Getting a Phone in Japan
NOTE: The information here is out of date and known to be a less than optimal strategy! Check out the updated page.
The problem: I needed to get a Softbank phone for reasons of intra-network SMS support. But I didn't want to pay the extortionist fees of Softbank Rentals, who wanted 105 yen per minute for phone calls and had an insane 40000 yen cap for using mobile data. Getting on a contract requires Japanese ID proving you live where you live, and they won't let you sign up using a hotel address even if you somehow have the required ID. Although there were reports around of some people achieving this despite not having the required ID, there were more reports of other people trying it in the same branch and failing.
Forum responses were, overall, not very helpful. Most people on forums are people who live in Japan, for whom these problems do not apply. If you're in Japan, just get a phone contract like everyone else. It's not hard. Make sure to take your gaijin card as it sounds like you will need it at all except for the most lax branches.
For those of us who go over for a few weeks at a time, things look really grim, but actually they are not.
I caught wind on some forum (sorry, I forgot which) of someone who was looking for unlimited 3G data without getting on a plan. And they reported an interesting find - Rentafone Japan can rent a 3G SIM for data only usage.
I emailed Rentafone Japan about this, and they confirmed that it was the case, but gave an even better alternative - a "pocket wifi" type device which you use the SIM in, and pay the same amount as getting just the SIM. As UMTS drains battery faster than wifi, this is appealing. Even if the pocket wifi device went flat, I would still be able to use the iPhone to make calls.
This still left the Softbank issue, so I expressed this in my reply email. To which Rentafone Japan replied that they could also rent me a Softbank SIM for the same period of time, for an additional 1000 yen total. Considering that Softbank Rental's costs for rental alone are already more than that (105 yen per day), before adding the insane prices they think you should pay for all calls, and you have a very good deal indeed.
So total costs:
- 3900円 for first week of rental
- 300円 per additional day for 8 days = 2400円
- 1000円 for the SIM (which will be Softbank's but rented via Rentafone Japan)
= 7300円 plus calls and messages at what appears to be the normal rate for a contract (!!)
By the way, the total amount I paid was less than 7500円.
I hope that this page eventually helps some other people who like me, were not having a lot of luck with searching for answers on Google.