Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Someone's calling ...

Since Japan's mobile phone network is too sophisticated to support neolithic western phones, I got myself a prepaid keitai (cell phone). By the time I decided that loosing all my friends at Shinjuku station was becoming wearing, I was only in Japan for another three months, so I opted for the cheapest phone available. This was a $50 samsung phone that (unlike the toilets) looks innocuous enough; a totally basic handset.

"So, what's your email address?"

Not the first question I was used to getting upon waving a new phone at somebody. I mean, I was all for it, I dislike making calls too, but sometimes having someone's number is useful.... no?

It transpires that all Japanese phones have their own email address. It's not that UK/American phones cannot also check your email, but it is an add-on feature that has a fairly hefty price tag associated with it. In Japan, however, you automatically get a number and email address and I can send and receive unlimited email for 300 Yen a month. That's $3, folks. I assume this is possible because the more sophisticated network allows significantly greater data traffic, so it's no problem for everyone to be emailing continuously. As a result, although my phone does SMS messages, it's an almost unused feature because people simply email texts.

In addition, my incredibly basic handset also displays exciting graphics when it gets an email (the text rolls along the screen and exclamation marks bounce out at you - yay for bounces!), has an infrared port to exchange numbers with someone, can do music and video and operates in both English and Japanese. I do miss predictive text, but typing in Japanese is fun.

The complete obsession Japanese have with their phones has led to two other phenomenon: Firstly, unlike in New York where the subway is the land of the dead, the underground stations in Japan all have reception. Secondly, everyone gets charms to hang off their phone on a hook that a wrist strap might go. Gift shops at temples and tourist sights inevitably sell a selection of these charms for people to collect. Currently, I have two "Hello Kitty" charms (that famous symbol of Japan), one from Gujo-Hachiman where the mouthless cat is performing the traditional steps from the Bon Dance festival and a second from Hakone where the cat is submerged in one of the black-shelled eggs cooked in the naturally sulfurous water there. I also have a small pot of gold from Hokkaido (the northern island in Japan) that a friend bought back for me.

It is also common to personalise your phone with rub-on stickers. Phone shops carry a wide range of designs to suit every taste. I chose a black cat with extra paw prints to walk around the phone's edge.

Riches, kitties, paw-prints and emails all on one $50 device. Calls are rather irrelevant really.

No comments:

Post a Comment