Cell Phones

In Japan, you will have the option of getting a mobile phone (a flip phone, known as ketai) or a smartphone (called sumaato fon or sumaho), and it is highly recommended that you get one as soon as possible.


First, you’ll need to decide what phone company you want to join. Different companies offer different types of phones (a given model may only operate for one company). Phones are on display pretty much everywhere, so you can go and take a look at the latest offerings before you make your decision.

Don’t worry if after a few weeks you realize that the metallic pink “Hello Kitty” phone you bought was not the best idea you’ve ever had, you should be able to change models and still keep your number (but it will cost you to do so).
These are the three major carriers in Japan. Rates and plans vary from company to company:
1. AU
The table below shows rates offered by each company under its cheapest plans. Each company offers at least five different plans, with different monthly rates, free call time, rates per min, etc. In addition, companies occasionally run special offers that provide a few bonuses as sign-up perks. Basically, you’ll need to look in the company brochures at all the different plans on offer and then choose which will be the most appropriate package for your needs. You can switch plans at any time and at no extra cost. These days you can usually pick up an English guide to plans/phones in shops like Yamada Denki. Please keep in mind that the English language website for these companies often show limited information and do not give details for all of the available plans and bonuses available. However, you can find the most updated, detailed information on the Japanese language sites.
Phone Company AU NTT Docomo Softbank
(Plan Name) (Adjust Plan- Simple) (Type SS) (Basic Plan+ Data Flat Rate)
Monthly Rate w/2-year contract* ¥3,600 ¥3,600 ¥1,700 (phone service) + ¥300 (internet option)
Price of 3GB of Data

(per month)

¥3,480 (for the 1st year; from the 2nd year,  ¥4,480) 5 GB for ¥5,000
Call Charges/min.*          ¥20/30 sec    ¥20/30 sec up to 5 mins unlimited voice calls in Japan

* Written 2012 (Please ensure that the aforementioned is correct).

** Amounts do not include tax or special offers.

***Updated 2018




1. Once you’ve decided what you want, go to any shop that has mobile phones on display and take the following items:


  • Your hanko (the stamp that you use on important documents)
  • Your residency (zairyu) card
  • Your bank details (and preferably your bank book), in order for monthly direct debits to be arranged
  • If possible, take someone who can speak Japanese. It will make the entire process run much more smoothly
  • If you have the English Guide to plans/phones bring that too. If you circle which features you want, it makes the application process easier
Tell the clerk which phone and plan you want, and fill out the application form he or she gives you. You will have to wait while your details are sent to the company, your line is connected and your battery is charged. Once all that is done, you’re ready to start calling all your friends to inform them of your latest purchase!


2. All of these companies require you to subscribe for a certain period of time – usually at least two years – and they charge a cancellation fee if you want to get out of the contract before the term has ended.


3. About messaging: Depending on the type of service plan you choose, you may have to pay for text messages you send or receive. This will can also depend on your carrier and the carrier of the person you are massaging. Many people use free messaging apps such as LINE or Facebook messenger to send text messages using data or wifi.



Try to find out which provider most of your friends will betting, because this makes a difference in text messaging. In Japan, it is usually cheaper to text phones of the same company. If you don’t use the same company as your friends, you will have to use a more expensive form of messaging. For example, AU users send C-mail to other AU users for a flat rate of \3 per message. This is cheaper than sending EZ mail, which is required to send messages to non-AU users. DoCoMo has a similar system, and it’s free for Softbank users to send each other messages under the White Plan most of the time. Also, you can use a phone number to send mail to people with the same company, but you need an email address (usually free) to message people using other companies. There is no difference in call charge, however (except for Softbank).





Additionally, there are other, cheaper mobile service options for those of you who want to get more bang for your buck and don’t necessarily care about the what model phone you have. The two companies ALTs have used are IIJmio and Y!mobile. Both companies sell sim cards, phones, and have home internet options. If you’re considering bringing your phone from home and buying a sim, these are ideal companies to use. Please check that your phone is compatible with Japanese sims beforehand!



Iijmio is online only and sells Japanese sim cards, smartphones, and service through NTT Docomo and au. If you use IIJmio, you can use your credit card (non-Japanese credits cards are accepted) to pay in one lump sum or in monthly installments. They sell various sim cards that can be used with non-contract/ unlocked smart phones. Some plans, which include a new phone, sim card, and 3GB of data start as low as ¥2,880/month for 24 months. You can also bundle a smartphone/sim card with internet and get a discount. One benefit is that you can cancel their service at any time without being locked into a contract. Their website is in Japanese only, so if your Japanese (or Google) skills are up to par, or you know a  Japanese person who can help you, you can get everything set up pretty quickly!



Y!mobile has some cheap options for mobile phones and service plans through Softbank. There are Y!mobile shops around Toyama, so you can visit one to check out what phone models they have available. Y!mobile’s smallest data plans (1 GB) start at ¥1,980/month, and it’s largest (7 GB) start at ¥5,980/month. This doesn’t include any discounts or special promotions. Mobile phone plans can also be bundled with internet services for more savings!


Perhaps a lengthy contract and monthly payments don’t appeal to you. Maybe you don’t expect to use your phone all that much. If so, there is another option. At many convenience stores around Toyama, you can purchase a card-based keitai. These are relatively simple phones that use a cost-based phone card rather than a contract. The card phone option is admittedly a little more limited than a contract phone. You have no real choice of phone options – only one or two phones are generally offered, and often the only difference between them will be the color. However, many of these phones are bilingual, and if a simple phone will fill your needs, this may be the way to go.


It is much simpler to acquire a “Kaado-keitai” (card phone) than a contract-based phone. Simply find a convenience store (ie. Circle K, Lawsons, Family Mart, etc) that carries phones, fill out a relatively basic form with your name and address and pay for the phone. Once you have the phone, you add minutes to your call time by buying phone cards for the phone – usually in the 2,000 to 3,000 yen range – and adding them to your account. While card phones are marginally more expensive than regular keitai, receiving calls is free, and if you aren’t spending hours a day on the phone, the convenience might make it worth your while. NB: Pay Phones: If you don’t want to buy a keitai, it can be really cheap to use public pay phones, but ONLY if you buy phone cards at a convenience store instead of using cash. The cards are available at any conbini (Japanese term for convenience store). Just ask for a “fon-kaado.”

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