This Does Not Compute

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How to get a Japanese Apple keyboard in the US

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So, I decided that I’m gonna go full steam ahead with learning Japanese. I figured that since last winter’s project of studying for (and getting) a CCNA went successfully, there’s no reason not to do it again. IP is kind of a language anyway, and to some people is equally confusing as Japanese is.

Obviously Japanese isn’t a Roman-based language. It has multiple character sets, some of them phonetic, some symbolic of entire words, and all of them completely new to me. It’s not like learning French where you can become familiar with the pronunciation and then be able to repeat verbally everything you read (even though you may not know what any of it means). You’re learning the alphabet all over again.

Since written language is just as important as spoken words, I figured I might as well familiarize myself as best I can with what I’m getting myself into. A Japanese keyboard, which has both English letters and Japanese hiragana characters on the keycaps, made sense to me as a good start.

If only I could find one.

If you go to the online Apple Store in the US and configure a new Mac, towards the bottom of the list of options you can select a keyboard in one of four languages: English, Spanish, French or Japanese. Having seen this, I thought, “cool, I can just buy an extra USB extended keyboard in Japanese and rock on.” Knowing that with all likelihood that my local Apple Store wouldn’t have what I want on the shelf, I find the page for the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad and go to choose Japanese from the “what language do you want it in” drop-down menu…

…but no such menu exists.

OK, I figure, maybe they put each language version of the keyboard up as a different item, and I need to search for it. All of the results it comes back with are for English keyboards only. Hmm.

So I figure, OK, maybe I need to get one from a different source than Apple’s store. I know that Japanese Apple Keyboards with Numeric Keypads exist, since I could order a new Mac with one. I’ve even seen pictures of them on Flickr. I search on Amazon; all they have are generic USB Japanese keyboards. I want the Apple one because of its side USB ports and Dashboard/iTunes/eject buttons.

I check out eBay, thinking maybe people are flipping them there. Maybe there’s some kind soul in a Mac shop in Tokyo or Osaka or Hiroshima who will sell me one for a modest markup plus EMS shipping. Nothing but more generic keyboards.

I check out amazon.co.jp, resigning myself to the fact I’ll have to import one myself. I find it — woohoo! — but, wait, it’s “not available.” Damn. And further down the page, those words I hate so much to see on that site: “We’re sorry; this item can not be shipped outside Japan.” Damn damn.

My last resort, store.apple.com/jp. Of course they’ll have it, I tell myself. And of course they do. But, as my luck would have it, of course, they won’t ship internationally. And package forwarding services are pretty spendy.

I forget the idea for a few days until my wife and I are at the mall over the weekend. What the hell, I tell myself, I’ll ask the people at the Apple Store. Maybe they’ll know.

They’re just as stumped as I am. I’m the first person who’s ever walked into that store asking for a keyboard in a different language, and they agree it makes no sense that Apple will bundle the language of your choice with a new Mac but won’t sell them separately.

Of the three or four Apple Store employees who gathered around to put our heads together, one has an idea.

“Is your Mac still under AppleCare?” she asks.

No, sadly, I tell her. She wants my serial number anyway. I VNC into my Mac mini home server, then VNC again from that into my then-sleeping iMac. The store employees are impressed as I admit to being a total, undeniable, hopeless geek. (One later mentioned that he was impressed with how responsive the VNC session was, and that he had, at one point, done a bandwidth speed test on a machine there with nobody else using their network. He said it reported that that particular store had something like 50Mbit down — serious bandwidth for a store of that size, but not surprising considering I’m sure they get software updates and new system images on nearly a daily basis. Knowing Apple, that  about 50Mbit is likely delivered in the form of a DS3, which is some equally serious cash. The college I went to only has a pair of DS3’s for its Internet connection, and it supports 10,000 students and staff.)

She returns with a Genius Bar work order. “I got my manager to OK this,” she said. She had found the part number for the keyboard I wanted in the replacement part database, and got her boss to approve of doing a dissimilar part replacement. Since my machine was out of warranty, I’d have to pay for the privilege, and also return my English keyboard as part of the trade, but she was willing to get creative with the tools at her disposal to get me the part I wanted. This is exactly why Apple has such loyal customers.

She and I also agreed that, sadly, this is likely the only way (or one of only very few ways) of acquiring a non-English keyboard in the US. Of all the forum posts I’d seen while Googling for answers — some of which were on Apple’s own discussion boards — nobody had managed to get their hands on one. And those posts went back years, some as old as 2006-2007. This has been an issue for a long time, it seems.

Thus, dear reader and fellow Japanophiles, here’s the procedure for obtaining your own Japanese Apple USB keyboard while in the United States:

  1. Go to an Apple Store, preferably at a time when it’s not as busy as it usually is. Bring the serial number from your Mac with you. Find an employee.
  2. Ask the employee if they would, pretty please, do you a favor.
  3. Tell them you need an out-of-warranty replacement for your keyboard. The favor you need is to have them beat up convince their boss into setting it up as a dissimilar part swap. For the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, the Japanese version is Apple item number J661-4326. (Apple makes its other keyboards with Japanese versions as well, I just don’t know what those part numbers are.)
  4. If the employee is willing to help you out and is successful, he or she will produce for you a Genius Bar Work Authorization. Sign and date as requested, and they’ll order you your new keyboard. Expect it to take a few days. (Mine took 2 days to come in, not bad.) Thank the employee profusely.
  5. When it comes in, someone will call you to tell you to come pick it up. If you happen to already own the same model of keyboard as what you’re getting, like I did, you’ll need to bring it in with you. When Apple ships a store a replacement part, it expects to get a defective part back, so you’ll have to supply the store with one. If you don’t have a keyboard to swap (say, if you’re a MacBook user), you’ll need to get one somehow. (The most baller way to do this would be to buy a new keyboard off the shelf, then immediately hand it back as the “defective” part.)
  6. To receive your Japanese keyboard, you will need to pay $46 plus tax.

The math, then, works out like this. If you’re willing to give up having an English keyboard entirely, trading for a Japanese one will cost you $50 or so. If you want to have one of each language (like I ultimately decided), you’ll need to buy a new English keyboard as well, so figure $100 for the whole deal. If your Mac is under warranty, there’s a chance they might set it up as a warranty swap, which would cost you nothing, but don’t ask for it — if they offer it, graciously accept; if they don’t, remember that they’re doing you a favor. It’s quite possible people could get in trouble for doing this for you.

A day after my local store (Rosedale Center, incidentally, which has always been very nice to me) ordered my keyboard, I shot an e-mail off to Steve Jobs, asking him WTF the deal was with no non-English keyboards in the Apple Store. As expected, he didn’t reply, but if Japanese keyboards do ever show up online, I’m taking all the credit.

UPDATE – FEB 2013

I’m totally taking all of the credit for this. Looks like you still need to do the above if you want the wired, extended version.

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