If you’re moving to Tokyo or another part of Japan, you’ll want to get a Japanese mobile phone number set up as soon as possible—preferably before you arrive, for maximum ease of adulting here. You’ll need a Japanese phone number to set up a bank account, sign a lease and sort out many of the other essentials.
The easiest way to get a Japanese phone number is to order a SIM card online—which you can do from abroad, and in English, too. Two providers we like are Mobal, who donate the bulk of their profits to charity, and Sakura Mobile. They both offer voice and data plans, as well as data-only plans. They also have portable wifi plans for tEh internets.
If you’re setting up a Japanese mobile number, you’ll probably need to get a voice and data SIM, or you won’t be able to make or receive any calls except via VoIP services (e.g. WhatsApp or LINE calls), which often don’t count when you need to put a Japanese phone number down on documents. Read more about SIM cards for long-term use in Japan.
Though it may work out a bit cheaper to set up a Japanese phone number when you’re here, it generally takes a lot more time, is a more complicated process, and requires fluency in Japanese. So we recommend going the online route, at least initially, anyway. You can always switch to a different provider later.
In terms of the actual handset, you can bring your own cell phone (as long as it’s unlocked), which we assume most folks would do, or—if you’re in the market for something new—buy an iPhone at one of the Apple stores in Japan, or another type of phone at one of the cellular stores (more on these below) or electronic stores (like Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera).
How to get a Japanese phone number before you move to Japan
If you’re going to be working in Japan, your employer may assist with the set-up of a Japanese mobile number, but if you need to take care of it yourself, ordering a SIM card online before arriving is quick and simple.
Getting a Japanese cell phone number online
One of the easiest (and most popular) options is the voice and data SIM from Mobal. The order process is very straightforward, and they have great English support. You can have your SIM card shipped (for free) to you, so that you can be connected pretty much as soon as you land in Japan (you will just need to complete the set-up process once you arrive).
Data is unlimited, and there are no complex contracts (a concern with many of the Japanese providers). Your Japanese cell phone number will use the SoftBank network (one of the major cellular providers in Japan—formerly Vodafone), and you can make and receive calls, send and receive texts, and use data, of course.
The rate is fixed at ¥4,500 per month, with a once-off activation fee of ¥3,000. There is also a cheaper plan, which gives you voice and text, without data, for ¥1,000 per month. Billing options include debit card, credit card and PayPal, as well as convenience store payment. You will need a credit card to complete the initial order online. Read more about Mobal plans.
Another well-known name in the Japanese mobile game, Sakura Mobile offers a range of voice and data plans, all of which use the NTT DoCoMo network.
The cheapest option is their Mini Plan, which provides 3GB of data and 30 call minutes for ¥2,980/month (before tax), while the most popular is their Standard Plan, offering 7GB of data and 50 call minutes for ¥4,980/month (before tax). There are other plans available, too.
The sign-up process is simple, and payments can be made by credit or debit card, or in cash at the convenience store. There is a contract activation fee of ¥15,000, but this is often reduced to ¥5,500. You can cancel for free, at any time, and there is full English-language support. Read more about Sakura Mobile plans.
How to get a Japanese phone number after moving to Japan
If you decide to wait until after you’ve arrived in Japan to sort out your mobile number, you can still order one online, or you can go into a cell phone store in person and set it up there.
Getting a Japanese mobile phone number online
Again, we recommend this option, as it’s the less stressful of the two.
Getting a Japanese phone number at a store
Walking around outside big-ish train stations or through shopping areas will take you past a number of different cell phone stores. The big names in the mobile game here are SoftBank, DoCoMo and au by KDDI. You can apply for a contract with them directly in store, though it’s worth noting that not all stores will have an English-speaking staff member, and that both the requirements and contracts can be quite complex.
For example, you might be signed up for a minimum of two years, with a hefty cancellation fee built into your contract, and you may have to show proof of a Japanese bank account, employment contract and your visa to qualify for a Japanese cell phone number. If you apply for a cell phone contract through one of the Japanese MVNOs that piggyback on these big mobile players, like IIJMio or Nuro Mobile, you will likely still have to jump through the same hoops.
If this is something you want to do, it’s recommended you set aside a day for it and ask a fluent Japanese speaker to accompany you, if you’re not super skilled in the local lingo.
Looking to set up internet in Japan? See our guide to choosing an internet service provider.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This post was first published in March, 2020. Last updated in December, 2020.