I bought a prepaid phone when I first came to Japan. At the time, the service was operated by Vodafone. Prepaid phones are more expensive per minute than phones with plans, but no contract is necessary. I just needed a phone number and didn't use it that much so wasn't too bothered by the high usage fees.
(crap vodafone phone)
After awhile, I settled in and got a phone with a plan. I chose au because some of my family already used that carrier, and you get discounts when calling family. But I kept the prepaid around, because it's handy to have one when overseas visitors come to town.
After awhile, I started getting notices that Softbank was switching to an all 3G network. My phone being 2G, I was going to have to upgrade my phone. Yes, okay. I kept getting these postcards with notices saying that 2G service was going to completely stop at the end of March 2010. The postcards came with ad campaigns that promised discounts on the new model I was going to have to buy.
Today I finally went in to my local Softbank shop to do the obligatory phone upgrade. My plan was to get the cheapest English-able model that they had. I don't use it much, but my out of town visitors generally wouldn't be able to cope with a Japanese-only model. I brought the phone, the postcard, ID...
The first shop told me that they couldn't help me. They didn't, they said, have any of those phones.
What the hell??
I asked the clerk where I was supposed to go. He muttered something about Omotesando as he ushered me to the door.
I live in Machida. It's going to take me almost an hour to get to Omotesando from here. How fucking stupid.
As soon as I got out of there, I called the customer service line. There's a three digit number you can dial from the mobile, a sort of hotline to service. I pushed all the necessary menu buttons, then when it asked me to press "2" for English, I did so.
The phone went dead.
I tried again. Again, requesting English cuts the line. Nice. So I did the same thing, but instead in Japanese. I got through to recordings but no humans. I tried to call the 0800 number, but it wasn't allowed from a mobile. So I went to a payphone and dialed the free number again.
The guy on the other end told me to call another number.
I called the number. Repeat the above experience.
I called back, this time determined to keep someone on the line. I told the agent my problem, and asked him where I should go to replace the phone. (All the human transactions are taking place in Japanese. Although there seems to be some sort of English option available in theory, in practice they just spit in your face.) He gave me the numbers and locations of two more Softbank shops in the Machida area.
I hoofed over to the next nearest one. I went in and took a number, and someone asked me what I would need when I got to the counter. I told him, and showed him the postcard. He said, "oh no, we can't do that." I told him that the customer service rep had instructed me to go to this shop. He went in the back to check, then told me that there was one phone and I would have to pay about 9,000 yen. Fine. More than I really wanted to pay, but. I took my number and sat down. And waited. For 45 minutes.
Finally my number was called, the phone was presented. But the person I was dealing with went on to tell me that there were no SIM cards for prepaid phones in the shop, and so they couldn't actually give me the phone. He said that though there was a week left on the "campaign", they probably wouldn't be able to get anything in for me before the campaign and the offer expired. I explained that I didn't particularly care what model I got, just that I wanted to switch my phone because, well, I HAD to. He said that there were only the three models available, except none of them were actually available.
He then recommended that I try again next month, for there would probably be another campaign.
Fabulous. What a fucking waste of two hours. Way to insist that I get a new phone, not have any available, give me the runaround, and treat me like gutter trash along the way.
I learned a new word, though.
Musical chairs, washing machine... getting the runaround.