My Phone Setup

For Mister Griff.

As I prepared to move to Japan I maintained an ever-evolving checklist which I eventually published here, noting that my plan for maintaining connectivity was complex enough that it deserved its own post. Here is that post; may it help you, dear future reader aspiring to move to Japan.



  1. Still get SMS texts and voicemails to my old American number by porting it to Google Voice.
  2. Temporarily: use Mobal Narita for absolutely free incoming calls and texts to a Japanese number.
  3. Temporarily: use Let’s Internet for relatively cheap internet via pocket wifi, which my phone connects to.
  4. Use Skype for free internet-based calls to American toll-free numbers like my bank.
  5. Use Google Hangouts for 3¢/min calls to America and 11¢/min calls to Japan over the internet.
  6. Permanently: get an account with Softbank once settled in, send pocket wifi back, cancel Mobal Narita. I bought the sim from Mobal Narita so I cut it in half and threw it away.

Now for the details.

Before you leave & your first few months in Japan

  1. Cancel your American cellphone account by porting your number to Google Voice. This way you can still get SMS texts and voicemails at the same old number and it’s waiting on you when/if you come back.
  2. Rent a SIM card from Mobal Narita. Their deal is: free rental, free incoming calls, and free incoming SMS, ¥216/min outgoing calls and ¥135/msg outgoing SMS.
    • In other words, you have a free phone number in Japan if your phone is SIM unlocked and you only want to receive calls.
    • You pick it up at the airport and the lady at the counter spoke excellent English.
    • Not open 24 hours. If your plane is late, be prepared to stay at the airport overnight until they open.
  3. Rent a portable wifi hotspot from Let’s Internet. Their deal is: ¥4250/month for unlimited cellular data coverage.
    • Minimum 3 months up front (¥12750).
    • They mail it to Narita post office, which is not open 24 hours. If your plane is late, be prepared to stay at the airport overnight until they open. Comes with a prepaid envelope you mail it back in when you’re done.
    • The device may be a bit flakey and will eat up both its own battery and your phone’s (WiFi takes a lot of energy). Rent from them (or bring your own) spare travel battery. My hotspot had a Micro-B USB port.


Install the following on your smartphone before you leave America (this is very American & iPhone-centric):



  1. Skype so you can make American toll-free calls (800-, 888-, 877-, etc.) for free. Important when you need to talk to your bank, etc.
  2. Google Voice so you can easily get voicemails and SMS texts sent to your old number and check your Google Voice balance.
  3. Google Hangouts so you can spend your Google Voice balance making 3¢/minute calls to America and 11¢/minute calls to Japan (much cheaper than the Mobal Narita price).
  4. imiwa? so you can look up Japanese words and kanji even when you don’t have an Internet connection.

Long-term Solution

Softbank, plain and simple. Strong English support, even with stores guaranteed to speak English. A few notes, however:

  1. You can’t keep your non-Japanese iPhone. I tried hard. I had the technical conformity mark, I had the SIM unlocked Verizon phone, I know it supported all but 2 of the dozen or so 4G bands. Not gonna happen. So be prepared to sell your phone. The price of the Softbank phone is built into the contract monthly price.
  2. Early cancellation fee of the contract was around ¥9500. Not bad!
  3. You have to have an insurance card to prove you’re a legit resident. An alien residency card isn’t good enough. This may take a few weeks after you get a job.
  4. You do not have to have a bank account, but you will need a credit card at least.

PS: Boy, you can really tell I wrote this at 12:30am. Updated with a little bit of information I left off originally (especially the Google Voice porting bit).