Silence isn’t always golden after all

You get to know the people you ride with on the train every day. Not really KNOW the people, but become accustomed to them and recognize them. I’m sure they really recognize me since I’m the gaijin in the car.

There’s the short guy with the really bad toupee that is always pushing to get to a seat. There’s the tall guy who looks almost muscular but might be bordering on fat as soon as his metabolism slows. There’s the little guy that always has a pack of cigarettes in his front pocket and somehow manages to wear his glasses over the hair on the side of his head (how DOES he put his glasses on?). There’s the guy that kneads his hair as he reads the paper. There’s the junior high school student who I noticed today has a very asymmetric head (he just got all his hair cut off) and looks like he’s going on 50. I need to spot him because I know he gets off at the next station so I can sit down when he gets off if I stand in front of him. I have tons that I can describe – we are together every weekday morning.

About 3 months ago, two guys started taking the train from Nagoya Station. They were very “stylish” and by “stylish” I mean not stylish at all. Lot’s of pink with cursive writing, sweat pants, bad English, and almost trucker hats. Not the awful trucker hats that we saw from Von Dutch or Ed Hardy, but almost just as hideous. One guy wears his hair in a strange top knot as well. Except it is a pretty unsuccessful top knot and is more Pebbles than sumo.

These guys were even more remarkable because they were SO loud. Every morning they would be talking, usually top knot guy yammering at white sweat pants guy. It didn’t matter if they were on or off the train, “blah, blah, blah,” “maji de”, “blah, blah, blah,” “uso, “blah, blah, blah.” It DROVE me crazy. The train is still my relaxation time, in spite of the fact that I often scan my BlechBerry to see what evil awaits when I arrive at work. These two were so loud though, and they talked about nothing.

Yesterday, I didn’t hear them at all and I thought that perhaps they were not riding the train. I thought though that I saw at least one of them sitting waiting for the train. Today I noticed them, sitting and waiting for the train, with a seat between them and with their headphones in. They kind of came on the train together but stood apart. Then they kept there headphones in. No eye contact, making no effort to communicate. A few times top knot looked at white sweats, but no interaction.

What happened? I can only guess that they had some sort of disagreement and were no longer talking. Surely they had not run out of things to say because they constantly talked up until yesterday. Their silence all of a sudden actually disturbed me more than their yammering, and now I hope they renew their friendship. Did I wish poorly on them? I hope not. Top knot looked very sad. Their yammering will be music to my ears!

iPhone 3GS – Finally

I have been jonesing for an iPhone for a very long time. Since my first edition RAZR was still working back in the States, I just could not convince myself that I need a new phone. I WANTED a new phone, of course, but did I need one? Then I got the gig here in Japan so that put the kibosh on the iPhone. Until the iPhone came out in Japan. I wanted one again.

Once I started thinking that maybe my own phone would be a good idea, especially since people were getting a little cranky about using the work phone for personal calls (even though the policy clearly says “reasonable use” of the business phone for personal use, one person’s reasonable is another’s excessive), I started jonesing again. Of course, the Mac rumors were flying that a new phone was coming out. At the same tine, SoftBank was running some serious promotions on the iPhone. I decided I would wait until at least the WWDC in June (World Wide Developer’s Conference – where a lot of announcements are made) before trying to get an iPhone here. The new iPhone was announced, and shortly thereafter the availability in Japan was declared to be June 26 (Happy Birthday to Bob and Ben!).

So now, the adventure could begin!

What everybody needs

Getting an iPhone in Japan, or any phone contract for a foreigner is not so easy. Here is a list of restrictions:

Please be aware of the following items, when applying with “Basic Residential Registration Card & Passport”.

1. Subscription is not accepted if the “period of stay” is less than 90 days.

2. Contract by installment is not accepted if the “period of stay” is less than 15months from the day of subscription. (Contract by a lump-sum payment is accepted)

3. Contract by installment (for 12 payments only) is accepted, if the “period of stay” is more than 15 months and less than 27 months from the day of subscription. (Contract by a lump-sum payment is also available)

4. Contract by installment (all payments) will be available, if the “period of stay” is more than 28 months from the day of subscription.

What that means is that I am not illegible for installment payments on a 2 year contract since my visa expires in May, 2011. SoftBank currently charges for the iPhone by installment, but I had to pay to get mine. It is OK, it all somehow works out in the end.

Tomo was helping me of course, and we decided to go to the local SoftBank in his neighborhood. There was no particular iPhone line on a Sunday morning at 10:10 am. (shop opening time 10:00 am). We were helped pretty quickly. SoftBank is having a pretty big special as well on the new iPhones, but it is all rather confusing in English or in Japanese.

