#5yearsago

5 years ago today I am in the Yamanote line going to an interview for what is to become my current job. The shaking hits as we are pulling in to the platform at Shinjuku station. I brace myself as the car sways to what feels like 30º angles and people standing don’t know if they should jump out or jump in.

As things calm down, the station master announces on the PA system that all trains are stopped probably for the rest of the day and asks everyone to exit the station calmly. I glance up at towers in Shinjuku west side, they are still swaying back and forth 10 minutes after the quake.

I leave the station but all I can think about is how to make it to my interview. I try calling the HR guy and my agent maybe 20 times but nothing is going through. I send a couple emails to my family and friends abroad saying I’m fine so that they don’t worry as they wake up and see a big earthquake on the news.

I try desperately to catch a taxi that could bring me closer to Tamachi where my interview is. Finally I manage to get through to the HR guy who tells me everyone left the building and the interview is cancelled.

That’s the moment when I look up at the giant video screen on the front of the Flags building at Shinjuku south entrance. It shows the live view from a helicopter as the wave unfurls over Tohoku. I realize how bad the situation is and how silly I was focusing on my stupid job interview…

I stay maybe 30 minutes in shock, watching the live images of the disaster with hundreds of business people and shoppers. Then I realize there is nothing to do but walk home. I curse myself for buying new business shoes for this interview as I walk 5km back to Ikebukuro.

SoftBank plans for new iPad

SoftBank has just published their new deals for iPhone owners wanting to buy one of the newer iPads.

The mechanics of the plan are the same as for the iPad 2 campaign last year, you get a full rebate on the 16GB model’s price, but that applies only on the data plan charge. So if you use less than the 100MB free allotment of 3G/4G data, you will still have to pay at least the iPad’s price (split over 24 months).

Now the big differences with the iPad 2 campaign we had last year:

  • The iPad 2 3G model used to be offered by SoftBank for the same price of the WiFi only model at Apple. This is not the case anymore. You will pay a ¥10,960 to ¥10,800 premium for the 4G model over the simple WiFi model.
  • The access to SoftBank WiFi hotspots which was included for free before is now charged at ¥490 a month.

This makes this campaign plan much much less interesting than its predecessor.

3G or 4G speeds?

Additionally, the page adds an enigmatic note next to all mentions of 4G

日本国内ではSoftBank 3Gエリアのみで、ご利用いただけます。

Inside Japan, can only be used in SoftBank’s 3G area.

I suspect this is a shrouded way of saying that the iPad sold currently will only work with SoftBank’s 3G network, corroborating other sources around the web that it is incompatible with 4G LTE network bands used outside the US.

Is Softbank’s new iPad 2 campaign worth it?

Updated 2011/11/09 — see bottom of the post

For the iPhone 4S launch, Masayoshi Son, Softbank’s CEO, decided to go all out to keep his customers from going to aU by KDDI.

Fun Fact: during his keynote on October 7th, one day after Steve Jobs passing away, Son-san declared tearfully that these campaigns were his gifts to spread the Steve’s “art work” (he used the word 作品 as opposed to 製品) to as many people as possible.

One of these campaigns is for the iPad and it’s description is very confusing. See the figure below:

Many people take this to mean that you can get a 16GB iPad for free, ¥0 per month, if you are already a Softbank iPhone subscriber. That’s not true because ¥1,860 monthly discount on the second to last line only applies to the communications charge and not to the iPad hardware monthly cost. Going to the cost simulation page shows this well: your minimum monthly bill is still ¥1,860 (the cost of the 16GB iPad 2) and the data plan is free up to 100MB.

So in the end we get a free data plan if we don’t use 3G internet (almost don’t use it, 100MB a month wouldn’t get you much farther than regular email checking). That sounds like a classic mobile operator swindle: giving you something for almost free and then hammering you with extra high fees whenever you go over the pathetically low usage limits. Let’s look at the data plan details:

So yes, free for 100MB, capped at ¥4,980 over 111.5MB or you could choose to just pay a flat plan ¥4,410 every month whatever your usage. You end up paying a ¥470 premium for the flexibility of paying nothing the months when you almost don’t use 3G… Is that actually a good deal? I put the numbers into Numbers to see:

  • iPad 2 16GB + ZERO data plan under 100MB usage per month: ¥22,320 per year
  • iPad 2 16GB + ZERO data plan over 111.5MB user every month: ¥63,540 per year
  • iPad 2 16GB + FLAT data plan: ¥56,700 per year

So over the course of a year you would be saving money only if you stay under the 100MB cap for more than 3 months.

