Saturday, November 18, 2006
One of the problems with being in Japan is that you have several dilemmas to face when it comes to your computer equipment. The biggest one is about language and the software you can get as well as the OS your computer runs. If you're a Mac user, this isn't as big a problem since Macs come with all languages on the OS disc. If you use a PC, it can be a bit hairier. You have to either buy a computer from a place that specializes in foreign machines running an English OS such as User's Side 2, buy an English OS and install it yourself or you have to get something from home. While User's Side is a decent resource, their selection is relatively limited and the prices somewhat high.
My solution has always been to enlist the aid of family to get what I need. I've been very fortunate that my father-in-law is willing to help me get Macs and other items, often paying for the postage himself and, in the case of the camera I use to take pictures for this blog, paying for it entirely. It's something I'm very grateful to him for. On the PC side, my sister helps me out if I order something which requires tinkering before it gets sent on to me. She installs any extra memory, checks the machine for problems and then ships it to me. She also forwards PC software that I buy and I'm grateful to her as well.
The reason you have to get help from people back home is that most software and computer equipment can't be sent directly to Japan from the manufacturer. This is a huge annoyance and the rules appear to be designed to protect the domestic market with its inflated prices. The thing about this which is nonsensical is that it's unlikely that any Japanese person would buy cheaper English language versions of their software or hardware. They couldn't understand English well enough in 99% of cases to make it worthwhile.
Once you have your English language versions with a handy manual in English, the problem may or may not be solved. If it breaks, you're outside of the warranty zone unless you purchase a specialized warranty or have a Mac. I believe Apple services their computers worldwide. With PCs, it will likely come out of your own pocket or you'll have to send it back home.
In the case of Dell, I believe you can get it serviced in a country other than the one you bought it in but only if you jump through several frustrating and pointless paperwork hoops which will take at least a month to jump through, if not longer. In fact, the most frustrating thing with Dell is that they won't even service a computer at the user's expense unless you do this idiotic paperwork which changes the "service tag" of the machine so that it matches the country you are in. I guess traveling business people with a malfunctioning Dell laptop are screwed if they want a quick repair from a Dell service center abroad.
For peripheral items, like printers, being abroad can also be a problem. I got a U.S. model printer 6 or 7 years ago and am still able to use it with every machine I own. One problem, however, is that the printer cartridges aren't produced in Japan so I have to order them from a U.S. distributor. This actually isn't so bad because I get them fairly cheaply from Myinks. Like Deep Discount DVD, this is another place with a relatively cheesy-looking web site but which delivers on low prices, decent service, and reasonable shipping rates for international orders. They also offer occasional sales and campaigns that they e-mail you and are worth signing up to get "spam" from.
Of course, it's better not to pay for new cartridges at all if it can be avoided. I try to refill the cartridges as often as possible from the kit pictured above. There's an art to refilling if you want to have a decent chance of success. One important component is that you don't wait until the cartridge is completely empty to refill it. I have read that there are sponges inside the cartridges (and when you insert a refill needle, you can feel them) and they will dry out if you wait until the ink is very low to refill. Also, it's important to make sure you don't screw up the way in which the air holes operate so the pressure inside the cartridge is maintained. You need to follow the instructions for your cartridge type carefully and tape over the right holes.
Even if you do it all correctly, it's sometimes a bust and no cartridge can be refilled indefinitely. However, if you can refill it twice, it's well worth it since the kits cost less than $20 and have enough ink for dozens of refills. In Japan, you can get these kits at Costco on occasion or from Amazon Japan.