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Japanese Mobile Phone Carriers and Budget SIM Cards: 2024 Guide

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Smartphones are an essential part of living in Japan and the rest of the world. This article introduces major Japanese mobile companies, like SoftBank, as well as low-cost cell phone service providers, like GTN and Rakuten Mobile.

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Japan's Major Mobile Phone Carriers and Low-Cost Options

Mobile phone service in Japan is essential for everyday life. This article covers options ideal for many different types of mobile phone users and budgets.

First, we'll introduce low-cost carriers with SIM cards that allow users to save on yen while still receiving reliable calls, data, and phone service. These include Rakuten Mobile, GTN Mobile, and Y!mobile.

In the second half of the article, we introduce the telecommunication companies with the most extensive base of mobile phone customers in Japan: NTT docomo, au, and SoftBank. These companies offer reliable calling, data, steady connections, and comprehensive customer service. We recommend any one of them for people whose priority is service quality.

Budget Smartphone Service and SIM Cards in Japan

In exchange for reliable speeds and extensive support, a phone contract with one of the three major carriers may cost up to 10,000 yen per month. If you're looking to save money, we recommend checking out one of the budget smartphones and SIM options. The basic plans start from around 2,000 yen/month.

*The fees do not include the initial costs.

The table above shows the basic monthly fees of each service along with the data limit and the charges for phone calls in Japan. Some of these services might have special discount campaigns so please check each official website for details.

1. GTN Mobile

Japanese Mobile Phone Carriers and Budget SIM Cards: 2023 Guide

Picture courtesy of GTN MOBILE
GTN MOBILE is a specialized service for international residents that offers support in multiple languages. All you need to apply is a Certificate of Residence or a student ID card which makes it a very convenient service.
A popular plan is the GTN MOBILE Eazy Sim which is a great deal with basic monthly fees. You can choose from four plans based on data usage that range from 3GB to 50GB. The fact that you aren’t tied down by a contract period is another plus. The service is suited for those on a one-year study abroad or working holiday, or even a short-term stay in Japan.

From 3 GB 1,200 yen per month
Domestic calls 22 yen/30 seconds

With GTN Mobile, you can pay your monthly bills at a convenience store. You do not need a Japanese bank account or credit card. Of course, you can also pay with a bank account or credit card.

GTN Mobile
Official Website

2. Rakuten Mobile


Picture courtesy of Rakuten Mobile

Rakuten Mobile, operated by the e-commerce company Rakuten, is a newcomer to the carrier business having started in 2018. There are no contract periods, and you will earn double Rakuten points if you shop on its online marketplace.

Unlimited data (see *1) 2,980 yen per month
Domestic calls Unlimited (see *2)

*1: For the Rakuten service area. Up to 5 GB per month in the partner carrier service area.
*2: For unlimited calls using the Rakuten Link app.

Rakuten Mobile
Official Website

3. HIS Mobile

HIS Mobile is a phone service offered by Japan's major travel agency, H.I.S. They offer both budget domestic SIM cards and international SIMs.

Example of Free 290 Plan
up to 100 MB 290 yen per month
Domestic calls 9 yen/30 seconds

Those who wish to be able to pay only for the amount that they used can choose from six levels of payment plans for internet connection and calls. If you use your internet connection only occasionally, you'll pay only 290 yen/month for up to 100 MB. We highly recommend this plan to those who seldom use the internet on their phone.

HIS Mobile
Official Website

4. Y!mobile

Introduction to Japanese Telecom Companies

Picture courtesy of PR TIMES
To purchase a SIM card from Y!mobile, you can visit one of their stores or select Softbank stores.

While most budget SIMs use data lines from the major carriers, Y!mobile directly uses Softbank's line, which is its parent company. This enables Y!mobile to offer more reliable connections.

Example of Simple S plan
Up to 3 GB 1,980 yen per month
Domestic calls 22 yen/30 seconds

For any new registration, or for applying for this service in combination with SoftBank Hikari or SoftBank Air, you'll benefit from a discount!

