Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get prepaid SIM cards in Japan on a tourist visa. They are quite hard to find and there’s little information available in English, which is why I thought I’d write this post. Having data on the go is indispensable if you plan to take a smartphone and laptop with you on your trip. There is very little free public Wi-Fi in Japan and the ability to check your e-mail, find your location and map out train routes with Google Maps, and book hotels on the move is a huge advantage.
I bought a 6-month prepaid u300 b-mobile data SIM for 14,900 yen. I’ve since recharged it online for a further 6 month period for the same price. There are no additional usage fees to pay. B-Mobile uses NTT Docomo’s network which has possibly the best coverage in Japan.
I use this SIM in my Australian unlocked iPhone 3GS to access the net on the move. I use a USB cable to tether with my laptop and use this connection when I’m working away from my desk. Uploads and downloads are unlimited but are speed-restricted to 300kbps. That’s fine for e-mail, maps and basic web. It’s not fast enough for Skype (even audio-only) or web video. If you want faster access you can buy the b-mobile 1GB定額 which gives you 1GB of data without a speed limit.
In Nagoya you can buy b-mobile SIMs at Bic Camera (just outside Nagoya Station) or at some of the many small electrical retailers around Osu-Kanon’s Akamon Street. The SIM card I bought required activation by making a simple phone call from a separate Japanese mobile (which you can ask a friend to do for you). However, I’ve noticed that they’ve just released a new product for travellers that doesn’t require activation and they’ve finally put up some information about it in English.