I was planning to have my next post about the beauty beyond words of the great country of Japan, but I have experienced today a new side of japanese society, I have had my synapses torn apart by the wall of japanese customer service. So here goes nothing.
Everywhere you go the regular customer service is truly impeccable, they bow before you and offer themselves to serve you at the highest quality you could ever encounter. The japanese people are taught to respect the most rigorous of the rules just to get you, the customer, anything you could ever wish for, in normal conditions. As long as your situation and wishes correspond to their job description nothing is to go wrong, it can actually go better than imagined.
But this story is not about buying ice cream or coffee from a convenience store, this is a much bigger, much complex, much complicated acquisition that I had to make in order to survive on this new lands.
Today, my friends, I almost bought a SIM card and was also the closest to using the advanced japanese networking system.
Going straight for the real stuff, what can I say, I am very adventurous. Considering that here in Japan I live in a rural area I took a 30 minutes trip with my host sister and her husband to the third biggest city in Japan, Nagoya. Lovely day to wander around in a big city, oh, and how lovely it will turn out to be. Going straight for the busiest area in this city, with New York like skyscrapers and gigantic advertising panels, we find the store every foreigner goes to when he arrives in Japan. I really want to emphasize the word foreigners, many many foreigners in one of the biggest electronics and telephone companies store, which is located in the most frequented area by foreigners. Just saying.
So entering the BIC Camera store you see the usual helpful Japanese employees welcoming you very warmly in their electronics world, what more could you ask for? I find what I need in less than a minute, one of the employees explains to me and my host sister everything you needed to know about their prepaid SIM card system and how great of an opportunity all the network companies offer by connecting us to the society. Lovely. He speaks a quick Japanese from which I could understand almost nothing, but I decided to trust what my host sister recommended and skip the explain me in English step and go straight to the let’s get it over with.
One thing that I found very weird about this electronics store is that all the telephone companies that could provide any kind of Internet, Messaging or Voice services were in the same place, with no walls, curtains or anything else stopping the customer from running to another telephone company. Practically you just walk around this store choosing the one that looks better, or so I’ve done. Even more, what I found very different from the Romanian system was that you cannot take a Voice SIM card (calling) without making a contract, even if you take a prepaid SIM or a temporary foreigner SIM. So who is in for burying themselves in contracts and long term agreements? Looks like I am indeed guilty.
Coming back from obvious cultural differences I am now worried about reading a Japanese contract and writing my identification data, in Japanese. Even worse, under the eyes of the poor employees there is no way for my host Japanese sister to write my data in Japanese, it has to be written by me. Even though they bury you in contracts they are nice enough to test your phone compatibility with the Japanese SIM card, pure glory now that I’m compatible with the Japanese system. Signing up everything and turning in the papers I receive in exchange a paper on which writes the time I have to return to get my SIM card. Two hours, oh that’s not much at all indeed, but lucky me I have time to look around Nagoya and do some really nice Japanese expensive brands window shopping. Waiting around and struggling to understand whatever dialect of Japanese they are talking is much tiring than it sounds. When I left the store I got a beeping device that would tell me when my SIM card is ready to be taken, or so they said. Hearing the beeping half an hour early made me look up to the Japanese customer service, such a rigorous and fast service, never before. Going back to the designated counter I find out, through sign language of course, no English speakers around, that they needed one hour and a half to realize that underage people cannot sign a contract with their facility, therefor, I cannot have a SIM card on my name. Again, lovely.
