I’ve been back in Japan for seven years, and in that seven years, I have been able to function fairly well without a cell phone. I have a land line (which I had to purchase in 1993 for a ridiculous sum) and internet on my iBook and the combination has served me just fine. Any mention of this dark secret, though, to my students or Japanese acquaintances earns me the sort of look reserved for people who prefer to communicate by smoke signals, or messages in bottles (come to think of it, I would). Eventually, though, like an illiterate who’s been guessing the newspaper headlines for 20 years by skillfully scanning the pictures (and I do enough of that already, living in Japan), there comes a time when you can’t hide it anymore and people much younger than you are passing you by. You start wondering what your kids will think of you (actually, I don’t have kids, but I wouldn’t want my geranium to think any less of me either).
After one missed (smoke?) signal too many, I finally conceded, two Sundays ago, that it was time to put the matches and blanket away. For days, , I circled the merchandise like a fly over potato salad until I found just the right phone for me (within minutes of signing the contract, I wished I’d chosen the orange model next to it. Life goes on). After showing my credit card, bank card, alien registration card and passport (Japanese show their driver’s license and credit card), I became the proud owner – for the next two years – of this model (link expired), a Panasonic, and my service provider is Softbank (née Vodafone Japan). Softbank has developed this revolutionary concept of “monthly flat-rate telephone service” (which has only been available in Canada since, oh, the 1890s, but was unheard of in Japan until this year). In other words, I pay ¥2080 a month and can call any Softbank subscriber for free. Naturally, the catch is that there are three main cell phone providers in Japan, and Softbank dings you for ¥40 per minute whenever you call the other two (namely, AU and Docomo). I don’t think that will affect me, mainly because a): many of my friends use Softbank, and b): I still can’t remember to bring my phone with me when I leave home in the morning. Racking up monthly keitai bills of ¥10,000 or more, though, is not unknown among my more obsessive-compulsive students (and not a few mortified gaijin who couldn’t read the fine print). The phone features text-messaging and a camera, both standard here. I could pay for more functions, but I’d only use them.