Cell phones are a modern necessity wherever you are, but no more so than if you are a student looking to make the most of your stay in a foreign country like Japan. Whether you are trying to navigate through streets labeled with kanji characters, arranging to meet friends at an izakaya Japanese bar, or sending the latest Mount Fuji pics to your family, it’s nice to know that the people you love—and the places you want to go—are just a touchscreen-tap or phone call away. Fortunately, there are plenty of Japanese cell phone plans for both short and long-term students. Before going to study in the Land of the Rising Sun, take a look at some of the options and decide which one is right for you.
Here are our options for:
Japanese Cell Phone Plans: Short-term vs. Long-term
If you need a local number during your stay, then you can rent a phone from a variety of outlets, both online and in a variety of stores. While convenient, this option comes with a number of caveats. If you buy online then you will need to know your address to arrange a delivery, or know the address of the shop you will to pick it up from. If you are new to the country and moving into accommodation this will be tricky. You may also need to pay a deposit and your choice of phones will be limited to the old-style flip phones or cheap, slow-speed smartphones. You will also pay for calls on top, which adds an unseen cost to your final bill. These are just some of the things to consider when thinking about renting a cell phone in Japan.
Of course, not all Japanese cell phone plans even require an actual phone! A cheaper alternative to cell phone rental is to use your current phone as an IP phone, making and receiving calls through internet services like Skype and LINE. You can do this by renting a SIM Card from Sakura Mobile. This lets you keep your current phone while enjoying the benefits of the super-fast Japanese mobile internet. Check with your provider to see if your handset is unlocked first—before you fly, of course! The only downside if renting a prepaid SIM Card in Japan is that you will not have a local telephone number, but don’t worry: A temporary number can be bought through services like Skype and LINE and will last a year.
For those who wish to stay longer, it’s still possible in a few places to get a cell phone in Japan that is purchased along with a credit balance and can be used to make calls and send messages. These phones will have a local telephone number, but that aside, offer very few advantages over other options. The phones are usually older and tend to be aimed towards those who use their phones for calls and nothing else. Premium call pricing also means they are not the most economical option, and topping them up often requires visiting a physical store to buy credit.
Any cellphone in Japan will be domestically marketed, meaning that all the paperwork will be in Japanese, as are all bills and customer support. If you run into problems, you will more than likely end up visiting a store to resolve any issues.
Finally, due to the basic nature of these phones you might find yourself carrying around two devices in order to access the internet. With smaller screens and older technology, even if you can access the internet it may well be too cumbersome to bother with, depending on how patient you are. This is not to mention the cost of data, which combined with voice and messaging is more expensive than other options.
If you spend any amount of time on the trains in Japan you will see that almost everyone is using a modern phone to play games, read books or surf the internet. Japanese cell phone plans are usually bought through a two-year contract with one of the major phone operators and are an option for those looking to stay in Japan to study for a longer period.
These plans give access to voice calls, messages and data, ensuring you have everything at your fingertips. If you do not already have a cell phone in Japan, then this can be an attractive option especially for students staying a long time. The vast majority of these plans come with a choice of handset depending on how much you want to pay. If you already have a phone then your choices become much more limited, as most plans are only available with a phone.
Keep in mind that you are liable for the entire two-year period of your contract, which will also require that you have a two-year visa. If you are here for a shorter stay, then you will not be eligible. In one of the great ironic twists, some providers require an address and phone number before you can sign the contract, which presents obvious problems for new arrivals!
For those who like to use the internet frequently while travelling, or like to send a lot of messages, Japanese cell phone plans can usually be tailored to suit you with extra minutes or data—but be careful, as these extras tend to quickly add up.
Get a SIM Card
Because it allows you to pick a plan on a month by month basis and ensures you are not bound to a lengthy and unwieldy contract, a monthly SIM plan may provide a more flexible option than some other Japanese cell phone plans. You can use your current phone and choose the contract to suit you. You can even have a local phone number for use during your stay. This will make other small inconveniences like buying things online and signing up for services easier as your number will be readily accepted here.
Sakura Mobile is a popular option for buying or renting a SIM Card in Japan, offering all services online, from delivery to return, with 24-hour online support in a number of languages should there be any problems.
Japanese Cell Phone Plans Don’t Have to be a Hassle
Staying connected is a priority. Prepaid and rental phones are expensive and inflexible in the era of quick and easy touchscreen phones, while two-year Japanese cell phone plans are lengthy and burdensome. But if for some reason you do not wish to get a SIM Card in Japan, Sakura Mobile offers Pocket WiFi rental services for devices that are otherwise incompatible with SIM Cards. These hotspots are a great alternative to tethering with an expensive phone data plan if your laptop or tablet does not accept a SIM Card. In addition, long-term students are also catered to with a variety of monthly plans. With all these choices, Sakura Mobile is sure to have a plan to suit you.