All advertising represents the installation plan as only 960 yen over 24 months. That’s only 23040 yen, or about 250 USD. That seemed like a pretty good price for a 32 GB iPhone. Since I was not eligible for installment plan, I was expecting an upfront payment of 23040 yen. I was quite surprised when I learned that it was actually 69120 yen, or about $700. What? How does an installment plan actually make something cheaper?

After a bit of an overreaction and some explaining, we learned the ACTUAL monthly price is 2880 yen, but if you sign up for two years you get a monthly rebate of 1960 yen.

So I am apparently getting a discount of 1960 yen every month from my bill. Oh, wait. Except the discount doesn’t kick in until 3 months AFTER my service starts. We learned that after all was said and done. You can see the light blue -1920 yen and 960 yen. I think my minimum monthly payment eventually will then be 404 yen. That’s pretty manageable on a monthly basis.

With the family plan I got with Tomo, we also had to buy Tomo’s phone upfront, but we get that rebated on a monthly basis as well, I think. The calls to Tomo will be free, and also free to any SoftBank user from 1:00 am to 9:00 pm. Of course, I almost never talk to another SoftBank user before 9:00 pm or after 1:00 am. But I could!

I still get charged quite a bit for usage. I did a lot of prework to understand what was the best plan for me. I hadn’t figured on being able to get Tomo on a calling plan together. However, calls to other people are 21 yen for every 30 seconds. Yes, you read that right – 42 yen a minute, or about 50 cents a minute. I can’t really do much better than that from a rate point of view. Japan is expensive, y’all.

The nice thing is – incoming calls are free!

Of course, with an iPhone, you need to worry about data as well. I have a graduated data rate, capping at 4,410 yen a month. I wonder how much web use I’ll have?

Of course, new charges kept piling on. There was a mysterious deposit that I had to pay, but I signed up for additional stuff that would waive the deposit and apparently those additional services will be cancelled July 10. We’ll see about that. Plus, there was a service charge – I guess a gratuity of sorts amounting to 2400 yen. Very strange. To have voice mail associated with my iPhone is another 315 yen.

After we got everything lined up and straightened out, numbers assigned, the phones activated, etc, it was time to pay. I did not have enough cash, and I wanted the service to be billed monthly to my credit card. So … I gave my primary credit card (which has monthly charges for my internet access already). Denied. Well, that’s why I have a backup credit card. DENIED. Darn. At this point, Tomo decided he could use the points so he put it on his charge card. You’ll probably remember a few complaints about charge cards previously. So now I have to call the credit card company and tell them what I think and trying to get this set up so it won’t happen again. It really is embarrassing. Oddly, my credit card worked yesterday at the hotel. My guess is there is a ton of fraud with mobile phone companies.

You never knew getting a mobile phone could be so interesting. Maybe it isn’t really that interesting but it just shows that everything is, in one way or another, an adventure here in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Quick Report – Hakone

As my previous juvenile post stated, I took a day off on Friday (except I worked too many hours up to Friday so I just didn’t go in to work but I didn’t take a vacation day) and used one of my free nights at a Hyatt in Hakone. Next plan is Fall in Kyoto. Anyway, Tomo and I met in Hakone-Yumoto and chugged Swiss style halfway up a mountain to the resort town of Gora. It was really just a chance to escape the city. The hotel was really relaxing – perhaps too relaxing because we took advantage of Happy Hour and I wasn’t too happy later in the evening with a headache.

Our room with a view was very nice and spacious. The lines were very clean – it felt modern to both of us. To me, it felt Japanese as well but Tomo isn’t so sure. Since Tomo is actually Japanese, perhaps he’s right.

A sleek room with a view

We had a nice view over to the other mountain from our faux balcony. The balcony area was completely enclosed, yet was separated from the rest of the room. It was a very nice sitting area.

I noticed a few families there. I’m not sure what the kids would do – I bet they got bored just staying in the hotel. But you can always find something to do on a mountain.

There was a gaggle of school girls departing their school in Gora for various locations down the mountain, mostly in Hakone-Yumoto. The school uniforms are very interesting – I love the hats. I wondered if it was a Catholic School because I swear I saw one girl reading Mother Teresa manga. Who knows.

Boshi, boshi, boshi

I’m just sayin’ …

I took advantage of a free Hyatt night and went to Hakone Friday night. There is an old train that chugs up the side of a mountain. I saw this notice in the train.

Interesting instructions

Read it however you want. I’m juvenile and found it funny. English translation is a bit different than the Japanese.


I thought my blogging had picked up again, but I hit a wall. Lot’s of work I guess. I have some fun pictures from Nara that I have to post pretty soon.

Rainy season declared by the JMA

It is official, rainy season has been declared in Japan. Or at least my part of Japan. I am happy to report that it rained on the start day. There is a good chance of rain every day in the forecast.

A chance of rain

I just wish I could find the official JMA announcement of the commencement of rainy season. How do you really know when rainy season starts and when it ends? What is the criteria used, and what is the vehicle for the announcement?