What’s the Best Type of Communication for You in Japan?

It depends on what you need it for.

No matter where you are in the world, it is important to stay connected. Luckily in Japan, there is no shortage of options for that. From the old-fashioned landlines to the modern smartphones, here is a rundown of your options:

Cellphones or Smartphones

In Japan, there are three biggest telecom companies. These are Docomo, au (pronounced as the letters A.U.), and Softbank. These three used to rule the mobile kingdom. However, nowadays there are new companies that offer low-cost mobile services as well as new mobile options. 

Post-paid Option

Majority of phone subscriptions in Japan are post-paid, meaning that the fee is calculated monthly after usage. The big companies mentioned generally offer a “bundle” package that includes the phone itself (that is usually paid in installments) and a subscription plan. Phones that are purchased in the bundle package in Japan are usually sim-locked, and if you attempt to put in a different sim card in a sim-locked phone, it is not going to work at all.

Of course, there are not only “bundle” packages, but there is also an option of getting a sim card for an unlocked phone (called “sim-free” in Japan). These data/data+voice packages are also post-paid usually. However, take note that there are phone models that do not accept sim cards in Japan, so it is best to check first before buying. 

Things to Take Note Of 

When choosing either a bundle type or a sim-free phone type, there are documents (such as proof of identity and visa) that will be needed, so for people who have just arrived in Japan and are not able to secure the required conditions or documents, they may
not be able to get phone contracts. The reason for this is that most cellphone contracts ask for a minimum of two years subscription. (They need to check the length of the visa). Terminating your contract earlier than two years would require a termination fee, which costs a lot, so be careful! Another thing to note is that if you are under 20 years of age, a signature of a guarantor might be required. 

Lastly, transferring a mobile phone under contract to a third party without obtaining approval from the mobile phone company is considered a crime, so be wary of those selling their phones online. You don’t want to commit a criminal offense!

Prepaid Option

Recently, smaller telecom companies have started to offer a prepaid sim option that has a set amount of usable data. There are types that act as a “one-use-only”, and there are others that you can top-up as you go along. Take note that sometimes, buying a new sim card might actually be
cheaper than topping up or reloading your sim! 


Pocket Wifi

To those who have different types of gadgets that need an internet connection, or those who need internet on the go, there is always a Pocket Wifi option. (Even though Japan is very technologically forward, finding an internet hotspot is still difficult, to be honest.)

In Japan, Pocket Wifis are generally availed together with a phone subscription. Although for those who need this for a shorter period of time, there are rental Pocket Wifis ranging from daily to monthly. 

Payphones and Landlines

For those who prefer the old-fashioned route, there are payphones that you can use. They are usually located near train stations. Take note that most of them take only coins so it is important to keep change on hand. 

The payphone booth and the phone itself are usually green.

While document processing in Japan accepts landline, it is frankly easier to simply use a cellphone. Phone numbers in Japan generally start with an area code (for example, in Tokyo it is 03), followed by an 8-digit number.

There are many communication options to choose from in Japan, but it is important to know what you need first before deciding on which one to get. 

 (7 June 2019)

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