During your stay in Japan, you may want to use a smartphone. How do you get one? There are six possible choices. First, you can use roaming service on your current plan but please check with your service provider for rates. Second, you can utilize free Wi-Fi with your current smartphone while travelling in Japan. Next you can subscribe to a paid Wi-Fi service. You can also use a prepaid SIM card that is capable of service in Japan with your unlocked smartphone. You can use a rental service from your country or Japan to get a pocket Wi-Fi router, SIM card, or capable smartphone. Finally, you may be able to rent a smart phone from your hotel. Below is information on each of these options to help you decide.
Table of Contents
What is the best choice for your usage?
Necessary information for choosing a device for your trip is as follows.
Cost-effective Roaming Services
Recently, roaming services that can be used cheaply in foreign countries have been on the rise. If there are affordable roaming services through your current provider then consider using it.
Pocket Wi-Fi Routers
If you travel with your family or friends, it is best to use a pocket Wi-Fi router. With one Wi-Fi router your group can use the Internet with more than one smartphone at a time. If you have two or more Wi-Fi routers it is easy for you to keep in contact with each other when you are divided into groups and sightseeing.
In addition, if you want to browse the Internet with not only your smartphone but also your computer or tablet, the Wi-Fi router will be very useful.
Pre-paid SIM Cards
If your smartphone is unlocked and capable of using pre-paid SIM cards you can use these in Japan as usual.
Use free Wi-Fi when it is available
If your chosen roaming service or prepaid SIM card have limits or capacities then make use of free Wi-Fi to reduce the cost whenever possible.
In this article, I will give you more details on these types of services.
Free Wi-fi in Japan
First let me explain about free Wi-Fi in Japan. Japan's free Wi-Fi service is gradually getting better. You can use free Wi-Fi at airports, stations in Japan, department stores, convenience stores, cafes, hotels, etc. If you install and register the following application on your smartphone you will be able to use free Wi-Fi relatively easily in Japan.
Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi
This is an application for foreign visitors to Japan provided by NTTBP Corporation. It supports over 440 kinds of Wi-Fi spots and it can use more than 150,000 Wi-Fi locations throughout the country. If you register for Japan Connected free, you can conveniently connect without having to register at each individual Wi-Fi Spot. The service covers Wi-Fi spots for most transportation systems and tourist attractions. Moreover, you can connect to Wi-Fi throughout the city because the provider is NTTBP.
Instructions for use
1. Install the application
2. Register with an email address or SNS account
3. Select Wi-Fi within range of a Wi-Fi spot
4. Press the “Connect” button
5. Connection completed
You find the Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi site through the link below.
There is one final and important thing to remember when using free Wi-Fi locations. You should refrain from entering personal information, passwords, credit card information, etc. while browsing the internet using Wi-Fi that has not been encrypted.
If you want to use paid Wi-Fi, I recommend the following Wi-Fi service. The service from NTT Docomo will be the most stable for use in Japan. However, prepaid SIM cards and pocket Wi - Fi routers can be used in many parts of Japan as well. Please also consider these when making your decision.
Prepaid SIM Cards
Does your smartphone support Japanese SIM cards?
SIM cards are small chips that can be inserted into a mobile phone that store information and allow connection to the network.
This is a quick way for the network to identify the device and allow you to connect to the paid service without taking a long time. There are SIM cards that allow phone calls and SIM cards with only data capabilities.
A SIM card with the ability to make calls will give you a temporary Japanese telephone number and allow you to make phone calls as usual. Even if you have a “data only” SIM card you can still make phone calls using various internet applications instead of traditional phone lines.
Almost all prepaid SIM cards are on NTT DoCoMo's wireless network. Docomo is known for having
the most powerful network coverage throughout Japan.
There is no big difference in the coverage area of each SIM card. All of the following SIM cards offer nearly 100% area coverage in Japan.
In order to use prepaid SIM card you must have an SIM unlocked smartphone. Furthermore, it is
necessary for smartphones to be compatible with the following BAND (band). The main
prepaid SIM in Japan functions with the following BAND. If your smartphone does not support these BANDs then prepaid SIM cards cannot be used.
LTE: Band 1 (2100 MHz) / Band 19 (800 MHz) / Band 21 (1500 MHz)
3 G: Band 1 (2100 MHz) / Band 6/19 (800 MHz)
Just to be sure, I recommend using the website below to check if your smartphone works with a SIM card before you buy it.
