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sleepy 05-07-2009 13:32

Japan data
I am going to Japan next week and I have been browsing here and elsewhere for some possibilities to get voice (but above all data) on mobile phone in Japan.
I already have a 3G HSPDA mobile phone (already tested for voice and data, in better days for the rates, in Japan), therefore I do not need in principle any equipment, only a local SIM and a good rate.
I would have no problem to rent also unnecessary equipment for the solely purpose to get a bundle with reasonable rates.
I also plan to use my PDA (no laptopos or netbooks to travel light and have always Internet in my pocket).

If you go here:
Japan National Tourism Organization | Arrange Your Travel | Essential Info | Telephone & Postal Services

there is a list of possibilities and operators renting SIMs and/or mobile phones and USB dongles.

Softbank have changed something under my eyes in the last 2 days. 2 days ago it was clearly stated that for a SIM only rental it would be impossible to have data transfer. Now it is possible.
It seems a good news but it is not.
The fee is outrageously high, as those from G-Call (.42 Yen/128 bytes) and, partially, from PuPuru (.42 Yen/128 bytes) :
0.32 Yen/128 bytes. If I have made all calculations right, we get to about 18 Euros/Mbyte. :rolleyes:

With my own roaming Italian SIM I can get far better (but still too high) rates without having the hassle of making any deal in Japan.
Better still, I have a Base Belgium SIM, and DOCOMO is among their second line preferential operators, and with them I could go "down" to 3.5 Euros/MB (biled by the KB) without any hassle. Everything already working, all configured and running.

PuPuru, apart from the full rate, have a flat rate bundled with the rental of a phone which cuts the full rate down to 1/4. But we are still at around 5 Euros/MB and BASE still wins. Therefore, no gain...

They also have a flat Data plan, which is quite competitive:
E-Mobile Rental Service?PuPuru: Cell Phone Rentals Japan
but is seems it can only be used in their own USB dongles (no phone option provided in this case, it seems).
I have asked them and they have told me that it is not possible to put the SIM card in other devices...
Question: has anyone tried this option? Opinions?

Has anyone tried to put the SIM out of the USB and used in another device (I cannot use a USB dongle, since I will have no reale PCs) or is the USIM locked? :o :o :o
I do not want to make anything very strange. I would rent and pay the whole bundle (SIM+USB and use it in my phone, hoping to find all correct configuration parameters... any help on this also very welcome!) and use it, only difference using my mobile instead of the USB dongle as modem.

Thank you in advance for any advice/experience!


sleepy 16-08-2009 15:06

I have come back from Japan and I hope it may be useful for other people to add some notes about what I have done in Japan concerning mobile connections.

In general, voice calls also with a local SIM accessible to foreigners (i.e. SoftBank or PuPuru) seemed to me not much cheaper (and considering the cost of opening an account perhaps even less cheaper) than an European SIM in roaming I decided that it was not worth the cost and hassle to buy one.
Phone booths are everywhere in Japan and I would stick to them when I would be without Internet connection and VOIP.
I do not regret this decision. Occasions that would force me to phone from a normal phone where very limited (but I made bazillions of VOIP calls, I was not an isolated person!) and their cost negligible at the end of the game.
Neither I needed to receive calls, though in many places (car rentals, hotels, etc.) they actually ask for your mobile phone in order to contact you if there are problems. But, hey, you are in Japan! There never was a problem, nobody phoned me!

Data access: I opted for the PuPuru service. I chose the E-mobile service (I think it is a service provided by another provider that PuPuRu makes accessible to people not knowing a word of Japanese). In one month I spent about 150$ (but in Euros it sounds better!). E-Mobile Rental Service?PuPuru: Cell Phone Rentals Japan
You get an USB key with self-installing software and unlimited traffic. I had it sent to the landing airport and getting it, even with jet lag and with the initial "Lost in Translation" effect it was a 5 minute matter to understand where I should go in the airport and get the package. You will then return it simply by using a self addressed already stamped envelope they provide and posting it in any postbox right before leaving Japan (also from the airport, if you want to use it till the very last second). As simple as that.
The key worked immediately with my Netbook.

Comments: the service provides exactly what they say. You get about 1.5 Mbit/s inbound bandwidth and about 500 Kb/s outbound (Maximum is / Mb/s, but as everywhere you never reach this limit).
Coverage is by far not comparable to the 3G network. Though it uses (if I am not wrong) a 3G network (maybe a subset of the DoCoMo network) you may be in places with 3g coverage but no Internet access.
Coverage is good in cities, along main railways and highways. No go in mountains or hills (if steep, which is always the case in Japan!). Anyway you can check the coverage on their site and the maps are accurate. No cheating.
When the signal is present you can do practically everything. Handovers work, so you can begin a VOIP conversation in your car and it lasts while you are traveling until you are under coverage.
All in all, it works great.
The VOIP calls alone repaid themselves the cost of Internet access, let alone the use of Internet which is getting more and more useful when traveling, even in Japan where language barriers also in the Web are still huge (though things are rapidly getting better).

