Want a cheap prepaid SIM Card to use in Japan? Good luck with that.

Keitai Samurai

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…

Carrier offerings:

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…

42 thoughts on “Want a cheap prepaid SIM Card to use in Japan? Good luck with that.”

  1. > so 1 GB of data transfers will set you back 343,597,383.68 Yen

    Haha, you have to be rich!

    When I went back to Japan last year I thought about getting a SIM card but gave up after learning there was absolutely no non-ripoff plan in the market. What makes the situation worse is there’s often no WiFi in fast food chains and cafes, even in places close to the airports where lots tourists would go.

    The mobile situation is pretty terrible in Japan. I don’t understand why Japanese carriers can’t mimic “this ostensibly communist country“.

    I enjoyed the super fast home internet though.

    1. There is actually 15 mins free at Narita, same at haneda, wifi works in Tokyo subway stations and there is a JR east free wifi as well (works at Nippori and Ueno, not in SHibuya!!). B-mobile is a joke. They had last year a one month visitor sim card with 1Gb and did cut down to 15 days higher price. Frankly this is bad practice but why blame them, there is no other option…
      And yes you see why google cannot be trusted, they can cut data from you such as no offline upload for tokyo’s map. Big Bro in the making, you will end up as hated as MS…

  2. Please look at AEON department stores they offer prepaid unlimited in various speeds. Also b mobile has 2 and 3 gig options please just read the website in japanese or use google chrome to translate to english.

    1. Have a direct link for that? I’ve spent the last 10 minutes on the b-Mobile Japanese site and can’t find anything about 2 or 3GB SIMS.

      At any rate, I sent them an email and will report back what I hear from them.

    2. Ok, so official reply from b-Mobile:

      I’m afraid we do not provide products for 2 GB SIM.
      You can recharge the VISITOR 1GB prepaid for 1GB/14days/JPY3,980.
      Alternatively, you can purchase one more product and
      set your other hotel with expected delivery date.

      So, 3.980 JPY x 4 SIMs = 15,920 JPY = $175.50 CAD, versus
      $135 USD x 2 SIMs = $270 USD = $278 CAD for JCR’s unlimited data SIMs.

      But is 2GB enough for two weeks…?

  3. A crude, unapologetic analysis of SIM options in Japan for visitors. All the information is here.

    Thank you for your honest and complete report, with some laughs in between. 🙂

  4. I am currently living in Tokyo and all of this information makes me sick to my stomach but it is all true. Japan is the worst country in the world for mobile usage. It is a society of sheeple and slaves who don’t blink an eye lid as they get @#$?@# in the $@# by corporations and their government, and when you tell them you can get a free sim card in London with no id, no registered address, no contract, and get monthly prepay deals like unlimited data 300 minutes 3000 txt with no catches or fees for 2000yen they don’t believe you.. The worse thing is that this taking it from the man mentality is common throughout the entire Japanese culture, no one questions authority, no one thinks critically or independently. If your a creative thinker and you disregard culture and tradition to pursue better ways of living you will find yourself outcast.. Japan is a society of sheep, so if you dobt like 2year contracts and 10000 yen monthly fees then dont come here, $@#$ me , goto thailand.. Go anywhere else at least you can buy a sim at a seven eleven or 2$

    1. By the way on occasion i use the b mobile data only plan as mentioned above.. if i feel like wasting money.. But on the most part i use wifi at home.. It feels like i have traveled back to the 90s living here..

      i also use a roaming sim to send and receive calls in an emergency, but your best bet is to find a ntt telephone box.. There pretty much everywhere, ntt calling cards can be purchased at most convenience stores

      Also if your thinking of using cached google maps on your gps mobile device think again.. Recent updates have disabled caching for japan.. Gee i wonder why they did that.. $$$$ me

    2. That’s not the half of it. What’s even worse is that they live in a country where they are allowed to speak out and don’t. It’s not like they’re living in North Korea or even China. In fact, China was paradise!

      I’m a Brit on holiday in South Korea at the moment, I will tomorrow be grabbing a flight to Tokyo for the first time – after the nightmare I had involving phones in South Korea I decided to do some research on Japan and I weep at what I’ve seen in this article. What the hell am I supposed to do?

    3. But I would add to what you said about the Japanese mentality. You said that no one thinks critically. Perhaps that’s why Japanese people are so popular, they don’t try and cause confrontation and think that fitting in is very important. But like you say, it does come with its drawbacks. Drawbacks which have had a knock-on effect on gaijin like us who now have to deal with this atrocious situation.

      Despite all this, I still can’t help but feel shocked at the fact that the two most advanced countries in the world, one of which is the pioneer of mobile communication even manage to make it so difficult for foreigners to be able to use a phone. Foreigners being in Japan and visiting japan is not exactly a new thing.

