Wow. TLDR and lots of mis-information in what I read.Gizmo's Cellphone Rant
Here's what you need to know about cellphones in Japan.
A) There is no point in bringing a handset with you to Japan for the purposes of using it as your main Japanese handset. They don't sell SIM only plans here.
B) If you bring a cellphone from home that CAN connect to the network, you can use it essentially as a Pager if you continue to pay for a service at home. (I use it to keep my old CAD telephone number and receive text/VM notifications. Receipt is free, sending is outrageous)
C) Japan is NOT a CDMA network, it's (W-CDMA) UMTS. 800/1500/1700. (Minor niggle, but important)
D) Japan does use SMS, it is just not the default for communication as Japanese people use their "e-mail" service instead. This is why people on smart phones have difficulty messaging other cellular networks (IE Softbank --> docomo) as the other networks don't auto-break long texts into manageable chunks.
E) Unlike back in Canada, where smartphones are a much bigger chunk of the cellphone using population, it is just as common in Japan to see old school style flip phones as it is smart phones. (dunno about the states, I assume similar to Canada).
F) If you don't have a garaunteed pay option available, you have to pay for your phone upfront. IE: Credit card or bank cash card.
G) If you use a garaunteed payment option, you likely will not get a paper receipt/bill payment notification. They will charge you for paper bill... I think I pay about 100-300 yen for paper receipt.
H) If you can't read Japanese, get a smartphone. Most Android/iPhones are capable of being converted to a full English environment with multi-lingual input.
Stuff to know about signing up for a cellphone
A) All JETs should have no difficulty signing up for a cellphone plan so long as they bring the RIGHT documentation with them. (w/ softbank at least)
B) It is completely possible to not buy a phone upfront.
C) It is also possible to get automatic bank withdrawal with B (I'll tell you the trick below)
D) It is usually in the JETs best interest to figure out what everyone else uses for their cell phones. However, this is only REALLY important if you plan to do a lot of TALKING. E-mailing is free, texting costs money to other services, calling is NUTS expensive. Most carriers have pretty good coverage unless you're up in the hills inaka or out on the islands.
E) It is definitely in a new JETs interest to get themselves a smartphone. It might sound like an expensive extravagance however having access to GPS maps and convenient web access makes life SOOO much easier for new JETs. This is before even looking at all the fun/useful apps they can install on them.
F) Plans are 2 years long. Plans auto renew, they do not go Month to Month when the contract is done.
Stuff to bring when signing up for a cellphone (on your first day in the inaka)
A) Your passport
B) Your Alien registration receipt
C) Your temporary Alien Registration form (you buy this when you fill out your registration)
D) Your hanko
E) Your credit card
F) Your identification from home (Drivers license, liquor card, whatever you have that was sorta official looking)The whole story (This part is long and boring)
I decided when I was getting ready to go to Japan that I was finally gonna join the smartphone revolution. Though expensive, the GPS and web access would easily make up for my general lack of ability to read Japanese. I also had dreams of studying Japanese on it (never happened) and playing games (realized I like having battery available to use GPS/web features more).
Before coming to Japan I did some reading, and found out that there is a "temporary" Alien registration form you can buy at city hall. It costs somewhere between 500-800 yen (about 10$) and it an official registered document useable as ID within Japan until your ARC arrives. I do not know how this will work for you new JETs who will be processed at immigration, however I suspect you will be able to ask for something similar.
NOTE wrote:The registration process is different for JETs this year as compared to previous years. I do not know if you are given your laminated ARCs (or if even the ID card still exists in the new system) at the airport, or if it would be mailed to your new address. If you do not walk out of Immigration registration with a photo ID, ask for the temporary form and pay for it. I sincerely wish I had more imformation on this point.
Armed with this, all all the above documentation my supervisor and I found the nearest cellphone selling store (in our case we drove PAST softbank and went to Yamada Denki). I picked out the iPhone that I wanted (a 16gb iPhone 4) and we sat down with the sales guy. The process of registering the phone took about an hour and a half, mostly because the sale associate didn't know how to register a foreigner. After providing ALL the above information, I walked out with a fully functional iPhone 4 that I was not paying upfront for. This was also a phone on the FIRST day in inaka, most people have to wait for their bank card or ARC. It was being billed on my Credit Card from home. Now I know this is a bit more expensive, but it was the only way to get the 2 year contract and not pay for the phone up front which I had NO intention of doing.
Now I have a softbank iPhone 4 on the standard white plan with unlimited data. (Truly unlimited, but speed capped after 1GB which they don't tell you.) AU's network has MUCH better speed than Softbank's, so if you really want to stream stuff all the time, that's something to consider.
How did I get from paying by Credit Card to automatic Bank withdrawal?
2 months later, when I was finally ready to do things, and I had received my actual ARC and my cash card from the bank, I went to the local Softbank store. I simiply asked them to switch my payments to my cash card. 2 months after that my bill was processed from my bank account. No problem. Sure this probably cost me 20$ worth of exchange penalties back home on my CC, but in the end it was worth it to not drop 500$ up front.
Another option for automatic Bank withdrawal.
If you happen to sign up with a bank which does not have a waiting period for providing you with your cash card, you can use your cash card. However, it isn't uncommon for banks in the inaka to have a delay in providing you your cash card of up to 2-3 weeks (I ended up waiting a full month for mine)
I think that about covers it for cellphones. For more information on what softbank requires you to do when signing up see this link:http://mb.softbank.jp/en/http://mb.softbank.jp/mb/iphone_en/pric ... rice_plan/