Sorting a phone contract in Japan is no walk in the park. In fact, it’s more like shuffling across hot coals with the ever-present threat of tripping over red tape into a lava pit of new customer protocol. So you’d be totally forgiven if, once you’ve secured your 4G device in hand, you never look at your contract again, actively ignoring those weekly marketing messages and any other communication that might mean you have to revisit the small print.
We get it. Ignorance is bliss. But apparently, ignorance also equals missing out on several perks designed to reward your in-store suffering and customer loyalty. NTT docomo, one of Japan’s biggest mobile providers, got in touch with us at GaijinPot to let its foreign customers know that these rewards do exist, but since marketing is mostly done in Japanese, many aren’t aware of them.
We spoke to the team behind the docomo Money Transfer service the first hidden perk on this list, to get the lowdown on how to make the most of your phone contract with NTT docomo.
1. You can transfer money overseas for ¥1,000 from your phone
No transfer fees, form-filling or faffing around at a bank (ick), you can send money for a flat fee of ¥1,000 through your phone with this nifty new service. For first-timers, after registering for the service you’ll need to open a “Kouza Account,” a sort of virtual wallet on your phone. To transfer money it’s a case of depositing money into your virtual wallet either at the convenience store, via Pay-easy (a Japanese secure payment gateway) or through a bank transfer, then making a transaction request to an overseas account on your phone. You can send money to 41 countries and regions, up to ¥500,000 a month, any day from anywhere. The exchange rate is Docomo’s own rate, based on that day’s FX rate by Mizuho bank.
It’s worth downloading the app, which ranks higher in terms of intuitiveness and visual appeal than the mobile web page. Either way, the service is great value for money and far simpler and more reliable than going through a bank or third-party transfer service. Plus, when first-timers refer a friend to the money transfer service they’ll both get ¥500 deposited into their Kouza Account! They don’t have to be an NTT docomo user and all you need to do is send them a coupon code which they enter when they sign up to the service.
2. Your phone’s virtual wallet has lots of other benefits too
You can make use of your kouza for more than money transfers. Once you’ve set up your virtual wallet, dip into it to pay your phone bills and shop at partner websites like DMM, or coupon service Ponpare which has great discounts on restaurants, activities and other services. You can also use it to sign up and pay your taxes via the Furusato Nozei tax incentive scheme, a system where you pay tax to another prefecture (i.e. not the one you live in) and get a local gift from them in return.
Your account can also be linked to a Visa Prepaid debit card which can be used for shopping online, booking flights, tickets, and any other situation where you might need a card instead of cash. Good news if you don’t have a Japanese credit or debit card (which are sometimes difficult for foreign residents to acquire) and don’t want to pay with your international one.
3. You get early access to new phone models
Being the telecoms giant that it is, NTT docomo has unprecedented access to the newest models from the main players in the phone market (they were the first operator to offer the Galaxy S9 earlier this year). This means that tech-enthusiasts, or those who just like shiny new stuff, with an NTT docomo phone contract can get first dibs on an upgrade. Apple fans take note: There are rumors of an iPhone release this coming September. If you’ve currently got an iPhone, they have an upgrade support program where you can update your model in the middle of your contract and receive a discount of up to ¥60,000.
4. You’re entitled to loyalty benefits
NTT docomo pays loyalty handsomely. The majority of its customers are faithful devotees who’ve never looked in the direction of another carrier, thanks to incentives like the long-term subscriber discount where your monthly bill is automatically reduced by seven percent after one year, and up to 15 percent if you’ve been with the carrier for more than five years. You don’t even need to apply — it just happens by default. If you’ve got a d-point card (see below), loyalty points start pouring in after six months and you’ll get a bonus every time you renew your contract.
5. You can join the “d-point Club” and earn points to spend in Japan and overseas
Become a member of the d-point gang for free and you’ll be able to accumulate points shopping at Lawson (ahem, the best konbini), in McDonalds and Tower Records, or by converting your Japan Airlines miles. You can also earn points simply by using your phone, walking (your phone counts your steps), and even giving birth — though points should probably not be your sole motivation for having a child.
The points in turn can be spent to cover your phone bills, upgrading to a new phone (in fact for any NTT docomo products), in affiliate online stores such as Amazon, Kaldi and Animate, for tickets and fast passes to amusement parks, gift certificates and more.
6. Tethering is free
Here we were using our phone as a portable router thinking it wouldn’t cost extra, when actually it depends on your plan. Wi-Fi tethering isn’t always free with most networks, some charge extra per month cost while others start to do so after the first two years.
With standard NTT docomo packages, data usage is unlimited and includes tethering — so you won’t be paying more yen at the end of the month if you need to use your phone’s Wi-Fi on your laptop or let your friend jump in on your 4G.
7. You’ll get coverage in rural areas, even on Mt. Fuji
While you might think that each of the big three mobile companies share equal amounts of network, NTT docomo actually boasts the most stable reception across Japan of all — including on Mt. Fuji, where it also offers free Wi-Fi. While this isn’t so much of a hidden phone perk as a fact of a network monopoly, it’s worth being aware that you’re still able to use your phone even in the most remote of areas. If anyone wants to put this to the test, visit Yakushima and try calling a taxi when you’ve gotten lost on a hike — you’ll be thanking the d-gods for stopping you from being eaten by a wild boar.
8. NTT docomo shops are everywhere (and they all provide foreign language support)
Did you know that the name “Docomo” partly comes from the Japanese word dokodemo, meaning “everywhere” in Japanese? It’s fitting, since there are more than 2,000 shops across the country that are not so much hidden as right there in front of your eyes. So if you’ve ever got any issues with your phone, want to trade-in, upgrade or switch over from another carrier, you won’t have far to travel. All NTT docomo shops also provide foreign language support through a telephone interpreter; available in English, Portuguese, Chinese and Spanish from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. including weekends and holidays. You can also make use of the same telephone number to ask questions related to the Money Transfer service, as well as your phone and account, from home.