Whether you are a first-time traveler to Japan or planning to stick around for a while, consistent access to mobile phone service will certainly make your life a whole lot easier. While the big three mobile phone companies (docomo, au, Softbank) might seem your most obvious choices, alternative mobile phone SIM card providers are becoming increasingly popular in Japan due to cheaper rates, flexible cancellation policies, and (sometimes) English customer support. Here, we review Sakura Mobile, one of the main alternative providers for those more comfortable in English than Japanese.
Sakura Mobile: Overview
Founded in 2014, Sakura Mobile focuses primarily on international visitors to Japan as well as short- and long-term residents of the country, especially those who are more comfortable in English than Japanese. The company provides particularly high levels of English customer support along with reasonable rates and a flexible cancellation policy. Sakura Mobile has even functioned as a mobile provider for the International Olympic Committee and several international media organizations.
Sakura Mobile also provides Pocket Wi-Fi rentals as well as home internet (via fiber-optic cable). For its mobile services, it makes use of the 4G LTE NTT DOCOMO network, while its home internet functions via the NTT FLET’S Hikari network.
- English customer support - Sakura Mobile is designed specifically for English-speaking international travelers and residents of Japan. You can apply for SIM cards, Pocket Wi-Fi, or home internet entirely in English. Customer service is also provided in English to support your needs and answer your questions.
- Quick, easy, and convenient - you can apply before arriving in Japan so that you hit the ground running with a SIM card or Pocket Wi-Fi waiting for you at your airport, hotel, or residence. If you need Pocket Wi-Fi until your fiber-optic home internet gets set up, this service is also available.
- Flexible cancellation - unlike the major providers, you can cancel your contract with Sakura Mobile at any time without any cancellation charges.
- Monthly rates - the monthly rates are definitely higher than some of the other alternative SIM card and home internet providers in Japan. You basically need to decide whether the extra cost is worth it to have service in English.
- Initial activation fee - not all companies charge initial activation fees for long-term mobile phone SIM contracts, but Sakura Mobile does (and their activation fee is higher than the average activation rate charged by other companies), so you should factor in this cost as well. However, there are sometimes promo offers that reduce this fee significantly, as well as student discounts.
- No physical store locations - for those of you who want to deal with someone in person when setting up your mobile phone and home internet contracts, Sakura Mobile does not offer physical store locations. Whether or not this is a disadvantage depends on your personal preference, however, as visiting a physical store in Japan (such as one of the big three providers) tends to lead to a lot of waiting!
How user-friendly is Sakura Mobile for English speakers in Japan?
If you enter Sakura Mobile into a Google search, you might be surprised to discover that unlike other mobile phone companies in Japan, their website is entirely in English. While Sakura Mobile does provide a Pocket Wi-Fi rental that is used by some Japanese people as well as service for Japanese nationals moving overseas (in Asia), the company’s primary focus is on catering to international visitors to Japan as well as short- or long-term residents who are more comfortable in English than Japanese.
Sakura Mobile's excellent website The Sakura Mobile website is very straightforward and simple to navigate. Explanations in English are clear and easy to follow, and highlight the differences between what Sakura and other providers can offer their customers.The website also does a fairly good job of answering many of the questions that international travelers to Japan or residents might have.There are some minor grammatical errors throughout the website but these do not hinder communication.
Can I apply/register in English?
Yes. From start to finish, everything can be done in English on the Sakura Mobile website, as Sakura caters directly to the English-speaking market for both travelers to Japan and long-term residents. Their website is well-organized without overwhelming amounts of text to wade through, and for those who speak English as a second language, the language used is clear, straightforward, and easy to understand.
Is English customer support available?
Yes. Sakura Mobile provides full customer support and technical support in English. You can visit their FAQ page to see if there is a quick answer to your question.
Sakura Mobile - My Page Long-term customers can also log in to their Sakura Mobile My Page to manage various functions and access various services.
If you need more assistance, you can reserve an online consultation or contact Sakura via email or telephone.
Does Sakura Mobile offer support in languages other than English? This is somewhat unclear. Their website states: “Everything is available in English or your language. Of course, technical support is provided in English.” So it seems that the company will do their best to accommodate speakers of different languages, but it is unclear what level of support is available or which specific languages they can best support (apart from English, of course). Your best bet is probably to contact them in English and ask if they can support your language too.
What mobile phone SIM card plans does Sakura Mobile offer?
