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The Ultimate Guide to Mobile Phones in Japan: Everything You Need to Know

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash


Planning a trip to Japan? Or perhaps you’re moving to the Land of the Rising Sun for work or study? In either case, understanding the ins and outs of mobile phone usage in Japan is essential for seamless communication and staying connected. From the unique phone culture and popular Japanese phone brands to the different options for service plans and connectivity, this comprehensive guide will equip you with all the knowledge you need to navigate the world of mobile phones in Japan.

Why Mobile Phones are Popular in Japan

Japan has long been known as a tech-forward nation, and mobile phones are no exception. In fact, mobile phones have become deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, with the majority of the population relying on them for various tasks beyond just making calls. From GPS navigation and camera functionalities to mini-computers and payment terminals, mobile phones in Japan offer a wide range of features that have made them an indispensable part of daily life.

Top Japanese Phone Brands

When it comes to mobile phone brands in Japan, several names dominate the market. The biggest players include NTT docomo, au by KDDI, Softbank, and Rakuten Mobile. These brands offer a wide range of smartphones and mobile devices, each with its own unique features and capabilities. Whether you’re looking for the latest flagship model or a more budget-friendly option, these brands have you covered.

Cultural Differences in Phone Culture

One of the first things you’ll notice when using mobile phones in Japan is the distinct phone culture and etiquette. Japanese society places great importance on politeness and consideration for others, which extends to phone usage. For example, talking on the phone in public spaces like trains, buses, cafes, and restaurants is generally frowned upon and considered impolite. It’s important to set your phone to silent mode in these settings and avoid making calls unless absolutely necessary. Additionally, walking while using a smartphone is considered a violation of good manners, so it’s best to find a safe and stationary spot before using your phone.

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Mobile Phone Options for Travelers

If you’re visiting Japan for a short-term stay, there are several options available to ensure you stay connected. One popular choice is to use a rental phone or a prepaid SIM card. Rental phones can be easily acquired at major airports or through rental phone companies, allowing you to have a temporary Japanese phone number and access to voice and data services. Prepaid SIM cards, on the other hand, provide you with data connectivity for your own unlocked mobile phone. These options are convenient and offer flexibility for travelers who want to stay connected during their trip.

Long-Term Mobile Phone Plans

For those planning a long-term stay in Japan, regular subscription plans and contracts are available. However, there are certain restrictions and requirements, particularly for foreigners. Depending on the length of your stay, you may be required to pay the full cost of the phone upfront. Additionally, you’ll need a Japanese ID (Zairyū card), passport, and a Japanese bank account to subscribe to a phone plan. It’s important to check with your service provider for specific details and eligibility criteria.

Getting a Japanese Phone Number

Having a Japanese phone number can be beneficial for various reasons, including easier communication with locals and accessing certain services that require a local number. To obtain a Japanese phone number, you can either sign up for a regular subscription plan or opt for a prepaid SIM card. Both options will provide you with a Japanese phone number, allowing you to make and receive calls within Japan.

Data Plans and Internet Connectivity

Internet connectivity is crucial for staying connected and accessing various online services during your time in Japan. While public Wi-Fi is not as readily available as in some other countries, most accommodations such as hotels and ryokan offer Wi-Fi in rooms and common areas. However, it’s important to note that cafes and restaurants in Japan typically do not offer free Wi-Fi, with some international chains being an exception. To ensure continuous internet access, you can opt for a data plan with your mobile phone provider or purchase a SIM card that offers data connectivity. This will allow you to stay connected wherever you go, without relying solely on Wi-Fi hotspots.

Useful Apps and Emergency Numbers

Japan offers a wide range of helpful apps that can enhance your experience and make your stay more convenient. From navigation apps like Google Maps and Japan Travel to language translation apps like Google Translate, there are plenty of tools available to assist you during your time in Japan. Additionally, it’s important to familiarize yourself with emergency numbers such as 110 for police assistance and 119 for medical and fire emergencies. Having these numbers saved on your phone can be crucial in case of any unforeseen situations.

Phone Manners and Etiquette

As mentioned earlier, phone manners and etiquette are highly valued in Japanese society. It’s important to be mindful of these cultural norms to avoid causing any discomfort or offense. Avoid talking loudly on the phone in public spaces, keep your phone on silent mode when in quiet areas, and refrain from using your phone while walking. These simple gestures can go a long way in showing respect for those around you and blending in with the local culture.


Mobile phones play a significant role in Japanese culture, and understanding the customs and options for mobile phone usage is essential for both residents and visitors. Whether you choose a rental phone, prepaid SIM card, or a long-term subscription plan, there are plenty of options available to suit your needs. By familiarizing yourself with Japanese phone culture and following proper etiquette, you can navigate the world of mobile phones in Japan with ease and stay connected throughout your journey. So, get ready to explore all that Japan has to offer, while staying connected and capturing unforgettable moments with your mobile phone.

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