Is that a good deal? If you only use the 3G for emailing in the train and turn off the modem when not in use (letting it check your mail every 15min in the background would significantly bump your usage) then it could be. But having already an iPhone, do you really need to check your email on your iPad?

Myself, I will probably pass on that campaign. What would really be interesting would be a tethering option for my iPhone at a reasonable price… Well reasonable would really be ¥0 as I consider I’m already paying for the bandwidth and how I use it is none of Softbank’s business. An “acceptable” price would be maybe ¥1,000.

Please tell me in the comments what you think about this campaign.

Update: Very good point added in the comments by Maddy. If you get an iPad from Softbank for that campaign and remove the SIM card, never to use it again, you still get to download the Softbank WiFi roaming profile that lets you connect to all Softbank / FON / YahooBB / Tokyo Metro access points for free (that’s a pretty extensive network in Tokyo) and a GPS to boot. That’s a clear advantage over buying a WiFi only version from Apple for the exact same price.

Impact of 3/11 disaster on Tokyo real estate marketing

Now a bit past 3 months after the March 11th disaster in Japan, we can observe some trends of changes to different aspects of life here. Here is one thing I could see on the real estate business 震災後 (post-disaster): there is a big focus on designing buildings that not only will withstand earthquakes, but will also help living conditions during the days or weeks without water/gas/electricity that follow as we continue to witness in Tohoku. Recently, on my way to work, I was handed a pamphlet outside my station for apartments for rent at a new building in Sugamo (Northern Tokyo). The 4xA4 page glossy paper advertisement shows on pages 1 & 3 pretty pictures of the interior and modern amenities. The back page shows a plan of the neighborhood and touts 0 key money, 0 agent fees and free rent and parking space for 2 months (this was already becoming more common before March). Pretty much standard… But on page 2, something new: a full-page dedicated to the “防災 qualities” (disaster prevention) of the building. Here is a scan with some explanations:

mansion

  1. The 2.2ha park in the middle of the grounds can hold 500 people camping for 1 week.
  2. Storage rooms hold water reserves, batteries, lamps, covers, radios, emergency toilets and other emergency supplies.
  3. Benches in the park can be converted to kitchen counter tops. The pergola can be tented over to provide shelter for refugees during bad weather. A line of multiple manholes is ready to set up emergency toilets.
  4. The building is 7.4km along main arteries from Otemachi (the traditional business center of Tokyo) meaning that even if all trains are stopped after a big earthquake you can walk home in about one hour and a half.

The website for the building also has a page on its disaster prevention design.

iPad 3G and Pocket WiFi alternatives in Japan

So the pricing for the iPad in Japan are out. It seems even devices sold at the Apple Stores will be SIM-locked to Softbank, breaking many hopes of seeing DoCoMo come into the picture and shaking things up a little.

This has definitely not changed my thoughts on the device, it would very much piss me off to pay twice for 2 iPhone and iPad data plans.

This morning, my buddy @kuriburi who is more enthusiastic than I am, called me from the line at the Softbank shop to discuss the situation. Interestingly enough, people were fleeing in droves after receiving the pamphlet describing the full pricing… We entertained the thought that it might be more interesting to buy a WiFi version and get a Pocket WiFi device from data plan specialist eMobile.

@kuriburi left the Softbank line and we started gathering data from the web:

And after crunching numbers here are the results, first for the iPad 64GB version:

And for the iPad 32GB version:

It still seems the Softbank’s default option with integrated 3G is very aggressively priced compared to the competition. But if you can limit yourself to less than 300MB of 3G data per month, you can save up to ¥9.000 on the 32GB iPad over the 2 years contract period. Not much for sure, but some people might be interested…

Note: we have not taken into account the eMobile Super Light data plan because a 3MB/month data plan will not let you do anything but access email (and then without pictures) which does not count as a full usage of the device.

