One of the first things that people notice about Japan is that EVERYONE has a cellphone. It is practically impossible to live in Japan without one, as life seems to revolve around that funny little piece of plastic technology. If you have just arrived and are trying to decide which cellphone company to go with, here are some quick tips.
If you can't speak Japanese, use J-phone (http://www.j-phone.com). They offer English phones with English support. I have heard that their rates are good too.
Paul Granberg adds:
The big multi-national cellphone company Vodafone purchased J-Phone last year and is now in the final stages of rebranding to Vodafone. J-Phone was always known for its up to date phone models and competitive pricing plans, and Vodafone is expected to continue this tradition. On some pricing plans, you may even be given a free or low cost phone.
If you can speak Japanese, and you are a student, I would recommend AU (http://www.au.kddi.com). They have a student discount that is worth looking into. Also, if you sign up for a contract, you can sometimes get a phone for 0 yen. (This is what I use.)
If you want extremely cool functions, and you're not really concerned about money, go for Docomo (http://www.nttdocomo.co.jp). They are (or were? or think they are?) the leader in cellphones in Japan.
Paul Granberg adds:
Docomo is more expensive than the other companies but it has by far the most extensive network coverage. This is an extremely important consideration in Ibaraki (and the hills and valleys near Tsukuba) as many areas that the JETs live in have marginal reception at best. There's no point in having a cellphone if it doesn't work where you live! About 80% of the phones for this network are capable of bilingual operation but it does pay to check before purchasing. The cost for a good phone (the previous years model with all the bells and whistles) should be about 10-15000 yen. DOCOMO has also started the rollout of FOMA the new 3rd Generation (3G) cellphone network, promising higher data transmission speeds and full speed video. The coverage of this new network is nowhere near as extensive as the older network, and the pricing plans are somewhat more expensive.
I don't know enough about Tu-ka to make any recommendations, but here is an article about their position in the market. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nb20030624a4.htm
If you are only here for a short time, you might be tempted to go the pre-paid route. Depending on how short or long your stay is, this may be your only sensible choice. But if you are going to be here for at least one year, you might find that you will pay less in the long run because of the lower rates and special discount plans offered with contracts.
Here is an article about cellphone company satisfaction that appeared in the Japan Times recently (August 29, 2003): http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nb20030829a6.htm.
Make sure to get the email options as you will be surprised how often you can make use of it. (But you will have to start exercising your thumb muscles 'cause it's hard to type on those little keys in English!)
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