You land in Tokyo and ride the train into the big city. Maybe you stand in the middle of Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing, delaying traffic while you take a selfie. Or you hit up a restaurant, pointing at a random photo on the menu and hoping the waiter gets what you’re trying to order. And when it arrives, the first thing you think is, “I need to post this to make my friends envious.” Alas, you can’t even express a single emoji, because you’re not connected to the interwebs. Fear not, fellow cheapo, help is at hand! Here’s the lowdown on getting a Japan SIM for your visit.
Note: The focus of this article is on short-term SIM use in Japan. For an excellent guide to Japan SIM cards for longer-term use (3 months+), see our sister article Japan’s Data and Voice SIM Providers Compared.
Prepaid Japan SIM cards: Read this first
It’s (recently become) possible to buy pay-as-you-go SIM cards directly from Japan’s major mobile providers like SoftBank and DoCoMo, but you can usually get a better deal (and experience) with an MVNO. This stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, and their SIM cards are generally the easiest path to getting online in Japan. MVNOs are not strictly their own carriers; they piggyback on existing big networks to offer some great deals. In this article, we’ll point you towards a few MVNO providers that might be of use.
Note: For most of these SIMs, you must have an unlocked phone. Another thing, you might want to check what format of SIM you need. This should be listed on your phone manufacturer’s page. If you can’t work it out, your local phone shop should be able to help you with that. Try to get this info before you touch down in Japan.
Short-term data SIM options
I’m here for a week or two and just need to update my status everydayyyyy.
That’s fine, you can set yourself up the second you land at an airport (well, at least after you clear customs). This isn’t an exhaustive list; just our top picks of prepaid Japan SIM cards. Some of them can be recharged with extra data.
|Provider||Price Plans||English Support||Voice Calling||Order Online||Worldwide Shipping||Airport pickup||Link|
| Voice + 7GB data/15 days: ¥4,000
Voice + 7GB data/30 days: ¥6,000
|3GB/30 days: ¥2,990||✔||×||✔||✔||✔||More info|
|10GB/30 days: ¥5,990||✔||×||✔||✔||✔||More info|
|Unlimited 30 days: ¥9,000||✔||×||✔||✔||✔||More info|
|4GB/15 days: ¥5,000||✔||×||✔||✔||✔||More info|
|Unlimited 15 days: ¥8,000||✔||×||✔||✔||✔||More info|
|Unlimited 7 days: ¥5,000||✔||×||✔||✔||✔||More info|
|1.4GB/7 days: ¥2,000
3GB/15 days: ¥3,500
|OCN||100MB/day x 7 days ¥3,218
100MB/day x 14 days ¥3,780
|1GB/30 days: ¥3,219||Limited||×||×||×||×||More info|
Notes on the above:
Mobal: On the voice + data SIM, when your 7GB is up, data is still available at throttled speeds. Long-term packages also possible. Free worldwide shipping.
U-Mobile: SIM cards can be purchased at both Narita and Haneda Airport. 220MB of high-speed data (375Mbps) per day; after that speeds are throttled to 200kbps until midnight. Cannot be recharged. Prices listed are approximate.
OCN: Available at both airports, as well as major electronic retailers and a range of other stores. Prices are approximate. Maximum (theoretical) speed of 788Mbps; after 100MB has been used, speeds are throttled to 200kbps. 50MB/day and 1GB/90 days SIM card options may be available—ask in store. Chinese and Korean language call center support available.
No one can call you on your cell phone: With the exception of Mobal’s voice + data SIM, Japan’s SIM cards for short-term travelers are usually data-only, meaning you can’t call or text, or even receive phone calls. Although, if you’re still doing that, you’re probably one of those people who prints out emails and puts them in a filing cabinet. Or sends faxes. Or both. Society’s judgment, not ours.
Buying a SIM card in Tokyo
Oops. Just ignored everything you said and went straight into town. Sawwy.
Once you’re in the shop, you can say to the staff: シムカードを探しています。私に合うのはどれですか？Shimu ka-do wo sagishiteimasu. Watashi ni aou no wa do re desu ka?
That should lead you to the area above. Oh yeah, and you can probably just say it in English.
Alternatives to SIM cards
Wait a minute, this is TokyoCHEAPo, not TokyoEXPENSIVEo, you want me to pay actual money for a service?
Not at all! You can be super cheap about data and use free wifi from teH eVil Corporations. First up Starbucks, a coffee chain which I understand is quite popular with the kids, has free wifi, providing you register at the link above. Then, just pop into a store and away you go!
Sign up? That’s WAY too much work.
OK, well, Apple happens to give out free wifi at various store locations with no login needed. And if there’s not one of those near you, the good ol’ Tokyo Metro provides free wifi too. AND if your home internet provider is part of the FON network, you can use your own home internet login and passcode on FON hotspots, which are practically everywhere in Tokyo. That’s not taking into account the myriad cafes and restaurants which also offer free wifi.
OK, calmed down now. Carry on.
It is worth pointing out a few other alternative solutions, too.
First up, if you have more than one device that requires the net, or a few of you are traveling together, you may want to consider a portable wifi device from a rental provider like Ninja Wifi. You can pick these routers up and drop them off at airports for convenience and they appear, from the ones we’ve seen so far, to have unlimited or very generous data allowances. For a more in-depth guide, see our popular article on renting a wifi router.
AND FINALLY, you may be pleased to know that some mobile networks outside Japan offer cheap roaming packages. For example, data is free in Japan for T-Mobile USA customers on one of their plans. Read the fine print carefully though, as your data speeds may be heavily throttled.
The information in this post is subject to change.
This article is regularly updated. Last update by Carey Finn on June 21, 2018.
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