All you need to know about telephones and internet: making calls, owning a phone, using and getting internet, and more.
- Domestic calls
- International calls
- Mobile phones
- Home phones
- Public phones
- Internet Connections
Japanese phone numbers typically take the form (012)-345-6789. The numbers in parentheses are the area code which can vary in length from 2-6 digits; however, the phone number always has ten digits regardless of the area code’s length. Mobile numbers typically take the form 090-1234-5678 and always have eleven digits.
1. Domestic calls
The domestic phone company in Japan is NTT. In Japan, you are charged for every outgoing call, except designated free numbers (i.e. 0120 numbers). Some mobile phones CANNOT call 0120 numbers. The farther away you call, the more you are charged. The charges aren’t outrageous, but it can take a few months of experimenting to see what your bill adds up to. If you aren’t careful and use your phone too much in your first month, the bill can add up quickly. In some cases, your domestic bill can be more expensive than your international bill – so if you`re feeling down and your best friend lives on the other side of the prefecture, it may be cheaper to call mom and dad. However, incoming calls are free. Your domestic phone bill can be taken out of your bank account automatically. If automatic payment is not for you, you will receive a bill by mail which you can simply bring to any convenience store (7-11, Circle K, Family Mart). You don’t need to know any Japanese to pay your bill at the convenience store – simply hand it to the clerk, and once it is rung through, they will ask you to push a button on the screen in front of the register to confirm that they are handling your bill payment, after which, hand over the right amount of yen and you’re done!
It is possible to get discounts on your domestic calls. The way it works is by having the numbers you call the most linked up to the company’s own access code. But this isn’t worth the hassle unless you make A LOT of domestic long distance calls.
These companies can help you: JT (Japan Telecom) – 0120-00-8882 DDI (Daini Denden Inc.) – 0120-71-0077 and TWJ (Telway Japan Corp.) – 0120-03-0070
- Collect calls or credit card calls: 0051
- National Directory Assistance: 0056
- Telegrams at KDDI: 03-3344-5151
- Local Directory Assistance: 104
2. International Calls
This is how to dial to another country from Japan:
- Dial the international dialing access code (010).
- Dial the country code of the country you are calling.
- If the number starts with a 0, drop the 0 and dial everything else.
For example, to call the US number (123) 456-7890, dial 010+1+123-456-7890. Note that this method will work from any Japanese phone, however, it is the most expensive way to make an international call. Most service providers offer an international calling program that is cheaper but requires registration.
Discount International Calling
There are many options for discount international calling. Internet based services (VoIP such as Skype, or Google Hangouts) are probably the cheapest options for both residents and travelers. While callback services offer competitive rates, they are slowly losing popularity as VoIP becomes more mainstream.
Service Provider Programs
Direct dialing international numbers is possible through all phone service providers, but they offer better rates if you register for their international programs. Contact your service provider for details.
Internet Based Services (VoIP)
Internet based services such as YahooBB and Hikari Denwa connect through the internet and can offer some of the best rates for international calling with call quality similar to direct dialing. Their downside is that they require an internet connection, and some services can only be bought bundled with internet service. If you’re looking to sign up for internet, YahooBB and Hikari Denwa are both very good options to get a VoIP phone as part of your contract for very little cost (extra US$5 / 500 yen per month). However, this will be dependent on your area, so you should speak with your designated supervisor, or JETs in your area to see what is available and best works for you. Additionally, if you and the person you want to contact both already have access to the internet, services like Skype and Google Hangouts are free and allow you to chat, with or without video, with your friends and family.
International calling cards can be bought at convenience stores, online, and at vending machines (city only). Shop around for the best rates for the particular country that you wish to call.
When making a call with these services you first call an access number, let the phone ring once, and then hang up. This call starts an automated system that then calls you back and prompts you to enter the phone number that you want to call. You will then be connected through the callback service’s network at a cheaper rate than direct dialing.
