Buying a SIM Card in Japan

Japan is a fascinating country to visit, with its amazing food, long history, stunning cities, stunning natural beauty, and intriguing mix of high-tech society and traditional society.

However, it can be confusing. The cities are large and have a complicated, but well-oiled, transport system.  There is very little English spoken in these areas.

Staying connected is a way to make your trip easier than in most other countries. It will be a great help when you need to translate a menu or check a train schedule, or simply find your way out from another metro station.

Although Wi-Fi is more widely available over the years, it is still not always available everywhere. A personal internet connection is a great way to make your life easier and less stressful, especially in rural areas or smaller towns.

It’s not difficult to get a local SIM. It’s not easy, however, because there are a lot of vendors involved and some peculiar quirks.

This is what you need to know when buying a SIM card for Japan.

Have you purchased travel insurance for Japan? You can get travel insurance for Japan that covers everything from medical emergencies to cancelled flights, lost luggage, theft, and other sticky situations. We have been using World Nomads for more than a decade.

Companies

  • We recommend b-mobile for most travellers

 If you are willing to pay more for faster speeds, U>mobile is a good option. The bad news is that it’s very difficult to find a SIM card to make calls or send texts. Non-residents were unable to purchase voice/text-capable SIMs due to 2006 law changes.

You will need to order it in advance from one of very few companies that sell it. The same restrictions do not apply to data-only SIMs.

Many companies sell tourist data SIM packs of various types. You will most likely end up purchasing service from a company that sells NTT Docomo service because of the different cellular frequencies and types used in Japan.

Although it’s the most widely used and popular network in the country, that doesn’t make it a bad thing. However, congestion can occur in major cities due to this popularity.

b-mobile is one of the most popular companies. It offers more data per dollar than many of its competitors. It was the company that I chose to go with and it worked great everywhere I went during my three-week trip. However, the speeds were sometimes quite slow, as you’ll see below.

U>mobile is a better option if you need faster speeds. Although the tourist package isn’t as popular and may be more expensive, you’ll still get faster downloads for the first 220MB you use every day.

How to buy a prepaid SIM card in Japan

 You can easily get a SIM card if you purchase a Japan Rail Pass for your rail travel. it with your pass purchase .

Many of the companies that sell the pass also sell SIM cards (and rental hotspots). My partner also did this, and her SIM card and pass arrived in the mail within three days.

I decided to wait until my arrival in Japan before purchasing SIM cards. In the Tokyo Narita Terminal 1 arrivals area, there were many kiosks and vending machines advertising SIM cards and hotspot rental.

Although I couldn’t find a bmobile seller or machine, this is the best place to get a U>mobile SIM. Airport purchases will cost you a premium of between 10-20%.

Major electronics shops like Yodobashi Camera or BIC Camera sell SIM packs for tourists that include b-mobiles.

They will be found on a rack with the many prepaid offerings for locals. It is easy to identify which one it is – only the ones that are aimed at foreigners have English letters!

I was in Shibuya, which has two BIC Camera shops close to the metro station. The Shibuya East store offered the most options, including a 7GB bmobile package for 21 days that was not available at any other nearby store.

Although the store attendants could speak a little English, they were not required to because the purchase process was quick and simple.

The packaging contained a sticker that stated there were no refunds or help available for this particular pack. Before I could make the purchase, the cashier pointed it out to me once more.

This means that you shouldn’t expect to be assisted by staff in the store if you have any problems. If you have any questions, contact the bmobile helpdesk via phone or email.

The instructions in the box I purchased made it easy to set up. It took me about five minutes and I did it from the steps of the BIC Camera store.

Access to Wi-Fi is required to register. I had to input my name, passport number and some other details.

iOS devices also need to use Wi-fi to download a carrier profile from a specific URL (http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/devices/bmobile.mobileconfig).

To create an APN on Android devices, you will need to follow these steps: These instructions contain all the details:

  • APN: bmobile.ne.jp
  • Username: bmobile@4g
  • Password: bmobile
  • Authentication type : CHAP or AP
  • MVNO type SPN (if possible)

You can also get a U>mobile SIM at international airports, as I mentioned above. It was also available in Hiroshima’s Lawson’s convenience stores, but not at a few other Lawson’s locations.

You don’t have to wait for your Japanese SIM card to arrive. Instead, buy it now! You can get data-only SIMs for 7, 15, and 30-day trips. Most SIMs have unlimited data allowances. Learn more.

Mobile offers a similar service, but you can also make calls and send texts. It’s one of very few companies that offer this service to Japanese visitors, as mentioned previously.

No matter which option you choose, worldwide shipping is free. Drop in your SIM card at the airport and you will be connected before you even reach baggage claim.

It’s worth looking into a Japan eSIM if you own an iPhone or another supported device. The prices are comparable to purchasing a local SIM, and the setup is much faster.

Prepaid SIM Costs

The 21 day / 7GB b-mobile package I mentioned above costs 2970 yen (~$28 USD), including tax.

At Narita airport, a U>mobile SIM that provides 220MB per day of high-speed data, and valid for 15 days, is 3780 yen. You’ll be able to find one in the city, so you will pay less.

Topping Up

 You can purchase an additional 1GB of data for 500 yen if your b-mobile SIM is expired or you run out..  This can be done each day for up 10 days after the official expiry of the SIM.

This is the only way to top-up, but it’s quite expensive. You can buy a new SIM if you need it for longer than one week.

Coverage and data speeds

Coverage on the NTT network was excellent. Travelling on trains and buses all over the main island of Honshu, I only ever lost signal in long tunnels (and even then, not always).

Although coverage was excellent, b-mobile speeds for downloading were slow. Evidently, the company significantly slows down connection.

Upload speeds were not unusually faster than downloads.  This is something that I haven’t seen anywhere else on the planet.

My worst download speed was just 0.6Mbps in Shibuya (Tokyo), shortly after I bought it. It was much more common to see 1.5Mbps elsewhere in the country and city. My fastest speed was just above 3Mbps.

I was able to do normal tourist activities such as web browsing, email and maps. However, it was not fast enough to prevent me from watching the video. So, even though I used my phone extensively during my trip, my data allowance was less than half by the time I left Japan.

Overall, I was happy enough with the compromise between cost, convenience and data allowance to recommend bmobile to most visitors.

If you are only going to be there for a few days, don’t expect that you will use more than 220MB per night. You don’t need to get a SIM card, but U>mobile may be a better choice.

 

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