tech

Smartphones in Japan: How to buy, unlock and change plans

18 Comments
By Liam Carrigan

A lot has changed in the mobile phone landscape in Japan over the last few years.

Cell phones used to be very heavily restricted. You had a choice of three large companies, all offering near-identical packages and prices, with customer service standards that generally fell well below what you would come to expect from Japan.

To make matters worse, it was nearly impossible to bring a phone into Japan and use it on one of these networks. If you didn’t buy one of the company’s phones on an overpriced two-year plan, then you couldn’t get access to its network.

Thankfully, this all changed a few years ago, when the government brought an end to the restrictive practice that was the blanket ban on phone unlocking in Japan (the process of making a device capable of working on any carrier network). That being said, figuring out the best option for a phone in Japan is still extremely tricky.

In this quick guide, GaijinPot will walk you through the following topics:

Unlocking your Japanese smartphone

Now, any phones bought after May 2015 can be unlocked provided you have been with the carrier for more than 180 days. Some carriers may try to play dumb in this regard. But it is the law, and they cannot refuse to unlock your phone provided you meet these conditions. A phone that has been unlocked should, in theory, work on any network worldwide.

However, bandwidth differences mean that you may not get full functionality. For example, a phone that gives 4G coverage in Japan may only give 3G coverage elsewhere and vice-versa. A number of phones will not work at all outside of Japan, but these days the number of phones with this problem is small and continues to drop year by year.

So, unless you’re very unlucky, unlocking is a great way to free up your options for pursuing cheaper phone plans.

Of course, if you’re planning to cancel your current contract then you will need to pay off whatever amount remains to be paid on the phone too, plus any cancellation fees.

However, you do not necessarily need to cancel your contract in order to unlock the phone. For example, a friend of mine was going home to England for a month during the summer and he wanted to use a local pay-as-you-go SIM card. He unlocked his phone but continued to use SoftBank until his contract ran out some six months later. (This may only be an option depending on your contractor, so do look into that.)

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

18 Comments
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I got a prepaid plan, with 20 thousand minutes, and 20 thousand texts and 1 GB data, Free international texting HTTP://www. opentextingonline.com

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I got a prepaid plan, with 20 thousand minutes, and 20 thousand texts and 1 GB data, Free international texting HTTP://www. opentextingonline.com

With only 1GB of data, the plan is useless.

Who talks and sends SMS with their phone anymore?! Data is where it's at, and this plan doesn't come with enough to last more than a day or two, which makes it useless.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I use up 1GB of DATA every month but I'm at home most of the time. If I was away, or out and about everyday, probably I would need 3-5GB.

I make more FT/Skype/message than actual calls.

There are some good alternatives to the main carriers especially for DATA.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Useful article for many

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Yeah, it is good information for the traveler, but for me as a musician 1GB of DATA is morsel, I breeze through that in an hour, even 1TB is “slowly” starting to not cut it, but for the average person that doesn’t use their phone a lot for music or filming, 1-2GB should suffice plenty.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

1GB is perfect for kids. It's enough that they can stay in touch on LINE and whatnot, but not enough for them to play with or watch YouTube vids all day. They can still use Wifi when it's available, but at least 1GB provides some limitations without completely cutting them off.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Are we actually giving our Dear Leader some credit? Finally he scores a point.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

bass4funkYeah, it is good information for the traveler, but for me as a musician 1GB of DATA is morsel, I breeze through that in an hour, even 1TB is “slowly” starting to not cut it, but for the average person that doesn’t use their phone a lot for music or filming, 1-2GB should suffice plenty.

Listening to music does not require hunks of DATA even if you are streaming. If you listen all day everyday certainly less than 3GB/month. Video is another matter and mostly best done at home when on wifi. I doubt there is anyone on the planet using anything like 1TB/month.

When I moved to my new location and was waiting for my internet to be connected and only had my phone my DATA use for 2 weeks was about 5GB.

I make and compose music on my GarageBand too. Most of the music I like is actually on my 256 GB phone. As are my photo's and files. Others I reach directly from my computer servers.

I can watch TV from my home to my phone.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

3000 yen to unlock your phone, so you can use it when you're overseas !

This is a CARTEL arrangement which the Governments should address - but one has to wonder about Corruption here dictating what happens....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A phone that has been unlocked should, in theory, work on any network worldwide.

"in theory" yes. But the evil Softbank doesnt doesn't things by the book. They "unlocked" my Nexus handset but that only freed-up voice. I couldn't get on a Canadian data network because all handset's network settings were still very much locked to Softbank's standards. Setting controls were either grey-shaded or absent from the menus.

The very knowledgeable support person in Canada said he had never seen anything like that before. I explained that Softbank's evilness knows no bounds.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

People are too hung up on their phones. I prefer the surf and being one with nature.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

but for me as a musician 1GB of DATA is morsel, I breeze through that in an hour, even 1TB is “slowly” starting to not cut it

Are you unwittingly tethering the entire neighbourhood?

