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Cellular Phones and You: A brief primer on the use of Cellphones in Japanese settings; Setting information
Topic Started: Jun 1 2017, 10:32 PM (80 Views)
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Die, Steak, Die!
(Information provided courtesy of Kyrielite)

So your character has a phone. Of course everyone has a phone. You can barely exist in modern society without one, and urban areas of Japan are no different in that regard. In fact, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are actually more active mobile phones in Japan than there are actual Japanese people (apx 140 million phones to 127m citizens).

This guide covers the basics of owning and operating a cellphone in a Japanese setting. Guide is up to date to the best of my knowledge, but it's been a few years since my last trip (About late '14 for C86.)


Table of Contents

  • [0001] Basics
    • [0001a] Foreigners and Phones
    • [0001b] Manners
  • [0002] Foreign Phones
  • [0003] Exchanging Contact Information
  • [0004] Applications
  • [0005] Important Phone Numbers


Referred to as keitai denwa (携帯電話 - "mobile phone") or keitai for short, mobile phones are more ubiquitous in Japan than almost anywhere else. Technically the formal term is keitai denwa tanmatsu (携帯電話端末 - lit. Mobile Phone Terminal) but I've never actually heard anyone actually call it that outside of an industry meeting.

The absolute most basic things about owning Japanese phones are 1. your phone number, and 2. the attached e-mail address. This seems obvious, but both are linked to your phone and mail is used fairly extensively due to that. SMS is largely unheard of in Japan, (The only time I've personally ever had to send an SMS message was... to ask for someone's e-mail address) and many SIM cards (such as the ones sold to foreigners) don't even have SMS capability at all. These are actually sufficiently ubiquitous that an e-mail address is sometimes used for indirect proof of residency (as these are part of your phone plan, and a proper phone plan requires proof of residency.)

Data and voice call use is also fairly common, due to the way their plans work. Monthly plans are the norm, and many plans provide special services for things such as unlimited calls to family members and such, making voice use much more common than in some other countries. Prepaid SIM cards are rare, and mostly the purview of tourists.

Providing these services, the 3 largest telecom providers in Japan are NTT Docomo, au, and Softbank (in that order. Softbank is the one with the dog commercials). For phone numbers, cellphones replace the area code with 080 or 090.

Foreigners and Phones

This gets its own subsection since it gets messy. In order to have get a proper phone plan in Japan, one requires a proof of residency before any of the big networks will actually let you sign a contract.

Foreigners can typically purchase/rent a SIM card and/or handset from several services that specialise in mobile services for foreigners. These generally are locked and only have data services, with no capabilities for voice calls or SMS (the last doesn't matter, as pretty much no one in Japan uses SMS anyway). Some do offer voice support, but those are costlier. All however, do offer voice support via internet telephony (such as with LINE or Skype).

How does this affect your character? ...Well, it is assumed that living in the city (as a student of Senki or as a resident) means you have some proof of residence (Senki provides it for its students) to sign a contract phone plan. Those who are not in the country legally uh... may need to get more creative. Or just get used to living off wi-fi.


For the most part, with 1 major exception, Japanese manners regarding phone use tend towards the ultrapolite. Causing an inconvenience to others (for examply by speaking too loudly) is largely drilled into many children as a mortal sin (他人様に迷惑を掛けるな). Drawing attention to yourself is also considered undesirable by most people (for various reasons), and that tends to do it. Speaking quietly, finding (relatively) quiet or secluded places to speak, covering your mouth, etc., are all fairly common, and use of headphones or IEMs is commonplace for things like watching videos. Also noone seems to like using hands free technology for some reason. I don't know.

The major exception tends to be on walking and using your phone. While considered rude and nominally looked down upon (it's considered a major pedestrian hazard), it's sufficiently commonplace (and not only annoying, but dangerous - especially near roads and around the metro) that some manufacturers have things that detect if you're walking and warn you about it. Some just lock you out entirely.

Foreign Phones

And here's where things get a little funny. Despite its very well built and fairly well maintained infrastructure, Japan... does not have a GSM network. At all. It relies entirely on CDMA (which some US residents are familiar with) which means GSM only phones and networks don't work there.

Phones that can work with the CDMA standard are fine, but any GSM-only phones are largely going to be dead weight, or reliant on portable wi-fi routers/the wi-fi services of wherever they're visiting (which is fairly good at least, in built up areas and most tourist destinations) and making calls with Skype/LINE.

Thankfully, most phones work on both CDMA and GSM technologies and this isn't as big an issue as it once was.

Exchanging Contact Information

The most common way to exchange contact information in Japan is... actually the business card. There is an entire set of manners around this that I will not go into detail here. However, exchanging phone contacts directly is also possible, and in many ways, more convenient.

One common method is infrared recievers/transmitters (It was a feature common to Nokia phones once upon a time, but I rarely see it outside of Japanese phones these days). Reading a phone number aloud is rare, as generally you use e-mail for text messages and phone numbers for voice calls, and you really don't want to have to read out both, whereas putting the phones IR channels together allows easy transfer of both (these days, other info such as LINE/Skype/etc contacts can also be sent if the user chooses). Bluetooth can be used for this as well.


Called Apuri (アプリ) in Japan... you already know what a Phone App is. This is a list of fairly common ones that the average person will know of, and probably has installed on their phone.


The single most popular app in Japan according to statistics, beating Facebook, Google Messenger, Skype and literally all their competitors. Combined. it is now arguably more ubiquitous than e-mail (and those come free with your phone plan), and is equivalent in function Skype. Its primary claims to fame are, unlike most things, decent integration on both phone and desktop, built in social media functions (which no-uses), and most importantly, cute stickers that are incredibly popular and can be bought for a price, usable in largely any conversation.

The messenger is also popular in most of Southeast Asia (primarily Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, with growing use elsewhere), and is available in most languages spoken in the region. Did I mention stickers? Because stickers.

Also, unlike similar apps, LINE also offers LINEpay, which lets you pay for things via your LINE account (obviously), and has other random apps associated with it (such as various games). Honestly it's good enough you may as well use it yourself.

2. Twitter

...Japan loves twitter. Don't ask me why. Twitter has more users than every other social media platform in Japan combined, and more traffic. Facebook is second at 27% traffic, and everyone else is shares less than 20% combined. Yes, twitter is that popular over in Area 11. Basically everyone important has a twitter account, from idols to voice actors to prominent politicians to the various government agencies, who sometimes use it to spread notices. Shitposting is decidedly less common than foreign use. (Presumably, thats what 2chan is for)

3. AWA

A music streaming service, similar to Spotify. Except it's largely only in Japan.

4. Mobile Games

I don't really have to explain this do I?

Important Phone Numbers

Basically, phone numbers every knows in Japan, or should.

110 - Police Hotline. Tokyo has people Proficient in English. Presumably Kaneshima does too, given all the foreigners.

118 - Coast Guard/Maritime Self-Defence Force. You laugh, but this comes up surprisingly often given Japan is a coastal country. Relevant because Kaneshima is an island.

119 - Fire/Ambulance Service. Yes, it's 911 backwards. Unlike literally everywhere else in Asia, it summons only Abulances/Fire Dept as the police are contacted via 110. Don't ask me why, I don't know either.

113 - Docomo's Help line. Because they're the most common phone provider and these are the people to bitch at when you have problems with their network.
Edited by Lawman, Jun 1 2017, 10:32 PM.
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