best way for cell service in japan

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From the iPhone to the latest Android devices, Japanese mobile phones are outfitted with the latest technology with designs to suit every taste; whether you want to use them mostly for data exchange, phone calls or something else depends on your needs and lifestyle. Below, we provide a comparison of the three major Japan mobile carriers as well as MVNOs, focusing on plan types, network coverage and customer service–all to help you make the best decision when it comes to choosing your mobile phone in Japan.

best cell phone service in japan

Best Way For Cell Service In Japan

Japanese Mobile Phone Market Share

In terms of the major Japan mobile carriers, Docomo leads the Japanese mobile phone market with about 50% market share, followed by AU and then Softbank. Ask most Japanese people and they will probably say that Docomo has the largest number of satellites for mobile reception, AU has the most phone choices, and Softbank has the most options offered for data usage.

SoftBank Shops with English-Speaking Staff

Docomo Store Locator

AU Foreign Language Service Store Locator

Japan Mobile Network Coverage

There is no single Japan mobile network, but rather a series of networks owned by different companies. All three carriers provide both 3G and 4G LTE networks in and around Tokyo, so generally you shouldn’t experience service issues with any of them. Furthermore, all three carriers offer nationwide coverage on their legacy 2G networks, so you should have little or no issues with basic phone service, regardless of where you are in the country. That said, more advanced 4G network coverage is not uniform across the Tokyo area. Since coverage within the extensive Japan mobile networks does vary, it’s best to check the signal on your phone as you go.

Plan Types

There are a wide variety of Japanese mobile phone plans to fit every type of user, from the heavy data consumer to the long talker who never hangs up. All three carriers offer numerous contract types based on data usage, number of minutes, and number of texts included in the basic package. Contracts can either be pre-paid of long-term, with the long-term variety usually having a contract length of 1-2 years. The following is a basic outline of plan options available during your stay in Japan. Please see each provider’s site for more details about the various contract types.

phone carriers in japan

1. Contracts with Major Carriers

A. Pre-paid

Using this type of plan, you get a new (sim-locked) phone. Prepaid SIM cards are usually available for 3,000yen and 5,000yen depending on the carrier; both have expiration dates.

Pros: The biggest advantage with pre-paid credit is that once you pay it, you have total flexibility in how you use it–the only thing to be aware of is the expiration date, explained below.

Cons: Prepaid credit, even if unused, has an expiration date (you are informed of this when you put new credit in). If you run out of prepaid credit, you will not be able to use the phone. You will not get any mobile reception, meaning that you can neither make nor receive calls. You also have limited phone choices with this plan. As smartphones are not available, you will have to settle for a garake (old-style clamshell) type phones.

B. Post-paid

With this type of plan, you get a new subsidized, SIM-locked phone, paying for it every month along with your phone plan fee.

Pros: This is best option for those planning to stay in Japan for at least 2 years. This plan is also the most convenient for those who want Japanese mobile phones for the whole family–family members with the same carrier actually get discounts. Changing or replacing phones (without changing your sim card) is also easy as your phone is insured.

Cons: The biggest disadvantage here is the termination fee. Take note that your contract is always automatically renewed for another two years. So if you are planning on terminating your contract in two years, you should always inform the company beforehand. If you don’t provide the them enough advance notice (the timeframe depends on the company, so be sure to ask them when you sign up), the contract will be renewed, and termination of it (even if you are late just one day) will cost you around 10,000yen.

2. MVNO Plans

Unlike major carriers, mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, don’t own the networks they use – they also don’t have physical stores of their own. As these things lead to lower overhead cost among other convenient features, it’s no wonder that this option is gaining popularity.

Pros: If you already have an unlocked mobile phone in Japan, and want to continue using it rather than getting a new one, then this plan is the best for you. This also has a shorter contract compared to those from major mobile carriers – 6 months to 1 year. It is also less expensive as you do not have to pay for the phone itself.

