Quick note: We’ve updated the schedule for the trip.
Hackers on a Plane trips aren’t your average group tours. While we do a lot of stuff together, we like to be able to branch off and do things on our own when the opportunity hits us. We also like to stay in touch, and the chance to get a local cell phone is offered on almost all HoaP trips.
In the rest of the world, we normally just buy a handful of local prepaid SIMs and tell people to bring their own unlocked GSM phones. Unfortunately, this option is generally unavailable to foreigners in Japan.
The standard guidance is just getting a rental phone at the airport when you arrive in Japan. However, we’re really not too keen on spending $50 on a phone that we have to give back.
Seriously…we’re hackers, not tourists.
That being said, it was quite a hassle getting phones. Yes, we probably could have gone down to Akihabara and hit up a wink-and-nod place and walked away with something that worked. However, we chose to do it the “right way”, and got a lesson in Japanese bureaucracy.
After waiting in line for two hours at a Softbank counter in the Bic Camera in Ikebukuro, we went through the process of:
- Finding a clerk who spoke just enough broken English to understand what we wanted to do. (We were very lucky to get a clerk who spoke perfect English the first time around. We’re also very grateful to Karamoon for his assistance.)
- Selecting our phone (Don’t get excited, unless you want to spend more than ¥7500/$100, your options are White or Black.)
- Handing our passports over to be photocopied.
- Giving them our address in Japan.
- Showing them where in our passports our US address was. (It’s on page 4. You write it in your passport, and this is apparently official enough.)
- Figuring out the Katakana for our names.
- Signing five different forms, three times each.
All in all, this took roughly 3 hours, at which point we were told to come back two hours later. (Many jokes about background checks were made.) After a leisurely lunch at Jonathan’s, we went back to Bic Camera, at which point we paid for the phones and walked away.
We’d also like to thank Mitch Altman for loaning us his Japanese phone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the trip this year on account of some knee problems that required surgery. Get well soon, Mitch!
Another interesting note worth mentioning is that SMS is basically obsolete in Japan. Domestically, Japanese mobile subscribers generally use e-mail directly from their phones, both to regular e-mail addresses (email@example.com) and other mobile users (firstname.lastname@example.org). Within the same network, you can use the number stored in your phonebook and the operator will automatically forward your message correctly.
We also got some other basic things taken care of, like food shopping (Jimmie is a vegetarian), getting SUICA cards for local transport and pulling out some Yen for food and incidentals. Given that we got up around 6 AM, spent the morning catching up on e-mail and the afternoon wrestling with cell phones, we were good and ready for bed around 9.
The good news is that it’s 8 AM on Day 3, we’re showered, eating breakfast and ready see the Imperial Palace before heading to Tokyo Hackerspace for their weekly meeting this evening.