Back in January of last year, I went to Japan on a ski trip for 3 weeks.
Since having a phone with which you can make phone calls is VERY useful in Japan, before I left, I had a chat with Optus on using my iPhone package internationally. The deal was simple; you can do everything overseas as you can at home, but it’ll cost a LOT more.
Several phone calls and 8 hours of using global data roaming, I came home to a phone bill $200 more expensive than what I usually paid.
Erm… so. When I was planning to go to Japan this time around, I figured there must be a better way. And so I did a little research.
Now… buying a telephone in Japan is slightly different than Australia.
While in Australia, we can simply rock up to a phone shop and buy a $30 SIM card no questions asked, in Japan, it’s a whole different story. Even if it’s just a pre-paid phone or SIM, you must be in possession of a 外国人登録証明書 (Lit. ‘Foreigner Registration Certificate’), of which you can only get if you plan to stay in Japan for an extended amount of time and after a 2 week waiting period, before you are actually able to buy a phone.
So, basically, that means if you’re going to Japan on a 3 week trip, buying a pre-paid anything is completely impossible.
Now, at this point, I was thinking of just giving up and going with Optus’ Global Pain-Roaming again, when I stumbled across something interesting:
Although buying a pre-paid SIM in Japan might be impossible, renting one might not be.
Doing a bit more research, I stumbled across these guys: Japan Cellphone Rentals.
These guys looked really interesting. They basically rent out most forms of mobile tech, including cellphones, SIM cards and some other mobile devices like MiFi base stations to international people traveling to Japan for short amounts of time.
So, I decided to give them a shot. I selected the unlimited data 3G SIM card plan, with the option of picking it up from Kansai Airport once I arrived. For 3 weeks, the cost of the rental was about $300 USD. Considering my phone bill spiked to $260 AUD after 1 day of internet access the last time I was in Japan, this seemed quite reasonable.
Either way, these guys were awesome! When I arrived at the airport, I walked over to the package pickup, and surely enough, I was received a parcel that contained my SIM card, my phone number on a piece of paper, a full manual on how to set it up, as well as an envelope to post it all back when it was time to go home.
All I had to do was pop the SIM card into my iPhone (carrier-unlocked of course), change a few settings (that were covered in the manual) and it was all working by the time I got to my hotel.
From that point on, my iPhone 3G worked flawlessly whilst in Japan. My SIM card was from the Japanese company DOCOMO (Think Japanese Telstra), so there were always full 3G bars wherever I went. The speed was more-or-less on par with a standard broadband connection in Perth, so it felt really nice overall. I even tried using it on a Japanese bullet train traveling at top speed, and even then, there was no hiccup in reception.
The one downside I noticed was that the iPhone Location service was having a really hard time trying to find my location. Half the time, it would simply fail. This meant location based features in Google Maps (and Foursquare XD) only really worked a fraction of the time, and so I pretty much gave up on them.
And when they said unlimited, they seriously weren’t kidding!! There were several instances in my trip where tethering my laptop to my iPhone was my only source of internet, and although I can’t say for sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if my bandwidth usage exceeded 35GB in those 3 weeks (Thirty five freakin’ gigs!!!!!!!!). Given the limit is usually 1GB in Australia, I’m still having a hard time trying to process that though haha. I’m still expecting an angry letter or something.
At the end, returning the SIM card was just as easy. I just put everything in the envelope I was given, and handed it in to the courier desk at the airport before I went home.
If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t hesitate in a heartbeat. In a country like Japan, having a functioning phone is CRITICAL and having an internet enabled phone, while not essential, is still extremely useful (especially for keeping in touch with mates on Facebook and Twitter. ^_^).
That being said though, I do think the pricing is a little steep. I’ve heard there are some other services out there that rent out from other Japanese phone companies (eg Softbank) at lower rates, so next time, I may try and scope them out too.
But in any case, if you’re thinking of traveling to Japan and would like to take your phone with you, I’d definitely like to say this. It’s not impossible to get it working over there, but will involve a bit of preparation and a few bucks.