  5. Sounds like nightmare!
    I’m gonna go hit Japan on August 22nd for like 3 weeks and obviously 1 GB is totally lame for 3980 jpy (=39.5 us$) ! It will finish in no time
    even if I disable all the push applications.
    However B-Mobile sounds like the best option.
    Does anyone has experience with them?
    Thanks boys

    1. I am currently living in Japan and use B-mobile as a carrier, as they were the only company allowing me to buy just sim cards. I only signed up for 1GB per month as I don¨t need more and it is working quite well. So if 1GB is enough I would recommend using them. They also people that speak good English so it is easy to communicate with them if you have any questions or problems.

  6. Always check the Japanese homepage versions! Tourists always get worse plans. For example you mentioned the U300 BMobile card: For the simple tourist that uses the English page, the card costs 3980 Yen for just 14 days, the Japanese page offers the same card valid for 30 days for just 2980 Yen! You could even use it for 6 month at an even lower price! You can also find different GB plans there. But when you ask in English you will only get the tourist offers.

    1. Thanks for the info. Anyway I had ordered 3 data cards online thru eConnect. Will use 1 for my Aug trip n the other 2 for my Dec trip. I had checked with eConnect n they advise me to get all 3 cards now. The cards are already activated but the 30-day period (for the 1G plan) will start from the day u 1st use the card. The unused cards can be kept got future use. When I enquire if I can keep till next yr Nov 2014 when my sister visit Japan, they say no problem

  7. If you have an Amazon Japan account, this might be worth a look – an OCN Sim card you can buy in nano, micro or normal, and once activated has the following choices:

    30MB/日 : 980円*
    60MB/日 : 1,480円
    1.0GB/月 : 1,260円
    2.0GB/月 : 1,580円
    500kbps : 1,980円

    The first is the default I think…

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B00EQ12AYS

  8. Great article matey. I have linked it to my site. Man I couldn’t believe it when I landed here…I’ll just get a pay as you….oh 🙁

  9. We have started a SIM card lending site for visitors to Japan from overseas.

    7 days \2300 (\328 / day)
    14 days \3500 (\250/ day)
    30 days \5900 (\196 / day)

    Once you receive it, it is ready to use. No need to call to activate.
    You can connect to 4G LTE (30MB/day).
    When the total data traffic reaches 30MB, the maximum traffic will be
    limited to 200kbps until 11:59 PM for that day. However after that
    LTE/3G high-speed data transmission will become available again..
    http://rental.cdjapan.co.jp/index_en_jpy_10.html

      1. I was googling info about this for my Japan trip this fall and I thought it was unlimited until I saw this post….and 30mb a day wtf? Their site says unlimited what a bunch of lies lmao. Thank god they posted the “truth” in your blog here almost wasted 70 bucks… ಠ_ಠ

    1. CDJapan’s SIM is unlimited. The speed will be limited after you use certain volume. I rented it for my friend who visited Tokyo last month and it worked fine.

  10. Yes, it’s all true.

    I come here for one month in two or so.

    I have a Softbank prepaid that I recharge just so Japanese people can call me, but it’s hardly worth it really.

    econnect data SIMs 1GB/month work well for me – they just work. Good for apps/web/google maps/google translate. Just don’t use voice or video apps.

  11. There are two types of SIM cards offered to tourists to Japan.

    Prepaid SIM
    Activation: Mostly required. Done over the phone or using WIFI.
    Speed Limit: Will be restricted if you use high speed communication of 30MB or 50 MB / per day.
    Restriction will be lifted the next day.
    Data Usage Limit: Yes. Will not connect once you reach the limit such as 1GB.
    Time Limit: Yes. Will not connect after the designated period such as 14 days.

    Rental SIM
    Activation: Unnecessary
    Speed Limit: Will be restricted if you use high speed communication of 30MB or 50 MB / per day.
    Restriction will be lifted the next day.
    Data Usage Limit: Unlimited. The connection speed may get slow but can always connect to the internet.
    Time Limit: No limit to the SIM card but will be charged with fines if not returned by the due date.

  12. It just means you gotta pay to play. I’ll prolly just buy a few 1gb cards from B-mobile for my 2 week vacation, its probably the most cost efficient and ill just suck it up as a cost to play considering most of the internet ill be using is just to brag on facebook/instagram and productive usage such as email and checking maps would never go over 1gb

  13. Like many of you I’m still shocked by how ass backwards Japan is in this area. I work at the Narita airport and when I look at the rental rates for SIM cards or SIM cards plus data .. I just cringe. Luckily my hotel has ok data but not enough to use FaceTime . I couldn’t use FaceTime until I came to Seoul and used that hotels wifi. I also totally agree about the Sheeple comment. Anyhow no changes in ridiculous SIM rates. Happy hunting for a deal.

  14. In Japan for some months for business, and all I can say is, they are living on some other planet. I come from India, where we cry about low internet speeds and red tape, but Japan is far worse!!

