contract (I’d had to sign up for a 2 yr one remember?) I filled out a slip of paper with my name, address and cell number and then the Docomo girl worked her magic, stopping every few minutes to say things like, “After this, your cell phone will no longer work, so be advised,” etc. Cutting the contract ended up costing me $150, just further proving my point that it’s not cost-effective to have one of the bloody things here. And just so you don’t buy into the idea that Japan’s cell phones are so much more superior than ours in the US, they are not. They are more or less the same, only 3-6 times the cost.

Having rid myself of all means of mobile communication, we hopped another bus for Shibuya, to the third and last thing on our to-do list. This time it was to the Mitsui Sumitomo bank that we went (a bank I’ve grown to love for the sheer ease with which they handle everything), and again we took a number. We hadn’t been sitting a minute when we were called to the counter and, presenting the aforementioned articles once more (Inkan, ID, card, passbook), the girl started punching things into a computer, presented me with my balance and my voided passbook and all in under 10 min. And that was that.

All in all, the three checks on the list took 2 hours, and so, as a reward, my host mother and I went out to lunch in a restaurant situated on one of the top floors of Loft, an everything-you-could-ever-need sort of store situated in Shibuya. The small café-sized restaurant was technically Chinese, though it was more well known for its ample tea selection and so much lunch set came with spicy noodles in soup, three small side dishes of my choice (egg rolls and two types of dumplings), and I chose Lychee tea to finish it off.

After lunch we parted ways, my host mother going home and myself going to Tower Records to stock up on Korean Pop Cds for my return journey. Japanese Cds here usually cost around $12-18 for a single (avg. 4 songs) and around $30+ for a full album. DVDs cost about $35-50 for a regular DVD, and about $150-200 for a TV Box Set. Korean Cds, on the other hand, cost about the same as American Cds, and since buying them here and brining them home would eliminate shipping costs, so that’s what I went to Tower Records store. On the subject of DVDs and Cds (and games for that matter), I will leave this entry with some parting advice for the day. In Japan there are stores called Book Off (a huge one in Shibuya, way down the street HMV is on), and they specialize in used books, movies, magazines and cds. Because things are used, the prices vary, but everything is in good condition and remarkably cheaper than if you were to buy it new, so to anyone wanting to load up on any of the above, check at a Book Off first. They have stores everywhere in Tokyo, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one. To those game enthusiasts out there, though, you should know that Japanese games (like Playstation, Wii, etc.) do not work on American or European game consoles, so if you really want a Japanese game, you’re going to have to buy the console here too (which they also sell at Book Off). Ta-ta for now! I’m off to my last Alice Nine concert!

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