5 Things to Remember: Buying a New Phone in Japan | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

5 Things to Remember: Buying a New Phone in Japan

By Guidable Writers Aug 30, 2017

This post is also available in: French Indonesian

Have you finished packing your luggage? No warm clothes are necessary for September in Japan. The hot days continue, and boys and girls enjoy swimming or camping just as they did in the summer. And just as the climate in Japan is different from that in your country, you may find daily life a little different from back home.

Speaking of differences, life itself nowadays is much different from that of even the recent past (say, about 10 years ago). That difference is due in part to the appearance of mobile phones and smartphones. It is no exaggeration to say that they have revolutionized our lifestyles. It seems that no one from 5 or 6 year-old kids to the elderly can live without them here in Japan. In this circumstance it is absolutely certain that you will also need a proper mobile phone while here.

So let’s learn a bit about how to buy a phone and/or start a contract in Japan. You already have your foreign mobile phone, but popular Japanese mobile phones may be different from the most popular devices in your country. And as usual, the contract is more complicated than the device itself.



1. Choice of manufacturer

At the store, with so many different smartphone manufacturers to choose from, you had better decide which operating system you prefer before visiting the store: iOS or Android. If you are an Apple fan, then you will already know and love iOS. If you are more into the Windows experience, android devices will be suitable for you. But as androids are the most widely used mobile OS in the world, you have to choose one from among  a lot of manufactures such as Aquos (Sharp), Xperia (Sony), Galaxy (Samsung), HTC and so on. If you are not an Apple fan, it will take you a while to decide.


2. Choice of carrier

We have 3 major carriers in Japan. They are ntt docomo, au and softbank. When starting a contract, your choice of which carrier to go with will likely depend on 2 factors:


I. connection/speed

In 2014, the results of connection speed tests for the 3 major carriers were as follows:


softbank: outgoing 30.6Mbps / incoming 10.9Mbps

au(KDD): outgoing 28.2Mbps / incoming 6.5Mbps

docomo:  outgoing 22.5Mbps / incoming 6.9Mbps


Looking at the date above, the speed of softbank was decisively faster, however the connection was more likely to be interrupted in tunnels, etc., and in the mountains au had the most stable connection. In addition, depending on the area, the transmission speed of docomo was faster than that of softbank. It is possible that different results would be attained if the method of trial, sample locations and date were different. So it is not possible to say that softbank is unconditionally the fastest.


II. price packages

The 3 major carriers give you various discount services. Students, including those from abroad, can receive certain benefits. In Japan, mobile fees generally consist of a base fee, package voice/text/etc. fee, a flat fee for data usage, and other options as well. The names of these companies’ price packages inclede “kake hodai” by docomo, “super kakeho” by au and “sumahodai” by softbank, but the above 3 price packages are essentially the same.



III. Contract

Each contract is different from the next, which gives you the flexibility to choose one that is perfect for you. Heavy callers might benefit from unlimited minutes, while social media maniacs might benefit from having a few extra GB of data. In addition, depending on the provider you choose, your monthly costs will be different. There are a lot of choices out there, so it is vital for you to consider and figure out with plan suits you best.


IV. SIM and Prepaid

In Japan, the term of a contract when buying a pay-monthly phone is generally at least 2 years. If you cancel the contract within 2 years, you have to pay a cancellation fee. Therefore, overseas students for short term study may want to choose a prepaid mobile phone instead. Unfortunately the rate for phone calls is more expensive than that for a pay-monthly phone.

Another way to avoid paying cancellation fees is to purchase a budget SIM card (kakuyasu SIM card) or a budget mobile phone(kakuyasu keitai). The minimum contract period of budget SIM cards is relatively short, and it is not necessary to enter into a two-year contract. The most attractive point is that you can cancel the contract without paying the penalty. Apart from the budget SIM card, budget mobile phones are sold as a set with a SIM-free device and a budget SIM card. Similar to the budget SIM card, the term of the contract is short.


V. Need to Bring…

When you purchase a mobile phone, you need to bring the following.

  • identity confirmation document: such as s driver’s license, medical insurance certificate or passport
  • method of payment: cash, credit/debit card, or cash card


Clerks in the store may come to ask you to buy new products. Can you understand their Japanese? If not then what should you do? If possible, you should visit a store in which foreign languages are available. Even better, bring a buddy who speaks Japanese along with you. Say, a friend you made in class at your new school.


A phone/contract is an important part of starting your new life in Japan. Make sure to choose the device and plan that are right for you, and enjoy your time here as much as possible.

Good luck!