Ah, cell phones. You really can’t live without them at this point. This is especially true in Japan, where your quality of life is strongly influenced by how connected you are with people (in my opinion, anyway).
In particular, smartphones are something of a necessity in this country. Communication with anyone under the age of 40 (and a huge number of people above that age) is dominated by the app LINE, which offers free messaging and voice calling, among many other features. If you live in Japan for an extended period of time, you will almost certainly need to use LINE, which means you will almost certainly need a phone that can run that app – simply put, a smartphone.
For JET Program participants, the most common method of obtaining a smartphone is by purchasing a phone here as part of a plan with a major provider. The biggest and most popular providers are Softbank (most commonly used by Fukui JETs), NTT Docomo (most extensive network), and AU (for which I do not have a superlative).
A typical JET participant will sign a two-year contract, in which they pay for a new iPhone and their plan in monthly installments of anywhere from $75 – $85. Depending on the provider, these can be bundled with internet to help save money. Of course, there is typically a high cost associated with breaking the two-year contract, but most JET folks will not much need to worry about that.
However, where things may get hairy is if you do what I did, and bring your phone from home. Even if your phone is globally unlocked – which you absolutely must confirm with your provider back at home – many of the major providers in Japan do not readily provide SIM-only plans. Furthermore, if you have read my previous posts, you will know that they will attempt to charge you as if you were buying an entirely new phone with your plan. Sometimes, they will simply tell you that you should buy a new phone. Welp.
Fortunately, all you need to do is look beyond the major providers and explore other options! For example, there is AsahiNet, which has long been known for being a foreigner-friendly provider of internet services. This website has a fairly comprehensive list of non-major providers, as does this website.
The provider I eventually decided to go with was GTN Mobile. Providing support in a multitude of languages (including English), they cater to foreigners living in Japan for an extended period of time. They offer extensive SIM-only plans that are, at most, half the cost of the SIM-only plans offered by the major companies. Also, the plans make use of the same network NTT uses, meaning you get the data speed and coverage as NTT users. Additionally, the minimum contracting period is only 7 months, whereas most companies – including other smaller providers – typically demand one or two years. To top it off, they offer a variety of payment options as well, which means that you do not need a credit card to sign up with them.
It is worth noting that while data-only plans are the cheapest, they are not appropriate for someone living in Japan. Utilities companies and banks require that you provide a number at which you can be called. Your employer will want one, too. Some data-only plans offer a voice-over-IP number, but those have questionably reliability and legitimacy. I will say that data-only SIMs are pretty much perfect for tourists, though.
Now, as we say in JET, every situation is different. If you are thinking of participating in JET, working in Japan in some other capacity, or simply living in Japan for a while, you should do your own research and see what works for you. If you are going to stay for two years or more, signing with a major provider may be better for you. Perhaps you might be fine with using one of those crazy Japanese flip-phones that still exist.
In any case, I hope that this little post is informative! I will soon have internet set up in my place, after which I will blog about that process. Until then, take care, folks!