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Buying a Mobile Phone in Japan

Buying a Mobile Phone in Japan

So you’ve just made the big move to Japan, but your mobile phone has packed it in! What to do? Where can you go to purchase a new mobile phone? Which mobile phone companies cater best to foreign residents? And which companies offer the best deals? The mobile phone landscape in Japan has changed a lot in recent years, offering more options that are appealing to foreign residents, particularly involving phones that can be used after leaving Japan. Here, we provide all the information you’ll need to find a new mobile phone in Japan that provides everything you require (but won’t put too large a dent in your wallet).

If you have moved to Japan and the mobile phone you have brought along quits on you, or if you are just in the market for a new phone anyway, rest assured that there are plenty of options available. All the most modern and up-to-date mobile phones are widely available in stores across the nation.

The process of actually finding and purchasing the right mobile phone for you, however, can be pretty daunting in Japan, particularly if you are new to the country and/or do not speak Japanese.

In this article, we provide some general advice on using overseas mobile phones in Japan (and using Japanese mobile phones outside Japan), before delving into where you can buy a mobile phone in Japan and which mobile phones might work best for you.

Which mobile phones work in Japan?

If you are planning to move to Japan and speak to anyone who spent time living here prior to 2015, you may be told that mobile phones from overseas simply do not work in Japan (and vice versa). For the most part, this is no longer the case.

The reverse is also (usually) true these days. If you buy a mobile phone in Japan and then move home or to a third country, you should be able to use that phone if you first make sure to check that it is compatible and take certain steps to ensure that it has been unlocked.

Do mobile phones from other countries work in Japan?

Yes. Well, usually…

The first thing you will need to check is whether your phone is locked to a certain provider (in the country where you were using it prior to Japan) in terms of the SIM card inside. If your phone is locked to one provider, you will need to ensure that you get it unlocked prior to leaving for Japan so that you can later purchase and use a Japanese SIM card.

The second thing you need to check is network compatibility. Fortunately, these days, most popular phone brands (iPhone, Android…) have no issues in terms of compatibility with Japanese networks. Still, make sure to check before you leave for Japan. The website Will My Phone Work? is a quick and easy way to check. Just enter your phone specs and the countries involved (Japan and the country you are living in) and the website will let you know if your phone is compatible with Japanese mobile phone networks or not.

However, if you are planning to buy a new mobile phone in Japan, you might be wondering…

Do Japanese mobile phones work overseas?

Yes. Usually…

While there are still some Japanese mobile phone models that do not work overseas, this is thankfully becoming less and less common.

Again, whether you are just taking a trip overseas or moving out of Japan for good, the first thing to check is whether your phone is locked to one certain Japanese mobile phone provider. If so, you will need to get it unlocked by your provider before you leave.

If you bought your phone after 2015, it can be unlocked after 180 days of your contract have passed. Be aware, however, that some providers may try to avoid doing this for you, even falsely stating that they cannot unlock your phone. Don’t give up. It is the law that they must unlock your phone, so insist that they do so.

In terms of compatibility, these days, most common Japanese mobile phone models (iPhone, Android…) work just fine in other countries. Once again, the website Will My Phone Work? is a quick and easy way to check. Just enter your phone specs and the countries involved (Japan and the country you are going to or moving to) and the website will let you know if your phone is compatible with that country’s mobile phone networks or not.

Be aware, however, that differences in bandwidth could mean that your Japanese mobile phone might not function quite as well in other countries as it does in Japan.

Buying a mobile phone in Japan

If you decide to buy a new mobile phone in Japan, the options can be pretty overwhelming. Aside from the hardware itself (do you want the newest iPhone, etc.?), it can be a real challenge for foreign residents in Japan to find the right mobile phone plan that provides the level of service you require with affordable rates, especially if you do not speak Japanese.

To simplify matters a bit, it helps to know that when it comes to mobile phone providers in Japan, you are essentially faced with a choice between two types of providers:

  1. The traditional big 3 providers (au, Docomo, SoftBank)
  2. Newer alternative providers (Rakuten, OCN, IIJmio, etc.)

These two types of providers each have advantages and disadvantages, both in terms of the monthly plans and contracts they offer as well as the options they make available if you want to buy a new mobile phone.

