Student Survival Guide: Cellphones

I didn't mean to drop off the face of the Earth, honestly! The NUFS Fall semester is already coming to a close. 

Today I got myself an early Christmas present: a pink 電子辞書, or electronic dictionary. I borrowed one from a friend in class recently, and wondered how I ever got through my assignments without one. I wish I bought one first thing this semester.

Honestly, they are amazing. Not only can you look up words in English and Japanese, but you can add any language from Korean to French with a simple upgrade. There is an SD card slot for additional content, such as memos and recipes. The screen is in full color, which makes browsing easy on the eyes. There is a stylus which allows you to draw a kanji and look up the reading. 

They normally run 25,000-35,000 yen, depending on how big and fancy you want it. But mine was on sale today for 17,000 yen. On top of that, the salesman said "Regrettably, all we have left is pink." Oh, boo hoo! ;D

Speaking of handy electronics, I thought I'd take the time to try and explain one of the cloudiest matters about studying abroad in Japan... prepaid cellphones. 

When I first arrived in Japan, I had no intention of buying a keitai. I thought, "That's useless, just another money eater". 

However as the first month passed, I realized I was the only one without one. Even with the advent of Facebook, I couldn't get a hold of my friends. Then when we started taking school excursions, keeping in touch was even more of a pain. 

The features of Japanese cellphones were tempting too. For example, even with the most basic prepaid phone, you can beam your information via infrared to your friends, eliminating the need to manually enter contact details.

So, you're a student in Japan and you want a cellphone. How do you make it happen?

The major companies are Softbank, Docomo, and au. I decided on Softbank because there are so many stores in my area, it seems to be the cheapest, and all of my friends got Softbank plans.

First of all, get your Gaijin card. It is an ID card that proves/validates your temporary residence in Japan. You normally get it the same time you get your insurance card. Without a Gaijin card, you will need someone else with a Gaijin card, or a Japanese resident to help you get a cellphone in their name. 

Second of all, you must be at least 20 years old to get your own cellphone plan (at least with Softbank). I took my friend to the store to get his cellphone, but since he was only 19, he was ineligible.

When you go to get your phone, it is recommended that you have an intermediate level of Japanese, or take a friend who does. Sometimes there are English speaking staff on deck, but it's never guaranteed.

When you're all set to get your phone, all you have to do is walk into the store. It tends to get swamped in the afternoons when people get off work, but during the day on weekdays it is practically empty. You may still have to take a number and sit in the waiting room. 

When the staff is ready, a salesperson will come and get you. When you're seated, just ask for a prepaid phone. 

I asked for the cheapest, a Softbank 740SC. 

It was only 3,000 yen, but has a color screen, 2.0 megapixel camera, infrared, web capabilities, and texting/email. You can choose either the white model or the black model; the black is more of a deep graphite color and slightly metallic. 

After choosing your phone, the sales person will explain the prepaid plan to you. The easiest, cheapest option is choosing the 3,000 yen package; that is to say, you get 3,000 yen worth of minutes on your plan, good for up to 60 days. Then out of that 3,000, you can pay 300 yen for unlimited texting/email. 

The only thing is, this phone doesn't come with a charger. I bought their cheapest compatible charger for 900 yen, so my total came out to just under 7,000 yen. Considering the phone was topped off, set up and ready to go, that's not bad at all. However, I wish I invested in a sturdier charger for that price, since mine is all ready broken. 

Topping up your phone is very simple (I just did it yesterday for the first time). Softbank sends you free texts when your prepaid plan is about to expire. With that warning, I went to my nearest conbini and asked for a prepaid Softbank card at the desk. The clerk directed me to the Loppi automated kiosk, where I selected the 3,000 yen package, again, good for 60 days. 

The kiosk printed a receipt, which I took to the till. The cashier printed out a piece of paper with a number on it. All I had to do was call the automated Softbank line and input that number, and bam, my phone was set to go again. It was as simple as using an iTunes card. 

I did have to set up my unlimited texting again, but 300 yen for 60 days on text messaging was an amazing deal. Between study sessions, field trips and hanging out with friends, I used well over 300 texts. 

Even if you do not top off your phone, you can still keep your number for up to one year. 

That being said, the Softbank prepaid plan is an excellent resource for students. It is the bare essentials as far as cellphones go... for example, these phones can't browse the internet, or scan those nifty barcode things. However, you can email content like ringtones and photos to your Softbank email, and the camera is pretty nice. I've found it super handy for those times I forget my digital camera. 

If any of this seems vague, feel free to ask questions and I will clarify as much as I can. But really, getting a cellphone in Japan was much easier, less expensive, and more convenient than I expected. Like Manaca cards and Denshi Jishos, they will only make life easier during your studies and travels. 

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