Japanese Cellular Phones FAQ
Last update: 6/8/2007 (not fully revised)
This is an FAQ list for foreigners who are interested in Japanese cellular phones.
Subject to change.
Comments are welcome.
Table of Contents
It depends on operators and services.
||CDMA2000 1x 800MHz
Mainstream services are emphasized.
Brand names are "quoted."
Some important notes:
- PDC (Personal Digital Cellular) is a TDMA-based 2G technology and deployed only in Japan.
- GSM is not deployed in Japan.
- N900iG, M1000 (based on Motorola A1000), NM850iG (based on Nokia 6630), N600i and L600i are the only FOMA phones that supports GSM as well. Other FOMA phones are FOMA(W-CDMA) only.
- Although SoftBank 3G is a W-CDMA service,
almost all SoftBank 3G phones (except 802N, 703N and 905SH) are W-CDMA/GSM dual-mode for international roaming in GSM countries.
- FOMA network and phones are based on an older version of W-CDMA technology (3GPP Release 99)
while SoftBank 3G and foreign W-CDMA are based on the official version (3GPP Release 2000).
They are not fully compatible.
- All PDC, cdmaOne and PHS phones and most CDMA2000 phones:
- They do not adopt a SIM card and cannot be unlocked.
- Most "FOMA" phones, SIM card-based CDMA2000 phones and some "SoftBank 3G" phones (e.g. 702NK/II):
- They cannot be unlocked so far.
- Some "SoftBank 3G" phones (e.g. 802SE etc.):
- They can be unlocked.
Unlike GSM phones, Japanese phones are tightly bundled with subscription and usually not sold alone.
The only way is to buy a secondhand ("white ROM") phone.
Japanese phones are not sold alone.
Buying a phone means making a postpaid monthly contract (except prepaid phones).
As of April 2006, it is necessary to have some form of Japanese official
document (Japanese passport, Japanese Alien Registration Card, etc.) to
get prepay or new contract cell phone service. This is a result of a new
law aimed at stopping illegal cell phone use; but unfortunately excludes
foreign visitors who only want a phone for legal purposes.
It was once possible for anyone to get prepay service, and even foreigners
could get contract service using a credit card. Prepay service users who
do not have Japanese official document have already lost their prepay
service. Currently, foreigners with existing contract service paid by
credit card are still allowed to keep it, but it is no longer possible to
make a new contract without showing official Japanese documents.
It may be possible to have a Japanese friend apply for service with an
account in his name (meaning that he will be responsible for your usage).
Customers of Verizon Wireless in the USA can buy a Japanese PDC phone with
monthly service, although the price is quite high ($249 for the phone,
$10/month service with a minimum of 12 months, $2.49/minute outgoing call,
$1/SMS). Some other foreign wireless carriers (e.g., Vodafone) have
It is also possible for foreigners to rent a phone at the airport.
See another section about prepaid phones.
- DoCoMo/SoftBank PDC phones:
- They do not work in foreign countries. PDC is deployed only in Japan.
- KDDI cdmaOne/CDMA2000 phones:
- A few CDMA2000 phones ("Global Passport"-ready phones) work in several Pacific Rim countries.
But you will not be able to use them with your local operator's subscription because they do not adopt SIM cards.
Other CDMA phones will not work because KDDI's CDMA frequency differs slightly from other countries'.
- Most DoCoMo "FOMA" phones (except roaming-ready models) and SoftBank Mobile 802N, 703N and 905SH:
- They are W-CDMA only phones, so you can't use with your local GSM networks.
Also note that you cannot use them with your local operator's subscription because they do not accept other operators' SIM cards.
- SoftBank 3G phones (except 802N, 703N and 905SH) and DoCoMo "FOMA" roaming-ready phones:
- They work with your local GSM networks.
But you cannot use them with your local operator's subscription because they do not accept other operators' SIM cards.
NOTE: The fact that a Japanese person can use his/her Japanese phone in your country
does not mean that you can also use one.
Japanese phones are designed for their respective operators (except some SoftBank 3G phones)
and will not work with your local operator's subscription.
In other words, whether or not Japanese phones work technically in your country is one thing;
whether or not you can practically use them with your operator is another.
Depends on the technology.
- GSM phones:
- No. GSM is not deployed in Japan.
If you just would like to use your GSM SIM card (i.e. make/receive calls with your usual number) in Japan,
buy or rent a W-CDMA (UMTS) phone, put your SIM card in it and it can roam in Japan.
See below about W-CDMA roaming.
- cdmaOne/CDMA2000 phones:
- Some CDMA phones can roam in Japan. Ask your operator.
- W-CDMA (UMTS) phones:
- Yes. They can roam in Japan.
Your operator must be an inbound roaming partner of DoCoMo or SoftBank Mobile.
Be careful that DoCoMo's reception may be very poor
because most of FOMA network is still based on an older version of W-CDMA technology and foreign W-CDMA phones may be incompatible with it.
Some foreign W-CDMA phones (such as Motorola A835) are known to be compatible with FOMA network.
- PHS (PCT) phones:
- Taiwan FITEL PHS phones can roam in Japan. Ask FITEL.
Prepaid phones are available but prepaid SIM cards are not.
Note that IDs are required to purchase a prepaid phone to prevent criminal use.
In case of foreigners, Japan's Alien Registration Card is required.
In some shops you may be able to buy one only with a credit card.
Note: as of April 2005, customer registration is required to activate a new prepaid phone.
You can at some shops, but not cheap.
As mentioned above, GSM is not deployed in Japan.
