If you are going to move to Japan for an extended period of time, we recommend that you get a Japanese phone number.
Because messaging apps like LINE and WhatsApp are popular in Japan, some may think that a Japanese phone number is unnecessary.
But, having a Japanese phone number is essential for numerous things in Japan, and can make living in Japan much harder without one.
In this article, we will introduce the benefits and uses of a Japanese phone number, along with companies that we recommend, and how to apply in-store and online for a Japanese phone number.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- How to apply for a phone number online
- How to apply for a phone number in-store
- Why do you need a Japanese phone number?
- The providers we recommend
- Why is Sakura Mobile less expensive?
- For those who prefer a full English application process with customer support
1. How to apply for a phone number online
If you’re moving to Japan, whether it be for work, for school, or for travel, we recommend ordering a SIM card online before you arrive.
There are plenty of companies that provide Japanese phone numbers, but we recommend Sakura Mobile. They are a provider that has airport pickup and English customer support. This way when you arrive at the airport you can have a Japanese phone number almost immediately after picking up your luggage.
Most companies can also ship to anywhere in Japan within a few days, so if you’ve already arrived, don’t worry.
Ordering online for most companies is simple and easy, just fill out and turn in the online application. Input a credit or debit card, a place that the company can ship the SIM card which will provide your Japanese phone number, your name, and you’re basically done! Sometimes they will require a picture of some identification.
After you order, all you have to do is wait a few days for your SIM card to arrive, and then put it into your phone.
2. How to apply for a phone number in-store
Applying for a phone number in a store might seem simple because of the sheer amount of phone stores that you may see when walking around Japan, but that may not be the case.
The three largest carriers are SoftBank, docomo, and au. Their stores can be seen everywhere, and you can apply for a contract at the store by walking in and signing up. But there is quite a lot of things to bring, and a couple of things to expect before you go in.
What to take with you to the store
- Official ID, in most cases a Japanese driver’s license, My Number card, Passport, or Residence card will suffice
- A credit or debit card
- A hanko (personal seal) if you have one.
Before going in, expect the whole process to take about 2 or 3 hours. Often, there will be no staff members who speak English. You can check if they have English-speaking staff members at specific stores ahead of time for docomo and SoftBank below.
After you walk in, they’ll ask you various questions about what you want, your price range, if you would like a new phone with your phone number, the phone you want, and recommend contracts that fit your needs. Usually, they’ll scan your id and make copies while selling you on the various options and additional services.
Choose your contract, and give them the credit or debit card that you want to pay the administrative and monthly fee with. Then the staff will take your application and send it to the company, who will approve or sometimes deny your application. This process can take upwards of an hour, so be prepared to wait.
If you’re approved, you now have a Japanese phone number! And a new phone if you choose a contract that comes with a phone.
If your contract is denied, don’t panic! Large companies like SoftBank, docomo, and au, have specific criteria for applicants. They don’t release the criteria or say why some people are denied and others are approved. If you are denied, you’ll have to try again with a different company or at a different location.
3. Why do you need a Japanese phone number?
Many people may come to Japan with a SIM card from their home country and an international data plan. While this is great for first arriving and short trips, there are many things that you need a Japanese phone number for in Japan.
If you want to create a Japanese bank account, lease an apartment or home, enter a company or school, or fill out the other large amounts of various Japanese paperwork, a Japanese phone number is required.
Sadly, free calling apps that provide a phone number like LINE and Skype aren’t good enough. You’ll need a number that starts with 090, 080, or 070 for official papers.
Please note, that there are some contracts with data-only SIM cards that will give you a phone number that starts with 050. These are IP phone services that use internet lines. They are usually less expensive than regular lines and are great for using data when you’re not in a place with internet. But be careful! Phone numbers with 050 cannot be used in official situations like creating a bank account or signing a lease.
4. The providers we recommend
Below are the companies that we recommend you make a contract with. There are a few things that we based our recommendations on. We think that readers care about low prices, fast speeds, English support, and overall ease of signing up the most.