Buying a phone from the Big 3 vs. a newer alternative mobile phone company - Advantages and Disadvantages

Here is a brief outline of the advantages and disadvantages of buying a new mobile phone from one of the big 3 providers vs. one of the newer alternative providers in Japan.

 The traditional big 3 providers (au, Docomo, SoftBank) - Advantages and Disadvantages

These are the main advantages and disadvantages of buying a new mobile phone from one of the big 3 providers in Japan.

 Advantages
  • Lower initial costs (payment plans available)
  • Phone upgrades available
  • “Bundles” with home internet/TV (with discounts for receiving multiple services from the same provider)
  • Special apps, deals and services
  • Stores available everywhere in Japan
 Disadvantages
  • Longer phone payment plans (24 months) and contracts
  • Difficult to use your own phone (or a phone from another provider)
  • More expensive monthly rates and higher call charges

Until the loosening of regulations in 2015 governing the Japanese telecommunications industry, au, Docomo, and SoftBank were essentially your only options if you wanted a mobile phone in Japan. Contracts were long and restrictive, and the mobile phones provided by these companies often did not work outside Japan (or even with the other carriers in the country if you wanted to switch).

Regulation changes along with increased competition in the industry means that the big 3 are no longer quite the foreboding options that they once were for foreign residents (draconian cancellation fees have recently been reduced, for example), but you will still want to take care to make sure when you sign up with one of them that you don’t get roped into services you don’t need or contracts that will cost you too much.

Read on for more details about the advantages and disadvantages of going with one of the big 3 providers (au, Docomo, SoftBank) in Japan.

 Advantages

Below are further details on the 5 main advantages of buying a mobile phone from one of the big 3 providers .


 Lower initial costs (payment plans available)

When you relocate your whole life to a new country, money can be pretty tight, especially for the first couple of months. Plane tickets, shipping, rent payments and deposits (or the dreaded “key money” still required by many Japanese landlords), visa fees, furniture, and other unexpected expenses can really mount up, especially if it takes a while for those first paychecks from your new job in Japan to start rolling in.

Buying a new mobile phone outright these days can be a pretty pricey venture. For example, the iPhone 14 currently costs around ¥120,000 online and at most stores in Japan (which is actually cheaper than in many other countries right now!). If you want to buy a good mobile phone in Japan but just don’t have the cash to splash when you first arrive, the big 3 providers generally provide phone payment plans that spread out the initial cost of your phone (generally over 24 months).

Total cost of phone* Phone payment plan (24 months)*
¥120,000 ¥5,000
¥100,000 ¥4,166
¥80,000 ¥3,333

*All prices provided here are approximate. Please confirm with individual providers.

If you opt for a phone payment plan, the monthly price of the phone will be tacked onto your phone bill each month until your 24-month payment period is over.

Sometimes, the major providers may offer discounts when you purchase the phone from them, so be sure to ask (but also make sure the terms are really worth the discount!).

 Phone upgrades available

Contracts with the major providers are generally 24 months, after which you will renew your contract for another 24 months.

When your biannual contract renewal comes around, you will often be given the opportunity to upgrade to a newer phone model, so if staying on the cutting edge of technology is important to you, this could be a good option.

 “Bundles” with home internet/TV (with discounts for receiving multiple services from the same provider)

All three major providers also offer home internet (you can usually choose either fiber-optic or 5G) and landline service. If you are interested in either or both of these services, you will be given the opportunity (or “persuaded”) to “bundle” your mobile phone contract with home internet, TV service, and/or a landline telephone.

Doing so can definitely save you money in the long run as various discounts will be offered, but be aware that such bundles are a significant commitment. If you want to change to a new mobile phone provider later, for example, you might be on the hook for certain fees and may lose any discounts associated with the bundle in your contract.

