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How to buy a cellphone in Japan

Updated: April 30, 2015
By: Ian Yacobucci
TOKYO, JAPAN - Buying a prepaid cellphone in Akihabara (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

TOKYO, JAPAN – Buying a prepaid cellphone in Akihabara (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

With wifi and roaming plans it’s easy to keep in contact with family members and friends these days, but what happens when you need a cellphone to stay connected with new friends while you’re working in a new country.

I found it important to buy a prepaid cellphone in Japan because I wanted to be a part of the community I was living in.  The problem was that getting a prepaid cellphone in Japan isn’t as easy as most countries.

I learned the hard way because the last time I was working in Japan I wasn’t able to get a prepaid cellphone.  Back in 2008,  getting a prepaid cellphone wasn’t an option. Back then, even wifi didin’t exist, and I wasn’t interested in buying a several hundred dollar cellphone under contract for a three month work trip.

Today, if you’re needing to get connected with your community in Japan, you can stop wondering “if” you can get a prepaid cellphone in Japan and start the process to getting one.

You can easily get a pre-paid cellphone or a contract if you’re planning on working in Japan. However, if you’re just visiting for a short time it’s easier to either go without a cellphone and use internet services like Skype and Magicjack, or rent a cellphone from a Japanese airport (which you return upon your departure).

As an expat, before you get a cellphone in Japan, there are a few things you need to have with you.

1.  You need to have a residency (alien) card that you’ve already registered with city hall.

2.  You need your passport.

When buying a cellphone there are two options to choose from. The first is a pre-paid option where you buy a phone and add money to a sim card. The second option is to get a cellphone under contract. If you want to get a contract you need to make sure that you’re going to be in the country for two years or more because the minimum contract period is two years, no exceptions, and no cancellations.

If you’re living in Tokyo here’s a breakdown of how to get a cellphone, how much it costs and where you can get it.

SoftBank – Prepaid option

Phone:

The cheapest option is the 2000¥ ($20 USD) option for the phone.   There is also a 5000¥ ($50 USD) option if you’re interested in watching TV on your phone.

Prepaid Card:

There are two prepaid options. The first costs 3000 ¥ ($30 USD) and the second costs 5000 ¥ ($50 USD). There are no deals for buying the more expensive card, it just gives you more money.

What you get:

Unlimited texts – 300 ¥ for 30 days

National calls – 9 ¥ for six seconds (price as listed in the SoftBank cellphone brochure) or 90¥ per minute

Where to get a prepaid cellphone in Tokyo:

If you’re in Tokyo the best place to buy a prepaid cellphone is at “Yotobashi Camera” located in Akihabara

  • To go to Akihabara station
  • Take the Showa-Dori (Akihabara Electric Town) Exit
  • Turn left and you’re there

Happy Travels!

Yak

Ian Yacobucci

Traveling the Trans-Siberian, mountaineering the Himalayas, or teaching in Tokyo I'm always trying something new. As a someone who's worked, studied, and traveled to 40+ countries around the world I'm here to share my experiences so you can do the same!

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3 thoughts on “How to buy a cellphone in Japan

  1. Mason

    Hi Ian,

    Love the picture of you and the cell phone guy! And good post! Didn’t know they were still selling pre-paid phones.

    Doesn’t sound like you get much for your buck. I always prefer to MNP to a big company and take advantage of their deals. I was ale to get an iPhone 5s the first month it came out for completely free.

    Meaning I was paying 1800-yen a month for 7GB and unlimited network calls. Also only payed the 10,000yen cancelation fee when I canceled a few months later. Because the phone was flat out payed for and mine.

    The only problem is, you need a cheap phone to get started… like a MVNO or possibly a prepaid phone…(don’t know if you can do it with a pre-paid phone yet)

    If your thinking about an upgrade, mail me and maybe I can help you out.

    Cheers

    Reply
    1. Ian Yacobucci Post author

      That’s a great idea! Thanks for sharing. I know cellphone policies change rapidly. It’ll only get easier and easier to get good deals like this.

      Thanks for sharing,

      Yak

      Reply
    2. Ian Yacobucci Post author

      Thanks for sharing! Cellphone policies are always changing so I’m sure this will be out of date soon.

      Reply