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Mobile Phone Service in Japan

Post: Tuesday January 21, 2014



Until recently, Japan was a technological leader in the area of mobile phones.  With the rise of the smartphone, the Japanese mobile market has come to resemble the mobile phone markets in most other countries thanks to 4G LTE service being offered, as well as the huge variety of smartphones and colors.  From the iPhone to the latest Android devices, there's a mobile device to suit every taste in Japan.  There are also three major Japanese mobile phone carriers, Docomo, Softbank, and AU.  Below, we provide a comparison of the three major carriers with regard to plan types, network coverage, customer service, etc.



Plan Types

Japanese mobile phone plans come in a variety of options to suit every type of user. From the heavy data consumer to the long talker who never hangs up.  All three carriers offer numerous contract types based on your data usage, number of minutes, and number of texts included in the basic package. Contracts can be either pre-paid or long-term, with the long-term variety usually having a contract length of 2 years.  Also, as in many other countries, a long-term contract is typically paired with the purchase of a new phone at a subsidized price.  Please see each provider's site for more details about the various contract types.


· Softbank



· Docomo


· AU




Network Coverage

All three carriers provide both 3G and 4G LTE networks in and around Tokyo so in general, you shouldn't experience any service issues with any of them. Furthermore, all three carriers offer nationwide coverage on their legacy 2G networks, so you should have little or no issues with basic phone service, regardless of where you are in the country. That said, the 4G networks and coverage is not uniform across the Tokyo area. According to the site Open Signal, Softbank has the best overall network in terms of performance and reliability, followed closely by Docomo, with AU slightly behind.



Industry Description

In terms of market share, according to a study by ICT Research, as of September 2013, Docomo leads the Japanese mobile phone market with a 46.1% market share, followed by AU with 28.8% and Softbank with 25%. Meanwhile, according to a study by JD Power conducted in October 2013 based in services offered, network quality, cost, handset, service, and retail experience, AU had the highest overall customer satisfaction rating, followed closely by Docomo, with Softbank right behind them.



Customer Service

All of the mobile providers offer customer service at their numerous shops located around the Tokyo area.


File:Softbank Mobile SHOP ikebukuro japan.jpg
Softbank provides the greatest accommodation for non-Japanese speakers. In the Tokyo area, they have three shops located in Ginza, Omotesando, and Roppongi with English speaking staff to assist with establishing service or other questions.


DoCoMo Shop Ibaraki-Shinjo
Docomo does provide a video customer service option for non-Japanese speakers at many of its shops and these can be located here (denoted by the “TV”) symbol under the list of services by each shop

AU's only direct customer service contact in English is via the internet and the instructions can be accessed here.



Additional considerations


Docomo dn40m

If you are traveling to Japan for a short time or have just moved to Tokyo and not yet established mobile phone service, you can rent or purchase pre-paid mobile phones or SIM cards to use with a mobile device you have brought from your home country. These can be purchased at many electronics stores or ordered online. Below are a few companies that provide these:


· B-Mobile – offers pre-paid data SIM cards

· Softbank Global Rental – offers phone and SIM card rental

· Rentafone Japan – offers phone and SIM card rental as well as mobile broadband hubs that can be attached to a laptop








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