Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to add this site as a Chrome search engine

A nice feature of chrome is being able to add custom search engines. Once added, begin typing the name of the site, then hit tab and continue typing your search terms. We use this all the time as a quick way to find information on this site because we lack a master index or FAQ post.

(If anyone knows our content better than us, we’d be forever grateful for help compiling a list of frequently asked questions about mobile in Japan with a simple list of links to posts with answers.)

1. From Chrome settings, under search select “Manage search engines…”. You’ll probably see a number of sites that have (somewhat annoyingly) added themselves already.

2. In the boxes below, add a nickname for the site (we used “JMT”), the keyword to bring up the search option (we used “”), then the following URL:

3. Hit done

Begin typing the keyword, then hit tab.

Type your search term.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Navitime train transit app includes the most free features

Some time ago, I said that I'd do an updated comparison of the free Japanese train apps. Here it is. I limited this comparison to what I consider to be fully-featured apps. This basically rules out anything that is just a browser frontend or English-only, leaving Ekitan, Jorudan, Navitime, and Google Maps.

Unfortunately, the premium apps are all subscription based and cost several bucks a month, and each app publisher works hard to try and get you to pay money. For example, Jorudan uses most of its pixels to display buttons for features that are disabled without a subscription, which is annoying.

Speaking of annoyances, none of these are perfect. Jorudan displays timetables from the top of the hour, rather than from the next departure. Ekitan forces you to mash the back button to return to the start screen after a search because it lacks a "home" button. Navitime search for Tokyo matches every station in Tokyo that has a duplicate name in some other part of the country (because "tokyo" is appended in parenthesis to the station name for resolving ambiguities). When pulling up a train schedule in Google maps, if you don't hit the back button twice to drop back to the main screen, next time you open the app, you'll be greeted by the same timetable.

(Click the image to the left to enlarge (or open it in a new tab) and behold navitime's search results for 東京.)

A few of the cool features each has: Jorudan has unlimited history. Navitime has an alarm for making transfers. Ekitan allows shake to clear fields.

I tried to think of a subjective way to rank these apps, so I scored them based on their inclusion of features. Excellent implementation (◎) get 3 points. functional implementation (◯) gets 2, half-arsed (△) 1. Zero points for non implementation. Navitime has the most features for free.

Romaji input
(price etc)
Select from
Set walking
Navitime 3.2.3
Ekitan 2.2.5
Google Maps 7.3.0
Jorudan 1.6.5

Monday, October 28, 2013

Confirm which overseas carriers are compatible with Docomo smartphones

Frequency Bands and carriers supported by Docomo Xperia A SO-04E in the Philippines

Using Docomo’s international roaming site, world wing, you can confirm which carriers supports your phone’s 3G frequency bands. If you have your phone unlocked, you can just get a SIM card directly from that particular carrier. Docomo's information is only in Japanese, but all you need to know is the name of the country in katakana and the model number of your phone.

As long as you’re not visiting North America, getting a fast data connection with an unlocked Japanese smartphone should be no problem. This is because Japan’s primary 3G band, UMTS Band 1 (aka 2100 MHz or “IMT”) is pretty much the world standard. If I take my Docomo Xperia A (SO-04E) to the  Philippines, India, the UK, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, China, South Africa, or Brazil, my phone is compatible with at least one 3G network. While LTE would be nice, there are few phones compatible across multiple carriers - 3G is more than sufficient.

The problem comes when visiting North America, where spectrum is allocated differently than the rest of the world. There are no compatible 3G networks in Canada, the US, or Mexico. You may see that “3G 850 Mhz” is listed as a 3G option for some carriers, like AT&T in the US, but without support for the “3G” option, you will be stuck with 2.5G (EDGE) or 2G (GPRS) speeds, which are unusable. None of the recent Docomo smartphones compatible with their World Wing international roaming will get a 3G signal in North America. 