When you first access the Sakura Mobile homepage, you will see two small buttons marked 【TRAVEL】 and 【LONG TERM】 right at the top of the page. These buttons will allow you to quickly access the right SIM card plan options that apply to your personal situation and the length of your stay in Japan.
For visitors to Japan or short-term residents
For those staying in Japan for 90 days or less, Sakura Mobile offers data-only TRAVEL SIM cards so that you can browse the Internet, use apps, and access online maps (very useful, especially in big Japanese cities!) on your mobile phone just as you would in your home country.
These plans all include unlimited data with no additional charges and the SIM cards require no activation or registration (you can just insert the SIM card and you’re ready to go).
Your TRAVEL SIM card can either be picked up at the airport when you arrive (be sure to check the airport counter’s hours) or shipped to a hotel, post office, or residence (including AirBnB or a friend’s house) of your choice.
Note that if you want to make voice or video calls, these SIM cards will not allow you to do so directly. However, you can easily use your unlimited data to make calls via apps such as LINE, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Skype.
What if my mobile phone isn't compatible? In the very rare event that a Sakura Mobile TRAVEL SIM card is incompatible with your mobile phone, the company will upgrade you to a Pocket Wi-Fi device that does not require a local SIM card.
Sakura Mobile’s TRAVEL SIM card plans for visitors to Japan differ based only on the length of time you will spend in the country (i.e. your usage period).
|Usage Period||Data Allowance||Price (tax included)*|
*prices for reference only; please refer to the company’s website
Pocket Wi-Fi rentals
Sakura Mobile also offers Pocket Wi-Fi rentals at ¥329/day (including tax)* for visitors to Japan that will allow you to connect to Wi-Fi anywhere there is mobile service. A Pocket Wi-Fi is a portable WiFi router that functions using a mobile network. All you need to do is turn it on and connect to the Wi-Fi (as with any Wi-Fi signal anywhere). You can also connect multiple devices at the same time. It possesses a rechargeable battery (when fully charged, the battery lasts about 20 hours). The device weighs roughly as much as a typical smartphone. For this plan for short-term visitors, data is unlimited.
For long-term residents in Japan
Even if you are not planning to make many phone calls, most long-term residents in Japan will require a Japanese phone number and will therefore need a long-term mobile phone contract.
Do I actually need a Japanese telephone number? While acquiring a Japanese telephone number will allow you to make and receive calls and to send and receive text messages, these days many people in Japan use apps such as LINE, WhatsApp or FaceTime instead to send messages and make calls. A data-only SIM card might therefore seem a tempting option.
However, because a telephone number is required in Japan for such necessities as opening a bank account, renting an apartment, shipping almost anything, or signing up for many different public and commercial services, a Japanese telephone number is a must for anyone planning to live in Japan for more than just a few months. As many people moving to Japan no longer bother getting landlines at home, the Japanese telephone number you use for all these essentials will generally be the mobile phone number that you acquire with your new SIM card.
If you will be staying in Japan for 90 days or longer, Sakura Mobile offers VOICE + DATA SIM cards that provide you with a Japanese phone number and allow you to make and receive calls directly from your phone, as well as the ability to browse the internet, use apps, and access maps anywhere there is mobile network coverage available.
There are currently two plans available: LITE and PREMIUM. The Sakura Mobile website suggests that while the LITE plan is generally sufficient for messaging apps and light internet use, the PREMIUM option suits those who wish to watch videos or to use their phone as a hotspot for other devices such as laptops.
|Plan||Monthly Data Allowance||Initial Activation Fee* (tax included)||Monthly Rate* (tax included)|
*prices for reference only; please refer to the company’s website
Further discounts are often available. For example, as of August 2022, the company has a promo offer reducing the initial activation fee from ¥16,500 to ¥5,500. Students can also receive a further one-time ¥1,100 student discount on the activation fee.
Your new VOICE + DATA SIM card can either be picked up at the airport when you arrive (be sure to check the airport counter’s hours) or shipped to a hotel, post office, or residence (including AirBnB or a friend’s house) of your choice.
What happens if I run out of data? Can I still use the internet on my phone? Yes. Your connection speed will slow down for the rest of that month, but you will never lose internet access completely.
Pocket Wi-Fi rentals
Sakura Mobile also offers Pocket Wi-Fi rentals for long-term residents in Japan at ¥3,828/month (including tax) for the 10GB plan or ¥5,478/month (including tax) for the 30GB plan, allowing you to connect to Wi-Fi anywhere there is mobile service.
