Buying a Cell Phone in Japan

Well, it’s official. We just booked our tickets for our two month stay in Japan next year!

It’s all pretty exciting, but it also means we’ll have to be doing a lot of research for such a long visit.

Since I can work remotely for all of my clients, I can pretty much survive with a laptop and an Internet connection. But staying in touch with a local cell phone is a bigger problem.

The Elusive SIM Card Solution

For cell phones that can use it, a SIM card is great thing. It holds your cell phone number, text messages, and even your contacts. You just pop your SIM card out of your phone and pop it into another, and after it’s programed, you’re good to go.

So I was thinking – I’ll just pick up a prepaid SIM card in Japan and drop it in my current PDA phone and I’ll have a local number and things couldn’t be simpler.

Easy, right?

Apparently not so, because no one will sell you a prepaid SIM card in Japan. So we’re back to square one.

World Phone Rental

what the?

There are plenty of places willing to rent you a mobile phone for the country you’re going to visit. The only problem is, the price isn’t so great. I can’t see myself paying $2 – $10 a day rental on top of usage fees. And don’t get me started on SaskTel’s International Roaming rates of $2.50 a minute.

So while phone rental may be great for a short term stay, it gets pretty pricey for anything more than a couple of weeks.

(Why is there a picture of a dog in school for this post? I have no idea.)

Just Buy the Dang Thing

And so we come to my current solution of just buying a prepaid cell phone when we get there.

The good news is, you can usually find plenty of cell phone carriers right at the Airport. So from my research, I’ll be looking for the nearest SoftBank kiosk, as they seem to sell some pretty affordable prepaid phones. Once you have the phone, you can top up your minutes at any 7-11 or even by using your credit card.

What Do You Use?

There’s also a distinct possibility that I’m going about this all wrong and I’m missing some obvious solution. So if you have any better ideas or suggestions, please let us hear about them in your comments!

Photo Credits: Girl on cell by: kalandrakas, SIM cards by: kalleboo, Dog Student by: kirainet, SoftBank by: ivva.

6 Responses to “Buying a Cell Phone in Japan”

  1. Al  on June 7th, 2010

    I just thought I’d let you know that you can book a free rental at This might be what you’re looking for.



  2. Travis  on June 7th, 2010

    Thanks Al! I’ll check that out.

  3. Ben Wim  on June 21st, 2010

    Also, you can rent SIM cards and 3G data cards at the airport!

  4. Ben Wim  on June 21st, 2010

    But do remember that GSM phones don’t work in Japan. You need a 3G phone (or maybe GPRS, I’m not sure about that).

  5. kettuk  on June 19th, 2011

    the dog is お父さん、the mascot of Softbank :D

  6. Travis  on June 19th, 2011

    Yeah we saw him a lot when we were in Osaka. I didn’t know he was part of the SoftBank crew :)

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