Note 2: here’s a link to the spreadsheet, if you see anything wrong with the data please notify me in the comments.

Sagami Original condom ad

Love needs distance, an interestingly touching ad for Sagami Original condoms airing on Japanese TV recently.

A man from Fukuoka and a woman from Tokyo (1.200km apart) run towards each other and meet in front of the Osaka castle. This commercial proves you can sell condoms without stupid childish sexual innuendo…

Japan is supposed to have the most advanced condom makers – as this claims to be the world’s thinnest condom. But with the staggering amount of できちゃった結婚 (literally “oops I got married”, meaning getting married because you got your girlfriend pregnant, a shotgun wedding) I hear about – a colleague of mine says 50% of all marriage in Japan are thus, he’s exaggerating but he speaks from experience… – it seems all this technology is going to waste.

Driving school and discrimination awarenesss

As I said in a previous post, I do not have a driving license it every now and then I get itchy and think about getting one. So the other day, feeling itchy, I scanned the web to find driving schools close to my new home in Ikebukuro and found the Koyama driving school.

Interestingly, they claim to be the only driving school in Tokyo to cater to the gaijin population by offering a curriculum entirely in english. So I checked out the prices on the English and Japanese versions of the site for basic manual license:

  • Japanese: ¥302,950
  • English: ¥398,630

Wow, those bilingual driving teachers sure come at a big premium don’t they? Well if you compare the detail of the prices here’s what you find:

koyama-japanese

koyama-english

So if you actually compare the detailed split-up, the english textbooks cost ¥18,900 compared to ¥5,250 which I can understand. All the lesson/test fees are the same. The only other difference is that the entry fee is ¥83.000 more expensive if you sign up in english…

Now the interesting thing is not that it’s more expensive, I would consider it normal to have higher lecture/training fees in english language in Tokyo. What’s shocking is that there is so little awareness of “discrimination being bad” in this country that no-one thought it a bad idea to write down the price hike for this special service (which could be justifiable) as a random meaningless admission fee.

Suffice to say, I will not be bringing my business to this shop…

Softbank’s “summer scam” campaign

Softbank is launching a fun summer campaign with its cute mascot お父さん:

Use your Softbank 3G phone overseas this summer and get a chance to win one of 100 flower-necklace-wearing-お父さん straps!

softbank-summer-campaign

Way to go Softbank! It’s a classy move, trying to lure customers into using their cellphone overseas at ¥200/min and potentially incurring ginormous phone bills, all for a chance of winning a ¥150 keitai-strap…

View from my new place

Last night was the first clear sky sunset I could catch since we moved in the new apartment in Ikebukuro. 梅雨 (the rainy season – literally rain like plums) is not over yet so it was a lucky day.



I can’t wait until the typhoon season – after a typhoon, the skies are like washed from any cloud or fog – when I should be able to see the Fujisan clearly from my window.

More photos in the flickr photoset…

Eclipse excitement building up

The solar eclipse craze is building up less than 2 months before the big day. This nice map resumes pretty well what you’ll be able to see from major cities in the country with and the times to adjust your schedule. (click to zoom)

eclipse-map_small

Better hope 梅雨, the rainy season, will be over by July 22nd…

eclipse-sunglasses

Amazon Japan also started selling eclipse sunglasses for the occasion: buy 4, get one for free.

Interesting language point: solar eclipse in Japanese is 日食 which basically means “eat the sun”… Sound pretty cool.

Also I’m extremely disappointed as I was invited by a now retired colleague to come to his home on 奄美大島, one of the only islands dead center on the full occultation path, but I was not able to get plane tickets to get there. There is only one plane per day from Tokyo, operated by JAL, and they sold the exclusivity of all the seats for a week to their travel agency branch JTB who sold out their insanely expensive tourist packages months and months ago… Of course, in a typical Japanese move, JAL never thought it might be a nice idea to buff up the number of flights for the once in a lifetime occasion.

If I still were a student, I would’ve taken the 48h boat trip. Alas, my salaryman life does not permit it anymore…