Official Website

5. UQ Mobile

Introduction to Japanese Telecom Companies

Picture courtesy of PR TIMES
UQ Mobile reportedly has the fastest data speeds despite being a budget mobile phone service provider. They offer unique ways to save extra money, such as a data savings mode that turns off data usage for social media platforms.

Example of payment plan
Up to 3 GB 1,628 yen per month
Domestic calls 22 yen/30 seconds
UQ mobile
Official Website



Picture courtesy of PRTIME

You can register for LINEMO online. With simple menu options, the registration process is easy to understand. Users can choose to use cellular lines from Softbank, Docomo, and au.

Example of payment plan
20 GB 2,480 yen per month
Domestic calls 22 yen/30 seconds

We highly recommend this plan to LINE users as it enables you to use LINE without spending your data limit.

Official Website

7. ahamo


Picture courtesy of ahamo
The payment plans and options offered by ahamo can be easily applied for online! The menu of services is very easy to check and use.

Example of payment plan
20 GB 2,970 yen per month
Domestic calls 5 minutes free, afterwards it's 22 yen/30 seconds

If you often use the internet from your phone, this service might be ideal for you.

Official Website

8. povo


Picture courtesy of PR TIMES
Povo is the name of a plan offered by au that can be applied for only online. The greatest feature of Povo us that the base fee is 0 yen! You can add internet connection as an option from the Topping menu.

Example of payment plan
Base fee 0 yen per month
Domestic calls 22 yen/30 seconds

You can create your own Topping of options depending on how you personally use your phone.

Official Website

9. IIJmio

Starting in 2012, IIJmio is an older budget carrier in comparison to other companies. The low-price plans are especially popular among international students. Its main gfeature is that you can freely combine your SIM card with a certain data limit for your internet connection.

Monthly Plan
up to 3 GB 1,600 yen per month
Domestic calls 20 yen/30 seconds
Official Website

Major Mobile Phone Carriers in Japan

1. NTT Docomo

Which Telecommunications Company Do You Want in Japan?

Picture courtesy of PR TIMES
NTT Docomo boasts the largest share of smartphone users in Japan. They are known for their stable and consistent speeds. Due to their expansive cellular coverage, you'll stay connected in most parts of the country.

Additionally, Docomo offers a point program called d Point (Japanese). You can earn and use points through your phone bill and make purchases at affiliated stores.

NTT Docomo
Official Website
In-store Support
Store Locations
Coverage Area Map

2. au

Which Telecommunications Company Do You Want in Japan?

Picture courtesy of PR TIMES
The second-largest phone carrier in Japan is au. Their commercial series, “Santaro,” which features heroes from Japanese folklore, is popular overseas, too.

Au has a wide variety of phone plans and, similar to Docomo, its cellular coverage is extensive.

Official Website
In-store Support
Store Locations
Coverage Area Map (Japanese)

3. SoftBank

Which Telecommunications Company Do You Want in Japan?

Picture courtesy of PR TIMES
SoftBank is known for its commercials featuring a cute white dog. In addition to selling mobile phones and cellular plans, SoftBank also owns the Fukuoka Hawks, a professional baseball team in Japan.

Yahoo! Japan is part of the SoftBank group, so SoftBank users can earn benefits for Yahoo! premium members (Japanese) when shopping and traveling (some plans are not eligible).

Official Website
In-store Support
Store Locations
Coverage Area Map

Important Points

While none of these carriers will encounter any issues in cities, some are more suitable for rural areas than others. Make sure to check the coverage map before choosing a carrier.

Also, certain plans have set contract periods. If you opt out in the middle of your contract period, you will likely be required to pay a cancellation fee. Check the terms and conditions before choosing a plan.

Since Japan has three major mobile carriers, the stores may be busy. Prepare your passport, Japanese cash card, and residence card in advance to ensure a smooth registration process.


Which is the best cell phone carrier in Japan?

