I FINALLY GOT MY GAIKOKUJIN TOUROKUSHO! That means I can buy a phone! :-D
Here is a post about phones. I have included an except from an e-mail that I sent to my lovely girlfriend. I do not have the time right now to really get into detail. But here's a basic gist of things.
Refer to these links for more details:
http://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/ (I don't really mention Docomo, as I am not really interested in their plans. Their phones are amazing, though.)
This is Part 1, and I will definitely make a Part 2 later.
Okay, so the phone thing. Get ready, this is going to be a little complicated. I will post this stuff on my blog as well, but the detail may be a little different.
So you know there are three major cell phone companies in Japan (Willcom is actually another one, a 4th one, but I haven't looked into them at all). And when you get a phone, you get two ways to get in touch with people: a phone number, and an e-mail address. The phone number can be used with making phone calls. The e-mail address is used for sending e-mails. Okay, that makes sense; but what is strange is what the e-mails *really* are.
There are two types of messaging; SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). SMS is what we use in the US and refer to as "texting". As soon as you try to send anything besides text, like a picture or music, it becomes an MMS file.
In Japan, SMS is rarely used, and is actually not compatible across providers. So everyone in Japan uses "e-mail", which is actually a form of MMS. The difference is that in the US, you use the cell phone number for everything, from phone calls to SMS to MMS. But in Japan, you have to use an e-mail address for MMS. To use SMS, it appears that you can use either a phone number (if you're with SoftBank) or an e-mail address.
You are going to get a simple, free, Japanese phone, right? In which case, you will use the phone number you get for only phone calls. And you will use the e-mail address you get (which you can decide the name of) to make text/e-mail messages.
If I get an iPhone, you can send messages to my whatevernameIpick@softbank.ne.jp or firstname.lastname@example.org addresses. I believe the first one is SMS and the second one is MMS.
When you buy a phone, you will have many kinds of plans available. I will try to explain the plans from SoftBank that I recommend.
White Plan, ￥９８０: In the white plan, you can make a phonecall to SoftBank phones for free, between 1 AM and 9 PM. But at night, from 9 PM to 1 AM, there is a ￥２１ for every 30 seconds you call someone. This is UBER expensive. $.45/minute is ridiculous. And if you call other brands like AU or Docomo, at any time of the day, it costs that same price. I would also mention video calls, but it's expensive and we won't really be doing it, so I'll skip that.
If you like making phone calls after 9 PM, then you can go with Double White, which is twice as expensive per month, but twice as cheap per minute.
S! Basic Pack, ￥３１５: The S! Basic Pack is the MMS E-mail service that SoftBank provides.
And if you have the money, Unlimited Packet Discount, ￥１，０２９－￥４，４１０: The charge is dependent on the amount of packets (internet/mail) you use. If you do not have this plan, then you will be charged for each e-mail you send to a non-SoftBank customer. Kinda sucks. But with the S! Basic Pack, you can send e-mails for free to SoftBank customers. So You will need some sort of Unlimited Packet Discount plan if you intend to be sending lots of mail to non-SoftBank friends.
Lastly, there is a Basic Option Package, ￥４９８: While not necessary, it has fun little things like Lost Phone Search if you lose your phone, or Secure Remote Lock, which can also lock your phone. There is also an addressbook backup, more voice mail, and Call Waiting (yeah, normally there is no call waiting in Japan). But no one really calls anyway, haha.
Total: ￥１，２９５, without being able to e-mail people for free or having call waiting. This price includes a very basic stuff; mainly just being able to call SoftBank during the day and early evening, and being able to mail using MMS.
Let's look at AU now. AU has an excellent mail plan.
Plan E Simple, ￥７８０ or ￥１，５６０: You have to apply for the Everybody Discount to get the cheaper price. But that's a very nice price. In this Plan E Simple, there are no Free Calls, but you can call anyone for ￥２１ per 30 seconds. It's like the White Plan from SoftBank, but actually not as good. The only reason you would choose Plan E Simple is because you HAVE to pick a plan, and it is the cheapest.
Mail/EZ Web, ￥３１５: EZ Win E-mail is FREE to send and receive e-mails. But they mentioned C-mail, which costs ￥３．１５/mail. Not really sure what c-mail is.
GUN-GUN Mail (ガンガンメール) and GUN-GUN Talk (ガンガントーク), http://www.au.kddi.com/english/ryokin_waribiki/ryokin/gangan_mail/index.html Gun-gun mail, which we would normally romanize as Gan-gan, is the combination of the two above plans. BUT! It's awesome because you can add three AU phone numbers that you "call often". You can call these three numbers at any time of the day, 24 hours, for only ￥３９０/month! And C-Mail is also free to anyone (whatever that is)! Haha
Total: 1,485, which includes the Everybody Discount. This is the ガンガン Mail and Talk plans, with Plan E Simple. It's nice 'cause you can e-mail anyone you want from any phone company. And you can also call those three numbers at any time of the day.
So there you have it, folks. Two courses of action that I'm trying to decide upon. The current situation is that I have a temporary number and e-mail for a prepaid plan. I got this for the sake of waiting for an iPhone ('cause for some reason it takes FOREVER to get an iPhone). But after looking at AU's awesome GUN-GUN plan, I'm highly considering it.
Til next time!
Word of the day: 携帯電話 「けいたいでんわ」 "keitai denwa", or "cell phone".