Which Japanese prepaid SIM card do you use?
Next, let me introduce the recommended prepaid SIM cards individually.
I want to first mention that the price of prepaid SIM cards for foreigners visiting Japan will vary between airports and towns. Because cards are frequently purchased at airports please take care not to overpay for a SIM card at one of these locations.
At Narita, Haneda and Chubu Centrair (Nagoya) International airports you can find “Air BIC CAMERA” (Link Below). I recommend this location as SIM cards are sold here at the airport at the same price you can find in town .
Below are the recommended prepaid SIM cards.
Japan Welcome SIM
NTT docomo recently started this prepaid SIM service for foreign visitors to Japan. Before you come to Japan you need to complete the procedure on the website. When you arrive in Japan, you can get your SIM card at the airport counter. This SIM card requires preparation before coming to Japan but you can easily obtain it at the airport for the same price as sold in the city. For details, please refer to the link below.
15 days of unlimited usage (128 kbps).
High speed data communication (Maximum Speeds = 788Mbps) is possible by charging.
c.¥1,080 (High speed data charge = None)
c.¥1,836 (High speed data charge = 500MB+Benefits 100MB)
c.¥2,376 (High speed data charge = 1GB+Benefits 200MB).
⇒ You can also choose to purchase additional high-speed data from the website (100MB =
c.¥216 / 500MB = c.¥756 / 1GB = c.¥1,296).
⇒ You can receive high-speed internet data by watching videos, answering questionnaires, downloading apps and reading articles.
⇒"Free plan" has also begun. This is a limited-time plan that provides you with a free SIM card for high-speed communication throughout Japan. However, the sim card of this plan can be obtained at only a limited number of locations. Please refer to the link below.
b-mobile VISITOR SIM
This prepaid SIM card uses docomo's network line. After arriving in Japan, you can purchase cards from Amazon and other online retailers other than the airport. Since the network is stable, if you think that the availability period and capacity of these SIM cards meet your needs then you should choose this option. For details, please refer to the link below.
Japan Communications Inc.
21 Days (Data Amount = 5 GB, Additional 1GB charge )
⇒ You can charge 1GB / 1Day (c.¥500) from Charge page. Please refer to the link below.
Unlimited Japan Prepaid SIM
If you would like to use a prepaid SIM card that you can use without any data limits then you can buy one from this Japan Airlines affiliate company. This company also sells prepaid SIM cards with limited amounts of data, Pocket Wi-Fi routers and rental mobile phones.
JAL ABC, Inc.
Useable Period & Price
7 Days (c.¥4,000) / 15 Days (c.¥5,500)
⇒ This company also sells prepaid SIM card named "Unari-kun SIM", which can be found only at Narita airport. "Unari-kun" is a character of Narita. This character is drawn on the package but the SIM card is the same as the "Unlimited Japan Prepaid SIM". There are also plans for 30 days (c.¥6,500) using this "Unari-kun SIM". If you are going to stay for a month I recommend this 30 day plan.
Prepaid SIM for Travel
SoftBank, which provides this prepaid SIM card, uses a unique Wi - Fi network as the carrier (MNO) like Docomo, so connection is stable. Because SoftBank often conducts campaigns, if you are lucky you may be able to find a great deal.
You can use up to 3GB
Prices vary by dealer. Airport shops are generally expensive. If you want to purchase at the airport, as mentioned above, BIC camera is cheap and recommended.
Wi-Ho! Prepaid SIM Data & Voice
The majority of Japan's prepaid SIM cards are dedicated to data communication and cannot make voice calls. Meanwhile, this rare SIM card, "Wi - Ho! Prepaid SIM Data & Voice" sold by Telecom Square, Inc. supports voice calls. This SIM card does not use the Docomo network but a cheaper alternative called Y-mobile. For this reason, the network stability is somewhat inferior. If you have a strong desire to make voice calls this SIM card should be considered. If you use it in the city you are unlikely to experience any issues.
Telecom Square, Inc.
Plan up to 1 GB = c.¥5,500
Plan up to 1 GB = c.¥7,500
⇒ In addition to this, Telecom Square sells prepaid SIM cards for data use only through docomo's network.
