Famous for vending machines which sell everything from umbrellas to underwear, toilets that wash and dry your buttocks, and game consoles like Nintendo, technologically advanced Japan left us somewhat perplexed as we tried to ensure that our reporting team could easily stay in touch through data capability, including through Whatsapp and others.
While it is common knowledge that the GSM system is not the main one used in Japan, it turned out that having 3G-capability phones didn’t quite ensure a smooth communication system by renting SIM cards or smartphones. This despite the fact that it’s almost synonymous with high-speed Internet. Data usage, we thought, would be cheaper than making calls or SMS messages, or roaming, and work better while our writers were out on coverage.
But it turned out that, according to the phone company from where we were renting phones from and trying to rent SIM cards for use on the 3G phones we owned, one could use data on rented iPhones only but not on our own BlackBerry phones. It also added that we could use Whatsapp on our BlackBerry phones if we got an additional WiFi device, but perhaps not Blackberry Messenger.
Needless to say, all this caused hair-pulling and befuddlement, because in most cases travelers simply buy a prepaid SIM card and that’s it. We’re sure there are technical reasons for all of the above, but trying to figure out how to pick one’s way through the mobile communication maze was in many ways the first story we had to figure out in reporting on the 2012 IMB-WB Annual Meetings.