3. Mobile Phones
The mobile phone market is very advanced in Japan. There are three major companies offering a variety of phones and plans – choosing one will be the hardest part. All three offer plans that allow for cheap calling between phones with the same company, so it helps to ask JETs in your area which provider they have – if you’re going to be calling them, you should look into using the same provider.
The three main companies are AU by KDDI, Softbank, and NTT Docomo (the most popular among Japanese). You can find their websites on Google, all three have English versions of their websites.
To purchase a phone, you need your passport, alien registration card (or document showing that your alien registration card is being processed), and your hanko stamp (your supervisor will help you get this).
Some providers offer tethering up to a set limit in your data plan. Be sure to check your contract if you plan to use this feature.
Mobile Phone Contract
Monthly rates typically start around 3,000 yen and go up to 6,000 (iphone average) and beyond. Usually you have to sign up for 2-3 year contract, but there are variations, and you can get one of the cheaper phones (and in some cases, an iphone) for free. Almost all phones have a way to change the operating language to English. Androids are also widely available and their monthly rates are comparable, if not lower. Additionally, most plans will allow you to choose the amount of data and minutes each month. Texting however, is at a set rate in the contract, so you will be charged for any texts you send, but not when you receive any. For this reason, most people in Japan use an app called LINE. The app allows you to text and make calls using data, thereby avoiding an outrageous phone bill. However, any calls to businesses, your school or workplace, or emergency services will need to be dialed through the mobile network, so you will need a few minutes in your plan. Most contracts give 5 minutes for free and then charge at a set rate beyond that. Being that LINE will be your primary way to contact others, 5 minutes is generally plenty (Some plans even carry over your free minutes up to a set amount). Therefore, because LINE uses data, data will be the most important part to consider in your mobile phone contract. If you don’t use your phone to watch videos all the time, then a 3-5GB plan should suit your needs just fine.
Do foreign phones work in Japan?
Due to different technologies, mobile phones from your home country may not work in Japan. Most importantly, there is no GSM network, so GSM phones do not work. There are two things that are required for your telephone to work:
- Compatibility with the Japanese mobile phone network – The only foreign phones that work in Japan are some 3G models, however the number of compatible phones is increasing. Contact your service provider for details concerning your particular phone if you intend to use it while in Japan.
- International roaming plan or rental SIM card – With an international roaming plan (from your home service provider) you use your own phone and number, but are charged international roaming rates which tend to be expensive, even with a plan worked into your contract. Alternatively, with a rental SIM card (from a Japanese provider) you use your own phone with a Japanese phone number and lower rates. The sizes may be different from the SIM in your phone, so be sure to check before buying it. Generally, if the service provider is offering a rental SIM service, they also will sell a product that you can insert the SIM into to adjust it to a larger sized slot.
Do Japanese phones work outside of Japan?
Many phones that are sold in Japan can operate on 3G and GSM networks (only in certain countries) with the appropriate international roaming plans, although while overseas some of their advanced functions will likely not work. This means that a person with a handset and service provided by a Japanese mobile phone carrier can roam when travelling outside of Japan.
Generally speaking it is not possible to use a Japanese phone with a foreign service provider due to network differences and because the handsets are locked. Japanese carriers do not unlock handsets. Also, Japanese phones are designed at a hardware and software level to work with only a particular network. As a result they are not interchangeable even between Japanese service providers and some of their features are disabled when used off of the network they were intended for.
4. Home Phones
Very few JETs opt to set up a domestic line, and as such, we currently have little information about home phones. If you have any advice for getting and owning a home phone in Japan, please let Shizuoka AJET know!
If you opt to set up a home phone, it is relatively inexpensive. Your internet service provider should install a phone line if your home didn’t have one already. Whether you want them to activate your line or not will be decided when you make your contact. If you’ve already settled your contract, a quick call to the company asking to use your home phone line should activate your line, as you will notice in the following bill month. Likewise, if you wish to cancel, just make a phone call asking to cancel and you will stop being charged in the next billing month. The cost is usually quite low, usually starting around \200 each month.
