Tokyo Damage Report


So my cellphone suddenly stopped working the other day, while I was waiting for a call from my friend. I go to the cellphone company store, and ask why (in my broken Japanese) . Out-of-control beuracracies are often called Kafkaesque, but in this case, my adventure was more Samuel Beckettish. As a nod to his absurd play WAITING FOR GODOT, I have written my experience as a script:


ME: why my phone no work?


DUDE: You got a picture ID?


ME: nope.


DUDE: we need a picture ID, or a bill, before we can give out information on your account. You bring a bill?


ME: no. me not know my phone was going to break today, so me not bring any document!


DUDE: well, I’m sorry there is no way to check.


ME: Dude, I gotta call my friend, Me waiting for important call. Please to borrow Cellphone Company Office Phone for to be explaining situation to friend?


DUDE: That is also against the rules.


I want to ask “Can I talk to someone else – who did not drop out of a whore’s vagina?” but can’t find a good way to say that. . . which is when I get my first good idea of the day: I start speaking English, politely, but quickly.




DUDE: I can’t speak English.


ME: (chirping) Aww, too bad. May I talk to an English-speaking clerk?


Dude has a hushed conversation with Lady, explaining his retarded side of the situation.


LADY: (in English) I’m sorry sir but we can’t let you pay your bill unless you can verify your identity.


I’m thinking: is this a big problem nowadays? People deliberately and cold-bloodedly impersonating strangers and paying their bills? Did I miss that report? Do they go to small stores, too, and give out protection money? Instead of laundering money, do they just set it ON FUCKING FIRE?????


ME: OK, well can you at least tell me why my phone is not working? Can you confirm it IS, in fact, something to do with me owing you money?


LADY: I’m sorry, that is impossible.


ME: OK, look, every time I try to call out, I get this little message in Japanese. Can you simply listen to the message and tell me if the message is asking me for money? You don’t have to tell any secret stuff. All you have to do is put my phone to your ear for a few seconds. . . assuming it IS my phone, of course, and assuming that the real me is not phoneless somewhere, bound and gagged in a windowless van.


LADY: OK. (listens to the message which confirms something she has clearly known all along) : yes, it does seem that you are late in your payment of bills. But without an ID. . .


ME: Yeah, I get it. Well, can you call my friend and tell her the deal? She is probably really worried that I am not calling her.


LADY: OK. (takes out a company phone and talks into it for around . . .5 minutes)


ME: Er. Um. Excuse me, what is my friend saying?


LADY: OH, I’m on hold.


ME: On hold. With my friend?


LADY: I’m on hold with the telephone company. I’m having them check how much you owe us.


Me: Of course you are.


LADY: I know we first said that a picture ID was the only way, and later said that having a bill was also ok, but now it turns out there is a third way for you to be allowed to pay: If you know the exact amount you owe, we will let you pay. And I am not allowed to tell you the amount you owe, because you could be an impostor. But the phone company operator can tell you, and then you can tell me! And it will only take about 10 more minutes!


ME: That is. . . amazing. I don’t even know where to begin with that statement.


LADY: OK, I am transferring you to Phone Company Operator.




OPERATOR: Hello, sir. You are requesting to know how much money you owe the cellphone company?


ME: Yes, ma’am.


OPERATOR: OK, can I have your full name and your date of birth?


ME: <tells her>


OPERATOR: OK, and I will just need one more piece of information: your address.


ME: It’s um, Tokyo, shibuya-ku, sendagaya, something-something, Bill’s Tower, room 345


OPERATOR: What was that “something-something” part?


ME: Well, I can’t remember the street number.


OPERATOR: It isn’t written on your bill?


ME: If I had a bill with me, would we be having this phone call?


OPERATOR: Sorry but I would like to hear the entire street address.


ME: Me, too.


OPERATOR:I would like to hear the entire street address.


ME: You already know that the apartment name and room number which I just said matches the information in your database, can’t we just call it a day? I mean, how many Bill’s Towers are there in Shibuya? Are there. . . .HUNDREDS??


