In Japan, you can’t just go to the convenience store and buy a sim card. You are supposed to be a resident with an address before getting a phone. It is possible to rent a sim card or phone, but it’s expensive. For my purposes, I only needed email and voice (not data), so I got a prepaid sim card from SoftBank, which gives unlimited email (to your SoftBank address only) for ¥300 per month. I came across a ton of conflicting and outdated information on the internet about how to get a sim card and how to use an unlocked iPhone in Japan.
A note about data plans
It may be difficult to get any sort of plan (including data), unless you have a 2+ year visa to stay in Japan. And if you do get a data plan, it will not be void with a non-SoftBank handset according to your contract. Some people have had success using an unlocked iPhone with data, and some have been dinged with ¥100,000 monthly bills. The price to get an iPhone with your contract is something like ¥450 per month, so just I would just save myself the hassle and get a SoftBank iPhone, as I don’t speak enough Japanese to argue about bill amounts.
Thanks to this site for the required settings
. Note that you really do need an alien card to do this (and you need a non-visitor visa to get that, i.e.: you need to be living in Japan). If you want a prepaid sim card for you Japanese vacation, your only hope is renting one, or buying a used one on ebay. And since sim cards are tied to your passport and/or alien card, I don’t think many people will sell you their old one. With that little caveat out of the way, below are the steps to get voice and unlimited email on your unlocked iPhone. These steps are for a jailbroken and unlocked iPhone 3GS running iOS 4.0.1, with Cydia and SSH installed.
This may work for an iPhone4 (I plan to test this) but it requires cutting your sim card to microsim size. If you are not familier with unlocking, Cydia and SSH, do some research and then come back.
- Get the basics done
- Jailbreak and unlock phone. Install SSH (if your phone is factory unlocked it will still need to be jailbroken)
- Install an SSH client for file transfer on your computer (if you don’t have one)
- Go to the SoftBank store
- Bring the following with you to a SoftBank store:
- alien card (temporary alien card application paper and passport is acceptable)
- your Japanese address
- your Japanese home or work phone number
- Here is a list of stores with English speakers, but most stores will have someone that can help you in english.
- Ask for a pre-paid phone and top-up card.
- Get the cheapest one they have. Mine was ¥2,000 plus a ¥3,000 top-up card. I got handset model SC740, but I’m sure that the cheapest model changes regularly.
- They will not sell you a sim card only, unless you have a used SoftBank handset.
- The information online about buying a sim card only is outdated -they will not sell you one. You need the handset for step 3 anyway, so just buy it!
- Get them to set the phone’s menu and voice menu to english.
- Top up your phone and set email address
- Call 1400 and top up the phone balance using the instructions on the top-up card and activate the ¥300 monthly email option.
- Change your email address to email@example.com using the phone’s built-in WAP browser (it’s probably a yahoo! button). There is hyperlink to change the language to english.
- Patch commcenter on your iPhone. If you skip this step you will lose settings on each reboot.
- Set up iPhone to accept new settings
- Move sim card from your Japanese handset to the iPhone.
- Use SSH and your favorite text editor to backup and then edit the following file:
- /System/Library/Carrier Bundles/Softbank_jp.bundle/carrier.plist
- Add the following lines, directly below at the top of the file
- Change settings to allow MMS on your iPhone using your @softbank.ne.jp address
- Go to settings>messages
- Turn “MMS Messaging” to “on”
- Put your @softbank.ne.jp address in the “MMS Email Address” field
- Go to settings>general>network>cellular data network
- In the “cellular data” section, blank all fields
- In the “MMS” section, make sure the following are set:
- APN: mailwebservice.softbank.ne.jp
- Username: softbank
- Password: qceffknarlurqgbl
- MMSC: http://mms/
- MMS Proxy: smilemms.softbank.ne.jp:8080 sbmmsproxy.softbank.ne.jp:8080
- MMS Max Message Size: 307200
- MMS UA Prof URL:
That’s it. You should now be able to send end receive emails with your @softbank.ne.jp address using the messages app (not the mail app) on your iPhone, as well as make and receive voice calls. There are multiple ways to do steps 5 and 6, such as installing a text editor on your iPhone, but I didn’t do it that way so I can’t recommend it. Apologies for the weirdly formatted ordered list.
Update: I was getting frustratingly sporadic MMS functionality. I found that it would always work right after a reboot, but not some minutes later. I found a different MMS proxy to use that seems to be working reliably.
Occasionally (I think if the sim card is jostled or if a no-service region is entered, the APN settings get reset and MMS stops working. I haven’t found a way around this yet. It might be possible to lock the carrier settings file (using unix permissions) so that iOS can’t change it.