5. Public Phones
Public phones can still be found here and there in Japan if you know where to look. They are often referred to as the “Green Phones” or みどり電話 (midori-denwa). As one would assume by their name, they are green and either on a post by itself, or in a block on a wall, similar to the ticket machines at a train station (Rarely you may find a phone booth). Incidentally, the train station will be where you are most likely to find these phones. Occasionally you may find them at a convenience store, mall, or public office. You can either pay with coins, or you can purchase a public phone card to use. \10 will get you one minute of use, however, the machines DON’T give change, so be aware of that when you insert your coins. The phone cards can be bought at a convenience store for 500-1000 yen, and you simply insert it into the machine to use the phone. When you’re done, it should eject your card with the remaining balance. It may or may not tell you your balance on its display. If you are calling for an emergency, there is no fee. The numbers for emergency services are:
- 119 (firefighters, EMTs)
- 110 (police)
- 118 (coast guard)
In addition, in the event of a natural disaster, pay phones will be activated for free use once it is deemed that the disaster was significant enough to warrant doing so or if there is prolonged power failure.
6. Internet Connections
Internet providers and availability vary significantly by area. Shopping for electronic goods at your local Yamada Denki or other big box retailer, you’ll usually get a huge discount if you buy a computer with a 2 or 3-year internet connection deal. In those cases you can get up to 40,000 yen off an electronic device like a TV or computer, if you sign up for the internet. Usually you can quit the contract if you move out of the country, but you should still expect to pay a fee to do so. Therefore looking into a year-by-year contract may be worth it if you don’t know how many times you want to renew your contract on JET. The service provider will check internet availability at your residence for you by using a computer program at the store, so you can easily start setting up your home internet and potentially get a discount on some electronics, too. Another option is of course asking your supervisor, local JETs, or your predecessor about what service they would recommend. Many service providers do have some English on their sites, so you may be able to at least check to see if they can cover your home while shopping around in your free time at work/friend’s house/etc.
Softbank offers mobile wifi – a small device you carry with you, which gives you unlimited access to the internet. The devices go for about 3,000-5,000 yen a month. Many people use this when visiting Japan, so it is possible to pick it up when you first arrive at the airport. Some JETs have opted to rent it for their first month, and then mail it back once they’ve set up their mobile phone and internet at home.
If you are considering ADSL, the following link has a lot of information on Yahoo BB service provider.
If you want to make domestic calls, you should use the LINE app and add contacts as soon as you can in order to save on your phone bill. If you make domestic calls using the normal phone networks, it can get expensive, but you aren’t charged for receiving calls. If you want to call home, you should look into using Skype, Google Hangouts, or other such services to contact friends and family for free. Setting up a mobile phone here may be the biggest obstacle you face when arriving in Japan, but everyone has gotten through it so far, and so will you. Be sure to understand what is in your contract, and if you can’t speak or read Japanese, your supervisor should help you through it (alternatively, there are JETs capable of speaking Japanese who will help you). Few JETs set up home phones, but they are relatively inexpensive to do so. Public phones are available, though few and far between. Setting up internet at home can take several weeks, but most internet service providers also offer mobile and home phone packages, so you can get two birds with one stone if you decide to use all of their services, usually at a discounted rate. Before leaving your home country, it may be worth looking into the “pocket wifi” service offered by various companies. This way you have ways to stay connected to the internet while you wait for it to be installed in your new home (which can several weeks). As a final note, stores may accept foreign credit cards to buy a phone, but they will not accept them for paying monthly bills. You either have to set up automatic payments from your bank, or have them send you a bill to your home by mail, which you can pay at a convenience store.
Most importantly, ask your supervisor or local JETs about anything you aren’t sure about. We at AJET are always happy to help, but we may not know the specifics of service providers in your area.