    The only option is to get a phone with contract – in which case I have to do bin my nexus 5 somewhere. What a nanny state, this!

  15. This article is amazingly accurate. The electronic stores such as BIC Camera and Yodobashi Camera have the best deals. So-Net, IIJ and B-Mobile all have offerings. I found the following prices (listed below) at Yodobashi for the So-net and IIJ SIM cards. Also, please note that So-net has hidden vending machines in the airports that accept cash. Use Skype for phone calls, and obtain a Japan phone number if you expect locals (Japan residents) to call you. As of right now Skype does not verify if you are a Japan resident.

    Prices for So-net and IIJ SIM cards: 1gb is 3000 yen, 2gb is 4000 yen and 3gb is 5000 yen. They will last 3 months from activation, and run with NO throttling on the DOCOMO network.

  16. The best one I have found so far was So-net (SONY) Prepaid LTE SIM. You can buy it at most airports in Japan. You don’t need a phone line service. Just use Skype app to call and use data only.

    Download 150Mbps, Upload 50Mbps
    Plan 100M: 3,000 yen (30 days)
    Plan 500M: 5,000 yen (60 days)

    Standard SIM, micro SIM, nano SIM

    You can also recharge 200MB for 1,500 yen, 500MB for 2,000 yen, 1GB for 3,000 yen.

    I considered Sakura Mobile etc but they didn’t reply my e-mails. I prefer a huge known company such as So-net (SONY).

    1. Hi, checking up on this link as my better half and I are planning to visit Tokyo again this winter.

      This So-net SIM does look like a good deal; according to their fee schedule a reasonable 3GB data bucket will set you back 5,000 JPY with taxes.

      Still much better than the current rates for JCR’s LTE WiFi hotspots, with the added benefit getting connected right at the airport.

      Thanks for the tip!

      1. just went with japan wireless, au + wiimax

        the best option in the end, specially with you carry more than one gadget

  17. I have literally spent HOURS researching the SIM card situation in Japan and it is absolutely ridiculous. My entire family in Hong Kong pay less than ¥ 6,200 for 10 GB per month split between 4 people. That’s 2.5 GB per person/per month, but since my parents barely use data on their phone – my younger sister and I basically split 8 GB (my parents can’t use more than 1GB or 2GB per month).

    The Japan-wireless website SIM would cost me ¥4,750 for 3 GB for 30 days. Let’s not forget that it’s data limit of 100 MB/day.

    On eConnect I can also get 3GB data, but if you use over 360 MB in 3 days, then you automatically get a slower speed because that’s the networks ‘fair usage policy’ (they don’t even tell you how slower your speed is). That would also cost me ¥4,700 (30 days).
    eConnect actually encourages you to limit your daily data usage to UNDER 120 MB PER DAY or you might as well rent their WiFi-to-go (wireless router). So basically they are saying if you’re going to use over 120 MB of data every day, you might as well carry around a router instead and then connect your phone to that.. OH and the router would cost more than ¥16,000 (4G) because it goes by 1 GB x (rental days) data (and I’ll be in Japan for 40 days). Oh and even if you’re cashing out over ¥16,000 for your personal internet cafe in a bag, the network provider “reserves the right to restrict the connection speed for those who have used significant amount of data in a short period of time (or for those whose network activities are considered as suspicious)”…

    Then there’s the ‘unlimited’ data from cdjapan… Oh except ‘unlimited’ means 110 MB is the limit for 24 hours, if you exceed that they punish your connection speed to 200 Kpbs until 12 am when it resets. That’s ¥5,250 (40 days)…

    —for anyone wanting a data SIM in Japan I found this—

    Sakura Mobile. They have given me hope. 5GB of data ¥4,600 or 7 GB (¥5,650). AND… You can TOP UP data!!!
    2GB (¥2,500)
    3GB (¥3,000)
    5GB (¥4,599)
    10GB (¥7,500)
    They have no limited data usage, fair usage policy, etc. BUT they said “after finishing high speed data, you will have reduced speed internet.” I have no idea what that means…

    1. me and you need to connect. i’m looking at prepaid cards and i’m going to be in japan for 10 days. i’ll look up sakura mobile now.

  18. the information here is very thorough and interesting, it indeed seems strange this is the case, the last post from sweeney sounds encouraging, I’m traveling for a month moving around as I please, anyone know if getting a local to get sim card might be option? I have family in Tokyo. I was thinking streaming netflix during down moments though that now seems out. Anyone use data for translations services? Maps? Any useful information would be great, will also post afterwards on my experiences for those yet to come. Will be traveling throughout and to Okinawa.

  19. JCRcorp.com has business data only sims that appear to be $30 a month for 30GB of unlimited daily throttle-free data?
    Is this legit? Why can’t I find any of these sims anywhere else?

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