• Life & Culture

Mobile Phones in Japan: The Complete Guide


From flip phones to the latest smartphones, mobile phones are a big deal in Japan! Over the last few decades, they have become part of Japanese culture – so much so that there is a dedicated etiquette for how to navigate phone conversations, and how to use the devices around other people.  


However, navigating the world of mobile phones in Japan can be challenging for newcomers due to these unique customs and expectations.


In this guide, we’ll explore why mobile phones are so popular in Japan, what the top Japanese phone brands are, and cultural differences in phone culture between Japan and other countries. We’ll also provide tips for travellers using a smartphone in Japan, including how to set up your phone and finding useful apps and emergency numbers.


Whether you’re a resident or visitor to Japan, understanding Japanese phone culture is important for communication and social interactions. This guide will help you appreciate and navigate the world of Japanese mobile phones.




How are mobile phones used in Japan?

Today, as with many parts of the world, mobile phones are an integral part of Japanese society. From flip phones to the latest smartphones, Japanese phone culture reflects the values and customs of the nation at large


Mobile phones are used in Japan like they are anywhere else in the world – as a method of communication and entertainment, as well as a functional aid. 


However, there are some features of mobile phones that are used more often in Japan than in other countries. For instance, many Japanese people use phones to make payments, at ATMs, vending machines and stores. This technology, although commonplace in many developed countries, is especially widespread here. 


It’s worth noting that one of the reasons mobile phones are so popular in Japan is due to the fast and reliable internet connection in the country. Internet speeds are typically some of the best in the world, which makes it easy for people to use their devices for a range of purposes.


What phone brands are popular in Japan?


There are a range of different brands that are popular on the Japanese market. On one hand, global behemoths Apple and Google have huge representation, but there are other brands that are popular too. 


For example, Sony is especially popular in Japan due to the fact that they are a Japanese company, which naturally increases their phones’ circulation and popularity. There is also an abundance of Huawei phones, due to their relatively cheap price and high quality.


Interestingly, Samsung is one brand that isn’t so popular in Japan. This is because of a variety of reasons, but is mostly attributable to friction between Japan and South Korea. It even prompted Samsung to rename themselves as Galaxy for the Japanese market. 


Why are flip phones popular in Japan?


Despite the fact that the rest of the world has largely left them behind, flip phones remain popular in Japan. In fact, they are even beginning to make something of a comeback over the last ten years. 


There are a variety of reasons for this, which include ease of convenience and high durability. Flip phones may also be seen as sentimental, due to the fact that many people used them when they were younger.




What is good phone etiquette in Japan?


In Japan, phone etiquette is a crucial part of communication, and it is essential to adhere to certain rules to show respect to the person on the other end of the line. It is important to be mindful of the way you answer the phone to ensure that you are being respectful.


When answering the phone in Japan, you should start by saying “moshi moshi.” This is a common greeting used when answering the phone and is a sign of respect. By using this phrase, you can show that you understand and respect the cultural norms in Japan.


Introducing yourself on the phone is equally important. You should state your name and the organisation you represent when answering the phone. It is also a sign of respect to acknowledge the person you are speaking to by using their name or appropriate honorific.


Meanwhile, it is also considered impolite to make noise while on the phone in Japan. Therefore, it would help if you found a quiet location to take the call. Avoid eating, chewing gum, or typing while on the phone, as it can be considered disrespectful.


And, when you are ready to end the conversation, thank the person on the other end for their time and offer a polite farewell. This gesture shows that you value their time and are appreciative of the conversation. 


By following these basic phone etiquette rules in Japan, you can show respect and create a positive impression.


How is using a phone in Japan different from other countries?


There are subtle and not-so-subtle differences in how using a phone is different in Japan to other countries. This is largely due to the cultural and societal differences that exist between the respective nations. 


For one, phone calls are more common than text messages than in other countries, such as the United States. And, while appropriate phone etiquette is always good to adhere to no matter where you are, it is particularly important in Japan.


