Getting a Japanese Cellphone - Part 1

Published on September 5 2016
Posted by: Kyle
Segment: tips
If you are going overseas, then being able to use your own cellphone sounds like a great idea. Additionally, when the company you bought the phone from says that the phone us "unlocked, and can be used anywhere in the world," your hopes go up, right?

Well, I found the exact opposite to be true.

Plan A

Let me start from the beginning: when Keat first landed in Japan, there was a bit of chaos in order for her to get a Japanese cellphone (see: bank account, which is a "catch 22"). However, when she finished, she bought a new phone and was then told that she could have just inserted a Japanese SIM card instead.

So that was our plan. When I arrived in Japan, Keat and I visited Narita to go to the local docomo store (she had to go there anyway because she had to update an address, and couldn't just go to a local store near us - long story). My original plan was to walk in, ask for an "English translator", get the SIM card, and leave. And that did not go as planned.

My phone is a Galaxy S5, which isn't an "old" phone, but it is about 1.5 years old. I know technology moves at a rapid rate, but I thought that since I was told my phone was "unlocked", that I shouldn't have a problem.

Well, after asking for an "English translator", then being passed a phone connected to the "English line" of docomo, I told the person on the other end what I wanted. She (the person on the other end of the line) told me to go into my Settings, then "Help", then search for a very specific symbol, which the sales associate showed me. I searched for about 10 minutes, and nothing. I couldn't find it anywhere. At this point, I told the telephone person, "I don't see it," and she said, "Then I don't think we can service your phone."

Okay...Plan A is busted.

Plan B?

the Giteki certified symbol
The Giteki certified symbol, required for devices to work on the Japanese wireless networks
Next part of the process was for Keat to get her address updated. While she did that, I borrowed her phone to do some research, and found out that the symbol was called a gijyutsu kijyun tekigō shōmei (often shortened to giteki), which my phone didn't have. How did I know? Well, this article from the JapanTimes told me so, because the article is about an iPhone 6 versus a Galaxy S5, which was my exact scenario. The iPhone has it, but the S5 does not.

See: modern devices (and devices made in Japan) must pass certain guidelines set in place by the local or global communications agency. In the US, we know this agency as the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). In Japan, the agency is called Giteki.

The article went on and said that because my phone didn't have the giteki symbol, technically it was illegal for me to connect to any Japan wifi because my device was giteki certified, so although I could connect, I shouldn't (it'd be like driving a car with busted brake lights - I could drive it, but I shouldn't, because it wasn't safe).

To quote the article, "An imported version of the Galaxy S5, by comparison, is unlikely to have any visible indication of certification, either on the casing or in the settings. Naturally, a Galaxy S5 obtained through either NTT Docomo or KDDI Corp. is, of course, giteki certified[,]", which also meant that my Plan B (the SIM card) wouldn't work.

Plan C, please?

Plan C at this point was to buy a new phone, so while Keat finished updating her address (for reasons), I looked at the phones on display, and settled on the Nexus X5 (yes, I know it's a 5X, but the store said otherwise) for ¥27/mth, which is pretty dang awesome! I (very poorly) told the sales associate that I needed the English line once more and attempted to tell the person on the other end that I wanted to purchase a phone, and to be added to Keat's plan. And that took quite a long time.

At first, the guy on the other end was happy to work with me, but as soon as he heard that I was going to be on Keat's plan, that's when things went wrong. First, they wouldn't let me get a contract because Keat's visa was set to expire in March (that's when her contract is up), and because it was less than 15 months, I couldn't get a phone. Next, he said that I could buy the phone outright - for ¥98,000. I told him, "No, I can't do that," and of course, he unleashed the "Salesperson hook" of "Oh, but we have a special offer...." I listened to him, and I wasn't sure if I understood it wrong or if he said it wrong, but I thought he said that the phone would cost ¥5,000 ($50) if I went through with this deal. I thought, "Awesome!" But when I tried to verify the deal, I found out what the deal actually was: it would take off ¥5,000, which meant that the phone still would cost ¥93,000, which still wasn't an option.

Plan D!

What was Plan D? Well, while Keat was in Japan, and not in possession of a Japanese cellphone, she visited BIC Camera and picked up a data SIM card, just to have access to the internet while she got a cellphone. We're not quite sure whether or not BIC Camera can help me yet, but they aren't picky on the giteki certification, and can issue temporary, short-term SIM cards. We'll just have to see whether or not they can help, once we visit one.

(I was also told that the docomo locations vary, so I could try another store and totally get a phone)


So do I have a Japanese cell phone? No, not yet. Can I call Japanese numbers? Yes, technically via Google Voice, at the cost of ¥3-9 per minute, and if the person on the other end will answer a US-based number.

By the way, we did mention a few companies in this video, so here are the companies (and their American equivalents):
Docomo - (Verizon)
au* - (AT&T-ish)
SoftBank** - (Sprint)
BIC Camera - (Pre-paid)

*I was told by a source that au may not require a bank account in order to get a Japanese cellphone plan. I have not tried this method yet, but may do so
**By the way, if you are a foreigner and have a 1-year contract with a company, rumor says that SoftBank will not give you a contract. We have yet to verify this, but that's what we've heard

Stay tuned to see if I get a Japanese cellphone, and what you can do if you bring an overseas device that isn't giteki certified!

TL;DR Version: US Galaxy S5 isn't certified to work on Japanese wifi; buying a phone was too expensive; may get temporary data SIM or try another store/company