After work today, I stopped by the DoCoMo store to have my phone looked at. Lately–and usually at the worst possible times–if I try to call someone or someone tries to call me, I’ll see that the call is connecting and that the person has picked up, but I won’t hear anything–no ringing, no voice, no buttons being pressed, nothing at all. I’ve gotten it to work by smacking the phone pretty hard with the heel of my hand, but that’s kind of a less-than-ideal fix.

The gentleman behind the counter wore a suit and seemed to be a manager, and he was friendly but had a fairly thick Awa-ben accent, but I was able to muddle through and get the gist from his expressions and the words I did pick up. He took it into the back to run some tests, and I started looking over the new phones–there are some extremely well-designed and flat-out gorgeous FoMa models there that I would have seriously considered buying if I were staying for a third year.

Anyway, he came back, sat down with me, and told me that they’d need to take my phone for a couple of weeks to do some repairs on it, and in the meantime they’d issue me a loaner phone that was the exact model of the phone I own. I could transfer my address book via the infrared option to the new phone, and the repairs would be done for free.

However, I would lose all my photos, and all my saved k-mail messages.

I have about 100 keitai e-mail messages saved–birthday wishes, friendly or amusing or heartwarming notes, that sort of thing. I sometimes go back through them on down days to remind me that I have friends who care, and on my really down days last spring, reading over those did really help. I also have a fair amount of keitai photos, at least half of which were Engrish I found when I didn’t have my digital camera with me, though I’ve uploaded nearly all of my camera photos to my Flickr account already, so losing them wasn’t such a big deal.

Still, though, I really felt myself hesitating on handing my phone over. Those e-mails actually go back to the summer I arrived in Japan–the very first messages were from Laura in Atlanta, who I called on my 24th birthday in August ’05, and Joe, the former Nishi Iya ALT, sending me a message reading: “Wish you were here! – The gang” when I opted on resting at home instead of hiking with him and Lindsay and some of our other friends. I have birthday wishes, amusing half-alphabet/half-icon images from Chalice, messages from ALTs and other foreigner friends who’ve since left Japan…it was really a nice historic record of the people I’ve stayed in touch with.

I hastily e-mailed myself several photos–an Engrish photo I hadn’t sent to Flickr yet (Dagoba-brand health bars–huge Star Wars reference there), and photos I took with my phone of my mother and grandmother that came out really well. I’d also been exchanging e-mails actively with Justin and Chalice before I got to the store, and I quickly sent off an e-mail to Justin telling him to come knock on my door in case it took a while for my phone number info to propagate to the loaner phone.

That’s actually pretty amusing, because I’ve been slowly working my way through this book about keitais and keitai culture in Japan–Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Misa Matsuda. (I would’ve finished it already, but I keep bringing it to my board of education on days when it’s really sunny and the sun warms my back and neck as I read and makes me nearly doze off at my desk.) I feel as though my keitai is an indispensable part of my Japan experience. Even if I didn’t have one before this, now that I drive, I most likely would’ve invested in one. I use it mainly to communicate with people here by text and occasionally through phone calls. I’ve coordinated social outings and resolved trouble situations and e-mailed friends back in the US from my cellphone randomly. I use the dictionary and English/Japanese functions to check kanji and unfamiliar words dozens of times a day. I use it as my alarm clock in the morning. I’ve had it since my first or second week in Japan–it’s a way for me to stay connected with everyone and everything no matter where I am.

To be honest, I really was worried at the thought of having to survive two weeks without the keitai in case they didn’t offer me a loaner. With the musical coming up, I know I’ll have to dash off k-mails during the day to people to get last-minute stuff done, and many people only have my keitai number and not my landline. (In fact, while I was writing this tonight, Chris called me on the keitai to work out costume logistics.) What if I get lost or have car troubles when I’m driving all over the prefecture to our upcoming performances? Julie’s coming this week so we can go by a travel agency and work out plans, but how can we plan that if I’ll have no internet and no keitai? What if there’s a word I really need to look up or a kanji I really need to clarify? How will I wake up in the morning, since I know using my TV’s on-timer alone won’t be enough?

It’s crazy how that works; I remember how I swore I would never buy a cellphone when I lived in the US, but my parents got me a third phone on their family plan and forced me to carry one once I started driving. In Japan, keitais are a fact of life for so many people; the book even talks about the etymology of the term, how it actually refers to an extension of one’s body, and it’s interesting that that is indeed how Japanese people view their keitais, and how I’ve come to view mine as well. I’ve developed a routine and a way of life that revolve around having this in my life.

Obviously, this all came to me later, but it definitely explained my heavy heart when I removed my keitai charms from my phone (I have two currently; a strand with some kurosuke and the blue and grey Totoros, and a one with beads and cloth flowers that I bought at Unpenji the previous Monday, to replace the previous temple charm I’d had from Anrakuji that had become worn with age) and sent my address book via infrared to the waiting phone–exactly the same model as mine, same color and everything, though it just felt different in my palm, and of course it wouldn’t have the same background wallpaper because mine was a photo I’d taken.

I’d kept trying to tell myself to let go, that I’m so cluttered because I attach emotional and sentimental value to way too many little trinkets that are probably best left behind or thrown out. I think, after a while, I did finally start to let those photographs and messages go–I’m still in touch with everyone who sent me those messages, and I do have copies of nearly all of those photos elsewhere. It felt almost Buddhist in nature to let go like that. In the end, they’re just bits and bytes of data that have been assigned meaning entirely through their ordered construction (into letters or colored pixels) and the meaning and values and emotions we project onto groups of those specific constructions. I can hold onto the emotions of my friends without needing the bytes. It’s just nice to have that bit of confirmation sometimes, though.

The imposter is sitting next to me, glaringly obvious in its lack of loving wear and tear and Yoshinogawa wallpaper. Despite being exactly the same model as my phone, right down to the color, it looks too big and bloated and plastic to be mine. I’ll treat it hospitably and welcome its service, but I can’t wait until I get my keitai back.

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