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5 Things to Consider Before Getting a Smartphone in Japan

Hello, can you hear me? I’m in Japan dreaming about who I could be — if I had the most stress-free phone plan in all the land. Adele lyrics aside, here are some of the best plans for foreigners looking for quick, easy and relatively cheap data services.

By 5 min read

Ah, life decisions. Maybe you’re thinking about coming to Japan. Or, maybe you’re already here trying to settle in. As exciting as Japan is, living here still brings the stress of starting anew. It’s best to tackle each big decision one at a time and remove any “maybes.”

Be it finding your first job, a place to study or visit, or your first apartment —all of these situations are easier after getting a good mobile phone plan. The best plans mean you know your number before traveling and have data on arrival. It can also allow you to pay using your own debit or credit card, end the contract anytime, access your account online and do it all in English.

Sound good? You’ve got a few choices to consider before finding the ideal phone plan for Japan. Fortunately, we’ve tackled most of them for you — so let’s go through them one by one before you make that call.

Hotline Bling

If there’s one thing Japan excels at, it’s high-quality service, but that service doesn’t always come with a lot of choices. Most people don’t want to be roped into a two-year contract. But, if you go with one of the three major cell phone service providers, get ready to sign your life away. What’s more, a lot of these shops don’t offer English support, so you might not even realize how much you’re really paying.

If you go with one of the three major cell phone service providers, get ready to sign your life away.


So, what are your options if…

  • You don’t speak Japanese?
  • You don’t wish to sign up for a two-year contract on your first day?
  • You don’t even understand the choices, anyway?

Call Me, Maybe

Assuming you’ve got an unlocked smartphone when you arrive in Japan and can pick-up Wi-Fi, here are your options:

  • Data SIMs — Available, before you arrive in Japan or at the airport on arrival from Mobal whose SIMs allow tethering and come in 3 GB and 10 GB sizes. Alternatively go downtown and find an electronics store.
  • Rental data SIMs — Available, but read carefully. SoftBank Global Rental offers an unlimited data SIM for ¥970 per day, but speeds are limited to 3 GB over three days and your credit card will be subject to a pre-authorization in the region of US$350.
  • Voice & data SIMs — Available, either for tourists for a maximum duration of 15 days (3 GB for ¥7,500) or we are back to rental options again starting from ¥780 per day with pricey call rates: ¥400/min for an international call or ¥110/min for a domestic call.

Hangin’ on the Telephone

There is a DIY option. Before you leave for Japan you could purchase a Mobal Japan Unlimited SIM for ¥3,000 online and have it delivered free to your home.

Mobal offer a simple plan —you purchase a SIM and pay an ongoing monthly fee of ¥ 4,500. This way you get your Japanese phone number before you arrive and 7 GB of fast data monthly, which is more than enough. Domestic call costs are ¥29/min or free if made between SoftBank phones and with no contract you can opt out when you want.


Do you want a data-only SIM or a data and voice SIM?


There is a case to be made for having a Japanese phone number for your job, but certainly, people do end up living here without one. The question is, are you a person who can make do with a data-only SIM?

If yes:

  • Most data-only SIMs operate on a no-contract-no-termination-fee basis.
  • The SIM costs approximately ¥3,240.
  • SMS costs, too (usually an option, expect to pay a monthly fee and a charge per SMS message sent).
  • Most data-only SIMs are sold online from Japanese-only websites or big box retail stores.

If English language support is important, then consider Sakura Mobile data SIMs, ranging from 3 GB to 30 GB monthly with an average 7 GB plan costing ¥4,298. There are other cheaper options for similar data amounts such as Iijmio or DMM Mobile.

Mobal also offer simple prepaid SIMs that expire after 30 days use but can be used for tethering —useful until you get your home Wi-Fi set up.

Before you leave for Japan you could purchase a Mobal SIM for ¥3,000 online and have it delivered free to your home.

If no:

With the exception of the Mobal, all voice and data SIMs come with a minimum contract and an early-termination fee. Similar to the data-only SIMs above, voice and data SIMs cost approximately ¥3,240. The exception to this rule is Mobal, one of the only providers that doesn’t require a Japanese residency card or visa and also does not charge consumption tax on the SIM or call charges leaving you with ongoing savings of eight percent of monthly costs.

English-language support is available from:

  • Mobal
    • 7 GB fast data (unlimited)
    • No contract
    • No residency card requirement
    • No termination fee
    • Initial Costs: SIM ¥3,000. Plans from ¥1,000-¥4,500 per month.
  • Sakura Mobile
    • 3-10 GB fast data options
    • Minimum contract
    • Residency card required
    • No termination fee
    • Initial costs: Activation fee of ¥7,500-¥15,000. Plans from ¥3,218 to ¥7,214 (tax inclusive).

Call Me!

There are other choices, but only if you’re OK signing a contract for one or two years, tackling the process in Japanese and are accepting of a cancellation fee should things not work out. For a lot of us, these are headaches we don’t want to deal with.

No matter if you’re returning to Japan or arriving for the first time, we can all imagine that feeling of stepping off the plane and then thinking: “Now what?”

Getting rid of the uncertainty means you’ll be ready tackle your new life in Japan mobile in hand and your mind at ease.

For more information, check out the Mobal website. 

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