 Special apps, deals and services

The three major providers provide an astonishing array of tie-ins, deals, apps, and various other services that you can access if you have a mobile phone contract with them. These connect to everything from utilities to food delivery companies to sporting events and beyond.

While some of these extras can definitely make your life in Japan more convenient and even save you money at times, using many of them requires a fairly advanced level of Japanese. Some users also complain that buying a phone from one of the big 3 means that a significant chunk of the phone’s memory is taken up by company apps that they don’t ever use but can’t install.

 Stores available everywhere in Japan

You do not have to go far in Japan to find an au, Docomo, or Softbank store. They are everywhere! Certain locations can be very busy, however, so it is worth making an appointment in advance to save time. You can do so online (via scanning a QR code) or telephone. All three providers have some limited options to assist English speakers (see lower down in this article “Buying a mobile phone in Japan - Customer Service in English?”).


 Disadvantages

Below are further details on the 3 main disadvantages of buying a mobile phone from one of the big 3 providers .


 Long phone payment plans (24 months) and contracts

While you may appreciate not having to splash out too much cash for a phone right after arriving in Japan, the long contracts and payment plans of the big 3 (generally 24 months) can become a problem if you decide you want to change providers or if you need to move out of Japan before you pay off your phone. If this happens, you will likely need to pay the full remaining price of the payment plan as well as any other outstanding dues and cancellation fees.

Obviously, once the phone is paid off after two years, you will no longer need to pay anything for the phone if you cancel. However, if you will receive a phone upgrade, you should confirm with the company if any costs will apply if you need to cancel your contract.

Cancellation fees are not generally as hefty as they once were, but be prepared to pay some sort of fee if you have to cancel mid-contract. Keep in mind that at the end of two years, you will start another two-year contract, so it is not so easy to avoid canceling mid-contract!

 Difficult to use your own phone (or a phone from another provider)

While it may be technically possible for you to use an unlocked phone (either from your own country or another provider) with one of the big 3’s SIM cards, the companies are not exactly happy for you to do so.

For example, au Mobile’s website states that while customers may use non-au phones with their SIM cards, they will not be responsible for any compatibility or operational issues with your phone. Upgrades are also obviously off the table.

 More expensive monthly rates and higher call charges

The big 3 tend to charge more expensive monthly rates as well as higher calling charges than alternative providers. The table below includes some sample monthly rates and calling charges for comparison purposes.

Comparison (Big 3 vs. Alternative Providers) - Monthly Rates and Calling Charges
The “Big 3” Providers (au, Docomo, SoftBank)
  Sample monthly rates Calling charges*
au Mobile Unlimited data: ¥7,238 Local (same prefecture): ¥8.8/3 minutes
Long distance (other prefectures): ¥16.5/3 minutes
To mobile phones (au): ¥17.05/min
To mobile phones (other): ¥17.6/min
Docomo Unlimited data: ¥7,315 ¥22/30 sec.
Softbank Unlimited data: ¥7,238 ¥22/30 sec.
Free voice calls between family members
Alternative Providers
  Sample monthly rates Calling charges*
Rakuten Mobile 3GB: ¥3,278
20GB: ¥2,178
Unlimited data: ¥1,078
¥22/30 sec.
(but you can call most domestic numbers for FREE using the Rakuten Link app on your phone)
OCN Mobile 500MB: ¥500
3GB: ¥900
10GB: ¥1,600
FREE calls under 10 minutes (domestic calls only)
IIJmio 4GB: ¥1,078
15GB: ¥1,848
20GB: ¥2,068
(all 5G)
¥11/30 sec.
¥8.8/30 sec. (Family Call discount)

*These calling charges are for general reference and may vary based on time of day and other factors. Speak to your provider for a detailed breakdown.

 Newer alternative providers (Rakuten, OCN, IIJmio, etc.) - Advantages and Disadvantages

These are the main advantages and disadvantages of buying a new mobile phone from one of the newer alternative providers in Japan.

