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Until recently, getting a Japanese mobile phone meant a two-year contract, and penalties for early cancellation. The major smartphone brands were only available with SIMs locked to a particular network. While the three main networks (SoftBank, docomo and au) still require two-year contracts, it is now possible to buy unlocked smartphones from electronics stores.
(For short-term use See also: Internet for Travelers)
In order to buy a handset you will need identification and contact information, such as your residence card, passport, and address in Japan. You must also have a Japanese bank account or a credit card in the contractee’s name. A range of plans are available as well as discount services, so check with the various providers before you make your purchase.
The following are the major mobile phone operators in Japan.
A discount coupon applicable to new contracts and handset upgrades is available for use at certain stores. Check out the au shop page for more info. 0120-959-472 (English/toll-free)
Using Handsets from Overseas
It is possible to use non-GSM 3G and 4G phones in Japan via international roaming. It is also possible to use a SIM-free device with a Japanese SIM if it is compliant with Japanese regulations. See the section below on SIM-free phones for info on data and voice plans.
Unlocked phones can be purchased from electronics stores, while the mobile networks listed above are required to provide new phones unlocked if requested (though some will only unlock after a set period from the start of the contract). If you have an unlocked phone, you can get data and voice SIMs through a number of providers.
The advantages of going with this option include lower monthly charges, shorter contract terms and potentially cheaper fees for early cancellation. However, as handsets are not part of the contract, it is not possible to split the cost over a two-year period. Additionally, as most SIM-only providers piggy-back on the networks of the major mobile providers, the internet connection may be less reliable.
Companies offering SIMs include BIGLOBE, DMM Mobile, IIJmio, mineo and Rakuten Mobile. Most cards must be purchased online. For in-store assistance, electronics chains such as Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera and Yamada Denki also offer SIM card contracts. The following online operators offer English service:
Prepaid PhonesSimple prepaid phones are another option for those who are not living in Japan long enough to fulfill a two-year service contract. SoftBank offers simple prepaid feature phone and smartphone handsets for a reasonable upfront fee. A certain amount of credit is included at time of purchase (which must be used within a given time limit or be lost) and additional credit can be purchased through SoftBank’s website and through prepaid cards sold at convenience stores and SoftBank stores. For foreign residents, a valid residence card (with current address recorded) and passport are required to apply. The contract will be terminated if the phone is not topped up with credit within the first year of purchase, and thereafter may be terminated if there is no top-up for a 60-day period. There is a cancellation fee for terminating the contract before a year is up.
Fixed Line Telephones
NTT East is the company that provides regular fixed line telephone services in eastern Japan. You can apply for a new fixed line at 0120-364-463 (toll-free). There are 2 plans available, the Analog and the Analog Lite Plan.
0120-116-000 (toll-free) | Mon-Fri (excl. N.H.&N.Y.H.) 9:00am-5:00pm
Application fees are as follows:
Monthly telephone bills include both basic monthly charges and usage charges. You can pay either by cash, automatic bank transfer or credit cards (some credit cards may not be accepted). All payment methods require application by phone, and you need to fill out a form for payment by credit cards or bank transfer. Call customer service for any assistance.
You can make an international call by simply dialing the international carrier access number, followed by the telephone number.
To call a Japanese phone number from abroad, dial your country’s international calling code followed by Japan’s country code (81), followed by the telephone number with the preceding 0 removed from the domestic area code (for landlines, dial 3 instead of 03 for Tokyo, 45 for Yokohama, etc. For cell phone numbers, dial 80 or 90).
They have English-speaking support for everything, enabling you to inquire about price plans and discount services. The main international carrier access numbers are as follows:
Dialing Within Japan
Area codes are 03 for Tokyo and 045 for Yokohama. You do not need to add the area code if dialing from a regular fixed line within the area.
Dial 104 for NTT Directory assistance. Although the phone will be answered in Japanese, an English-speaking operator can be requested. Charges apply. See their website for details.
Another choice for fixed line telephone is IP phones. Instead of using an analog phone line, IP phone calls are made over an IP network such as the Internet. IP phones have various advantages such as cheaper rates when making long-distance or international calls. You can easily apply for it when you set up Internet connection to your home. However, you need to be aware that it cannot be used at times of blackouts.
koushuu denwa (公衆電話, Pay phones) are easy to use and are usually located near train stations, in major public buildings, or at stores and can be used with 10 Yen coins, 100 Yen coins or prepaid telephone cards. Pay phones do not give change for 100 Yen coins. Telephone cards are available at station kiosks and convenience stores. Because more and more people have mobile phones, pay phones are becoming harder to find.