Cons: As you own your phone, it is up to you to get a replacement in the event of loss or breakage. Also, if you happen to lose your SIM card, you cannot ask for the same phone number. Bad reception was common in rural areas however, the system has been improving recently.

In our article “10 Things You Should Know Before Buying a SIM Card in Japan”, you can find several MVNOs in Japan and some of them have English-Support.

Customer Service

All of the mobile providers offer customer service at their numerous shops located around the Tokyo area. Softbank has 4 shops located in Ginza, Omotesando, Roppongi and Shibuya with English speaking staff to assist with establishing service or other questions. Docomo provides a video customer service option for non-Japanese speakers at many of its shops and these can be located on their website (denoted by the ‘TV’) symbol under the list of services by each shop. AU has English staff onsite in several stores, you can locate a store where they have English-Speaking staff.

What You Need in order to Get a New Mobile Phone in Japan (For Major Carriers)

Getting a new mobile phone in Japan is a pretty lengthy process, so be prepared to spend an hour or two at the shop where you plan to get your phone. Although there are some centers that have English-speaking staff, it is still best to have someone you can clarify some things with, so please bring a Japanese friend or colleague with you to help.

Basically you will need:

1. If you are under 20 years old, you need a personal guarantor (and his or her identification documents) who can sign for you. Take note that underage individuals cannot apply for their own phone contracts.

2. Proper identification – residence cards, ‘my number’ cards, or passport are the safest choices).

3. Bank information – bank card, or the bankbook that contains your bank name and branch, account name and account number. (Check with your potential carrier to find out whether a bank number is technically necessary on the day you apply).

4. A credit card – In not a few cases, carriers may allow you to get a contract using a non-Japanese credit account. All carriers are different, so you may want to bring one just in case, especially if you haven’t yet set up a Japanese account.

For those who plan to take a two-year mobile subscription, you will be asked to choose one of two payment options: (1) Automatic withdrawal from your account; or (2) Direct payment (i.e., payment at a convenience store). If you choose the latter, you will be issued an invoice every month, including a summary of your usage and payment slip–be aware that this option carries an additional surcharge. Whichever option you choose, bank information is necessary.

For Tourists or Short-term Residents

If you are traveling to Japan for a short time or have just moved to Tokyo and not yet established mobile phone service, you can rent or purchase pre-paid Japanese mobile phones or even SIM cards to use with a mobile device you have brought from your home country. These can be purchased at many electronics stores or ordered online.

Where to purchase SIM cards in Japan

BEST SITES LIKE ALIEXPRESS FOR ONLINE SHOPPING

AliExpress is a massively popular Chinese online retail service owned by Alibaba Group. It was launched in 2010 and hasn’t stopped its journey to becoming the ‘biggest online marketplace of the world‘ ever-since. AliExpress stands toe-to-toe even with Amazon in terms of buyers worldwide. It offers wholesale goods at direct-to-consumer prices from Chinese sellers.

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It also works as a great dropshipping model for a lot of e-commerce entrepreneurs. Along with a lot of good sides, AliExpress has some cons as well. The biggest problem is the shipping time of AliExpress orders, which is pretty long considering the goods come from China. Also, some orders can be very expensive after shipping charges and taxes.

So, it is a good thing to have some AliExpress alternatives whenever you don’t like its services. That’s why we are telling you about 21 best sites like AliExpress. Some of these websites offer cheaper prices and faster shipping on certain products. And, you can also use them to maintain a nice profit margin for your dropshipping business.

1. LIGHTINTHEBOX

LightInTheBox is the perfect AliExpress alternative as it is also a Chinese e-Store. It sells hot and trending products across the globe. Their products range from phone and electronics to fashion, jewelry, shoes, bags, and many other items. You can find almost anything here at a very cheap price.

The delivery time of LightInTheBox is also similar to AliExpress as their warehouses are located only in China. But, you may get a faster shipping time due to having fewer orders to ship. You can pay for your orders with PayPal, Western Union, or your credit card.