Scroll right for more →→
|Sakura Mobile||Up to|
|4GB : 3,278 JPY|
25GB : 4,378 JPY
|3GB : 5,555 JPY|
60 GB : 7,205 JPY
|3GB : 5,588 JPY|
Unlimited : 7,238 JPY
|3GB : 5,588 JPY|
Unlimited : 7,238 JPY
All of the above carriers
- have above 99% coverage of the populated area of Japan
- provide SIM cards with phone numbers starting with 070/080/090
Below we will explain each company in more detail.
Sakura Mobile is a SIM card provider based out of Shinjuku, Tokyo. Some of the best things about Sakura Mobile are their low costs, 4GB for 3,278 JPY/month or 25GB for 4,378 JPY/month.
Right now, they have a campaign for phone number activation fees from 16,500 JPY down to 5,500 JPY. If you want English customer support 7 days a week, Sakura Mobile will be perfect for you.
One of the best things about Sakura Mobile is the number of options you have for getting your SIM card delivered. If you order it online, you can have it sent anywhere in Japan and get it as early as the next day. If you prefer to pick it up in person, you can head to their Shinjuku office after filling out an online application.
For those who are not in Japan yet, you can even order a Sakura Mobile SIM card before your flight and pick it up when you land at any international airport in Japan. Just let them know your arrival date, airport, time, and your flight number.
Click below to play YouTube video↓↓
Check out Sakura Mobile here.
docomo is one of the largest mobile carriers in Japan. If you live in or have ever been to Japan, there is a good chance that you’ve seen a docomo store.
Most of their plans are tier priced, meaning that the more data you use the more that you’ll be charged that month.
docomo is more expensive than au and SoftBank, but its communication quality is higher. The speed is the fastest in Japan, and the coverage is wide enough to connect even in deep rural areas in the mountains.
If you want to enjoy gaming on your phone, or plan to use your phone in the countryside, consider making a contract with docomo.
Check out docomo here.
SoftBank is one of the other 3 biggest phone carriers within Japan. They have an administration fee of only 3,300 JPY for new contracts. Their monthly plans start from 3,278 JPY/month for 1 GB of data, which are on a tiered price system. If you use more than 1 GB of data it will cost more.
Check out SoftBank here.
au is the 2nd largest carrier in Japan. With a store at almost every large station, you won’t be able to go anywhere without spotting a few. If you get their adjustable plan, you can pay based on how much data you use. Using under 1GB a month will only cost 2,178 JPY, all the way up to 4,928 if you use between 4GB and 7GB.
If you use a lot of data, go for their unlimited data plan for 7,238 JPY a month. You can bundle your au phone service together with other services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, YouTube Premium, and more. You can get a discount on other au services, like home internet or a new phone if you have a phone contract. Check them out below.
Check out au here.
5. Why is Sakura Mobile less expensive?
Sakura Mobile is a type of cell service provider called Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or MVNO for short. It doesn’t own any phone lines, but actually rents out a portion of docomo’s line. The connection speed may be a little slower during the peak times, but you can watch YouTube or Netflix without a problem.
If you want to save some money, we recommend making a contract with an MVNO like Sakura Mobile, where there cheapest plan starts at 3,278 JPY. Compared to docomo’s cheapest plan, which starts at 5,555 JPY, it seems like an easy decision as they even use the same phone towers.
6. For those who prefer a full English application process with customer support
Very few companies in Japan have sufficient English language support. There have been many stories of people who have trouble due to lack of English support.
- Not being able to understand the contract (Japanese smartphone plans are notoriously complicated)
- Finding out that you had paid for extra options without realizing it
- Finding out the monthly fee was more expensive than you thought
- Wanting to cancel the contract, but not knowing how
- Having trouble setting up your SIM card, but not being able to talk to anyone about it
- Suddenly having no signal and being unable to solve the problem
You are not alone!
If you’ve ever worried about not being able to speak Japanese fluently while making a phone contract, Sakura Mobile is a safe choice.
For more, check it out here.