It’s okay, I’m dealing with this one, my host sister puts the whole thing on her name and saves my sorry foreigner dignity. Still they need thirty more minutes to figure out how to change the name of the contractant, doesn’t happen every day that a minor buys a SIM card. The whole process ends finally not in thirty minutes, nor forty or fifty but actually in an hour (much of a Japanese punctuation, I’ll note this one down). Leaving the shop happily I insert my brand new Japanese SIM card in my Romanian branded phone and I guess you know what happens next, if it was that simple I wouldn’t be writing about it so get your popcorn because this is just the beginning. It’s not working, no network, I try reading the instruction manual, nothing, Japanese, even the damn photos, a little respect people, I know you don’t like foreigners but please try to understand our inferiority, we are all or almost all good-willed and peaceful. Well I decide not to be peaceful anymore, at least not with the pretty employee who sold me this SIM card and who watched me drown in my sweat while completing the contract. Ok Japanese system, here I come. I asked my host sister in a half Japanese half English dialect to look for the guy or any guy who could help us reach the goal of purchasing a working SIM card. Intrigued by the fact that she does nothing but sit on a chair and wait after requesting the guy who contracted us, I ask her why we cannot ask one of the available workers to show us the path to freedom. In short words she shook her head violently and said that we have to wait for the same guy, respect and rigorousity for him. It’s not like I haven’t already spent more than 4 hours in a telephone company-store. So I can only sit and wait. And wait. And yet I wait, an hour, an hour and a half. Freedom is hard to aquire
Oh there is Mr. Something-something, smiling kindly and possibly fake, I still think smiling is in the job description, who would smile to strangers without getting money? My host sisters tells him the problem that we had encountered very slow and quiet, with her head down, later on I realized she was doing that because she felt guilty to bother him again. It’s just one of those things you might never understand about Japanese people. Though I am very moved by the Japanese society and the deep respect they carry for those around them I might just get my European youth spirit out of the shell, I want either a working SIM or my money back. After he tried going through my phone settings which are in English, took 20 minutes to figure out what he had to do, still no English speaking persons around, all he could say was ‘SIM work not’. He might have elucidated the theory of evolution. After talking some more Japanese with my sisters, they both concluded that my phone has different features from the ones needed by the SIM card and also that the frequencies are not good. The boy returned me the phone and the SIM card with a kind smile on his face. In that moment I didn’t know what to think and what to do, what was he waiting? He stopped talking, was looking down. I asked in English what can I do to be able to use the Japanese network? I am pretty sure he did not get it.
‘What solution?’ Nothing.
‘What do now?’ Still nothing.
Shaking the phone violently in his face
‘How call?’. Oh now we’re talking.
‘Buy phone’ he said.
Without waiting he jumped at the closest table and showed me what phones they have.
‘Not want phone’ I can see, hear, feel his confusion. ‘No new phone’. ‘Money back, break contract’. ‘No more contract’.
After thinking of ways of reformulating the same idea I told him in Japanese to wait a bit. I walked around the shop for the next 10 minutes asking people around if they know English. I went to another telephone provider and found the gold bucket at the end of the rainbow, an English speaking person. I told him my problem and misunderstanding and he came with me and told the guy that I wanted to end the contract I did 2 hours ago and get my money back. Not possible. No refund.
I was raised in a country with other values, when something goes wrong, you start either swearing or putting pressure on others and making them feel guilty so they do what you want them to. So I did, with the help of my gold bucket, I told the guy that I am very sorry to tell him that it is his fault he sold me a SIM card and add me sign a contract with a company without giving me good service and assistance in choosing the right SIM. Also it is all his guilt that after testing my phone he couldn’t determine the compatibility with the frequencies and after I trusted their company with my credit card and signature they could not give me the service I kindly paid for. He started melting, eyes teary and hands trembling. I am about to test the limits of the system. After telling me a few times that I should really buy a new phone because it can be unlocked for my country service and they could give me this and that for an unbelievable price I just sat there and after he finished his shaky speech I just told him :
‘Money back, talk with boss’.
He got the idea and in less than 30 minutes my contract was broken, I had my money back and I felt more accomplished than I had ever felt in my whole life. My sister talked with the ‘boss’ and found out that their employees are not instructed on this matter and that they didn’t encounter such problems before, therefore he doesn’t have enough apologies for his employees behavior and not know the policies of returning products. Awe everywhere, things never get returned in Japan if you keep your eyes down and obey what they say, usually what Japanese people do.
I never expected flowers when I came to Japan alone and without knowing the language too well, I never expected it to be easy, but also I never expected to spend half a day in a shop to buy and return a product and also teach the staff members there are written rules they should know better than the unwritten ones. Heads up though, 5 more months and still no SIM.