Home » Archives » January 2007 » Buying a Keitai (Cell Phone) in Japan

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01/27/2007: "Buying a Keitai (Cell Phone) in Japan" mood: nominal

When I don't have my cell phone with me I feel somewhat bare, or naked. Not being able to connect to the rest of the world or have the world be able to connect to me is unerving to say the least. Since I'm here in Japan for a much longer duration then when I bought my last (somewhat girly) cell phone, getting a phone with a plan rather than a prepaid is a much better decision. I really had no idea how to go about it though. I had heard that in order to buy a plan while being a foreigner, you had to be able to prove that you were going to live in Japan for a set amount of time. To do this, most common was to present your gaijin alien registration card (same as the green card in the US). With this gaijin card you could be viewed by companies as having the normal rights and responsibilities as a Japanese citizen (such as being able to pay bills...hopefully on time). When moving to Japan the gov't asks you to register yourself and get the card within the first 3 months of your residence. To do so, you go to the city ward office for your area, or shyakusho, and fill out some simple paperwork.

Easy enough right? yea no not really. I had to request my host mother go with me to help translate as the workers who run the foreign residents section, speak no english. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense that the workers who deal only with foreigners on a day to day basis speak only Japanese, but hey... whatever. The paperwork was easy and took no time at all, the downside is they gave me a special receipt and asked me to return in 3 weeks to pickup the ID. This receipt probably won't allow me to get a cell phone but I figured I'd give it a try. Also while I was at the shyakusho I signed up for national health insurance. The country has something similar to the national health insurance Canada has but you do pay a bill for it once every 3 months of something like 3,000yen per month.

A bit uneasy, I attempt on 3 or 4 different occasions to try to get a phone with my gaijin card receipt. Surprise surprise, every time I failed. At school, I see other students picking up cell phones but not really giving me the details on how they made it happen. After a week of waiting and questioning, I finally found that if I presented my public health insurnace card/(large ass piece of paper cause Saitama is janky and doesn't issue insurance cards) then I'd be able to get a phone. Awesome.

So I rustle up a party of other students and make a quest out to Akihabara to purchase a fancy new mobile telephone.

So Lindsay, Ashley, and I, left school on the famous Yamanote line and rode a quick 30 minutes to Akihabara. They are study abroad students so they will only be attending Temple for one semester unfortunately. The term for students like me is JA student, reason being I matriculated and will attend Temple until I graduate. The slang term everyone has given JAs is lifer(kinda rude I know, they're just jealous). Since they refused to let me take a better picture for the site, they get stuck with the less appealing pic below.

So we exited the train station into what's called Electric town. This is what Akihabara is world famous for. If you are looking for anything electronics, or cutting edge, it can be found in electric town. If you're also into anime, cosplay, or other hobby related things (even airsoft), there is a multi-storied building here catering to your interests. The ever famous Gamerz building is also on the far right further down the street in the picture below. We chose electric town because there is so many choices of cell phone shops. It also has a high paced exciting atmosphere which I'm rather found of.

There are a few large companies serving the cell phone industry much like America. Soft Bank (formerly Vodaphone), AU by KDDI, Docomo, and a couple other small ones. When you enter a cell phone shop they have a section for each company (most shops offer all phones and services, not just one company) where the phones are physically displayed for you to fondle. It also lists featured, color options, etc. There are also a ton of phone choices to each company as opposed to the select few options we have in America. Below shows the AU section which is where I bought my phone from.

Picking out a phone is a difficult task to say the least. Each phone is so far beyond the capabilities of our phones in the states, that it's quite overwhelming and confusing. Features such as satellite navi, 2-4megapixel camera/vid cam, and full internet browsers come standard to each phone. Many phones also have new features such as full tv capabilities, video phone, and a function known as Saifu Keitei (which allows you to use your phone as a credit card, rail pass, and even to setup recording times on your DVR at home while out and about).

With all these features, one would hope that the plans to accompany these phones would be equally as awesome. Again, yea no not really. The majority of people in Japan communicate over email through their phones rather than talk, so plans are more catered towards internet bandwidth then to minutes. A normal plan of $40/mo may only have 120 minutes of talking time then another 15 yen per minute over that. A couple saving graces to the super expensive plans is that receiving calls is always free to you and AU and Soft Bank offer massive discounts (50% off) to students. I bought the most expensive plan available for students which without the discount was 11,000 yen/mo giving me 420 minutes of outgoing calls. In retrospect though, I'm finding I'm talking almost exclusively in email, and rarely am actually calling people (It's also against the rules to talk on cell phones in many places such as trains).

This is the amount of paperwork necessary to start up a phone plan in Japan. These people sure love their overcomplicated beaurocracy that's for sure. That large yellow-colored block of wood product you see there is my Saitama health insurance. Carrying such a large piece of paper around in my backpack is already giving me permanent back damage. It's ok though, I mean, I couldn't possibly expect Saitama to make a health insurance card, god forbid. Other things you need to start up the JDM plan is your student ID, passport, credit card (bills are auto-deducted from your acct), and a pleasant demeanor.

One of the catches of the student plans is you have to purchase one of the older CDMA1X phones instead of the new ultra fancy WIN phones. At first I was bummed, then immediately happy when I saw that the older phones still pwned America's options by far, then bummed again when I found that only the feminine colored phones were bi-lingual with an English option. Anyway, I picked out the phone that best suited me, finished the paperwork, and 4 hours later was on our way home.

I stood in the middle of the street like a hooligan for this picture (it's part of the main drag in Akihabara).

This is the phone I bought. Some of the other JA students have dubbed it the spiderman phone due to its sweet red webbed casing design. This phone came with a 2 megapixel camera, SD card slot, vid cam, led external light, satellite navi, internet, kanji dictionary, slew of normal functions (alarm clock, caldner, calc, etc), and probably a few other things that I can't read. The whole phone is in Japanese only and apparently loves kanji like no other cause there is little hiragana or katakana functions that I can actually read.

I'm overall happy with what it can do and moreso excited that I'm contactable by the world once again. I signed only a year contract with AU and got the phone for free so I think I did pretty well (especially with the 50% off everything deal). If you ever buy a phone here, go for Soft Bank or AU. If you're rich, then buy Docomo, they have some really advanced phones. For sure... I'm gonna go to Autobacs now, thanks for reading this post!

Replies: 5 Comments

Steven Vandyk [e-mail]
Wednesday, January 31st
they are just awsome phones i cant wait to go to japan!!!

JDMnick [e-mail] [homepage]
Monday, January 29th
I wish i still had my Kaitai...

Mark stole it though sad

Japan made it really hard for me to get mine. luckily Ayako did all the paperwork for me razz

wish she was still in japang!

How Ikuta dooin?

Sunday, January 28th
THEEWWWWW i was worried youd get a orange one again.

SkunX [e-mail]
Sunday, January 28th
Thats a tight ass phone..lol..I know for like nextels you can buy colored cases, i'm sure you could get a chick phone and just buy a case for it you like...

Sunday, January 28th
lol that's sweet, your cell is the same megapixels as your camera or did you get a new onee