Do not pay money for a “3G” connection in the US with an unlocked Docomo phone. You’ll only get 2G, which is too slow to be useful on a smartphone. Note that the Docomo iPhone 5S/5C is listed as incompatible with North American 3G (PDF)

According to Docomo's information, their iPhone 5 can't be used with 3G while roaming in the US or Canada.
(Docomo is geographically challenged and thinks Mexico is in South America.)

Just how unusable is 2.5G? Allow me to share a recent anecdote.

I keep a Nexus device with a radio optimised for US T-Mobile, which in the past had been the best carrier for brief trips to the US because they offer a $3/day 200 MB 3G package with unlimited voice and SMS. I’ve used this plan all over the US for the past few years. Once 200 MB is exceeded, you are throttled down to 2G speeds (supposedly) for the rest of the day.

On my most recent trip the to US, I discovered that T-Mobile has gotten more aggressive with network management. The throttles would roll over into the next day, such that I spent much of my time with the equivalent of and EDGE data connection. Mail with no attachments gets through just fine, which is about the only good thing I can say about the experience. Most services and webpages simply time out, including google maps. By the end, I had actually switched my plan to the $2/day 2G package because paying the extra buck was just not worth it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Supposedly leaked Nexus 5 service manual indicates support for Japanese LTE bands.

If this is really the Nexus 5 service manual, then this is good for Android users in Japan: Support for LTE without having to deal with a device that locks you out of mobile network settings.

FDD-LTE: Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20.
WCDMA (HSDPA 3G): Bands 1, 2, 4, 5, 8

Band 1 is Docomo and Softbank's 2100 MHz, used for both LTE and 3G. As far as I can tell, the Nexus 5 does not support the low frequencies of either carrier, though.

CDMA is mentioned in the manual, but as you can see below, it is not listed as a "Supporting Standard". Therefore, my guess is that the reference to CDMA is probably just a standard copy-paste, to be read as "IF this did CDMA, here's what it would be."

However, as far as I can tell, CDMA is unsupported. (Also FeliCa, mobile Suica, etc. is not supported.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How to set different languages for individual Android apps

Unfortunately, there are Android apps that will not run properly, or sometimes at all, if your system language and locale are set differently than what the app expects. It is frustrating to be forced to set your phone to display in a language you aren't comfortable with. Worse yet is when two different apps each demand different system languages.

(Though not an Android app, the worst offender is Adobe Creative Suite. I have a workstation set to Japanese just so that Illustrator and Acrobat will run.)

Some apps that misbehave without ja-JP

The new Google Maps app and Google Now are two in particular that eventually drove me to change my phone's language and locale to Japanese. Even if Google allowed separating these two fundamentally different concepts, there would still be issues with these apps. Also, Sony's Xperia contact app will organize all non-English contacts under a single symbol icon.

I have confirmed with folks at Google that not all Now features are available, such as disaster alerts, unless language and locale are set to Japanese. I've also had some generally wonky behavior with Google Now when my system is set to en-US.

With Maps, if I search for a station name in Japanese, such as 東京駅, the station is found just fine, but then all the information gets displayed in English, and when you check your search history, there is not record of searching for 東京駅 but for "Tokyo Station," and to make matters worse, this is sometimes displayed in 2-byte font romaji (which is not English), breaking expected functionality.

The text "Tokyo" and "TOKYO" are not the same thing!

App Settings Xposed module to the rescue

The Xposed framework is just awesome. It allows you to tinker with individual apps and system files without have to actually tinker with them. For example, old the b-mobile signal bars fix required decompiling, patching, then recompiling. The new fix just uses an Xposed module.

