I have a big interest in cell phones. Back home I worked part-time for around 8 months promoting Nokia handsets and before I left for Japan I was offered a job with Telstra, but the mandatory training was too long so I had to decline. Who’d have guessed that it’d be so hard to get a cellphone in what’s thought to be one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world? Naturally, I didn’t expect it. But it’s actually pretty hard to get a phone in Japan if you’re under 20 years old.
I tried to get a prepaid cell phone a couple of weeks ago in Hirakata and I was rejected by the first 3 stores that I went to. Why? Because I’m only 19 years old. I know that in quite a few countries you can get a prepaid phone without legally being an adult. You only run into problems when you want to sign a binding agreement(contract). Japan is somewhat unique in this area though. It’s terrible to go through 30 minutes of the formalities of registering a cellphone and then suddenly hear:
“I’m sorry but it appears that you are not 20 years old. You need a responsible person(guardian) in order to purchase a phone. There is nothing I can do about this for you, I’m truly sorry. Have a good day, thank you for your patronage.”
And no it doesn’t matter what you say, nobody will listen to you (especially if they work at Softbank). I know that in Japan you become an adult at 20, I know that it’s something you cannot avoid culturally. But don’t 19 year old exchange students need cellphones too? Can’t there be some sort of tolerance for that situation? I certainly wouldn’t want to spend my whole year in Japan contacting people through pay-phones. There barely are any here to begin with.
So by the time I got to the last store I was pretty tired of it all, this was my last shot for the day. We went through the entire process again(you’d think I would have quit earlier) and then I got that same classic line again…But it was slightly different, a miracle happened on that day:
“I’m sorry but it appears that you are not 20 years old. You need a responsible person(guardian) in order to purchase a phone. But that’s kind of ridiculous because you’re on exchange at Kansai Gaidai so of course you have no person who is responsible for you. Because it would be so inconvenient for you to come all the way here and not leave with a phone I will register it in my name for you.”
Yes, a Japanese person actually bent the rules. I’ve heard that this doesn’t happen a lot in Japan. This situation is among some of the nicest things that Japanese people have ever done for me in my life. The phone wasn’t bad it cost 5000¥ altogether, the handset was 2000¥ and the minimum amount of credit was 3000¥ . It lasted me around a month but the main issues with the prepaid phone system in Japan are that the standard handsets are very basic and you cannot use the internet on them at all.
I decided I wanted an iPhone and I questioned a few stores about it. They all told me that being 19 would make it impossible. It also seems, from what I was told, that even if you are over 20 you need to take some sort of online assessment so SoftBank can decide if you are eligible for a contract handset because all the cell phones plans are for 2 years and you’re foreign. Luckily enough one of my friends was willing to sign for me, the contract is in her name. Strangely enough the shop assistant gave me a discount on the plan price(6000¥ to 4700¥ per month) because I’m a student, he used my university ID as evidence in the forms.
So, just a word of advice: if you’re coming to Japan and you’re under 20 don’t expect it to be easy to get a cellphone. Make it one of your priorities to find a 20 year old friend to register your phone for you. The system is ridiculous. Everybody here uses a cellphone, I’ve seen people over 80 using their cellphone on the street. It’s a necessity in Japan, especially if you want to have some sort of social life.