 Advantages
  • Cheaper monthly rates and lower call charges
  • More flexibility with apps, deals, services
  • Using your own phone from overseas or another provider
  • Shorter and less restrictive contracts
 Disadvantages
  • Higher initial costs (buying the phone itself)
  • Phone upgrades generally unavailable
  • Fewer stores (some companies are entirely online)

Read on for more details about the advantages and disadvantages of going with one of the newer alternative providers (Rakuten, OCN, IIJmio, etc.) in Japan.

 Advantages

Below are further details on the 4 main advantages of buying a mobile phone from one of the newer alternative providers.


 Cheaper monthly rates and lower call charges

One of the key selling points of the alternative mobile phone providers in Japan is that they tend to offer cheaper monthly rates and lower calling charges.

Check the table (above)to compare sample monthly rates and calling charges.

 More flexibility with apps, deals, services

While most alternative providers these days do also come with various apps, deals, tie-ins, and other extras, you will generally have far more flexibility and choice when it comes to what you want to put into (and delete from) your phone.

 Using your own phone from overseas or another provider

As long as your phone has been unlocked so that it can accept a SIM card from a new provider, you should be able to use your own phone whether it comes from overseas or another provider.

Be aware, however, that there can be network compatibility problems, though these are becoming less of an issue with major phone brands (iPhone, Android, etc.) as they become increasingly standardized worldwide. You can check compatibility using the website Will My Phone Work?

 Shorter and less restrictive contracts

In general, alternative providers offer shorter and less restrictive contracts that are easier to get out of when you leave Japan or decide to change providers.

If you are changing providers, some companies also offer free cancellation of your contract if you allow them to help you “migrate” to another provider.


 Disadvantages


Below are further details on the 3 main disadvantages of buying a mobile phone from one of the newer alternative providers.

 Higher initial costs (buying the phone itself)

Some alternative providers do provide payment plans, but generally you will need to either use your own current phone or purchase a new phone and then insert the company SIM card to utilize their services.

Obviously this comes with the upside of being able to use your own current phone instead of buying a new one upon arrival in Japan. And even if you do need to buy a new phone, the initial cost may be high, but at least it will be over and done with rather than strung out across 24 months.

  Phone upgrades generally unavailable

Not many alternative providers offer phone upgrades like the big 3 providers do.

 Fewer stores (some companies are entirely online)

Some alternative providers actually have quite a few store locations these days, particularly Rakuten Mobile, which seems to have stores (or sections/counters in large electronic stores) popping up everywhere these days.

Be aware that some alternative providers are actually associated with the big 3 providers ( UQ Mobile with au, for example), so it is not uncommon to find the two providers within a single store.

Other companies (Sakura, Mobal, IIJmio) cut costs through eschewing physical store locations and conduct all or most of their business online, enabling them to pass on savings to their customers.

Where can I buy a mobile phone in Japan?

Japan has no shortage of places happy to sell you a mobile phone, most of which fall into the following broad categories:
  1. Large electronics stores (BIC, YODOBASHI, KOJIMA, etc.)
  2. Mobile phone provider stores
  3. Second-hand electronics stores (GEO, etc.)
  4. Online

Read on for more information on where you can buy a mobile phone in Japan.


 Large electronics stores (BIC, YODOBASHI, KOJIMA, etc.)

Large electronic stores such as BIC Camera, YODOBASHI Camera, or KOJIMA all contain large mobile phone sections, often with salespeople very eager to engage customers in discussions of various offers and plans. Such stores are very common throughout Japan, usually near busy train stations or well-trafficked main roads.

English-speaking staff, however, are generally few and far between in such stores. And even if a sales rep does speak some degree of English, he or she may be understandably hesitant when it comes to explaining the details of something as complex as a mobile phone contract.

 Mobile phone provider stores

If you do decide to purchase a phone from either one of the big 3 providers or one of the alternative providers that offers phones for purchase, you will generally need to visit one of their physical store locations to do so.

Keep in mind that if you do so, you will probably need to also take out a mobile phone contract with that same company.

Still, visiting a physical store can be a good way to check phone prices before shopping online or to try different phones out before you take the plunge and buy one.

