Friday, August 9, 2013

The reason Japan Mobile Tech has no information on rental phones and SIMs

We often get questions about voice SIMs for visitors; this post will serve as the answer.

National law restricts mobile voice plans to residents of Japan. The only way for a visitor to get mobile voice service is to use a rental phone or SIM card. SIM cards can be complicated by the fact that many overseas Android smartphones don't display the required certification mark (giteki 技適) for radio transmitting devices, making them (technically) illegal to use in Japan.

The reason that we don't have any posts or information on rental is because we consider it to be a total waste of money and can't recommend rentals whatsoever.

The average visitor to Japan simply does not need traditional cellular voice, and if you do for some sort of serious business, then you are not the average visitor. You may rely on a voice plan back home, but in Japan, we rely on mail much more than voice - many people almost exclusively. Don't annoy the locals by actually calling them – be cool and send an email ;)

EVERYONE you would contact in Japan can receive your mail. I don't mean SMS, I mean regular email. If you need to call back home, use skype or Google Hangouts or some other VoIP-based solution with free wifi (yes, Japan actually has that now at Starbuck, 7-11 and I think even some vending machines) or a data-only mobile plan because these carry no legal restrictions requiring residency.

We recommend the JCI b-mobile visitor SIMs, which can be picked up at the airport, for data connectivity that is a balance between value and ease of set up. If you want the absolute best deal, get a pre-paid b-mobile SIM from a large electronics retailer for about ¥3,000 for 30 days. These are a better value but require activation with a Japanese mobile phone.

Regarding the lack of certification mark on overseas phones, note the usage of the word technically above. You'll need a phone that support UMTS-2100 MHz (Band 1).


  1. One thing though: "EVERYONE you would contact in Japan can receive your mail." is not quite correct. Many people — I would say most — restrict emails to their phone from non-carrier mail sources, as that's the easiest way to avoid spam. So a voice plan is indeed a waste, but a data plan of some sort, such as the b-mobile one above, can be a really good idea unless you can inform local people ahead of time that you will use your regular desktop email while in Japan.

  2. Fair enough. It's becoming less of a problem than it was a few years ago, though. And as smartphones become more pervasive, the masses will slowly realize how much carrier mail is lacking, and hopefully start using real mail. Gmail's spam filters are pretty damn good.

    Not to mention that they'll also likely have a gmail (or apple) account if they have a smartphone.

  3. I check the b-mobile SIM chart here occasionally ( ) but the "Labels", "Contributors", and "Recent comments" boxes cover part of the charts both on my desktop and phones/tablets. I do have a question that I think is not covered:

    Are there any SIMs we can get here that have no expiration date?

    I'd love to buy a 1GB SIM and train a new Nexus 7 2013 LTE* to use WiFi for everything, for the most part, except the security software and android device manager. That way, when I lose my tablet, I could find it as long as it is still in Japan. As it stands now, none of the security apps have any use in recovering your lost/stolen WiFi-only tablet, unless you left it near one of your normal access points -- or if it happens to log on to an open WiFi point in the thief's house. An emergency SIM sitting in there waiting for these calls would increase security substantially.

    * This would also work for used phones, great for bluetooth audio players and GPS trackers, btw, for less expense than buying an LTE version of a tablet, perhaps, but I am not sure about the phones themselves being locked to a specific SIM/carrier.

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