As part of this, it is essential to remain polite and address people with the appropriate titles and honorifics. This isn’t something that is just restricted to phone usage – it’s an extension of the wider Japanese culture of respectful communication.


Indeed, it’s also important to note that making noise is discouraged while using a phone in Japan. It is often considered disrespectful to make the listener unable to hear you, and it is expected that you would find somewhere quiet instead. 


On a different note, many visitors to Japan often notice some other differences between phone usage compared to their home country. For instance, the lack of hands-free communication, the frequency of adults playing smartphone games, and the amount of people who use their phone while walking. 


Lastly, if you’re planning to work or teach in Japan, you might want to know that it is generally frowned upon to look at your phone while working. Should you do so, you may attract some disapproving glances.




Top 5 tips for using a phone in Japan

With all this in mind, we’ve compiled five top tips for visitors when using their phone in Japan:


  • Use polite language: it is important to remain polite and to address people with their correct titles and honorifics. 
  • Find a quiet place: make sure you find the right place and time so you will not be disturbed in the course of your call. 
  • Respect privacy: privacy is highly valued in Japan. Make sure you only ask questions that you know the other person is likely to be comfortable with. 
  • Familiarise yourself with phone culture: to make sure that you fit in with the people around you, familiarise yourself with all the applications and functionalities that people in Japan use. 
  • Be punctual: if you have any scheduled phone calls or appointments, ensure you are on time. Punctuality is a highly important trait and lateness is not likely to be viewed upon well. 

Can I Use My Current Phone in Japan?


To use your phone in Japan, you need to have a phone that works! If you’re planning on using your current phone, this means ensuring your phone is compatible with current phone networks. 


If you’re using an unlocked phone, you can usually purchase a Japanese SIM card, which will work in the country. However, you’ll need to check compatibility beforehand. 


If your phone is unlocked, you can purchase a Japanese SIM card and use it while in Japan. However, you should check compatibility before buying a SIM card.


Whereas, if your phone plan employs international roaming, you may be able to use your phone in Japan, but bear in mind it may be costly. To avoid this, check with your carrier to understand the expenses involved.


Remember, if all else fails, Wi-Fi is generally fast and reliable in Japan, so you’ll be able to use your phone with this. If you are doing this, keep in mind that public networks are not always the most secure. 


How to unlock your phone in Japan

If you need to unlock your phone in order to get it to work in Japan, you’ll first need to contact your carrier and request an unlock code. The exact requirements from this point will vary on the phone.

Generally, some carriers have specific requirements, such as having the phone paid off or being a customer for a certain period of time. 


If you are unsure, you can call the carrier’s customer service number and request an unlock code. In order to do this, you may need to provide additional information including the IMEI number to verify ownership.


Once you receive the unlock code, you’ll simply need to enter and then test it. This will involve inserting a new SIM card and inputting the new code. 


It’s worth noting that unlocking a phone could void the warranty, and there may be an additional charge added.


How do I purchase or rent a SIM card in Japan?


You can purchase or rent a SIM card in Japan typically from a provider’s website, although you can also get them from vending machines or physical stores. An easy way to do this may be to check for them at the airport


Before deciding which one to buy, do some research on the best providers – some of the most popular include SoftBank, NTT Docomo and Y!Mobile. 


Then, you’ll need to decide how long you’ll want to purchase it for. A long-term plan may be more effective if you are using your phone for an extended period of time, whereas if you are using it for a shorter term, you may only want to rent.


The last word on mobile phones in Japan


That’s it for our comprehensive guide to mobile phones in Japan. There’s no doubt that phones have become an essential part of Japanese daily life, and that there are unique rules and recommendations for visitors to follow when using them. 


To make the most of using phones in Japan, make sure that your phone is not only compatible, but it is equipped with all the tools to make your life easier. You may find translation apps useful while you are getting to grips with the Japanese language. 


As well as this, it’s important to be aware of what is and isn’t socially acceptable when talking to people on the phone, and in the context of your surroundings. 


Follow these guidelines, and you will make mobile phone usage in Japan a breeze.