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Further Adventures with the Japanese Cell Phone Industry

Further Adventures with the Japanese Cell Phone Industry published on 1 Comment on Further Adventures with the Japanese Cell Phone Industry

Cut for long/boring/whiny.

So last year, subject to much in the way of angst and blog posts, I bought a pre-paid cell phone from KDDI au. I bought it from them 1) because they had cheaper handsets than Softbank, the first place I tried, and 2) because I was told that I could use the same phone on a normal (non-prepaid) plan later on.

KDDI au’s cheapest plans are the SS, which is 1890 yen a month, and the SS Simple, which is 980 yen a month. The only difference between the two is that the SS is for people who are having KDDI au subsidize their phone purchases – that is, they don’t pay for the phone directly. The SS Simple has a cheaper monthly charge because you pay the full price of the phone up front. The SS plan also has a mandatory two-year contract and a cancellation fee.

So today I went to a KDDI store to try and get the phone reactivated. I was at first told that, yes, I was eligible for the SS Simple plan, and was asked for my ID and stuff, like usual. Then the woman I was talking to got concerned about the fact that I didn’t have my permanent resident alien card yet – just a temporary certificate – and called someone about that. A lot of very fast Japanese I couldn’t follow commenced.

After a while she seemed to get flustered, and asked me, “Do you speak English?” I acknowledged that I did, and she put me on the line with a translator.

The translator told me that I couldn’t get the SS Simple plan – just the more expensive SS one. I asked her why; she asked me to put the sales rep back on the line. After some more Japanese, about half of which I could follow – she was saying that my prepaid account had expired and would need to be reactivated before I could switch to a normal plan – she gave me back the phone. The translator said, “You can’t have the SS Simple plan because your prepaid account has already expired.”

A cursory examination of this statement suggested to me that it made no sense. “The SS plan is the subsidized plan, right? It’s for people who haven’t paid for their phones yet.”


“So I shouldn’t be required to sign onto it. I’ve already paid full price for my phone. I shouldn’t be required to pay for it twice.”

“I can’t tell you anything about that, ma’am, I’ll have to ask the representative.”

Some more really fast Japanese.

“You can get the SS Simple plan if you buy a new phone.”

“What, at the shop I’m at now?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I already bought a phone from your company. You already have my money. Please ask the sales rep why I’m being penalized for having bought my phone at another shop.”

Very pained voice: “It’s not really a penalty, but I’ll ask.”

(Incidentally, I’m condensing this a lot – the conversations weren’t quite this abrupt, because the translator turned every statement she made into three or four sentences.)

I handed the phone back.

The translator asked, “When did you last recharge your phone and how much cash did you put onto it?” I told her, and she had me give the phone back to the sales rep. More Japanese, and then, “It turns out your phone actually won’t expire until March 2nd, but there are no minutes left on it. If you buy 1000 yen worth of minutes to recharge it, we can put you on the SS Simple plan.”

The March 2nd thing wasn’t true. I don’t remember when I’d last put minutes on the phone, but with KDDI’s prepaids, you have to put time on there every 90 days or the phone becomes inactive. I left Japan at the end of September, so the latest that the phone could possibly have been active was late December. So I was willing to consider this a win, as this was clearly some kind of attempt to backpedal on the “the phone has expired” excuse.

But, alas, it was not to be. The sales rep and the translater talked a little more, and the sales rep got flustered again. What I understood of it: “No, that’s different. The 1000 yen doesn’t have anything to do with it, that’s a separate thing, it will have to be 3000*. It would have to be the 1890 yen.”

When I got back onto the phone with the translator, she told me, “I’m sorry, I need to make a correction. You will have to put 3000 yen worth of minutes on the phone, and you can’t be on the SS Simple plan. It will have to be the SS, unless you buy a new phone.”

I had already decided I was going to walk out if they tried to force me to stay with the subsidized plan – I know what the sunk costs fallacy is. I said, “Look, I’ve already paid for the phone; I should not be on the subsidized plan. If I cannot be on the normal plan, I’m going to go someplace else for my cell phone, because I think this is dishonest behavior.” I think I may have gestured threateningly at the NTT Docomo shop (one of their competitors) across the road at this point, which the person on the phone obviously could not see. “Please tell that to the sales representative.”

She did. By this time someone who appeared to be the sales rep’s manager had shown up and was hovering behind her. I got the phone back, and the translator said, “I’m very sorry. So should we cancel your account and everything we have done until now?” By this I suspect she meant “deactivate your prepaid plan, so you can’t reactivate it later without paying us even more in fees.” I told her to go crazy and left.

And now I’m annoyed because I’m going to have to spend this evening figuring out whether Docomo or Softbank is cheaper. It took me days to figure out KDDI’s contracts in the first place.

* Random Irrelevent Note: I’m pretty sure this business about the 1000 yen recharge versus the 3000 yen one was some kind of misunderstanding regarding “Three Little Pigs” cards, which are redeemed 1000 yen worth of minutes each, but can only be bought in sets of three.

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