Rent a pocket Wi-Fi router
Sometimes it cannot be used in buildings and rural areas
Wi-Fi routers can be shared with family and friends. In addition to smartphones, it is a convenient way to use a PC or tablet. Perhaps it may be possible to borrow a router in your country before coming to Japan. In that case, let's consider whether to borrow in your country or borrow in Japan.
In Japan, services to rent Wi-Fi routers for foreigners visiting Japan are increasing little by little.
Please refer to the external link below.
First of all, before you come to Japan you need to apply on the website. When you arrive in Japan you will be able to pick up a Wi-Fi router at the airport counter. You can also have the service provider deliver the router directly to your accommodation. When you return to your country you can easily return it at the airport counter. You can also return routers using home delivery.
It's very convenient if you have a Wi-Fi router. However, Wi-Fi routers cannot be used everywhere. Unfortunately, in Japan, Wi-Fi routers are often unusable in buildings and rural areas. If you want internet connection anytime and anywhere it may be better to use a prepaid SIM card or a rental mobile phone over a Wi-Fi router. On the website below, you can find mobile phones available for rent.
Recommended rental service
I recommend the following three rental services.
NINJA WiFi Powered by GLOBAL WiFi
Vision Inc., a Tokyo-based rental service provider, has started a rental service named "NINJA WiFi" for foreign visitors to Japan. This company mainly handles the rental service named "Global Wi-Fi" for Japanese travelers. Since this company has counters at major airports, you can receive Wi – Fi routers, mobile phones and SIM cards at the airport.
This company also rents mobile automatic translators. I have borrowed them a couple of times myself. If you are interested in an automatic translator, please check this company's site. There are two types of automatic translators. They are "Ili" and "POCKETALK". I find that "Ili" has a more unpleasant sound, so I use "POCKETALK" more.
JAL ABC, Inc., a subsidiary of Japan Airlines, handles rental Wi-Fi routers and mobile phones as well as prepaid SIM cards. There are counters at major airports so you may receive them at those counters.
This is a rental service handled by Telecom Square, Inc. headquartered in Tokyo, with counters at major airports. You can borrow pocket Wi - Fi routers and smartphones here as well.
SoftBank Global Rental
This is a rental service handled by Softbank, a Japanese telecommunications carrier alongside NTT docomo. You can borrow Wi-Fi routers and smartphones here as well. Please refer to the external link below for details.
There are many other Wi-Fi router rental services in Japan. Some of them handle NTT docomo's Wi-Fi router. Unfortunately, applications can only be made in Japanese. I hope that these rental services for foreigners visiting Japan will make improvements soon.
Use the hotel's smart rental service
Recently, even in Japan, hotels that rent smartphones to guests are increasing little by little. The following hotels are scheduled to start renting out phones on a larger scale. If you plan to stay at one of these hotels, why not contact the hotel for more information on smartphone rentals?
Main hotels scheduled to start smartphone rental service
Hotel Monterey Group
Hotel Live Max
Hotel WBF Group
Okinawa Marriott Resort & Spa
Kawagoe Prince Hotel
Kyoto Century Hotel
Keio Plaza Hotel
Keio Plaza Hotel Sapporo
The Capitol Hotel Tokyu
The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa
Sunshine City Prince Hotel
Shinjuku Prince Hotel
Shin Yokohama Prince Hotel
Swissotel Nankai Osaka
Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel
Namba Oriental Hotel
Henn na hotel Laguna Ten Bosch
Hotel Chinzan-so Tokyo
Holiday Inn Osaka Namba
Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu
Royal Park Hotel
Which service should you go with?
I am sorry to include so much information but I hope it is of some use to you. After reading this article, which service best suits your needs? Remember to consider how many people you are travelling with, where you will go and the devices you wish to use.
If I were traveling in Japan I might prepare using the following strategy:
- Utilize the already introduced application “Japan Connected – Free Wi-Fi”. I will make use of free Wi-Fi when available including time spent at the hotel.
- In areas where free Wi-fi networks are not available I will use “Japan Welcome SIM” provided by NTT docomo. This SIM card can be charged with more data when needed.
What strategy will you make? Whatever the case, I hope your trip is wonderful!
I appreciate you reading to the end.
Bon KUROSAWA I have long worked as a senior editor for Nihon Keizai Shimbun (NIKKEI) and currently work as an independent web writer. At NIKKEI, I was the editor-in-chief of the media on Japanese culture. Let me introduce a lot of fun and interesting things about Japan. Please refer to this article for more details.