I recommend getting a sim-free phone from Amazon, or a good used one from Yahoo Auctions, then choosing an MVNO. I use Iijmio, calls and 7Gb data a month for 2000 yen, does me fine.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

In a single month you'd have to stream 416 Netflix videos of 90 minutes each to hit a 1TB data cap.

Streaming 4K content with high dynamic range can eat up 7GB to 10GB of data per hour. So, does that get us close to 1TB in a month?

Not really. Even using the more aggressive estimate of 10GB per hour, you'd still need to watch 100 hours of 4K movies and TVs shows each month, or roughly 3.33 hours a day. You could watch every episode from all four seasons of "House of Cards"—52 hours in all—in 4K resolution in one month and barely crack the halfway mark of your data cap.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

3000 yen to unlock your phone, so you can use it when you're overseas !

This is a CARTEL arrangement which the Governments should address - but one has to wonder about Corruption here dictating what happens....

The cartel gives you the options of doing it for free online. I think the 3000 yen is when you go into a shop and ask someone to do it for you.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The secondhand phone market in Japan is great. Phones with very minor blemishes sell for a bargain on Yahoo auctions, though this might change since the new rules introduced in October.

Also, you dont need a sim free or unlocked phone to use MVNOs. You can use a sim locked phone as long as the MVNO uses the same network as your phone. I.e. if the MVNO uses Docomo (which 90% do), then any docomo phone can be used, locked or not. On the secondhand market AU phones tend to be a bit cheaper, and there are a few MVNOs you can use like UQ, Mineo and Line Mobile which will offer AU compatible service.

Speaking of cheap service, i am trying to get an older friend of mine to use a Smartphone; i found a secondhand AU locked senior's phone, with decent specs and mint condition for only 1000 yen posted to me. Line Mobile has an option for 700 yen a month which will be fine for her to get started.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@jimbochou

Please provide details of this "For Free" option for the benefit of all. I'd like to see the Softbank & AU options if you know them.

Apple are complicit in this SCAM too as they would not allow me to insert a SIM free sim card into a replacement phone for my Carrier's contract phone which was being replaced.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@afanofjapan

Show me the Money...

2nd hand phones are categorised as Locked or Unlocked. I've seen that case often in my wanders around Akihabara over the years - Softmap Stores being the main focus of my attention as they are generally more reliable.

Both you, and @ijmbochou really need to show us the money - tell us how we can unlock our phones for free.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

mmwkdw, the info is on each of the main 3 provider's websites. But it is in Japanese, and i am not sure if the process is doable from their English sites. Also, my point was SPECIFICALLY that you dont need to unlock the locked phones. If you plan to use the phone with a Docomo line MVNO, buy a Docomo locked phone, no need to unlock it. If you plan to use it with one of the (few) AU MVNOs, buy an AU locked phone. There are even Softbank line MVNOs, but they are very few.

If you want to use the phone with a different line to which it is locked to (i.e. an AU phone on Docomo, or any of the secondhand phones on the upcoming Rakuten line - they are launching their own network, currently they use the Docomo line), or if you want to use it overseas with a prepaid sim, you will need to unlock it. The procedure/rules are different for all three providers:

Docomo (this is probably the most generous/helpful)

https://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/support/unlock_simcard/201902/index.html

You just need a dAccount (free to create), and be able to understand Japanese to go through the steps. Click on 手続き in the area under the PC/Smartphone pic. You do not need to be the original contract bearer (i.e. you can do it with secondhand phones you buy ), and it just needs to be 100 days since the phone was first bought.

AU (sucks, and is restricted to original contract bearer)

https://www.au.com/support/service/mobile/procedure/simcard/unlock/

Can only be unlocked (for free) by the original purchaser, while they are still under contract. It does seem to offer a phone number for unlocking if you do not have a contract, but i have not tried this.

Softbank (ok this might be the worst of them - can only be done for free by original owner while still under contract, and only if the owner hasnt tried to unlock another phone within 101 days).

https://www.softbank.jp/mobile/support/usim/unlock_procedure/

I have had some luck on yahoo auctions asking sellers to unlock the phone (and sending the links above) for me before sending it to me; but some dont want to go through the 5 minute hassle, or they might not be the original owner. In that case you just need to bring the phone, some proof of ID and 3300 yen for the procedure.

One HUGE caveat though is that very few phones come with all frequency bands enabled. This goes for overseas phones as well. Unlocking the phones doesnt change that. Unlocked AU phones will work on Docomo, but they wont have the best reception because they dont support all of the Docomo bands in use and vice versa. Overseas phones will support some of the Japanese bands, but not all. Similarly bringing your unlocked Docomo phone overseas is not guaranteed to give you reception. I believe i had to use AT&T in the US last time because none of the other providers would get a signal. That was half a day i spent going around phone shops looking for a prepaid sim, which i could have spent on the beach. In Hindsight i should have just rented a mobile wifi unit through kakaku.com (screw imoto wifi and all those overpriced companies), and used that instead.

Which brings me back to my original point - in many cases its not even necessary to unlock the phones. Just use the right MVNO and you will have perfect reception at all times. When going overseas, rent a mobile WIFI, which might even be cheaper than a local prepaid.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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