Author: M.Kok

Budget mobile plans in Japan

What are the phone carrier options in Japan, and which ones have the best deals? Because of the complex nature of modern phones(smartphones), it somewhat varies.

Here is a quick guide to Japanese network carrier options.

The classical big three and the new one

Much like in other fields of business, Japanese mobile network providers have their own big brands. They offer good coverage and a strong signal. On average, you should expect to pay twice of a budget provider. That gets you many shops where you can walk in with your questions and concerns. The big providers also tend to give out(sell with contracts)phones for a little cheaper.

Make sure you look out for added extras you do not need. Everything other than the phone contract will drive the price up and make it difficult to quit the commitment.


It is the one with the grumpy white dog and Bruce Willis. Is SoftBank good at anything other than advertising? Amongst Japanese network providers, SoftBank carries the image of an innovative modern company. They also bought the iPhone craze to Japan.

The network coverage and quality is what you would expect for the monthly contract fees- some of the best.


Like the other two, Docomo has a public image. It used to be ‘the expensive one’ or the ‘best one’. Both of which are interestingly true.

Docomo was- and still is the best network provider, even if by a margin.

It also can be the most expensive one. Depending on your contract plan and how much of your soul you have singed away to them.


The alternative to Docomo. Au used to have good signal but cost less than Docomo. Of course, nowadays, the difference is too small to be really relevant.

Rakuten, the new one

Rakuten Mobile used to be a budget provider that would use the networks of the established big three. But because playing around with mobile networking is one of many Rakutens ventures, they had enough cash to invest in building their own network. It is not quite as good as the ones the other three have- yet. So, it is kind of both- budget and premium. 

The budget alternatives

These providers do not have their own networks. Instead, they operate by borrowing from the big three (Docomo, Au or SoftBank).

With these alternatives, you do not get that many shops. You do most, if not all, of the interaction online.

What to look out for here is that you get enough. Some deals include data but no phone number. Even if you do not plan to make phone calls or send text messages, you still need to receive texts since many services use phone numbers to confirm your registration.

Also, make sure you understand what is in the service package. Sometimes you get data, but making calls requires activation or is expensive.

Y! mobile

Yahoos take on the budget data providing market. They use SoftBank’s network, and you can get information in some SoftBank stores.


UQ mobile operates on the Au network, and you get customer service in some Au shops. According to reports, they have some of the fastest data speeds.

Line Mobile

Yes, it is the same company as the app. Line operates on multiple networks(all the big three). You do most of the things online here.

The others

There are others aimed directly at foreigners like Sakura Mobile or GTN.

These providers are less popular, and they often offer the bare minimum. The focus is on providing customer service in English or languages other than Japanese and making the contracts foreigner-friendly.


The deals often change. Right now, you should be looking at somewhere under three thousand yen. That is for as much as 3GB.

For the premium providers, it can go as high as ten thousand yen.

To find the best deal, you need to understand your data habits and figure out how much of what you actually need. Once you know, you simply find the provider that offers the plan closest to your needs.

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