How is it that the country with the world’s most advanced mobile technology is so entirely inhospitable to tourists and their unlocked phones?
Japanese keitai users are pioneers of contactless payments, mobile boarding passes, even the mobile Internet itself. But a cheap local SIM card for visitors with unlimited data? Apparently that’s out of the question.
I just got back from Hong Kong, where my better half and I were each able to enjoy two weeks of fast, symmetrical (upload and download speeds are equal) data from One2Free for a very reasonable 180 Hong Kong Dollars — about 25 Canadian bucks. In contrast, here are our available options for Japan when we visit there later this spring…
SoftBank will happily rent you a 3G SIM for only 105 JPY/day. Incoming calls are free, but what about data?
Only pay based on your actual usage.
More specifically, you’ll be paying 0.32 Yen per packet, with no caps! A packet is equal to 128 Bytes, so 1 GB of data transfers will set you back 343,597,383.68 Yen. At today’s rates, that’s about $3.8 million CAD. I somehow don’t think my Canadian carrier would charge that much to roam there.
Now to be fair, SoftBank also offers an iPhone SIM with data capped at 1,500 Yen per day. How is the iPhone different from any other 3G phone? It’s not. And it doesn’t matter anyway — 1,500 JPY/day works out to over $230 CAD for two weeks, more than the nightly rate for any of the hotels we’re staying in.
Third-party — cheap and stingy:
If you can constrain yourself to 1 GB of data there are a couple of more reasonable options. You can get a 4G SIM good for 21 days from Bic Camera — a popular electronics shop — for 5,800 JPY. Or you can order one online from eConnect Japan for 4,100 Yen and have it waiting for you at your hotel when you arrive.
Unfortunately 1 GB isn’t going to work for me because I’m fucking going to be in Japan! I want to stream video on the Shinkansen, Internet radio in Kyoto… My mobile Internet connection might even have to fill in for hotel WiFi at some point. 1 GB would be ok if I had a cheap WAP phone with Opera Mini but again, who fucking wants to use a cheap WAP phone in fucking Japan?!!
Unlimited, the only real option:
The cheapest option for unlimited data that I can find is a 14-day prepaid SIM from b-Mobile. 3,980 JPY is a good price, but the bandwidth — capped at a paltry 300 kbps — is a cruel joke.
Traffic is controlled for VoIP, video, and other streaming contents.
That’s really just a nice way of saying that these services won’t work. Moving on, nothing to see here…
I finally found a prepaid unlimited data SIM at reasonable speeds from Global Advanced Communications. But at 16,200 JPY for two weeks it ain’t cheap. Can I do better?
Yes I can. Back in the dark days before 3G I used to rent handsets for my infrequent visits to Tokyo, from a company based in Hawaii. They’re still around, and lo and behold they offer an unlimited data SIM for two weeks at a slightly better price — $135 USD.
That’s still way too much, over three times what I pay WIND Mobile every month for unlimited data and calling. But it seems like the cheapest, most reliable option for the two weeks that my girlfriend and I will be there. Yup, that’ll be $135 USD times two. And no, a shared MiFi isn’t gonna cut it — unless I sneak into the ladies room so that we can both upload holiday snaps from the toilet.
And unless you’ve had the privilege of sitting atop a modern Japanese toilet you’ve no right to judge…