For traveling, to study, for business, or temporarily returning. There are people visiting Japan with various purposes. I think that a certain number of people in that group may come to need to make a phone call for various reasons.
For one such reason, either in Japan or to outside of Japan, there are the places/people which they are accessible only with a phone call (ex. landlines and direct calls to Japan cell phones), not with any VoIP apps such as IP phone, FaceTime, and Skype. You need to have a phone number to make a phone call in such cases.
However, Japan has complicated conditions to make a phone call to prevent crime by using unidentified phone numbers. So, unlike you are in outside of Japan, here in Japan, you can not make a phone call just by purchasing a prepaid SIM card. *There are some exceptions at this point, but are not recommended. I wrote the reason for it at the very bottom of this article.
Even for short stay visitors, it will be useful to know the basics of phone calls in Japan and reasonable services to make a phone call.
Phone Numbers for Mobile Phones in Japan
Phone numbers for smart phones in Japan are divided into two groups:
Numbers starting from 090 or 080
Numbers starting from 050 (for so-called IP phone)
A Contract with A Phone Number Starting from 090 or 080
With a phone number starting from 090 or 080, you can practically make a phone call to any device/place.
This type of contract is common in Japan.
Although its cost varies depending on a provider, it will be 30-40yen per minute.
Its contract period also varies depending on a provider:
Two Years: Major Companies NTT DoCoMo, KDDI (AU), SoftBank
From A Year: MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators)
How To Contract By Non-residents in Japan
To get a phone number starting from 090 or 080, non-residents in Japan have to submit a credit card information and ID(s) such as an alien registration card, a resident card, and a special permanent resident certificate.
Contract period of SIM cards starts from about 1 year the shortest, and you have to pay a penalty if the contract is dissolved before expiration. You have to pay a monthly fixed fee even when you do not use it during the whole month.
Cancelling a cell phone contract from outside of Japan is hustle.
Recommended To . . .
People staying in Japan for over a year.
About IP-Phone (numbers starts from 050) *Available via Apps in Android and iOS
IP-Phone is a service enable you to make a phone call via the internet network, and standard voice communication can be made if you are in the place where the internet is available.
In Japan, it is hard to get a real phone number because of the government’s restriction to prevent crime by using unidentified phone numbers. However, IP-Phone is completely free from such restrictions as it is the new technology.
And you can make a contract online very easy and make a phone call via the internet.
Furthermore, voice communications between IP-Phones are free of charge, and companies and restaurants using IP-Phone are increasing. Meanwhile, IP-Phone is not available to use to a certain groups of phone numbers such as numbers starting from 0120 and 110 (police). Either way, such phone numbers are not used much.
If you do not have any needs on such numbers, using 050 numbers is highly recommended as its cost is surprisingly low (8yen per minute).
Even for a short stay, you can make a phone call by using a IP-Phone app through the internet, which are available by renting a pocket WiFi/SIM card or purchasing a data only SIM card. Obtaining an IP-Phone number itself does not require any running costs, and it costs depend on how much you use.
Recommended To . . .
Everyone especially people staying in Japan less than a year.
IP-Phone by Rental Pocket WiFi Router or SIM Card in Flexible Rental Period
From 5 days to over 90 days, LightPocket offers a Pocket WiFi router and a SIM card to use IP-Phone in a flexible rental period to meet your travel style.
Unlimited Data SIM card Rental
Unlimited Pocket Wifi Rental
Japanese IP-Phone service available in English.
Prepaid SIM Card with Phone Number
Please be careful to purchase a prepaid SIM card with a phone number, which are seemingly sold at several places. It highly likely is just a prepaid SIM card only with an IP-Phone feature (and pricey!).
Also, there are prepaid SIM cards with 090/080 phone numbers available to purchase without submission of any ID. However, you should not purchase such prepaid SIM cards as it may be illegal.