Mobile Phones in Japan 2

Goodbye SoftBank


Last week I finally got around to changing my mobile phone provider. It was really easy to do and I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago.

I do know that since I wrote the first post about mobile phone providers I have spent about 48,000 yen that I didn’t need to (my monthly SoftBank bill is around 9,000 yen while my new bill from Aeon Mobile will be 1,324 yen a month, and I wrote that post six months ago).

Mr Money Mustache would be most justified in punching me in the face repeatedly for being an idiot.

Let me tell you just how easy it is to avoid being an idiot consumer sucka. All you need to do is ditch your Big 3 (Softbank, AU, DoCoMo) contract and switch to a low-cost MVNO.

Step 1: contact your current provider (I went into the SoftBank shop opposite my house)
Step 2: tell them you want to change providers (のりかえ)
Step 3: ignore their attempts to persuade you not to (I told them how much cheaper Aeon Mobile was: they gave up after that)
Step 4: get your MNP portability number (ten digits)
Step 5: agree to pay their usurious cancellation charges, etc (for SoftBank: 10,000 yen cancellation penalty and 3000 yen to get the MNP number)
Step 6: go to your new provider
Step 7: sign up for the new service and give them the MNP number
Step 8: wait about an hour then use your new phone service

It was incredibly easy and straightforward. The whole thing took about two hours, from the time I walked into Softbank, then drove to the nearest JUSCO, and did all the paperwork, to the time I got my new working phone.

I already had an unlocked Nexus phone that I had been using in Europe, so this time I just got a SIM for that.

There are a number of MVNOs in Japan now. Most of them use the Docomo network, so reception and service area will be similar. You can see a comparison here.

I was very impressed with Aeon Mobile though. They are cheap (my 1GB monthly bill will be 1,324 yen), the sign up process is really easy, you can cancel at any time with no penalty (although if you want to leave and take your phone number with you in the first six months they will charge you 8,000 yen, after that it’s the standard 3,000 yen for the MNP number), and the people were nice.

You can bring any unlocked phone you want to use (you can get them cheaply online, particularly in the UK where the prices haven’t changed in line with the exchange rate), or if you don’t have one you can choose from a range of cheap and cheerful options they have.

No one asked to see my zairyu card, and they were happy to make the contract in my kanji alias, even though I was paying with a credit card with my name in romaji on it. Just nice and reasonable.

I can’t believe I gave 8-9,000 yen a month to SoftBank for 13 years. Ugh. Doubt I will miss the annoying paperwork, the indifferent employees, and the extortionate prices. The final straw? The fact that they wouldn’t unlock my iPhone for me. Goodbye and good riddance.

Anyone else using a cheap mobile phone service provider? How are you finding it? If not, now you have less of an excuse not to change 🙂

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40 thoughts on “Mobile Phones in Japan 2

  1. Our family has pretty much changed over to a discount mobile service. The Big 3 will unlock your iPhone 6 and up for 3,000 yen if your phone was purchased through them.

    • Hi Erinn
      Good to hear! You can only get your phone unlocked if you bought it after the law changed in 2015. Unfortunately, I got mine a few months before that 🙁

      • Same for me — I bought mine from SoftBank around the same time. I understand Docomo and AU aren’t as big of a jerk as SoftBank, though.
        You might be able to still get a good price for your locked phone on Yahoo Auctions. They tend to retain value pretty well.

      • You can get the older phones unlocked too. I have a SB Sharp Aquos which I got unlocked by sending it to a guy from Yahoo auctions. And I bought a cheap, second-hand AU iPhone 6, which I unlocked with the help of a guy I found online (didn’t need to send the phone).

      • RetireJapan says:

        Good point! This is unofficial, of course, and may void warranties, etc. but could be a good option for some.
        I haven’t had much success with this, but I probably hadn’t found the right people 🙂

    • Anthony Douglas says:

      Actually, you can only have iphone 6s’s and up unlocked. The phone has to have been *released* after May 5, 2015 must be allowed to be unlocked by law. As the iphone 6 was released before then, you are unable to have it unlocked even if you purchased one recently.

      • Interesting! Of course the carriers can unlock anything they want to, but refuse to do more than the law demands.
        Thanks for the clarification 🙂

  2. Yep. I switched to Rakuten Mobile. I used my Galaxy s6 from Docomo. Data speeds are pretty good. I actually have more data than I had at docomo for a fraction of the cost and the data rolls over. Not that it really matters to me. I never reached the data limit with docomo. There is a three day limit to data though. Which is a good and bad thing depending on what you are doing. The bad thing is that if you want to stream over data on vacation you will probably reach your limit pretty quickly. The good thing is that if you can’T accidentally use all your high speed data at the beginning of the month. As I said I used my docomo provided Galaxy s6. I can’t tether with it. I discovered after having the phone for two months and realized I didn’t use the feature as much as I could. You can tether with some other phones though and I think you can tether will all phones you get with them. Also my phone still tries to connect to docomo even though I have tried uninstalling or disabling all docomo apps. One last thing which is the thing that annoys me the most is that it doesn’t always switch to mobile data when I leave a wi-fi area. When I notice I can switch the mobile data off and on again and it will connect.

