Moving to Japan and setting up basic phone services will require some time and effort, but it's worth clearly the time to do it right the first time. Myjapanphone is focus on wireless service in Japan which is familiar with Japan Cell Phone, and we find some common questions that visitors always ask. We hope this Japan cell phone FAQ will help you to get started well.
How do I get phone service started when I move to Japan?
You will most likely start by contacting NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) to set up your basic phone connection. Depending on where you live, you'll use NTT East (English information) or NTT West (English information). Each of those English pages should include toll free numbers. The best way to start is by calling that number. Follow the voice prompts and you're on your way.
You will have to choose whether to "buy a subscription right" or lease your line from NTT. Except in some exceptional cases, you should LEASE a phone line rather than buy one (new or "used"). A subscription right costs over 70,000 Yen (about $600) versus around 500 Yen per month to lease a line. I suggest you lease an analog phone line (not an ISDN line). You must have an analog line to get ADSL (high speed Internet) or to use a standard modem.
You will have to apply for basic phone service from NTT. This is usually done by fax (at least that's how it was when we arrived in Japan). You can find fax machines at just about any convenience store. If you don't speak Japanese, just point to the fax and look helpless. The usual cost is about 100 Yen. After sending the fax, you will receive information by mail which should include an activation date (most likely several days away). If you have further questions, ask a Japanese friend to call NTT for you and talk to a live person. That's what we did (my wife, who is also Japanese, was very busy unpacking). Better yet, have your Japanese friend help you from the beginning. But keep in mind that eventually you're going to have to interact with NTT and your utility providers, so you'll need to either speak Japanese or learn how their English support systems work.
NTT will offer upgrade options. For example, touch-tone dialing is considered an upgrade (the default is pulse dialing). Other optional features include call waiting, call forwarding, voice mail, caller ID, etc. Be advised: the added features are not cheap.
Can I buy a Japanese phone when I visit Japan?
Japanese phones are not sold alone. Buying a phone means making a postpaid monthly contract (except prepaid phones).
As of April 2006, it is necessary to have some form of Japanese official document (Japanese passport, Japanese Alien Registration Card, etc.) to get prepay or new contract cell phone service. This is a result of a new law aimed at stopping illegal cell phone use; but unfortunately excludes foreign visitors who only want a phone for legal purposes.
It was once possible for anyone to get prepay service, and even foreigners could get contract service using a credit card. Prepay service users who do not have Japanese official document have already lost their prepay service. Currently, foreigners with existing contract service paid by credit card are still allowed to keep it, but it is no longer possible to make a new contract without showing official Japanese documents.
It may be possible to have a Japanese friend apply for service with an account in his name (meaning that he will be responsible for your usage).
Customers of Verizon Wireless in the USA can buy a Japanese PDC phone with monthly service, although the price is quite high ($249 for the phone, $10/month service with a minimum of 12 months, $2.49/minute outgoing call, $1/SMS). Some other foreign wireless carriers (e.g., Vodafone) have similar offers.
It is also possible for foreigners to rent a phone at Myjapanphone.com
Can I buy a Japanese phone from my country?
Unlike GSM phones, Japanese phones are tightly bundled with subscription and usually not sold alone. The only way is to buy a secondhand ("white ROM") phone.
Can I buy a GSM phone in Japan? Is it cheap?
You can at some shops, but not cheap.
As mentioned above, GSM is not deployed in Japan. Demand for GSM phones is limited to tourists to go abroad. You will be disappointed if you are expecting that GSM phones may be also cheap in Japan like other electric items.
You can buy a GSM phone in Japan at following shops:
Do Japanese phones use a SIM card? Are they locked? Can I unlock them?
It depends. All PDC, CdmaOne and PHS phones and most CDMA2000 phones: They do not adopt a SIM card and cannot be unlocked. Most "FOMA" phones, SIM card-based CDMA2000 phones and some "SoftBank 3G" phones (e.g. 702NK/II): They cannot be unlocked so far. Some "SoftBank 3G" phones (e.g. 802SE etc.): They can be unlocked.
Can I use my phone in Japan?
It should depend on the technology. GSM phones: No. GSM is not deployed in Japan. If you just would like to use your GSM SIM card (i.e. make/receive calls with your usual number) in Japan, buy or rent a W-CDMA (UMTS) phone, put your SIM card in it and it can roam in Japan. CdmaOne/CDMA2000 phones: Some CDMA phones can roam in Japan. Ask your operator. W-CDMA (UMTS) phones: Yes. They can roam in Japan. Your operator must be an inbound roaming partner of DoCoMo or SoftBank Mobile. Be careful that DoCoMo's reception may be very poor because most of FOMA network is still based on an older version of W-CDMA technology and foreign W-CDMA phones may be incompatible with it. Some foreign W-CDMA phones (such as Motorola A835) are known to be compatible with FOMA network. PHS (PCT) phones: Taiwan FITEL PHS phones can roam in Japan. Ask FITEL.
Which cellular technology is used in Japan?
It depends on operators and services.
Some important notes:
||CDMA2000 1x 800MHz
- ， PDC (Personal Digital Cellular) is a TDMA-based 2G technology and deployed only in Japan.
- ， GSM is not deployed in Japan.
- ， N900iG, M1000 (based on Motorola A1000), NM850iG (based on Nokia 6630), N600i and L600i are the only FOMA phones that support GSM as well. Other FOMA phones are FOMA (W-CDMA) only.
- ， Although SoftBank 3G is a W-CDMA service, almost all SoftBank 3G phones (except 802N, 703N and 905SH) are W-CDMA/GSM dual-mode for international roaming in GSM countries.
FOMA network and phones are based on an older version of W-CDMA technology (3GPP Release 99) while SoftBank 3G and foreign W-CDMA are based on the official version (3GPP Release 2000). They are not fully compatible.
Can I buy a prepaid phone or SIM card in Japan?
Prepaid phones are available but prepaid SIM cards are not.
Note that IDs are required to purchase a prepaid phone to prevent criminal use. In case of foreigners, Japan's Alien Registration Card is required. In some shops you may be able to buy one only with a credit card.
Note: as of April 2005, customer registration is required to activate a new prepaid phone.