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Cell phone use in Japan

Cell phone use in Japan

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Old Oct 18, 13, 4:11 pm
  #1  
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Cell phone use in Japan

Hi all,

I'm reading many different stories about the difficulty in using North American cell phones in Japan. Is there truth in that?

I was planning on taking my unlocked phone with me and just buying a pre-paid SIM card for data in Japan. Is that not possible? Seems like a SIM can only be rented?

I would have thought that Japan would easily have Wifi and cell phone access easily available to locals and tourists alike.

Appreciate any insight!
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Old Oct 18, 13, 4:43 pm
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Foreign smartphones (iPhones and the like) work in Japan, but the roaming charges are horrendous.

It used to be possible for foreign visitors to buy a prepaid phone, but that changed several years ago, ostensibly because "foreign criminals" were using them for shady purposes. Now no phone purchases without a residence permit.

Free public wi-fi is hard to find, partly because most cellphone owners here get Internet through their service provider. You can get Internet an hour at a time at Starbucks IF you register ahead of time (even from the States). Locals really have no problem with Internet access. It's tourists who have problems.

The other option is a pocket wi-fi, which I considered trying but decided not to when I discovered that contrary to their English-language websites (but revealed on their Japanese websites), the budget hotels I'm staying in have free wi-fi for guests.

I'm in Japan now, and really, I'm fine without having a phone constantly at hand. I had to use my iPhone once when I couldn't find the rendezvous point for a facilities tour, but otherwise, I just e-mailed everyone who needed to know the numbers of my hotels.

But unlike many countries, you can't just buy a phone or SIM without a residence permit.
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Old Oct 18, 13, 5:20 pm
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It depends on the specifications of your phone, what phone do you have in specific?

It is possible and easy to purchase a prepaid data only sim, it is a bit more difficult to get a prepaid sim with voice. Prepaid data sims do not require identification/address check, only sims that provide voice.

If you think about it, how many people with local numbers will you be calling in Japan?

If just making international calls, a data card, skype and wifi should be fine.

Or you can just rent a phone if you really need the voice portions.
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Old Oct 18, 13, 5:24 pm
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Almost every tourist-oriented hotel has wi-fi available. Most are free. When in Japan, I just leave my phone turned off and keep in touch with home via e-mail. There is nobody in Japan I want to contact by phone anyway.
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Old Oct 18, 13, 6:51 pm
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My current phone, which is meant to work just fine in Japan, won't connect to any available networks for voice or text messages, yet will do data roaming without issue.
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Old Oct 18, 13, 9:21 pm
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Originally Posted by abmj-jr View Post
Almost every tourist-oriented hotel has wi-fi available. Most are free. When in Japan, I just leave my phone turned off and keep in touch with home via e-mail. There is nobody in Japan I want to contact by phone anyway.
On the other hand, I use my phone quite a lot. I found the one time I made the mistake of going to Tokyo without any sort of mobile service to be difficult at best, finally culminating in me getting a membership card for a local internet cafe chain. If nothing else, my Mobile Suica and Edy apps seem to need to call home every so often or they stop functioning.
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Old Oct 18, 13, 10:08 pm
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I rented a pocket wifi on a recent visit, even though my hotel had free wifi. Having wifi when you are out during the day is very convenient. My ATT phone worked when I needed to make a call to confirm a tour. Roaming voice charges are expensive, but I didn't make that many calls (used Skype on wifi to phone home)
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Old Oct 18, 13, 10:21 pm
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Many years ago, I used to rent a phone from the Vodafone kiosk at NRT for use in Japan, but then I realized (quite by accident) that my quad-band phone(s) from AT&T work just fine in Japan (and in Korea, too). I already subscribe to an International roaming data plan, and I make very few [non-VOIP] voice calls, so I'm set for now.
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Old Oct 18, 13, 10:43 pm
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railroadtycoon - I have a Google Nexus4. It is unlocked and I believe has the appropriate bands for Japanese use.

I don't care about voice at all. I really just want data.. I can always use Google Talk / Skype if I need to speak with someone back home.

So can I grab a SIM at NRT for just data use?
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Old Oct 19, 13, 12:26 am
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You can order online to have a data-only SIM be ready for pickup when you get to NRT. I don't believe you can just grab one on arrival unless you mean renting, and that's going to cost a bit.
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Old Oct 19, 13, 4:56 am
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Originally Posted by jamar View Post
You can order online to have a data-only SIM be ready for pickup when you get to NRT. I don't believe you can just grab one on arrival unless you mean renting, and that's going to cost a bit.
There is a long thread on this forum about the bMobile data-only SIM. Be aware it doesn't work on all, even most, phones, and if your phone isn't on the short list provided by bMobile and it doesn't work, the company will tell you to stuff it, not help, and not refund your money.

That's why people rent mobile Wifi devices even though they are considerably more expensive.

If your phone is one that is supported, however, you can buy the SIM even after arrival in Japan at most large electronics/camera stores.
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Old Oct 19, 13, 12:06 pm
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I usually order mine on Amazon, though- Prime means that I can order it when I get on the plane and it'll be waiting for me at my hotel when I get there, and my China Mobile roaming package (unlimited data for CNY88/day) is good enough between the airport and the hotel (because usually my travel pattern involves NRT-HND transfer, so I go NRT-Costco Makuhari-HND-hotel by bus).
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Old Oct 19, 13, 4:12 pm
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bMobile and econnect Japan seem to be the only ones that offer data only sims for tourists.

They both state that a device that supports HSPA 2100mhz is required, however even if your phone meets that requirement but is not on their "compatibility list" they do not guarantee it will work so it's sort of a do at your own risk kind of situation. It's also kind of strange that aside from Nexus and Apple devices, a lot of flagship devices from Samsung, HTC, and LG are not included in their compatibility lists.
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Old Oct 19, 13, 10:19 pm
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B-mobile's list of supported devices is terrible. Very strange. The Nexus 4 does have 2100 band support, but not 800. Hrmm.

This is so strange for a country that I assume is a technology mecca. This was the last thing on my list I thought I'd have to worry about.
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Old Oct 19, 13, 10:42 pm
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The short list of devices is primarily due to something weird b-mobile does with their data-only SIMs; they remove the voice component entirely, which a lot of phones don't expect, thus you might get odd errors or don't see any signal when there should be if the phone can't handle this. You don't see this in data SIMs from other countries because the voice component is still there, even if it redirects everything to a "you can't make calls from this device" prompt or something similar.
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