  3. I still use an old flip-stye mobile phone that I’ve had for about seven years or so. It’s through Docomo, and I never have to pay more than the basic rate of 1924 yen per month.
    I guess I’m not what you would call a “heavy user”…

  4. Hi – sounds like I should get moving on this, since I cringe every time I see my phone bill.
    Two questions (sorry for my ignorance) –
    Can you keep your same phone number/text number?
    How do you know if your phone is locked or not? (I have iphone 5 docomo provider)
    Thank you.

    • Hi Jen
      Inertia is a terrible thing, isn’t it? 😉
      You can keep the same phone number (that’s the MNP -my number portability) referenced in the post. Your provider will charge you a service fee to enable this -normally 3,000 yen or so.
      You can check if your phone is unlocked by going into a DoCoMo shop and asking if it is ‘SIM free’ or not. The staff should be able to tell you, and also tell you whether they will unlock it for you.
      Good luck!

  5. I recently changed to Line Mobile from Softbank and I am very happy. I am a heavy user, and I needed to buy a new phone to use this (also because my old iPhone 5 broke). Docomo users don’t need to worry about unlocking if they move to Line Mobile. I bought a Sim Free iPhone direct from the Apple Store online, at 4000yen per month for 2 years. That plus the Line Mobile fee of 5GB per month for 2200 yen including voice (phone) means I am paying about half what I would have for a new iPhone through Softbank and about 3000yen a month less than what I had been paying for my unlimited plan on Softbank.
    The benefit I found with Line is that Facebook, Line, Instagram, and Twitter don’t count toward your limit, so for a heavy user like me it is very affordable.

    • Perogyo – I looked up Line Mobile and it looks good for me. Were you able to do all the application on-line? And what do you mean that Docomo users don’t need to worry about unlocking if they move? I have iphone and currently am on docomo network. Thanks. Jen.

      • Hi Jen,
        Yes, it was easy 🙂 it took a couple of days for shipping of my SIM card because I don’t live in Kanto but as soon as it came I called to get it set up.
        Most MNVOs use the Docomo network. Although I use Line Mobile, my phone says Docomo. So all you need to do is pay for the MNP to keep your phone number. You might want to ask Docomo if they will do it, just because it would increase resale value later, and might be more difficult after you quit Docomo but it is not a necessity.

  6. I also changed from Softbank to Rakuten. It was very easy and it is very convenient.
    RetireJapan, don’t think about the 13 years paying for Softbank because anyway the market with cheap sim plans were only put in place a 3 years ago max as far as I can remember with the boom of smart phones. Right?
    I was using an Iphone 6 which could not be unlocked. So I made the maths in buying a new iphone 7 unlocked (Expensive right!) and changing to Rakuten or keep going with Softbank for two more years as I was near my contract renewal period. Well, I found out I would be saving money in buying a new phone and changing carrier.
    Also, I contracted a 3GB plan and for the time being the non consumed amount for a given month of data is transferred to the next month. As I am not watching videos or downloading stuff I can tell you it is more than enough!
    Rakuten is using Docomo network and it is very reliable as well.
    However, do not subscribe to their wifi service option. It is very limited unless you spend your time in Starbucks. It does not connect properly for me anywhere I go.
    If you have internet at home, I suggest you buy a portable router that will allow you to bring it with you and have wifi near you if you need. That would save you even more money.

    • RetireJapan says:

      Ha, ha, indeed. It is a sunk cost and no longer matters…
      I’ve been doing okay with my 1GB. I didn’t go over the limit in the half of March I did, so I’ll see what happens with a full month in April.
      I’m also interested in how annoying it is to go back to slow internet once you go over the limit. If it’s not too bad that is a positive too.

  7. Great post!
    About step 5, I think there is a one month window at the end of soft bank/Docomo/Au 2 year contact where you can cancel your contract for free and you would only have to pay the transfer fee (3000yen).

  8. Hi, Ben! I do not have a mobile phone of any kind and am considering getting one soon. I have never really needed one. But I am planning to consolidate my school and home and move to a new location. I will keep the school’s landline but dump the rented home line and also dump Softbank as my ipad internet provider. The ipad is four years old and getting very wonky anyway. For a first timer, what would you suggest?

    • RetireJapan says:

      Hi Mary
      You’ll need to choose a provider and a mobile phone. You can follow the link in the post to a comparison page of providers.
      If you are comfortable with your iPad you may want to get an iPhone. Apple Japan sells unlocked ones (SIM Free) through their website or Apple stores.
      If you want a cheap and cheerful smartphone there are lots of cheap Android ones that are perfectly fine.

