Buying a SIM card in Tokyo can seem like a daunting process. But going in with a little knowledge will save you a lot of time and effort in the long-run.

tl;dr: Don’t speak much Japanese? Short-term stay? Buy online. Fluent? Longer stay? Consider a big-box retailer.

Woman looking at phone while JR Chuo Line train rolls in.
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Option one: Sort your SIM out online before you arrive

Depending on how long you’ll be here for (and how good your Japanese is), you’ll save a lot of time and effort just ordering your SIM online in advance. This is especially true if you’re a tourist.

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For short-term visits, Mobal is our top pick. An 8-day data SIM card will set you back ¥4,730, while longer options are available up to 90 days. The best part is that all options come with unlimited data. But everyone’s different and another provider might suit you better if you have specific needs. Our list of prepaid short-term SIM providers in Japan includes a handy pricing and features guide, with information on whether you can order the SIM online.

There can be a lot more to think about if you’re looking for a long-term SIM contract. The main factors you’ll want to focus on are price, data allowances, English support and contract termination fees. Our guide to long-term SIM cards in Japan includes a simple price comparison chart, and is recommended reading before you make a decision.

Cheapo branded SIM card
A number of prepaid SIM cards are available for short-term visitors to Japan | Photo by Ryo Seven

Option two: Buy your SIM card in Tokyo

So you’re already doing the tourist thing in Tokyo and you didn’t organize your SIM online before you rolled into town. We’re not here to judge — you were probably busy daydreaming about all the amazing things you’re going to eat. But if you need data and pocket wifi isn’t right for you, you’ll have to get your SIM in person. So where do you start?

Buying SIM cards at Tokyo’s airports

For in person purchases, the airport is one of the most convenient options. Both Narita and Haneda airports have sales points from which travelers can buy a SIM card. This is especially helpful for tourists with limited Japanese — Tokyo airport SIM stalls deal routinely with foreigners, so there’s a good chance they’ll have a fluent English speaker on hand.

However, there are a couple of potential downsides to buying your SIM at Haneda or Narita. Your choice is going to be limited — and, as with everything in airports, there’s a good chance you’ll be paying more than you would elsewhere. Such is the price of convenience. Presumably you’ll also be fresh off a flight — groggy and worse for wear from hours in what effectively amounts to a noisy, airtight petri-dish. In other words, not in the best mindset for smart decision making.

Pro tip: Read up on the easiest ways of getting from Narita to your accommodation. We have a Haneda transport guide too.

Japan SIM card vending machine
You can get SIM cards from vending machines at the airport (because Japan), but they aren’t always the best deal. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Ordering a last-minute SIM online, on the spot

An easy, all-English option is to order a SIM card on the Mobal website. Then you can go and pick it up in person at a collection point in Shibuya or Shinjuku that same day. No wifi? No problem — find some free wifi at a cafe and you’ll be sorted in a few taps and a trot downtown. They also have pick up points in Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama.

Buying SIM cards at Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera in Tokyo

Don’t let the “camera” part fool you. If it vaguely involves electricity, these stores stock it — and SIM cards are no exception. As Japan’s biggest electronics titans, they have two major advantages over ordering online: the range of options, and some price cuts.

In theory, you should be able to wander into a store, pick a SIM, sign up and snapchat your buddies about Japan’s famously fancy toilets in record time. With prepaid travel SIMs, that’s likely to be the case. But if you try to get something else, you could spend a few hours dealing with Japan’s equally famous bureaucracy. If you’re after a contract, you might also need to bring evidence that you’re sticking around in Japan. There’s a good chance you’ll be asked for a permanent address or Japanese bank account details — and your options may be limited if you can’t provide them.

Critically, you can expect very little foreign language support while you’re choosing and setting up a contract. Depending on the store, there may be a spare English speaker on hand to talk you through your options and help you get set up, but in our experience, you’ll be paying fees and signing contracts you don’t necessarily fully understand. That could mean some hefty release fees if you end up terminating your contract early.

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Once you’re set up, you’re pretty much on your own as far as dedicated English support goes. Unfortunately, this even goes for many of the popular service carriers in Japan. If you have any issues and you don’t speak (or read) Japanese, there’s a good chance you’ll have to navigate a language barrier while sorting it out. The same goes for canceling your contract, so it’s worth having a think about your exit strategy before you sign up for a lengthy, low-price contract.

Put simply, when it comes to buying SIM cards in-store, if you speak fluent Japanese or have a friend that’s willing to help, the world is your oyster. Otherwise, consider sacrificing these options and going online to keep your sanity intact.

japan sim card
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Finding a SIM card store

If you’re staying in inner-city Tokyo, there’s a good chance you’ll be close to a Bic Camera. Many branches are tactically placed near many Yamanote Line stations, including Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara and Yurakuchō. If you’ve got time to kill around the airport, there are also small Bic Camera branches in Narita Airport Terminal 2 and Haneda Airport International Terminal — which are likely to be cheaper than any of the dedicated independent travel SIM retailers, and should have prepaid SIMs on display.

Yodobashi Camera’s giant flagship store is located in the heart of geek-mecca Akihabara, with other stores in Shinjuku, Ueno and Kichijōji.

Other alternatives to buying a SIM card in Tokyo

Finally an option to consider, is not getting getting a SIM card at all. Firstly there’s now many options for eSIMs that work in Japan — that is a “software SIM”, so you don’t even need to change your current SIM card.

Alternatively if you haven’t considered renting a wifi router in Japan. You might want to look into this instead, especially if you have multiple devices (travelling as a family?) and/or are likely to be a heavy internet user.

And if you’re a bit of world-cheapo, you’ll be pleased to know we’ve got you covered on our sister cheapo sites if you’re looking for a UK SIM card or a SIM card in Hong Kong.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Last updated in November 2022 by Maria Danuco.

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