Save yourself a headache and your friends an ulcer - rent a phone when you travel to Japan even if you think you'll never use it (you will)
This article is for all of you who plan to travel to Japan, particularly a big city like Tokyo. If you have a friend who will meet up with you and show you around, you should rent a phone. If you're traveling by yourself, rent a phone. If you hate people in general and plan on going to car shows and robot factories exclusively, please consider renting a phone. Sound extreme? It's not and here are some reasons why.
- There are almost no pay phones anymore. A few exist in train stations and you will occasionally see one on the streets and that's it. If you get lost (and you probably will) and you can't talk to anyone (this is very likely) you're stuffed. You may find someone who can take you to a landmark like a station, but that's no good if you're trying to find the local sushi bar where your friend is waiting for you and you came from that very same station.
- You will give your friends ulcers. I'm not kidding. Your "unique" travel blooper where you both spent 45 minutes standing at different meeting in Shinjuku station has happened to Jonny Local 14 times running.
- It shows that you value the people's time who you are seeing. I'm serious about this. You're on vacation which is great. Nobody else is. If I'm to meet you for lunch it's good to know the "meeting" part will take 3 minutes and not 30.
- Rental phones are cheap, they're 250 yen per day which is less than a Big Mac. A 3km taxi ride because you got lost and couldn't call anyone costs 1,500 yen, or the same as it would have cost to get a phone for the week and you just missed the party.
- A lot of foreign handsets will not work in Japan because of different network technologies. If they do work they may be expensive for you and they definitely will be expensive for anyone calling you as phone calls will be routed via your home country. Do some token research before you decide to go with a foreign phone. "Hey Sarah, can you call me when you arrive, by the way you'll be calling via Australia at 300 yen/minute and so will I, neat huh!"
- The English level in Japan is still quite low. You may have a friend or someone you arrange to call if you get into a situation you can't handle. You'll be needing a telephone for that too.
- Giving People Ulcers II; Tokyo is really crowded and densely built. It's quite difficult to tell someone new to Japan a meeting point because if you make one wrong turn you're lost. Please make it easy on yourself and others and have a phone just in case.
There are a ton of reasons to have a phone in Tokyo and none that I can think of not to. A phone is your insurance against any mishap you could experience as a traveller.
The best place to rent a phone is at the airport. The store people speak english and you know you'll be going back through there on your way out. Softbank has rental locations at all international airports and make it really easy. They offer different data plans, including the 250yen/day option I metioned earlier.
We who live in Japan love it here and hope you have a great time. Help us help you have an awesome trip next time and pick up a cell phone on your way in.