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.

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