  9. Just a couple of things to add to your post. It is not illegal to unlock your phone. Doing so does nullify any warranties and is afoul of the big carriers policies (these older phones are probably out of warranty anyway). I went through an eBay person for US$68.00. For a 5S and a 5C. This is a factory unlock of the EMEI on Apple’s database. This was painless and if you properly back up you phone on your computer then you lose no data or settings in the process. The other thing I might add is that Docomo doesn’t make all of the bands available to the LCTs (low cost telecos). People in large metropolises do see a speed reduction at peak times (ie. data). Since I commented in your first article about this, I haven’t had any problems in my small town. I have been oh so happy every month to see my monthly 2,200yen bill (I went with Rakuten and 5GB data w/free tethering). My wife refuses to change for now… Still with SoftBank and have been even since before they were Vodaphone.

    • Richard, I live out in the countryside. I’m trying to figure out what phone to get to go with Rakuten Mobile. All of the really nice phones from China and Taiwan will use the higher Mhz bands that Rakuten offers, but not the 700-800 Mhz bands. Do you have any idea if this would give me trouble in the mountains? Should I stick with a Rakuten-approved phone that will use all the bands?

      • Sorry SPD. I really don’t know the answer to that one. It appears that they are not publishing which bands being hobbled. Also, really rural areas are not 100% covered by any one of the networks. But it does appear that between the three networks, most of Japan covered. (My MIL’s home in rural Fukushima is not covered by SoftBank network even though their website shows it being covered.) I would suggest first that you be sure you get Docomo coverage where you need it (Rakuten uses Docomo’s network). Then check around. Ask family, acquaintances, people on the street/in the field, anybody. A LOT of people are switching to the LCTs (UQ has a commercial on TV) and you might find some with first hand knowledge of particular phone you are considering.

  10. I just renewed with a 2-year contract with Softbank in November, and I know it would cost something to get out of it, but my question is, would I also have to pay for the iphone 7 I just got too? I thought I got the phone for ‘free’ (I have to pay a fee but it gets refunded every month so I’m not actually paying anything, I think) with my contract, so if I get out of my contract am I going to be on the hook for the phone?

    • RetireJapan says:

      Hi Jenifer
      That is one way they lock you in. The phone is ‘free’ as long as you are paying your monthly fees. If you cancel the contract you are liable for the remaining value of the phone. You can easily check how much this is with Softbank online, over the phone, or in one of their shops.

  11. AustinJapan says:

    My iphone6 contract finished on Mar31 although I have a two month window in which I can continue to use the phone. My intention is to quit the AU contract and go SIM-Free. I wanted to avoid buying a new phone altogether and just punk my old phone into a sim free. Some shady looking services are available in Tokyo – too far. 2nd best option is to just use my wifi as long as my Line app works. No one knows or can tell me if it will once I lose my old AU contract. (Perhaps I can pay AU 3000 to hold my number, but not actually ‘use it’ with a carrier. Easiest (and most expensive option) buy a new iphone SE unlocked at the local MAc store and take it to Rakuten.

    • As I wrote above, you can unlock the phone. I also bought a second-hand AU iPhone 6, found a guy on Tokyo Craigslist, transferred him the money (back then it was around 12000, now should be less), sent him the IMEI, and the phone was unlocked in about a week. You don’t need to meet with anyone, everything is done online and on the phone.

  12. Just cancelled my SoftBank contract and switched to Line Mobile. It was fairly painless.
    I had a locked iPhone 6 so I traded it in at the Apple Store and got a ¥17,000 discount on a new sim free SE.
    Despite 6 months left on my contract it has worked out cheaper to switch than to remain with SoftBank.

  13. AFAIK, you can order the MNP online and then it’s free (the 3000 JPY is if you get it from the shop).

      • RetireJapan says:

        Doesn’t seem to be free according to the SoftBank website:
        “4.番号ポータビリティ(MNP)転出手数料
        番号ポータビリティ(MNP)転出手数料3,000円もしくは5,000円は、番号ポータビリティ(MNP)転出をされた日(移転先事業者への新規加入手続きを行う日)を含む請求月分にてご請求させていただきます。
        番号ポータビリティ(MNP)予約キャンセルや番号ポータビリティ(MNP)予約有効期間切れなどにより番号ポータビリティ(MNP)転出をされなかった場合は、ご請求いたしません。”

  14. AustinJapan says:

    Thx. Checked out the link. It asked you to answer questions about the condition of the phone. Question two..ディスプレイは良好な状態ですか?(Is you display in good condition?) I have a crack right across the screen plus some chipped bits in the corner, but the display is clear and easy to read. If I tick yes, if offers me 17000yen, if no, ZERO!

  15. AustinJapan says:

    Update, went to MAc Store to try my luck, they said the cracked screen turns the 17000 rebate into ZERO. Right next door to the MAc shop is one of those little hole-in-the-wall, we-fix-apple signs. They’ll fix the screen for 6110 yen. Does anyone know whether the MAC store can tell I had it fixed and then again deny me the 17000yen?

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