In general, when choosing a data SIM carrier there are many things to consider such as pricing, speed, and which provider can get you a deal on the latest model of your favorite phone. But for foreign travelers in Japan who are likely to visit a wide range or locales in a short period of time, one factor tends to outweigh the rest coverage. But which of the big three carriers offers the best coverage: NTT Docomo, Softbank, or AU? The answer is you have a choice, Docomo or Softbank, and here’s why…
Comparing Data Coverage in Japan’s “Big 3”
If you’re researching mobile phone options for your trip to Japan, then you’ve probably come across the names Softbank Mobile, NTT Docomo, and au by KDDI. These three companies are the top three service providers in Japan and fierce competitors.
It’s not surprising that in each of Japan’s three biggest cities, NTT Docomo provides the widest coverage. In the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, Docomo’s coverage extends far past the city center, reaching to the cities outside of the 23 wards with a strong signal. au by KDDI offers the second widest coverage in the Tokyo area, while Softbank ranks a close third. Up until now Docomo has been number one choice when you’re looking at coverage, but in recent years Softbank have undergone improvements and coverage has improved. In fact, in the Tokyo area and for when you are on the move underground, Softbank is the better choice.
The same can be said for Osaka, where you’ll find a strong Docomo signal across the city. au covers much of the same area as Docomo in Osaka, but its coverage is not quite as?wide and au’s signal strength is also weaker.
Kyoto is a unique city because it’s a major destination for tourists, yet it is small and not very metropolitan. The city is dotted with shrines, temples, and green space, which breaks up the coverage area for all three service providers. However, Docomo’s coverage area and signal strength are consistently the best across Kyoto.
When an NTT Docomo or Softbank SIM card really comes in handy
In addition to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, there are countless other sightseeing destinations that foreign tourists are likely to visit. Having wide coverage is especially important for those traveling to popular national landmarks and World Heritage Sites outside of the major cities.
Climbing iconic Mt. Fuji
Docomo and Softbank are the two service providers that cover Mt. Fuji. Since 2013, Docomo has offered LTE coverage all the way to the summit of Mt. Fuji during the climbing season. Softbank has also established this tie up and connects you to LTE networks. That means if you have a Docomo or Softbank SIM card in your smartphone, you’ll be able to instantly share a selfie from anywhere on the mountain side, “check in” on social media, and stay connected with your climbing group in case you get separated. It also means you’ll be able to easily look up “detours” during your return, such as an onsen, in case you want to relax after all that climbing.
Exploring Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture
Nikko is a famously beautiful locale hidden in the mountains of Tochigi. It has scenic trails, waterfalls, and plenty of onsen. The shrines and temples in this area make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nearby there is also the Nikko Edomura (Edo Wonderland) historical theme park, which recreates life in a small Japanese town during the Edo period. There are so many things to see and do in Nikko that it can be easy to get lost. To help you navigate the area, Docomo’s coverage gives you service in the most places possible, so you can always check your phone for where to go next.
Photographing Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture
Itsukushima Shrine is a centuries-old Shinto shrine on the island of Miyajima, about an hour away from Hiroshima City in western Japan. It’s famous for its torii gate, one the three most famous scenic sites in Japan, which appears to float in the sea at high tide. Docomo and Softbank are the only service providers that get coverage on Miyajima Island, which will allow you to check the tide schedule so you can see the floating gate at the best viewing time, look up a place to eat (the island is famous for oysters), and upload your photos of the cute deer inhabiting the island.
Shrine-hopping at Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine) in Mie Prefecture
Ise Jingu is a huge shrine complex in Mie Prefecture consisting of 125 shrines, the most famous being the Outer Shrine (Geku) and Inner Shrine (Naiku). It’s known as the holiest Shinto site in Japan because the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, is said to be enshrined there. Pilgrimages to Ise Jingu have been popular since the 18th century, and today it’s known as one of the top “power spots” (sources of mystical energy) in Japan. If you’re planning your own little pilgrimage to Ise, with Docomo you’ll have full coverage on the Kintetsu train line on the way there and inside Ise Jingu itself, which will help you navigate the extensive shrine complex. Outside of Ise Jingu you’ll find Oharai-machi, a shopping street which was originally the old pilgrimage road leading up to the complex. Make sure to look up the best Ise udon, a local specialty.
Japanese Data Coverage Recap
While Softbank and au both continue to battle for 2nd and 3rd position in Japan’s mobile data market, the industry leader is still Docomo. But what is most important for foreigners visiting the country is that when it comes to roaming in Japan, having wide, consistent coverage is a necessity if you plan on going past Tokyo’s city limits and the best way to guarantee this accessibility is with either the NTT Docomo SIM card or Softbank, and if you’re in Tokyo, you get the best coverage on the metro with Softbank. If you’re looking to stay connected, be sure to check out Sakura Mobile’s SIM Cards and mobile WiFi rentals.And if you don’t yet know whether you need a SIM card or mobile WiFi, we can help you here.