Cons: sometimes you would like the coverage would be wider. You might be in that wonderful corner of Japan, but without coverage and plenty of 3G signal around you.
You must use the USB dongle. It is not allowed to put the SIM in other devices. Therefore at least in principle you cannot use your smartphone to connect to Internet. This limits a bit your flexibility, being bound to use a PC which as small it can be, cannot be carried everywhere.
I sticked to the rules and I was not curious as I am always am. The service was too useful for me to look for problems in experimenting. I guess that introducing the SIM in a 3G phone and configuring the right APN (which is clearly given in the documentation) it would work. But for this time I was not willing to take chances. Maybe next time!

When I was out of E-PuPuRu coverage I used my BASE SIM on DoCoMo and with all the tricks to limit data exchange (be sure to block ALL autoupdating features of the Operating system, anitviruses, etc. There are always some that slip out of your control!) I could at least check and send emails without needing to sell my house.


petkow 10-09-2009 18:00

Has anyone got any useful updates on Japan? A friend of mine is shortly going there for 3 months, and he cannot face the options he faces in terms of communications. All the advice seems to suggest unless you want to throw money, forget about renting a prepaid SIM and just using WiFI, Skype, calling cards etc. Japan seems to ask for a lot of hard earned cash for a foreign visitor to have a basic mobile in his pocket for some internet access and a number that friends and family can reach him on.

Buying a prepaid SIMs seem to be an automatic right pretty much anywhere in the world apart from Japan. Why do SIMs (and often hardware) need to be rented in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world?

sleepy 10-09-2009 20:48

Dear Petkow,
I totally agree with you concerning the fact that having mobile Internet access in Japan is expensive.
But it is not as difficult as it may seem. The PuPuRu service I mentioned works with no problems. Go to their site, fill up the form, get the package with what you need at the airport of arrival (or get it shipped where you want), use the stuff, send it back simply dropping the bag in any post box.
It is very easy, and coverage for data, if you stay on the main roads (but this is diminutive, since coverage is broader than this, though more limited than mobile service) is good and efficient.
You can check here the coverage. From my experience the map is accurate and does not tell you that you should be under coverage and you are not.
And you get unlimited data traffic, which is unusual. At least, you pay a lot, but you have no constraints in traffic. For example, in Italy only Vodafone (and only for postpaid if I am not wrong) offers unlimited traffic to private citizens. The cost is however fairly high, 45 Euro/month.
E-mobile, if you get it right (you should definitely start the 3 months at the beginning of a month) comes at 75 Euro/month. Not cheap, I admit, but I am ready to pay more when I am abroad. The problem is with roaming, where you do not pay twice or thrice respect home, but minimum tenfold. So, I agree that there are countries where you get much cheaper deals, but at least it is not impossible (and there are still countries where there is no way to get anything, reasonable price or not).
I did not try wifi and the likes, but mobile is undoubtedly more convenient, albeit more expensive (everywhere if you have access to land-line broadband and the likes, but then you are stuck to one place access).
In Japan many hotels, even cheap ones, especially business hotels, have wifi or even UTP complimentary Internet access, but if you change many places you never know what happens the next day and having a SIM (and unfortuantely with PuPuRu you must also take and pay their USB key) with data access you are much better off.
Other drawback with PuPuRu is that if you want data AND voice access you must get two SIMs because the data SIM cannot be use for voice. Prices for voice are however not very enticing, I admit.

I hope I made my point more clear. I do not know if there are cheaper services (things change quickly lately), but I found PuPuRu a good service, though I had to spend above average (but how was it i.e. in Germany for a foreigner not late than Winter 2008? Not so long time ago... No Simyo, no nothing. And Belgium? No BASE data access for foreigners... I can continue.) So, if data access is important and you are not going too much in the wild, I would close my eyes, shell out some hefty, but still bearable, bucks, enjoy the service and forget the cost.

Just my 0.04 cents...


petkow 11-09-2009 10:23

Thank you very much for that very detailed reply Sleepy. I guess that mobile data can never be assumed to be very cheap anyhow. I may also recommend roaming on BASE as you had mentioned. That is not too bad at all for a light user.

Do you have any updates on voice rates and Voice SIM rental?

