We made it through the three-day weekend. The birds are chirping again and the kids at the pre-school are yelling and screaming across the alleyway again. While I don’t think the birds were on a holiday, the kids definitely were and it was way too quiet without all their background noise. Their screechy little voices are a welcome addition to the eerie quiet of our neighborhood. I can't believe how I actually miss the sirens of New York. Sometimes I feel like we are the only people here and it's very disconcerting.
Over the past two days we took breaks from reading and writing and toured the neighborhood, strolling around some of the unexplored streets. Each ramble though geographically short has lasted two hours or so because of the meandering of the streets. Tokyo is not on a grid system. In fact, when one needs to go somewhere and jumps into a taxi, quite often the taxi driver has no clue how to find the desired destination. One needs to have a map or at least some type of landmark to give the taxi driver. Thus, I don’t feel so bad admitting that I have been completely lost and turned around each time we have wandered off our main street. I find it really hard to know where I am and without the ability to access Google Maps on my iPhone, I am pretty much in a constant state of confusion. It’s not a way I like to be.
In New York, while I wander in a state of confusion often, I rely on apps to save me. Here I have everything shut down on my American iPhone to avoid the costly surprises AT&T presents us with at the end of each month we are gone. Last month AT&T gave us a great surprise: a $500 bill for two iPhones (and only one was abroad at the time). After receiving that gift-that-keeps-on-giving I have shut everything down and now use my phone as a weight to keep my jacket pocket from fluttering in the wind.
Today is sunny after two days of gloomy, gray weather, and I’ve been trying to talk The Professor into going out to explore the city since he has turned his iPhone into a temporary Japanese phone and can get the life-saving apps we need to get around, AND he can read and speak a little Japanese. At least enough. I, on the other hand, am full-blooded American and can speak and read only English. This is not very helpful in Japan, I am finding. I’m not sure I have it in me today to go out and be lost, possibly forever.
To those who told me that everyone speaks English in Tokyo (I know I assured everyone of that fact before arriving here), I have one word to say in response. And that one word is ‘LIAR’! If the Japanese speak it, it’s only a few words usually, and they don’t seem to understand a lot of what we say.
A perfect example of this is when we ventured out to turn The Professor’s American-issued iPhone into a Japanese-issued iPhone. The Professor had decided this was a necessity before we left America so I knew it was only a matter of time before we had to deal with it. The time had come shortly after arriving in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago. I would have written of the experience earlier, but frankly it was beyond boring, and I really couldn’t bring myself to until now.
We went to the Shinjuku train station to a store called BIC Camera. The Professor had been told by a fellow visiting-scholar he’d met that while many places don’t allow for short-term contracts, BIC Camera did. They offer a monthly data-only plan as well as a yearlong contract phone option. Both options are good for those long-term visitors tentatively clutching their temporary Japanese Residence Card.
Note to long-term US visitors if this is your plan: contact your American phone carrier and get your phone unlocked before leaving the US. This will allow the Japanese phone company access to the phone. They just need to replace the SIM card and voila, American phone is turned into a Japanese one. Also note that we have had varied luck getting my still-American phone to accept texts from The Professor’s now-Japanese one.
Upon entering the BIC Camera store, The Professor asked if anyone spoke English and we were happy to find there was one lone guy, and we happily waited our turn to speak to him. After explaining what we needed, he told us in somewhat broken, and highly accented English that we needed to go to the next floor (I guess that’s what he said, because we next found ourselves there, and expected).
Once on the second floor, English-Speaking Sales Guy turned us over to another guy I’ll refer to as Non-English-Speaking Sales Guy. For the next thirty minutes or so (it felt like four hours), I sat and listened to The Professor and Non-English-Speaking Sales Guy speak a halting version of Japanese as Non-English-Speaking Sales Guy tried to explain what the contract consisted of, what was needed of The Professor, and all the other fine print and details my non-interested brain half tuned out. The Professor understood most of what was being said but for one thing—that of needing an existing Japanese phone number. He couldn’t understand why they needed it or what was to be done with it. We tried getting an answer from Non-English-Speaking Sales Guy who finally asked English-Speaking Sales Guy to come back over so we could ask, but we still never really understood until after the fact. Reluctantly, The Professor finally gave them a phone number for a friend who resides in Japan. (NOTE: When getting a Japanese phone number, one must be ready to supply a friend’s Japanese phone number. We THINK this is needed to set up the account. After the new account is set-up, the new Japanese-Issued phone number is then entered in the account to replace the friend’s number. Seems kind of weird, but what do I know?)
After this give and take, Non-English-Speaking Sales Guy did a bunch of stuff to the iPhone, handed the phone off to someone behind a partition, got the phone and new SIM Card back, did some more stuff to the iPhone, then went through all the contract details yet again, asking the Professor to click next to each detail, and a bunch of other boring stuff. Non-English-Speaking Sales Guy then inserted the new SIM Card, went over instructions again in slow, halting Japanese to make sure that The Professor could understand him, handed him a copy of the contract, a receipt, and his old SIM card, and we were finally able to leave.
Three days later (give or take) we finally exited the store and The Professor’s phone is now life-saving with its Japanese Subway and Japanese Google Maps apps. His phone is now our lifeline to direct us out of any potentially lost-forever moments—while mine is a pocket weight.
This is why I find the thought of taking off into the depths of Tokyo very daunting and I still sit here at the kitchen table typing this blog entry. Stay tuned.