Everyone is likely aware of the process of getting hooked up with a cellular phone. You pick out your phone and your service plan, and sign a two year contract. The provider is always careful to make it absolutely clear that if you cancel during the contract, you must pay a cancellation fee. My service was with AU in Tokyo. My two year contract was up a year ago so I decided to switch to SoftBank so I could get an iPhone. They have a special promotion going on at the moment which provides the phone for free as well as reduced rates, and since my two year contact was up (if this were not the case I would not have considered switching), there was everything to gain and nothing to lose.
So, I go into a shop which is advertised to have English speaking staff (shockingly this has to be discovered by painstaking net searches since the AU English web site has zero information on where any branch is actually located). Of course, their professional English speaking staff is at a competency level of a pre-kindergartener, so we wait and wait while their translator calls back and we begin passing the phone back and forth. I am informed that the fee for breaking my contract is about 10,000 yen. I explain that my contract is well past over and there should be no fee. They explain that they started a new contract with me for the same period as the original contract, so I have to pay the fee since I am breaking the new contract. This goes so far outside of the idea of a contract that it is mind boggling. So, the moment my two year contract ended they unilaterally bound me to a new two year contract, effectively making it impossible to ever cancel service without paying the fee. Lovely, my service plan is not a two year contact, but one that lives eternally through all time and outside the bounds of reason. I was then pleased to hear that I get to pay two fees! You see, what I was initially told was a ‘family plan’ with two phones on the contract I actually did sign – all in the same name and on the same bill – was actually two contracts, both of which I was breaking. All of this is a breach of good faith and fair dealing practices. All they can intone by rote : “this is Japan.” My head screams that this is outrageous stupidity and plain criminal deceit.
I did explain my displeasure to them and ask the fee to be waived since I never signed or asked for a new contract, much less two new contracts. To this, they gave the favorite phrase of the Japanese (and one with which they are remarkably adept in English): “it is impossible.” From any reasonable customer service standpoint this is insane. This is a despicable company. Be warned and be absolutely sure to ask what happens when the only contract you sign lapses – you may not be as free and clear as you would be when dealing with an entity which adheres to any concept of international contract.
(another thing to be aware of when considering AU is that, unlike SoftBank, they have no SMS capability so you won’t be able to communicate with that internationally accepted method. Also, my experience with SoftBank was remarkably better. They have a shop locator and have listings of English speaking locations – where they have people who actually speak English.)