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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Japanese Talk

On my last two trips to Japan, I picked up a rental SIM card at Narita airport to use while I was in Japan.  If I remember correctly, the rental for the SIM is Y105 a day with phone calls about Y100 a minute.  BUT, incoming calls FREE!

This time though, I had flown through Haneda airport (which I absolutely love!) and NOT Narita; that way I didn't have to bother with the time and price of paying for a one hour plus train ride into the city (one-way). What I didn't consider when booking my flight though was that Haneda would not have some of the luxuries that I took for granted (i.e. SIM card rental!).  When I arrived in Haneda (blog post: Taiwan to Tokyo), I quickly learned that the small international airport only had phone rentals available.  Since I would be in Japan for over a month, this was clearly not an option for me; I believe it was about Y780 per day!

Just being so dependent on our phones, it seems almost impossible to live now without a cell phone!  Since I couldn't get a phone, had decided to do it the old-fashion way and bought telephone cards instead.  Can you believe that within two weeks, I had already dropped Y4500 ($50) on phone cards? I surely can't! I mean, I know I talk a lot but $50 in two weeks?  Really?

I spent most of the first couple of weeks trying to figure out what my options were in obtaining a phone.  I was told that I could go to Narita airport to pick up a SIM card but wasn't that the whole point of flying into Haneda? So that I would NOT have to go to Narita and pay the train fare?  So I scratched that option though it was tempting to do on my Japan Rail Pass...

I had heard that both AU and Softbank (the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in Japan) offered pre-paid card services.  Apparently, they used to sell pre-paid phones at the convenience stores but because of an increase in illegal activity with the use of these pre-paid phones by foreigners, they halted its sales and now it's virtually impossible to get a phone in Japan if you are on a tourist visa.

If you are a foreigner, you are able to purchase your own phone and voice plan but this requires you to have your Foreigner's Registration Card which is the lifeline to doing anything in Japan (I needed this also for my bank account issues)!  On a lunch with some friends from my study abroad program who have now lived in Japan for close to 10 years, they mentioned that it is possible to obtain a Foreigner's Registration Card just by going down to apply at the local government office.  I have never heard of this before!  Had I known, I would have done this!  At the time of writing, I cannot verify whether or not this is true but if you do plan on staying in Japan for over a month (I believe it takes a few weeks to receive), then I would suggest checking this option and getting a card! Trust me, your life will be THAT much easier!

Well, because the Foreigner's Registration Card was not an option for me, luckily, I had friends!

I had already learned from previous visits to the AU store that if I were to sign up for a phone, I would need: you guessed it, a Foreigner's Registration Card 2) Y4200 to sign up for the service and 3) a phone (or I could purchase one).  At first I couldn't find a phone but then after my friend offered to lend his to me, realized that I really didn't want to pay the Y4200 fee.

When I went down to Oita, my ex offered to let me borrow his phone since he had an extra one.  Then on second thought, he reneged his offer and instead offered to take me to get a new phone.  Stingy!

Although two weeks had passed without a phone, I realized that my life could be a tad easier if I had a phone because it is quite difficult to locate a pay phone nowadays.  With the increased use of cell phones, companies have found that it is too expensive to maintain their phones.  Not only does it take time to locate a phone, it's almost the same price!  And any time someone needs to call you, it's free!

So I had my ex sign up for a phone.  Again, I could have used an old phone that he was not using anymore but decided to just go ahead and buy a phone.  The first store we checked out in Saiki was selling phones for Y7800.  I *guess* I'd get the phone even though I thought it was a bit expensive but as it turned out, they didn't have phones in stock!  Our option was to go up to Oita about 40 miles or so away.  Well, if he was willing to drive me, I suppose I was willing to get it.  So we drove up, in some awkward silence and I ended up getting the phone.  Luckily to my delight, the phone was actually only Y4800, Y3000 cheaper!  I went ahead and bought it along with Y3000 worth of calling units.  I also signed up so that I could activate an email account to send and receive emails.

I was afraid that I wouldn't go through all the minutes since all incoming calls are free but somehow I managed.  After a few days, I needed to get another card so picked one up at the discount ticket outlets and got a Y5000 card for Y4400!   It was so much easier to get in touch with people and make plans with a phone but all-in-all, I spent close to $200 on phone usage while I was in Japan for a little over a month....TALK about expensive!

The only thing that you also need to be aware of is that the units that you purchase have an expiration date.  So, the units that I purchased will be expiring in June (90 days).  I can continue to have the same number (so I believe) if I continue to recharge my phone. Otherwise, next time I am in Japan, I will need to have a Japanese friend sign up for the pre-paid service again and purchase more units.  I purchased the phone for the next time I am back in Japan so hopefully it was a worthwhile investment.

My friend Ema also told me that sometimes expats are giving away phones and SIM cards during their sayonara sales (found in the classifieds of English published magazines) which may have been a cheaper alternative but I suppose it's a timing issue too.  Hopefully now though, having my own cell phone, this will finally end all of the cell phone chaos.

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