OPERATOR: I would like to hear the entire street address.


ME: Oh-kaaaay. Look, I’m going to ask English Speaking Cellphone Lady for the third time if she can call my friend, because my friend can tell me my address. So then I can tell you, so you can tell me how much money I owe, so then I can tell Cellphone Lady, who has all along known both the amount of money and my address but isn’t allowed to tell me herself. Cool?


OPERATOR: Yes, sir.


ME: Cellphone Lady, can you please call my friend? Who may or may not require my DNA sample and rectal probe to prove my identity?


LADY: Sir, I am going to call your friend now.

(which is what I asked you to do in the first place, 15 minutes ago!!)


So the English Speaking Cellphone Lady goes to THE BACK ROOM to call my friend on a special secret phone. I am restless, so I peek over her side of the desk. There is a computer monitor mounted horizontally into her desk, hidden by a 6-inch-tall divider, which is why I could not see the monitor until now. I see a bunch of numbers and gobbledygook, and then . . .upside ?down. . MY NAME. encouraged, I start looking for other stuff. . . my phone number, . . . already know that. . . . my recently downloaded pornos . . . I already know THAT too. . .but no address. This is when I get my second bright idea of the day: when the Cellphone Clerk at the next desk is distracted, I reach over the puny 6-inch divider and grab her keyboard and scroll down until I find. . . MY ADDRESS!


ME: Nice Cellphone Lady! I remembered my address suddenly and for no particular reason!


LADY : (emerging from back room) What? Oh. Well. I’ll connect you back to the operator.


OPERATOR: Sir? Did you. . .


ME: Yes! I remembered my address.


OPERATOR: (suspicious) How?


ME: Well, I didn’t have my phone bill with me, but I looked in my wallet and found. . . an insurance card. . .with my address on it. Which is how.


OPERATOR: Hmmmm. Ok, the amount is $147.


ME: (to cellphone lady) it’s $147! But you knew that!! But now I know that too!! We both know the same thing!!!!!!! Unless I am not me at all, but a con-man who likes paying strangers’ bills.


OPERATOR: One more thing, sir.


ME: Jesus! What?!?


OPERATOR: Can you confirm that you did, in fact, get the bills we have been sending? Are the bills being sent to the correct address?


ME: Honestly I have no idea. Electric, gas, phone, water, porn, drugs, . . I have no idea which bill is from which company. We don’t even look at them. We just take all the bills and shove ‘em in a desk drawer without opening ‘em. Look, I gotta go. (to English Speaking Cellphone Lady): OK, let’s do this.


LADY: (glancing down at her horizontal computer screen which I have failed to scroll back to its original position) It’s . . .uh. . . Yes, $147 please.


ME: Here ya go.


LADY: Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure to help you.


ME: I’m sure it was.


When I left the USA, most people didn’t yet have cellphones. So I have no idea if this conversation is typical of Japan or just typical of cellphone companies all over. All I know is, it took 25 minutes. I can see them fucking with me because I was late with their money. Charge me a late fee or something, but why play these childish games? Where is the profit in that? It seemed like the rules changed every 5 minutes: “We can’t do that. Well, seeing as how you are not giving up and leaving, I just remembered there is another way to do that, but the new way is contingent on some new condition which is also impossible. For now. Here, roll 3D6.” It was wild. And of course, professional identity thieves and con-men probably know all the loopholes as well as the cellphone staff. The only person who doesn’t know, apparently, is the innocent customer! I mean, whatever.



2 Comments so far

  1. et January 31st, 2010 10:17 pm

    no comments? oh, I didn’t know whether to cry or to laugh first. but I sure laughed a lot – it was so hopeless. I’ve heard about the strict mobile phone policy in Japan, but this? anyway, you did well there. must have been tough, but good job with writing down that absurd story. I just wanna say I really enjoyed reading it, thanks.

  2. admin February 2nd, 2010 9:59 pm

    @et: Thanks a lot! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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