 Second-hand electronics stores (GEO, BOOKOFF, etc.)

If Japan has chains of second-hand stores that deal in everything from clothing and books to musical instruments and electronics. GEO and BOOKOFF (or its associated and unfortunately-named hardware offshoot “HARDOFF”) are decent options to look for second-hand phones, especially as they test electronics to ensure that they are in good working order. GEO tends to have a better selection.

Keep in mind, however, that these phones may be locked to a certain network/provider and, depending on when they were made, may be difficult or impossible to unlock. You can still use them with an alternative provider, as all alternative providers use the networks of one of the big 3 by renting space for their customers (e.g. OCN Mobile uses the Docomo network, UQ uses au, etc.). So you just need to make sure that the phone you buy is locked to the right network

 Online

Be careful. While there will be plenty of sites out there advertising cheap phones for sale, there are no guarantees that the product will work or be compatible with your chosen provider.

You can find most phone models on Amazon Japan and have them delivered to you within a few days. Ordering a phone from Rakuten is also a decent option, especially if you are planning to become a Rakuten Mobile customer!

Common consensus online seems to be that the website expansys.jp is best avoided as many of its phones are sourced from the Asian marketet and lack compatibility with Japanese networks or even with Japanese electrical power systems for charging.

Paying your mobile phone bills Note that while you may be able to pay for your phone itself using cash or other payment methods in person, most mobile phone plans in Japan these days require payment by debit or credit card (generally online).

Buying a mobile phone in Japan - Our Recommended Providers

In the market for a new mobile phone in Japan, but not sure which company to buy one from? We recommend checking out these three alternative mobile phone providers:

  1. Rakuten Mobile
  2. OCN Mobile
  3. IIJmio

 Rakuten Mobile

Rakuten Mobile has made aggressive moves into the Japanese mobile phone network in recent years. It is the only alternative mobile phone provider that has established its own independent network rather than making use of one of the big three providers’ networks as other alternative providers do.

As well as its low monthly rates, Rakuten Mobile also offers a range of fairly affordable smartphones for purchase, including original Rakuten phones such as the BIG s as well as other well-known smartphone brands. These phones can be purchased either from Rakuten Mobile’s website or its stores nationwide.

Rakuten Mobile primarily sells smartphones that use the Android or iOS operating systems.

Rakuten Mobile - Smartphones* Available for Purchase
Phone Model* Price (tax included)
Rakuten BIG s ¥50,980
Rakuten HAND ¥19,001
Xperia 10 IV ¥46,800
AQUOS wish ¥29,800
OPPO A55s 5G ¥25,900
Galaxy Z Flip4 ¥139,800

*The above is just a sample…many more options are available from Rakuten (including premium models)

Further Discounts with Rakuten Points and Monthly Mobile Phone Plans

For those who decide to buy a mobile phone from Rakuten Mobile, the company offers discounts on your phone purchase if you sign a monthly mobile phone contract with them. You will also earn a substantial number of Rakuten points (each point is worth ¥1), which can be used toward future purchases from Rakuten (which sells everything…it’s sort of a Japanese version of Amazon). Here is a quick rundown of the potential total benefits for the phones listed above (other models are available; check the Rakuten Mobile website for details).

Phone Model* Price (tax included) - plan* discount - points = Discounted Price (tax included)
Rakuten HAND ¥19,001 (- ¥16,000 - ¥3,000) = ¥1
Xperia 10 IV ¥46,800 (- ¥10,000 - ¥3,000) = ¥46,800
AQUOS wish ¥29,800 (- ¥16,000 - ¥3,000) = ¥10,800
OPPO A55s 5G ¥25,900 (- ¥16,000 - ¥3,000) = ¥6,900
Galaxy Z Flip4 ¥139,800 (- ¥8000) = ¥131,800

*The above is just a sample…many more options are available from Rakuten (including premium models)

Rakuten Mobile - Phone Payment Plans

Rakuten Mobile also offers phone payment plans similar to those of the big 3 where you pay off your phone gradually month by month. For example, if you want the newest iPhone models, Rakuten Mobile is currently offering the following combined monthly plan/phone payment plans.

  iPhone 14 iPhone 14 Pro
Phone payment* ¥2745/month ¥3433/month
Service rate ¥2178/month ¥3278/month
Total ¥4923/month ¥6711/month

*Based on a commitment of 24 monthly payments

Payment plans and reasonable monthly plans are available from Rakuten Mobile for a wide range of smartphones. Check their website for more details.

