To The Editor

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2002

Our latest readers' feedback

A Question of Trust
I ENJOY YOUR MAGAZINE very much and am a close follower of the development of the wireless industry in Japan. Thanks for your in-depth coverage.

Given all the positive developments in Japan, you may find NTT DoCoMo's latest policy change as disturbing as I do. I am a long-time resident of Japan and have for several years used an i-mode phone paid for by my company.

Today I purchased a new mobile phone for my personal use and signed up for the DoCoMo service. Since DoCoMo does not accept credit card payments, I opted to pay at the convenience store, as opposed to providing them with my bank account information.

After waiting for an hour to have my phone set up, I was told that as of April 1, DoCoMo has changed its policy to exclude foreign residents from the option of convenience store payments. The only option now open to people like me is to surrender our bank account information and allow DoCoMo to withdraw automatically. It appears that foreigners do not enjoy the same level of trust as Japanese in DoCoMo's eyes.

I promptly got my money back.

DoCoMo seems to be living in the past, when discriminating against foreigners was commonplace. Perhaps success breeds arrogance. Fortunately, we all have choices. KDDI, for example, does treat foreign residents equally. And, it accepts credit cards as well. New KDDI Customer

The J@pan Inc editors reply: New KDDI Customer's letter prompted us to talk with DoCoMo to get the story straight. We published a story in the J@pan Inc newsletter, a free email newsletter available at Here is an excerpt:

STARTING IN APRIL, if you're a foreigner in Japan and you want an NTT DoCoMo cellphone, you have to pay for it via an automatic withdrawal from your bank account or put up a deposit of JPY30,000. DoCoMo's Japanese customers can opt to pay at the local convenience store, but foreigners who don't want DoCoMo reaching into their bank account will have to pay the deposit, a DoCoMo official told J@pan Inc.

"There have been a lot of cases of foreign customers leaving the country without paying their bills," says Mariko Hanaoka of DoCoMo's international public relations division. She points out that foreign-born permanent residents in Japan aren't affected by the policy change -- only those who are on a limited-stay visa.

Last July, DoCoMo started making US military personnel plunk down a JPY50,000 deposit on new phones because of the problem of soldiers skipping out on their bills. But while that policy has helped to curb the problem with military personnel here, DoCoMo says, too many civilians have also been saying sayonara without paying their cellphone bills.

Big bureaucratic companies like DoCoMo often can't maneuver skillfully through these sorts of problems. DoCoMo doesn't accept credit card payments, but what if it did just for foreigners? Or what if it made everybody pay a deposit or use the automatic withdrawal payment method? The new policy is a clunker.

That elicited more reader response.

I would not be too hard on NTT DoCoMo. I am the managing director of a Japanese company in Germany and tried to get a mobile phone as a foreigner in Germany. I was refused because a visa must be valid for a full year. The problem is that the German working visa is only valid for a year. This means that if you don't go on the day you receive your visa, it is impossible to obtain a mobile phone here. I ended up purchasing a pre-paid one as it was my only option.

Robert Bouwman

I READ WITH INTEREST with interest your article on NTT DoCoMo policy with respect to nonpermanent residents. This is similar to, but in some ways not quite as harsh as, what appears to be Vodafone's policy in the UK regarding nonpermanent residents (NPRs). At this point I should say that my knowledge is based purely on the related experience of those who have been on the receiving end of this policy; however the starting point for NPRs under that policy seems to be that Vodafone wants all calls to be paid for in advance. The main difference with Vodafone compared with DoCoMo is the element of flexibility allowed -- so with Vodafone if you have a good job with an established company you are likely to get better terms despite being an NPR. If you are an overseas student on a one year visa, you are unlikely to be considered for any credit terms.

Although I would find being a victim of this policy irritating, from a business perspective I can understand both the NTT and the Vodafone policies and they seem reasonable. This is similar to the annoying situation of banks being unwilling to lend to nonpermanent residents because of the unlikelihood of their being able to recover money from defaulters.

In fact in some way it is refreshing to know that DoCoMo actually allows NPR customers a direct-debit-based credit facility without requiring a deposit equal to anticipated monthly usage -- I am not sure I would be so generous.

I think many of us as NPRs would agree that as we seem to be faced with a number of discriminatory situations in Japan -- some are real, some are imagined. However, until such time as we grant extraterritorial debt recovery rights for relatively small amounts of money, enforceable by the Japanese courts on behalf of Japanese legal persons, within our home countries, I think that the annoyances of which you write will continue to exist (and I think I might prefer it that way rather than give the Japanese courts those sorts of rights).


We asked Vodafone in the UK to reply to these accusations but had not received a reply by our publication deadline.

Gadget Guidance
I AM AN AVID reader and subscriber to the online Gadget Watch newsletter. I am also an infrequent visitor to Tokyo. I was hoping you could give me some info about where to find a lot of the items that are included in Gadget Watch.

John Marshall

Gadget Watch author Max Everingham replies: John's best bet is T-Zone in Akihabara for English software, laptops and peripherals. There's also a great Net cafEjust under the railway bridge in Akihabara, on the other side of the basketball courts from the station itself. It incorporates a Starbucks as well as a PC store (where you can buy an English OS laptop) or you can buy any laptop and they'll charge you about JPY10,000 to convert the OS from Japanese to English. That place is one of the cheapest to buy Vaios, too.

For used DVDs, scout around in the stores that run under the railway bridge in Akihabara, which runs toward Ochano-mizu and Tokyo (north-south). There are several good stores there and there's also a Yamagiwa store devoted to DVDs.

Ask the Oracle

J@pan Inc, you just saved my last semester of grad school for me. I'm in the technical Japanese masters program at the U of Wisconsin and had to take a course on business and government to graduate. My research project for this needed current information about the realities of Japanese R&D establishments, university-business cooperation, the state of venture funding, et cetera. I've spent weeks searching with Google in both English and Japanese -- nothing but 1996 white papers and the current nebulous project announcements from METI, NEDO et cetera.

So, I finally spent the 46 bucks to subscribe to your online magazine. Holy Cats! Everything I need to incorporate into my presentation is there. Ten times everything. You've made a permanent subscriber and proselytizer out of me. Thank you.

Joe Shema
Madison, WI, USA

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