2. WISH

Wish is a widely popular online marketplace where you can buy almost anything. From clothing to footwear, electronics, healthcare items, and many more things, you can get them all for an incredibly cheap price. They are also known to offer great deals and coupons to their new customers.

Their shipping time is also faster than AliExpress as their products come from sellers located in small countries. Wish also provides an advanced rating system that is very helpful for both the consumers as well as sellers. It helps promote good ones.

3. OVERSTOCK

Overstock is a US-based online marketplace. It makes profit by selling wholesale products at a highly cheap price tag. A major portion of their stock is comprised of overstock from the major retailers or their seconds. You can find some really amusing deals here. The shipping time will also be lower as compared to the Chinese marketplaces. You can get your items within a week.

The product range of Overstock is incredible. You can find everything such as clothing, decor, kitchen appliances, and many more items. You can even find furniture and other big home items. So, you can use to fill your house with great stuff at a reduced price.

4. DEALEXTREME (DX)

DealeXtreme, more popularly known as DX, is an amazing online marketplace. The website works in a very similar manner as ‘Wish’ and sells cheap products coming directly from sellers. It has partnered with many small businesses and sells its products to a wide base of audience.

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The shipping time is a problem with DX also because their warehouses are located in China. Apart from this, you can get some really worthy deals on DX. You should always keep an eye on their clearance sales for the best prices.

5. GEARBEST

Gearbest is the perfect AliExpress alternative if you are looking to shop for the latest gadgets or electronic devices. It works with over 5000 Chinese brands and top suppliers to deliver the best products. It has products from top Chinese companies such as Xiaomi, Huawei, Lenovo, and many others. But, it isn’t just an electronic store.

You can also find a massive range of other products as well. The prices available on GearBest are reduced, and you can even reduce them with the available coupons. They also have warehouses in multiple countries. So, you can get faster shipping from the local warehouse.

6. BANGGOOD

BangGood is another Chinese e-commerce platform that provides worldwide shipping of cheap goods. You can find almost anything on this website, from clothing to electronics, and even home items. The prices available are marked down from their original prices. You can also get amazing deals during special clearance sales.

BangGood provides a free $20 coupon to every new user. The shipping time for BangGood orders is faster than AliExpress for certain products. However, the regular shipping time is similar.

7. CHINABRANDS

ChinaBrands is a widely popular Chinese e-Store where you can buy products at wholesale prices. You can find almost anything on this website at a highly affordable price. Their shipping prices are also low but you will get a long shipping time. It is the perfect website for buyers who want the lowest prices but can wait for their orders for at least a month.

Most of the ChinaBrands sellers run their factories from China, and their warehouses are located there only. This is the reason for the considerably long shipping time.

8. BONANZA

Bonanza is a unique American online marketplace where you can find a great range of products. They have over 20 million items from more than 50,000 sellers. It is a growing e-commerce store where even you can sell your items. It is a preferred platform by more than 20,000 entrepreneurial sellers. You can find some really amazing handcrafted items and collectibles here.

For people looking to shop regular items, this store may disappoint you a little. The prices of some items may be a little higher than some Chinese stores. But, the quality provided will be worth it.

21 ALIEXPRESS ALTERNATIVE STORES

Here are 21 AliExpress Alternatives that you can use to shop online.

  1. LightInTheBox
  2. Wish
  3. Overstock
  4. DealXtreme (DX)
  5. GearBest
  6. BangGood
  7. ChinaBrands
  8. Bonanza
  9. DHGate
  10. TinyDeal
  11. Target
  12. MiniInTheBox
  13. GeekBuying
  14. Jet
  15. TomTop
  16. Target
  17. MadeInChina
  18. American Greenwood
  19. Walmart
  20. eBay
  21. Amazon

FINAL TAKE

AliExpress is amazing but it is always good to have options when you are shopping. So, these are the 21 best sites like AliExpress. If you ever feel like you should look somewhere else, these are some stores that you should visit. You can also use these for your dropshipping business if you are an aspiring entrepreneur. Make sure you have a solid plan before beginning.

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