 OCN Mobile

OCN Mobile has recently become a popular choice among alternative mobile phone providers in Japan. The company makes use of the Docomo network, meaning that it has good coverage throughout the nation.

As well as its competitive monthly rates, OCN Mobile also offers many different smartphones for purchase, including premium models as well as cheaper options. These phones can be purchased either from the OCN Mobile website or at many Docomo stores nationwide.

OCN Mobile - Smartphones* Available for Purchase
Phone Model* Price (tax included) - plan* discount - points = Discounted Price (tax included)
iPhone SE ¥63,250
AQUOS wish ¥28,100
Xperia 10 IV ¥55,869
moto G32 ¥21,505
OPPO A77 ¥21,499
AQUOS R6 ¥120,010

*The above is just a sample…many more options are available from OCN Mobile (including premium models)

OCN Mobile - Phone Payment Plans

OCN Mobile also offers phone payment plans similar to those of the big 3 where you pay off your phone gradually month by month. OCN Mobile is currently offering the following combined phone payment plans. Note that these are separate from monthly charges if you sign up for an OCN Mobile contract.

Phone Model Full Price (tax included) Monthly Installments*(tax included)
iPhone SE ¥63,250 ¥2,635
AQUOS wish ¥28,100 ¥1,170
Xperia 10 IV ¥55,869 ¥2,327
moto G32 ¥21,505 ¥896
OPPO A77 ¥21,499 ¥895
AQUOS R6 ¥120,010 ¥5,000

*Based on a commitment of 24 monthly payments

Unlike Rakuten Mobile, OCN Mobile does not seem to offer substantial discounts if you sign up for a monthly contract and buy a phone from them with a monthly payment plan (but it is definitely worth asking if they do as these things change quickly!).

 IIJmio

IIJmio is another alternative mobile phone provider in Japan popular with those looking to cut costs. The monthly rates that the company began offering from April 2021 are very competitive and allow users plenty of choice regarding data usage and calling options. Those who have minimum data usage and calling needs, in particular, may find this company a very cheap option.

Along with its competitive monthly rates, IIJmio also sells a wide range of smartphones (both budget and premium models). You can buy your phone from them outright or opt for a monthly payment plan.

IIJmio also makes use of the Docomo network, so service is excellent around Japan.

IIJmio - Smartphones* Available for Purchase
Phone Model Full Price (tax included) Monthly Installments*(tax included)
iPhone SE ¥49,980 ¥2,090
AQUOS wish ¥28,480 ¥1,188
Xperia 10 IV ¥59,800 ¥2,494
moto G32 ¥22,980 ¥968
OPPO A77 ¥22,400 ¥935
AQUOS R6 ¥110,000 ¥4,587

*Based on a commitment of 24 monthly payments

*The above is just a sample…many more options are available from IIJmio Mobile (including premium models)

IIJmio - Phone Payment Plans (Big Discounts Available with Monthly Contracts!)

IIJmio offers substantial discounts on smartphones if you sign up for a monthly contract (i.e. their Gigaplan MNP) as well. Unlike Rakuten, this applies whether you buy the phone outright or prefer to pay your phone off in 24 monthly installments. Below are just a few examples of potential savings if you do opt for IIJmio as your provider.

