Getting a Mobile Phone in Japan

Anyone who has spent time in Russia will know how complicated some of the simple things in life can be, but that all pales in comparison to getting a new mobile phone contract in Japan.
When we arrived we went down to the Softbank Roppongi store, as we knew they had English speaking staff so would make it easier to go through the signup process.   On that visit we went through our requirements with the salesman, had a complimentary drink, etc and were told that unfortunately we couldn’t get a phone contract yet as we didn’t have our residency card.  We could get a pre-paid phone, but the calls on it cost somewhere around $1 per minute, and it didn’t have internet access, which at that time we wanted to be able to access also.   They suggested we could look at renting a phone or pocket wi-fi router (now there is a cool gadget….), but that I would need to visit their rental store to discuss that.
The next day I walked down to their rental store only to find out that these things cost over $15 / day just to hire, so that put the lid on that one till we could get the residency card.
Anyway, Angela applied for her residency card and was given a letter confirming that this application was underway and would be granted in due course, to be used as we understood in the event of applying for anything official that required a residency card.  So off back to SoftBank we go, only to be told, “sorry we require the official card and proof of address”, so nothing we could now do until the actual card has arrived.

 Catch 22

After 5 weeks the card finally arrives, so on the Friday of that week we head off back to SoftBank armed with the required card and an invoice proving our residential address.   The kids are all excited as they will get their free phones as well which will allow us to know where they are in case they get lost.  Anyway after waiting 10 minutes to see an English speaking salesman, we sit down and start showing him our documents and he says “Sorry, this invoice doesn’t actually have your address on it!”, “what, it is our gas bill after all”, “well, that might be true but it doesn’t actually state your address, so sorry there is nothing we can do for you at the moment….”.  You may be getting the feeling that by now we were starting to get rather frustrated, and you would be right.  We walked the 15 minutes home, and thought bugger it, we’ll drop the kids off, find an invoice with the address actually on it and go back and sort this bloody phone out once and for all.  So we grabbed another invoice which we could clearly see the number for our apartment on so safely assumed it was the address and trudged back over to SoftBank.   We got to the counter to see the same salesman again and showed him the new invoice, and he looked at us and said the nicest possible way, “I’m so sorry sir, this invoice would only work if we used it along with your Health Insurance Card, and as you are aware you have a private health plan, so unfortunately it isn’t going to work, the only way we can do it is for you to get your residency card certified at the Ward Office with your address on the back, once you have done that and have a bank account sorted for payments to come out of we can get you a new contract.”   Bugger, another wasted evening to no avail.
So it looks like our plan of action now needed to be, firstly get the card certified at the Ward Office (City Council), then go down to the bank and open a bank account, and then we would be able to take out a mobile phone contract and have the payments come out of our local account…… Easy peasey.
Monday this week was a holiday so we decided that on Tuesday afternoon we were going to get everything sorted, so first stop the Ward office.   Fill in some forms, pay them some money and get the residency card certified along with a couple of letters confirming our residential address for opening bank accounts and mobile contracts.   Cool, now off to the bank, give them Angela’s details, residency card and passport and wait till they fill in some forms for her, before she is asked to complete some details on the computer, all goes well until they ask for her phone number and she asks if a work number will be OK.  “Sorry it has to be a mobile or private number”.   Damn, we will have to come back when we have a mobile number, so off we head again to SoftBank.  This time after waiting our turn to be served the saleswoman who was serving us recognised us from the previous week so knew our situation.  Anyway she is asking to see the relevant documents, residency card (with address on it…) and passport along with a credit card to pay the account.
Now while we were in Moscow, Angela had her purse with all of her cards in it stolen, and due to the fact that the mail is so unreliable in Russia we just cancelled the cards and left it at that as we would never have received a replacement card anyway and as no one actually checks the signatures in Russia it would have been like giving someone free access to your account. 
So I handed the lady my credit card, whoops “this isn’t in the same name as the account, so without signing a consent form we cannot sign you up for a contract today…..”   Grrrrrrrrrr, now this is really starting to get beyond ridiculous, she didn’t offer us the form and said that our only option now was to wait until my residency card has been issued.
As we had to wait until Angela’s residency was sorted before me and the kids could apply we are only just starting to get our application in now, so looks like it is going to be another 5 – 6 weeks before we can sort out something as simple as a mobile phone……

Welcome to Japan….

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Tony Fitzpatrick
Architect, Dad, Traveller & Head Rover at Around Rock 3
After a brief flirtation with Japan in the early '90's, and some occasional trips to Australia since, I have had an unrequited love affair with Japan and general desire to explore the world for the next 20 years while reality prevailed and I found myself pretty much stuck in my home country of New Zealand (not that is an entirely bad thing...).After a chance opportunity arose in mid 2012 to relocate our family to Moscow, Russian Federation I finally set off on my OE with my family in tow. It has been an amazing journey that has seen us experience life in Russia, Japan and now Finland, as well as visiting around a dozen countries so far in our adventure to date.While my family situation has changed along the way, I am continuing to explore the world with my tri-lingual son and enjoy sharing the adventures we have had with my followers.


  1. Did you manage to get a mobile phone after all?

    I am facing the same problem right now. Arrived a week ago and will be spending time in Japan for 3 months. But I could not rent a sim card or buy a mobile phone because of the contract needs me to be here at least for 6 months, plus I need to show heaps of documents to them in order to get a sim card or a mobile. I just don't know what to do now.

  2. Hi Nik,
    Yes we did get a phone in the end. It took a while but we found a way to make it work.

    Unfortunately I can't think of how you can get a temporary phone here, other than an international travel SIM. It is one of the most difficult procedures I think we have had to endure anywhere.



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