Demand for GSM phones is limited to tourists to go abroad.
You will be disappointed if you are expecting that GSM phones may be also cheap in Japan like other electric items.
You can buy a GSM phone in Japan at following shops:
Some specialty stores and mail order shops offer very competitive prices due to import from Hong Kong etc.
Blame the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications. :-)
PHS (Personal Handyphone System) is a low-powered wireless phone technology developed in Japan
and rather different from other cellular phone technologies.
- Designed as dual-mode phone between public wireless network and home (or corporate) phone line.
- Data communication in 32k/64kbps circuit switching or 32k/128k/256kbps packet exchange.
- Can be used even in subway stations or underground arcades
because cell stations are relatively small and can be installed easily.
PHS has been deployed in Japan since mid-1990's; now also in China, Taiwan, Thailand (where called PCT) etc.
Today PHS is considered as low-cost data communication service rather than voice phone in Japan.
Unlimited data communication plans are available.
Terminology on Japanese cell phone culture.
- AIR-EDGE (formerly AirH``)
- Willcom(formerly DDI Pocket)'s unlimited (flat-rate) PHS data communication service based on 32k/128k/256kbps packet exchange. 5800 yen/month in 32kbps (ISP fee excluded).
Supported by heavy roadwarriors as well as
those who are abandoned by wired flat-rate services (ADSL etc) for some reason.
- Appli アプリ (< application)
- Java (or BREW) apps for cell phones.
- Chaku-melo 着メロ (< Chakushin melody 着信メロディ)
- Ringtone. Similarly, Chaku-voice, Chaku-uta (Chakushin song) etc.
- Chakushin 着信
- Incoming call.
- Emoji 絵文字
- Operator dependent pictograms (delight, sadness, sun, heartsuit, restaurant etc.) that can be used in email and web.
e.g. list of i-mode emoji
- KDDI and TU-KA's web and email service. Web service is based on WAP and WML.
- Full browser フルブラウザ
You can browse web sites designed for PC, using a phone with a full browser.
A few phones have a built-in full browser (Willcom AH-K3001V, KDDI W21CA, SoftBank 705NK etc), while there are some full browser apps for other phones.
- i-mode iモード
- NTT DoCoMo's web and email service. Web service is based on HTTP and CompactHTML.
- Katte site 勝手サイト
- "Unofficial" web site designed for cell phones.
Most of them are free of charge; some are by individuals.
See Kōshiki site.
- Kētai 携帯 (< kētai denwa 携帯電話)
- Cell phone.
- Kishu henkō 機種変更
- Phone upgrade procedure. Specific to non-SIM phones (PDC, CDMA and PHS).
When an existing subscriber purchases a new phone without new subscription,
his/her subscription is moved from the current phone to the new phone using dedicated equipment.
The new phone is not very discounted. See Shinki kēyaku.
- Kōshiki site 公式サイト
- "Official" web site designed by commercial content providers for a specific operator's cell phones.
Approved by the operator and registered with their portal site (such as i-mode's "i-Menu").
Most of them are commercial and monthly fee (approx. 100 to 300 yen) is charged to the customer's bill. See Katte site.
- Machiuke 待ち受け
- Machiuke gazō 待ち受け画像
- Image shown in the screen during standby. So-called wallpaper.
- Mēwaku mail 迷惑メール
- Unsolicited email. Spam. Spam email to phones is a serious issue in Japan and every operator has introduced "black list" and "white list" features which can be configured by the subscriber.
- Oritatami 折りたたみ
- Clamshell style. Now most Japanese phones are relatively large clamshells
to accommodate a larger screen, a high-precision camera, a memory card etc.
- Pake-dai パケ代
- Slang for packet data communiation fee.
Typical rate is 0.3 yen per 128 bytes (DoCoMo PDC).
3G packet fee is cheaper.
- Pake-shi パケ死
- "Death by packets,"
which means receiving monthly bills with a huge amount of fee (several tens of thosand yen or more)
because of heavy usage of packet communication (downloading a lot of ringtones, images and apps).
- Sha-mail 写メール (< shashin mail)
- J-Phone (now SoftBank Mobile)'s email service where you can send email with camera picture attached to it. Now other operators also offer similar services.
- Shinki kēyaku 新規契約
- New subscription with purchase of a new phone.
The new phone is usually significantly discounted;
outdated or low-end models can be often sold at a pretty low price (e.g. 1 yen).
Latest high-end models, however, still remain at a moderate price (e.g. 30000 yen).
See Kishu henkō.
- Straight ストレート
- Candy bar style. Candy bar phones are considered obsolete and no longer very popular in Japan,
except a few design-conscious models such as KDDI's "INFOBAR" and NTT DoCoMo's "premini."
- Strap ストラップ
- Lanyard attached to a phone.
Straps are originally to prevent a phone from falling down but
now considered as decorative accessories.
Young users tend to attach many decorative straps to their phone.
- Tēgakusē 定額制
- Flat rate plan for data communication. Classified into two categories.
- Only data communication that originates from the cell phone (i.e. i-mode web/mail/apps) is flat rate. Provided by NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank Mobile.
- All data communication including use as a modem by PC/PDA is flat rate. Provided by Willcom.
- Yahoo! Kētai and S! Mail (formerly Vodafone live!)
- SoftBank Mobile's web and email service. Web service is based on WAP and WML. Email service is based on MMS.
- Wan-giri ワン切り
- "One ring and hang up." Fraud by "spam calls" abusing cell phone's incoming call history.
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