Thursday, July 28, 2005

Keitai Dreams

The sun was shining. The humidity was low. It was a lovely day to pursue my keitai dreams.

Lacking a proper visa, my skies were filled with gray. Cell phone contracts are not approved for those holding temporary visitor status. Gray skies had lasted three months. Being without a keitai in Tokyo is like being without a car in Los Angeles. You feel helplessly cut off from the city passing you by. Pay phones and buses are for the birds.

Sleek Japanese keitai are years ahead of their American counterparts. The latest buzz is touch screens. Features like 2-megapixel video cameras with zoom, 180˚ rotating LCD screens, infrared data transmission, video call, action games, and mp3 compatibility don’t raise eyebrows. But mine did as co-workers showed off their ¥1 phones for last year’s models with technology still unavailable in the States. Phones here do everything, including the dishes…that is, if your washer is Bluetooth enabled.

During my visaless existence, a friend of a friend had lent me his old prepaid keitai. With incoming calls free, I simply bought talk time to initiate dialing – at 57 cents/minute. Calling NY was cheaper than ringing next door. The kicker was that this model was so outdated and cheap that – forget lack of camera – the operating system was only in Japanese. Beyond dialing and picking up, the functions were Greek to me.

I affixed an instructional Post-it note to the back in the event of an emergency text message. Press the paper airplane-looking key. Select option #3. In the flashing red box, hit enter. Select #2. Scroll down to the fifth field…. It became easier not to keep in touch with anyone.

However, a visa would be a passport to freely communicate using the coolest keitai, the keitai of my dreams. With the visa glue still drying, I popped into a store. I quickly realized that, despite my intention to comparative shop, I had no skills to bargain hunt.

I approached the sidewalk salesman announcing summer deals. ”Sumimasen, eigo ga hanase masu ka?” He put down his mic in mid-sentence, and handed me a bilingual phone. “No, no, no…does anyone here speak English?” Sweat dripped down his furrowed brow. The sales ladies inside were poking by the window like visitors catching a glimpse of a rare zoo animal. “Oh, no! He’s coming inside – run for your lives!” was the next thing that crossed their minds, as they went to pull straws in the back.

After failed attempts in Japanese to inquire about contracts, I found out the only English speaking au brand vendor was on the U.S. military base near Yokohama – talk about roaming. Just one operator in Tokyo was equipped to assist English speakers – a Vodafone branch in Tokyo Rail Station. There my keitai dreams were shattered.

¥1 phones only came with two-year contracts. Cancellation penalties applied. Monthly plans for one-year contracts were too expensive for my infrequent calling habits. Euphoric keitai anticipation collapsed into sad reality. To the sales clerk I uttered, “prepaid phone.”

According to Vodafone’s website, prepaid phones are ideal for people who receive more calls than they make (read: who don’t have a life – like the picture of grandpa using such a model). Since I have no friends to dial in Japan, incoming wrong number calls are free. But after three months of inconveniencing myself with an unworkable phone, I was merely swapping models. While relieved at the ability to finally set up a phone book (okay, I know three people), I kicked myself for ignorance. Since prepaid phones are not contractual, I could have purchased a bilingual model months ago without a visa.

Of Vodafone’s four prepaid models, I, of course, eyed the cheapest. It was the same non-flip phone style as what I had. No bells or whistles. It was like asking for a IIc at the Apple store in Ginza. I refused to pocket a relic in the most technologically advanced nation. I splurged $65 for a model with a .3-megapixel zoom camera, which actually was a step up from my phone in the States. V301D only came in spark orange. So be it, at least I’ll proudly answer calls on Halloween. I couldn’t help but feel what my apartment neighbor blurted out: “You got ripped off!”

V301D does have a few redeemable features. Strobe light for incoming calls, sub display, and animecha. Animecha feature selectable animations that become the personality of your phone upon opening it or configuring settings. Puta the golden bear is a “cry-baby.” Hanako the bunny totes a snail on a leash. Mr. Zhen the panda “enjoys shaking his groove thing on the dance floor.” Mr. Tanimura the salaryman “faithfully does his bit at the office day-in and day-out.” Judy the white student is “as tough as one of the boys,” but “still enjoys being a girly girl.” And don’t wake Tanu-tan creature from naps, or he lashes out with bulging muscles.

All creative, but I selected Bi-nasu, the bowing eggplant. Although nasu is one of the few foods I happen not to enjoy, Bi-nasu won me over with his lovable animations – blowing kisses, sunbathing, guzzling beer, belching, and eating his hair (the green calyx cap) [see photo, right], which also blows off in high winds.

His bio scrolls as follows: “Generally speaking I’m impatient, but I do slow down from time to time to enjoy life in the slow lane. Whenever I have some extra change in my pocket, I like to throw back a few beers with my pals.”

Now that’s an eggplant I can relate to. Having saved more than a few ¥500 ($4.75) coins on my crappy keitai, Bi-nasu, I’m buying.

1 comment:

ジェフリー said...

Another curious feature I just learned about is that if my phone is switched off, I cannot receive voice mail. Is that high-tech or what!?