Buying a Phone in Japan: The Easy Way to Stay Connected

buying a phone in japan

Do you want to stay in Japan for an extended holiday, to study or to work, and you need a way to stay connected to the phone and Internet? Fortunately, Japan’s system of calling and data networks are regarded as being among the best and most reliable in the world-for some. Foreign visitors looking for mid- to-long-term phone and data plans will likely have a difficult time shopping around for several reasons. Keep reading to find out what you’re up against when buying a phone in Japan and discover an easy solution that will save you money and keep you connected throughout your stay.

5 Reasons Buying a Phone in Japan Is So Difficult

Photo by choo chin nian on Flickr

1. Established Residency

There is a nationwide requirement, by law, to provide a permanent address and copy of your residence card if you want to sign up for a Japanese phone plan. Both of these take time to get, which doesn’t help when you need a phone during your first days and weeks in Japan. Some phone companies also require that you already have a Japanese phone number, despite you having just arrived in the country. No, really. It happens. Others, require that you have a Japanese bank account.

2. Two-Year Contract

Assuming you can show that you found a place to live and set up a Japanese bank account, the next hurdle you may face is limited contract options. Major retailers usually require a two-year contract with their phone plans and proof that you can stay in the country that long. For any visitor coming to Japan with a visa that limits your stay to under 2 years, it can be difficult to convince the phone company that you can honor the contract.

Early cancellation fees are also painfully expensive for Japanese phone contracts, and require you to go into the store to make the request in person.

3. Language Barrier

It is only possible to discuss so much about a phone contract with gestures and a phrase book. This can lead to a frustrating customer experience, especially if you find a retailer that seems to understand you perfectly-until it comes time to pay or cancel your service. To overcome this barrier, you’ll need to bring someone with you to the store who can speak the language.

It’s true that Japanese companies are slowly adopting a more inclusive web presence with English language options available on many sites, but these options are often slow to update and will not show the latest offers. This can be frustrating, especially if you see an offer you like but are thwarted at the purchasing stage. Support is equally patchy with a lot of information only available in Japanese.

4. Market Regulations

As of 2015, phone companies are required by law to begin offering unlocked smartphones at no extra cost with the aim of improving market competition. This is supposed to be good for foreign visitors, since you should be able to use your current unlocked smartphone and only sign up for a Japanese voice + data SIM card. As with many regulations, the results are not so clear cut with decisions often being made at the discretion of the sales staff.

5. Payment Problems

If you do manage to overcome everything and have a contract in front of you, there can still be problems with payment. Japan is primarily a cash-based society, and they often don’t use credit or debit cards outside of large purchases. When it comes time to pay by card there is always a chance the transaction will be denied, and when you’re in a foreign country it will be all the harder to contact your bank and fix the problem.


The Easier Solution to Buying a Phone in Japan-Sakura Mobile!

sakura mobile
Photo by Stephen Kelly on Flickr

With all these hurdles, many visitors turn to Japanese SIM card and Pocket WiFi rental services like Sakura Mobile, which offer monthly plans specifically for mid- to long-term visitors who don’t want to jump through all the hoops. Is a Sakura Mobile monthly plan right for you?

  • No residency requirements for data-only services*
  • No 2-year contract
  • No language barriers
  • Use your own unlocked smartphone
  • Easy payment options(including all major credit cards, debit cards, and cash payments at convenience stores)

* Due to Japanese law, a valid photo ID issued in Japan is required for voice + data services plans only. Valid photo ID can be your resident card or Japanese driver’s license. If you’re moving to Japan and don’t have the required document yet, Sakura Mobile will send you a data SIM card first. Once your documents are ready, you can switch to a voice + data plan.

Monthly Voice + Data SIM Card Plans

Sakura Mobile now offers Monthly Voice + Data SIM Cards, perfect for anyone who wants to be able to use their smartphone in Japan just like at home.

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Monthly Data-Only SIM Card Plans

If you’re staying solo in Japan and don’t plan on making traditional phone calls, our Monthly Data-Only SIM Cards offer flexible plans for your unlocked smartphone or tablet, allowing you to stay connected to the Internet and your friends via Skype, Facebook, Line, etc.

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Monthly Pocket WiFi Plans

If you’re looking for a solution that works with your WiFi devices or if you want to use the Internet at home as well as outside, you can rent a Monthly Pocket WiFi. These will work with any WiFi device and allow up to 10 devices to connect at once. All instructions are available in English as is customer support, giving you more time to focus on the important things.

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Make Your Stay in Japan Easy with Sakura Mobile

Despite new regulations and attempts to relax the strict laws surrounding smartphone sales in Japan, it can still be a nightmare to get your hands on a usable device. If you’re looking for a cheap and easy way to access the Internet on your phone, laptop or tablet during your stay in Japan, then Sakura Mobile is a great choice with monthly options.