Living in Japan can be made much easier with the support of a cell phone. Our lives are becoming increasingly interwoven with technology. Try to meet up with friends outside of a busy train station without a phone and the sheer frustration of such an experience will have you running to the nearest SoftBank store. Rental phones in Japan are notoriously expensive. If you will be in Japan for more than one month and need a phone for calling and messaging, then a prepaid phone will suit your needs just fine. Cellular service providers, au and SoftBank both offer prepaid options. I’ve had the most luck with SoftBank, so that is what we will cover today.
Before we get into the step-by-step process of acquiring a prepaid handset, it is important to mention that some store locations will not issue prepaid phones to those without an alien registration card. If you do not have a form of Japanese identification, your passport, address and phone number of where you will be staying while in Japan can suffice as valid personal identification for some shop locations. It can be hit or miss, depending on whether or not the store is strictly following the regulations or not. The best option would be to visit the flagship locations of the stores, which employ English-speaking staff. Additionally, these stores will typically have the prepaid phones in stock. SoftBank in Shibuya is known to be the most accommodating.
Step 1: Head over to a SoftBank shop with your identification in tow. If you are able, call beforehand to see if there are any prepaid options in stock; unfortunately shops will run out of these models often. A second place to purchase a prepaid SoftBank phone is at Don Quijote, also known as "Donki." This massive store is best known for its staggering array of random goods, but they normally have SoftBank prepaid phones in stock.
Step 2: Choose from your option of prepaid phones. Compared to the other models in the store they will look like ancient relics of telecommunication’s past, but alas, this is what you must choose from. (If you want a technologically advanced Japanese phone, you’ll have to get a long-term contract.)
Step 3: At this point you will have moved to one of the counters, where you will choose from a 3000 yen or 5000 yen prepaid card. Whichever you choose, the card will expire after 60 days. If you are living in Japan for longer than 60 days, you can purchase more prepaid cards as needed, which are available at both SoftBank stores and convenience stores like 7-11. Recharging minutes is also available on SoftBank's website.
You will also have the option to pay 300 yen for unlimited email, which I highly recommend. With the email option, sending messages to your friends back home is easy. After 30 days you must pay another 300 yen to continue your email service. Your phone number will last for 360 days and after 60 days, any unused minutes will disappear. But if you plan on returning to Japan again, keep your phone for next time.
Step 4: Provide your identification information, sign your receipt and pay. The cost will be around 6000 yen for the prepaid handset, prepaid card and charger, purchased separately. The shop employee can help you set up your phone service and email with the prepaid card.
Now you are ready to go with your prepaid phone! While it definitely is not as fancy as the contract models, it works just fine for staying in touch with friends.