Phone Model Full Price -> Discounted Price (tax included) Monthly Installments*-> Discounted Price (tax included)
iPhone SE ¥49,980 -> ¥32,980 ¥2,090 -> ¥1,381
AQUOS wish ¥28,480 -> ¥28,480 ¥1,188 -> ¥1,188
Xperia 10 IV ¥59,800 -> ¥39,800 ¥2,494 -> ¥1,661
moto G32 ¥22,980 -> ¥4,980 ¥968 -> ¥217
OPPO A77 ¥22,400 -> ¥2,480 ¥935 -> ¥104
AQUOS R6 ¥110,000 -> ¥89,980 ¥4,587 -> ¥3,752

*Based on a commitment of 24 monthly payments

*The above is just a sample…many more options are available from IIJmio Mobile (including premium models)

Note that the above charges are separate from the monthly service charges you will pay if you sign up for an IIJmio contract.

Buying a mobile phone in Japan - Customer Service in English?

If you do not speak (and read) Japanese, the process of buying a mobile phone (and sorting out a mobile phone contract) in Japan can seem pretty intimidating.

Japanese Mobile Phone Providers - English Customer Service
Provider English contract application English customer service
au Mobile Limited Limited
Docomo Limited Limited
Softbank Limited Limited
Rakuten Mobile Limited Limited
OCN Mobile    
IIJmio    
Sakura Mobile    
Mobal    
GTN Mobile    

*These companies are providers but do not sell mobile phones

While the big 3 providers (au, Docomo, SoftBank) all claim to provide support for English speakers, in reality this support is fairly limited. You may need to visit particular store locations with English staff (au, Softbank) or make use of a telephone interpreter service (Docomo).

The alternative providers recommended in this article also all provide very limited support in English, though Rakuten Mobile does increasingly seem to be making greater efforts to cater to foreign residents.

Limited Online Information in English - Alternative Providers (Rakuten, OCN, IIJmio) The three alternative providers recommended in this article for purchasing a mobile phone (Rakuten Mobile, OCN Mobile, IIJmio) do have online pages in English that might provide some level of guidance to English speakers.

・Rakuten Mobile - Rakuten Mobile has some very clear English explanations of its monthly plans on this page, including how to apply. Mobile phones available for purchase are on a page only in Japanese, but this is fairly easy to understand (mostly images/prices with model names in English).
・OCN Mobile - OCN home internet does have an English customer support phone line, but OCN Mobile currently does not. English information about OCN Mobile online is very limited online. There is also no English information on OCN Mobile phones available for purchase, but prices and phone models are fairly easy to understand from the Japanese page (mostly images and prices, with model names in English).
・IIJmio - has this page explaining its basic monthly deals in English and provides a link to an in-depth English explanation of IIJmio services and how to apply. There is no English information on IIJmio phones available for purchase, but prices and phone models are fairly easy to understand from the Japanese page (mostly images and prices, with model names in English).

However, when it comes to actually purchasing a mobile phone from one of these companies, you may need the assistance of a Japanese speaker (or someone who can read Japanese if applying online).

If you feel confident enough to purchase a phone on your own but not to negotiate a contract in Japanese, you could purchase a phone from one of the above companies and then apply for a contract with a provider such as Sakura, Mobal, or GTN Mobile that caters specifically to the foreign community in Japan with full customer service in English. Just make sure that you buy a phone that is compatible with the network that your desired provider uses.

Conclusion - Buying a mobile phone in Japan

If you ensure that your mobile phone is unlocked and compatible with Japanese mobile phone networks prior to your arrival in the country, you should have no real need to purchase a new mobile phone in Japan if you do not wish to do so.

However, if your phone quits on you, you lose your phone, or you just feel like an upgrade or a change, some Japanese providers currently provide reasonably good deals on mobile phones, particularly if you combine this with a monthly mobile phone contract.

Additionally, because we all know money can be tight when you first arrive in a country, payment for your new phone can be made in monthly installments (over 24 months) if this is what you prefer.

While the traditional big 3 providers (au, Docomo, SoftBank) may require less initial outlay when you first sign up, various alternative providers (such as Rakuten Mobile, OCN Mobile, and IIJmio) offer cheaper monthly rates along with phone purchase discounts that could save you money overall, so it is worth carefully considering your options.

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