DRNewcomb 14-01-2011 23:23

One thing to consider is that there is WiFi all over Japan and that Boingo Mobile is under US$8/mo.

sleepy 15-01-2011 19:54


Originally Posted by DRNewcomb (Post 35229)
One thing to consider is that there is WiFi all over Japan and that Boingo Mobile is under US$8/mo.

I completely second this. Actually, it is also very easy to "find" open WiFi hotspots in cities.

But WiFi does not allow you to connect while travelling by car (I made VOIP calls to find and confirm next hotel while driving to them) or by train.
The overall flexibility of mobile Internet through the mobile phone network is unbeatable and while travelling can give you an edge.
You just need to be covered (and most of the time you are, even outside the cities if you are not in really rural areas) and connect, instead of going to some populated areas to find a spot and connect.

You pay more for this privilege, though, and it is up to each of us to decide what fits best our needs and budget.

Your information is very valuable, though, since it can cheaply solve many people's needs.


Amrando 07-09-2011 21:14

Hi all-

you are definitely right about the limited availability of rental and prepaid options in Japan. There is NO prepaid 'disposable' buy-at-a-corner-store option at all in Japan- this is ostensibly to prevent use for eeeeevil criminal activities (yakuza, etc) but practically speaking is really just there to restrict and control the public's use and provide a barrier to entry and maintain profit margins for the established carriers.

You have to remember Japan has always been more advanced technologically than socially, and they are always very insular.

Softbank has offered a rental SIM for iPhones and smartphones for a couple years now, which is very inexpensive for voice usage but still bills by the kilobyte for data. This is the same with a few low-cost competitors fronted by KDDI, however you would need to use a KDDI phone as well as they do not support GSM.

My option across several trips now is a 3rd-party rental service - there are several companies based in and outside of Japan that rent Softbank or docomo SIMs and/or phones for use in Japan, and they will offer the only plans even vaguely comparable to what an actual subscriber would have in Japan.

My typical package is with *shameless plug* JCR Corp based in Hawaii. They offer docomo SIMs with unlimited data by the day, week or month. Yes, it is quite a bit more expensive than what we are used to as prepaid SIMs around the world, however the coverage is great and their ease-of-use for a rental service is phenomenal. They offer phone and data kit pickup and return from the takkyubin courier service counters at NRT, KIX and HND.

If you need voice and data in Japan, a rental service is unfortunately the only way to go. Down the road docomo and Softbank are moving to UMTS as is the rest of the world, maybe at this point they might get with the program worldwide. But as long as the market is a duopoly and they have the government in their pocket don't count on it.

DRNewcomb 05-08-2013 14:48

There seems to be some good news. I was looking on the Softbank website and they now offer a prepaid SIM for "Short Term Residents". The necessary documentation seems to include a foreign passport with an immigration/entry card and at least 90 days remaining on your stay. Now, the catch with this seems to be that most of the time, when I entered Japan, I got a 90-day stamp. This would mean that you would have to obtain your SIM the very day you arrive in Japan. The Japanese tend to be pretty pedantic when it comes to paperwork and I'd be willing to bet that 89 days is not viewed as being the same as 90 days.

The rates appear high and their data rate is crazy 16/6 sec (160 per minute). Makes one wonder if someone's on drugs or something.

reeder 07-08-2013 22:49


Originally Posted by DRNewcomb (Post 43572)
There seems to be some good news. I was looking on the Softbank website and they now offer a prepaid SIM for "Short Term Residents". The necessary documentation seems to include a foreign passport with an immigration/entry card and at least 90 days remaining on your stay.

Are you referring to the clause Purchasing Procedures | SoftBank

3. Certificate of alien registration + Passport
The applicant must be eligible to stay in Japan for 90 days or more after the service application has been accepted.
The certificate and the passport must be valid at the time of application.
The certificate and the passport must include a photograph of the applicant's face, name, birth date and address, all of which must be identical to those written on the application form.
If the address on the certificate or/and the passport is different from the current address specified on the application form, you must submit separate proof of your current address.
Alien Registration wasn't the same as a 90 day tourist visa. I think it has been replaced by a foreign national resident registration system which excludes
(1) Persons granted permission to stay for 3 months or less
(2) Persons granted "Temporary Visitor" status
I'd need to check my passport stamps, but I think a US passport holder arriving for tourism would be granted a Temporary Visitor visa thus ineligible according to the rules.

Alien registration in Japan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
To all foreign nationals residing in Japan?Beginning on Monday, July 9, 2012,?Start of a new residency management system!
Consulate-General of Japan in New York

I've actually seen a few China Unicom sims for use in Japan on eBay. They roam on Softbank and use an apn in China. The apn in China and price discourage me from trying it, even though the 15GB/7 days data cap is plenty sufficient.

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