With the App Settings module, you can change all sorts of app behavior, including screen resolution, orientation, and fullscreen settings, as well as many other options, including revoking individual permissions. You can make an app resident in memory, so you won't ever complain when a hangout request causes your candy crush game to close and you lose your progress. Version 2.2 of the Xposed framework now includes a repository of modules that you can download from within the app.
  • Android 4.03 - 4.3
  • Root
  • Xposed Installer (v 2.2 or higher; apk)


  1. Download and install the most recent version of the Xposed installer.
  2. Launch the Xposed installer, tap "Framework" and tap "Install/Update".
  3. Reboot the phone.
  4. Launch the Xposed installer, tap Download, and the refresh icon 🔃, then search for or scroll down to App Settings.
  5. Select it and tap download and install.
  6. From the Xposed installer main menu, enable App Settings by tapping the check box, then tap the module and chose the app to modify from the menu.
From there, I think it'll be pretty self explanatory.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tokyo Police push ID verification for data-only SIMs

This sucks and is about as well thought out as a knee-jerk reaction from a politician who knows the internet is in fact not a truck but instead thinks it is a series of tubes.

It will mean the end of cheap data SIMs for visitors, and it's going to take away a large source of revenue during the Tokyo Olympics for scrappy MVNOs like JCI. Maybe the Police haven't considered the olympics and the number of visitors that would need mobile data access, or the have and that scares them.

As I have mentioned numerous times (and why I think an unlocked iPhone could have been a game changer), MVNOs usage is exploding in Japan. The idea that "Japanese people don't even know what a SIM card is" outdated and no longer really applicable. True, there are some that of course do not, but if the Metropolitan Police is making an issue of MVNO SIMs, that means a LOT of people are using them.

Anyway, here is the issue. From the Yomiuri:



As the number of people who use a traditional feature phone for voice calls and a smartphone for mail and internet increases, so does demand for data-only SIM cards.

In 2008, a law was enacted requiring identification verification for the sale of voice SIMs, but data-only SIMs are exempt because the Ministry of Infrastructure and Communications didn't imagine they could be used for nefarious purposes since they lacked voice capabilities.

However, downloading free smartphone apps allow voice communications with data-only SIM cards.

Therefore, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Chiefs have pointed out that "as technology has evolved, data-only SIM cards now effectively posses the same functions as voice SIMs. It is necessary to immediately begin identification verification for [data-only SIMs]."
On is the following:
One incident involved the usage of LINE and KakaoTalk to recruit high school girls into prostitution.
As I understand it, when Line detects a "44010" SIM*, it requires you to login to your mydocomo page, which users of MVNOs don't have. This means line can't even be used with an MVNO (of course other services can, though).

*440 is Japan's Mobile Country Code and 10 is Docomo's Mobile Network Code. So a docomo SIM is often simply referred to by phone geeks as a 44010 SIM. MVNOs using Docomo's network provide 44010 SIMs (which is why they will be locked out of the Docomo iPhone 5S and 5C).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Softbank Mobile incorrectly reported good-standing accounts as delinquent to credit reporting agencies

63,133 people who received subsidies for a new phone and are paying in installments had their credit history temporarily fubared by a Softbank internal reporting error. If you are a softbank customer and have a current 2-year contract with:
  1. a phone that is less than two years old and
  2. you are paying in installments for the phone
Then you could have been reported as delinquent. Fortunately, the problem has been noticed and it should be corrected. Reporting agencies have sent notices to individuals of the mistake.

The credit check for softbank is a totally opaque and ridiculous process, and if you've ever failed the 審査 you can easily be left wondering if there isn't some sort of error somewhere. They don't give any indication as to what the problem is. They just ask you to try again, this time with a drivers license, or with a utility bill, or with a credit card. Is my name in katakana somewhere and romaji somewhere else? Does one place lack my middle name? Did someone misspell something?

So, I'm totally not surprised to hear this news.

Those who have been reading this blog for a while know that I'm also thankful to softbank. Their opaque 審査 is the reason for the existence of Japan Mobile Tech, who has been faithfully serving your English-language need for carrier news and views since 2009.

How to tell if you are paying for a phone in installments

This is easy.

If you DID NOT pay at least ¥60,000 up front for the phone at the time of purchase, you are paying in installments. If you got a phone for ZERO YEN, you are paying in installments. If you got a shiny new iPhone (or Android) for around ¥20,000, you are paying in installments.