A Pocket Wi-Fi is a portable WiFi router that functions using a mobile network. All you need to do is turn it on and then connect to the Wi-Fi (just as with any Wi-Fi signal anywhere). You can also connect multiple devices at the same time. It possesses a rechargeable battery (a charge lasts around 20 hours). The device weighs roughly as much as a typical smartphone.
For this plan for long-term residents (90 days or more), data is unlimited. There is a ¥5,500 initial activation fee for this device, but students get an additional ¥1,100 discount on this fee.
Does Sakura Mobile offer fiber-optic home internet as well?
Yes! For ¥7,128/month, Sakura Mobile now offers home internet with high connection speeds of up to 1Gbps using the FLET’S HIKARI fiber-optic network.
When you first set up your Sakura Mobile home internet, you will be charged a one-time administrative fee of ¥5,500. However, Sakura does at times have a special campaign that reduces this fee to just ¥110 if you sign up for a Sakura Mobile long-term mobile contract at the same time.
You will also be charged a one-time installation fee that varies from ¥2,200 to ¥24,200 depending on the amount of installation work required.
|Initial setup fees (admin + installation)||Monthly rate|
|¥5,500 (or ¥110) + ¥2,200-¥24,200||¥7,128/month (including tax)|
As with the mobile phone plans, you can cancel your Sakura home internet plan at any time without additional cancellation fees.
What is the sign-up procedure for Sakura Mobile?
Sakura Mobile does not currently possess any physical shops, so to sign up for a mobile phone SIM card, home internet plan, or both, you will need to visit their website.
for Mobile SIM cards
After reading through the information on the different plans available, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the large pink button marked【APPLY [FOR] VOICE+DATA NOW】
You will be asked first to fill in some basic information, including your email address, after which a confirmation email will be sent to you. Follow the instructions on this confirmation email to proceed to the final step of your application, where you can enter your payment and delivery information.
Want to keep the same phone number? If you already have a phone number in Japan, there is an option to keep the same number when you switch to Sakura Mobile.
Should you run into any problems at any stage of this process, you can contact Sakura Mobile for support in English.
Applying for Home Internet
After reading through the information on the different plans available, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the large pink button marked 【APPLY FOR SAKURA FIBER INTERNET NOW】
As well as some basic details, you will also be asked to fill in some information about the building where you live as well as possible dates/times when you are available for line installation (these have to be at least one week after your application date). Sakura will then check the status of your residence and provide you with the estimated installation fees and coordinate the installation date (this can take up to 12 business days). You will not be charged until you have confirmed these details.
If you already have a current contract with Sakura Mobile, be sure to enter the same email address and click the option “I have other contracts with Sakura Mobile”.
What about internet while you are waiting for installation? There is also a convenient option that you can click on to rent a Pocket Wi-Fi from Sakura in the meantime until your fiber-optic home internet has been installed.
Should you run into any problems at any stage in this process, you can contact Sakura Mobile for support in English.
How can I pay my Sakura Mobile bill?
Payment can be made by credit or debit card (VISA, MasterCard, DISCOVER, JCB, American Express, Diners Club International). Credit cards from other countries are also accepted.
Another option is the Smart Pit Payment method, which allows you to pay in person at several Japanese convenience stores (Family Mart, Lawson, Mini Stop). A bill will be sent to you in the mail. If you choose the Smart Pit method, you will need to leave a deposit with the company (¥20,000 for VOICE+DATA SIM; two months’ worth of your monthly plan fee for POCKET Wi-Fi or Data ONLY SIM). This deposit will not be kept by the company; it will be used to pay your final bills when you finish your contract.
For home internet, you can also select either of the above two payment methods.
Make sure to pay on time! Don't forget to pay by the 10th of each month or you will be charged a ¥500 late fee.
Review: Is Sakura Mobile the right choice for you?
Overall, despite its slightly higher monthly rates and activation fees, Sakura Mobile is a very convenient option for travelers to Japan who do not speak (or read) Japanese . You can get set up very quickly with what you need so that you don’t waste your valuable holiday time in Japan trying to sort out your mobile phone or internet situation.
For long-term residents (90 days or more), if you do speak/read Japanese or have a friend or colleague who can help you apply, there are some other alternative providers out there with cheaper rates than Sakura.
Whether or not you choose Sakura will depend on whether you need service in English, whether you require the flexibility of canceling your contract any time, and whether you are willing to put up with some of the hassles involved with visiting the stores of the big three providers.