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eConnect says that there's legal restrictions on SIM cards:

Data Only SIM

Our SIM card does not support voice call and SMS.

It is currently prohibited by law to provide SIM card with a local phone number to short-term visitors in Japan.

However, I've come across other SIM cards offering voice, such as PAYG SIM.

What's the exact nature of the restrictions on SIMs in Japan?

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+100

Yes, prepaid voice and data SIM cards are now legally available in Japan for non-residents and have been since 2014. Here are some providers, most of which have shops at Haneda & Narita Airports:

  • Softbank (one of Japan's largest operators)
  • Y!mobile (uses Softbank's network)
  • b-mobile, the original, but not available at airports (AFAIK)

All you need to buy one is cash (or credit) and a passport. These are still subject to some rather bizarre restrictions to ensure they're not used for long periods of time (for Y!mobile, hard expiry at the end of two weeks and can't top up if you run out of credit), but they do provide a local phone number to call.

  • There didn't appear to be a limit on how many cards you could by though (last month when I asked, the rep said that if one "hard expired" you could just get another one. Which was apparently the whole point of blocking out non-residents. – The Wandering Coder Oct 17 '16 at 9:59
  • @TheWanderingCoder Yeah, I'm not suggesting the rules make any sense, but 仕方がない. – lambshaanxy Oct 17 '16 at 10:52
  • The reason why nothing here makes sense. Everything is 仕方がない or 決まりだから. – The Wandering Coder Oct 18 '16 at 0:09
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EDIT: My answer is based on severely outdated information, please accept my apologies for not being more thorough. jpatokal has a much more up to date and accurate answer, please refer to that. It is now possible and legal to own a voice enabled SIM as a foreigner on a short stay.

Since April 1st, 2006, the cellphone-related law called “the Act for Identification, etc. by Mobile Voice Communications Carriers of Their Subscribers, etc. and for Prevention of Improper Use of Mobile Voice Communications Services”, or in short, “Mobile Phone Improper Use Prevention Act (携帯電話不正利用防止法)” requires anyone who intends to have a voice-call-capable cellphone service (whether it is a prepaid contract or a postpaid one) to show a proper identification which indicates that s/he has the residential (permanent) address in Japan. A hotel address is not sufficient for this purpose.

This law became necessary because Japanese authorities, and especially the law makers, consider the fraud using the cellphones became a social problem, and the police and other law enforcement agencies want the address of all the phone owners to be registered so that, if any crime is committed using a cellphone, they can find the owner and search his residence.

The official proof of residence includes

– Certificate of Residence which must be registered, and issued as a proof, at the municipal office where you reside, – Japanese driver’s license, governmental health insurance card, or anything that will be issued with the proof of the Certificate of Residence mentioned above, – Japanese passport, with the Japanese address (hand-)written in the address page by you, – Proof of an alien registration for a foreign person living in Japan, again, registered and then issued as a proof of residence at the municipal office where you reside. The alien registration is issued only if you have a valid visa which permits you to stay in Japan for more than 90 days.

Additionally:

So, as a traveler to Japan, who does not possesses a valid Japanese passport (due to a dual citizenship) or does not have a visa to permit you to stay there for more than 90 days, you simply can not obtain any voice-call-capable cellphone service or a local cellphone SIM with a voice-call, whether it is a prepaid contract or a postpaid one, under your name, period. No exceptions.

Apparently the PAYG SIM doesn't apply to the law, because it has data and voice capabilities (read this answer's comments for context). So if you would like a non-data/VoIP reliant phone service, you can look into b-Mobile's PAYG SIM. This provides an important advantage in that you're able to call emergency services, which you cannot do in Japan over VoIP. Could potentially be a life saver.

I'm finding it hard to understand how/why exactly PAYG SIMs aren't subject to the law, but it is as of right now a good option.

Sources:

http://eng.blogfromamerica.com/archives/43 http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_sosiki/joho_tsusin/eng/Resources/laws/pdf/H17HO031.pdf http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/payg_sim/travelers_to_japan.html http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Japan

  • I will check tomorrow, but I am pretty sure PAYG doesn't use data for calls (from memory it uses the NTT network). – The Wandering Coder Oct 17 '16 at 8:14
  • Ah yes, it's possible it uses VoIP. The distinction I was trying to make is that you wouldn't have a standard local 'phone number'. There are also other options like renting a phone listed in the first article I linked. – Joel Damien Oct 17 '16 at 8:19
  • I was trying to imply that you do get a number, however it may be a b-mobile VoIP "local" number similar to the way Skype offers "local" numbers. VoIP does not appear to be covered by the relevant sections of the law for mobile phones (else Skype would be banned). – The Wandering Coder Oct 17 '16 at 8:21
  • Ahhh. Actually they aren't VoIP numbers if this is to be believed. "The prepaid smartphone data SIM cards offered by MVNO B-mobile provide data and one even voice access on NTT Docomo’s 3G/4G network." prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Japan – The Wandering Coder Oct 17 '16 at 8:23
  • Aye, yes, that's entirely possible. EDIT: Hmm, interesting, will have to give that a proper read when I get home. Cheers for the info. – Joel Damien Oct 17 '16 at 8:23

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