In Japan, several prominent cell phone carriers compete for customers, each offering different services and plans to meet diverse needs. NTT Docomo stands out as a major player with extensive coverage and fast network speeds, providing various contract and prepaid options. KDDI's au brand is known for competitive pricing, strong customer service, and innovative features. SoftBank is another significant carrier in Japan, offering diverse mobile services and smartphone options with competitive pricing. Rakuten Mobile, a newer entrant, disrupts the market with competitive rates and a focus on unlimited data plans. Selecting the best cell phone carrier in Japan depends on factors like network coverage, data speeds, pricing, customer service quality, and desired features, requiring individuals to compare offerings to find the most suitable provider for their specific needs.

Which mobile company is best in Japan?

In Japan, several leading mobile companies offer competitive services tailored to diverse consumer needs. NTT Docomo, a longstanding giant, excels in extensive coverage, fast data speeds, and a wide range of service plans. KDDI's au brand stands out for its competitive pricing, strong customer service, and innovative features, addressing various user demands. SoftBank, another key player, provides diverse mobile services, competitive pricing, and a selection of smartphones. Rakuten Mobile, a newer entrant, disrupts the market with cost-effective offerings, emphasizing unlimited data plans and customer-centric services. Choosing the best mobile company in Japan depends on factors like network coverage, service quality, pricing, and personalized features that align with individual preferences and requirements.

What are the top 3 mobile carriers in Japan?

The top three mobile carriers in Japan are NTT Docomo, KDDI (au), and SoftBank. NTT Docomo stands as a leader with its extensive network coverage, fast data speeds, and diverse service plans, encompassing both contract and prepaid options. KDDI's "au" brand is known for its competitive pricing, strong customer service, and innovative features, catering to a wide range of consumer preferences. SoftBank is a significant player, offering diverse mobile services, competitive pricing, and a variety of smartphone choices. These three carriers dominate the Japanese telecommunications market, providing reliable services and meeting the diverse needs of customers in the country.

Which phones are most used in Japan?

The most commonly used phones in Japan are Apple iPhones, with models like the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11 enjoying significant popularity. Samsung Galaxy devices also had a strong presence in the Japanese market, alongside Sony Xperia smartphones, appreciated by local consumers due to Sony's Japanese heritage. Sharp's Aquos series and Chinese brands like Huawei and Xiaomi also held a share of the market. However, given the fast-paced nature of the smartphone industry, ongoing trends and shifts in consumer preferences may have influenced the landscape since then, underscoring the need to consult more recent sources for the latest insights on the most popular phones in Japan.

Why is Apple so popular in Japan?

Apple's popularity in Japan can be attributed to a combination of factors. The company's strong brand image, characterized by high quality, sleek design, and user-friendly products, resonates well with Japanese consumers who value durability and reliability. Apple's marketing strategies and premium brand positioning, along with its seamless ecosystem integration across devices, appeal to users seeking a cohesive technological experience. The company's reputation for excellent customer service and after-sales support further enhances its appeal in Japan, a market where customer care is highly valued. Additionally, Apple's global recognition contributes to its status as a popular choice among Japanese consumers, reflecting both a preference for quality products and a trend towards internationally acclaimed brands.

Find the Best Mobile Phone Plan in Japan

Both major carriers and budget SIMs have their pros and cons. Consider your priorities to find the right mobile carrier and plan for you. After securing a smartphone plan, you will have an easier time applying for jobs and filling out necessary registration forms.

Main image courtesy of Pixta

Written by

Born in Taipei, Taiwan. I worked in the inbound tourism industry in Kyoto, writing a blog about travel in Japan. I joined MATCHA in October 2019. Hobbies: travel, watching trains, visiting stylish cafes, sweets, collecting seal stamps, watching musicals, taking photos, and others - so many, in fact, that I find it weird myself.
The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting. Some of our articles contain affiliate links. We kindly ask our readers to exercise careful judgement when making a purchase or booking a service online.

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