In the year or so since I last reviewed iPhone apps for Japanese language learners, there’s been an explosion in the number and variety available. Look in the iTunes App store today and you’ll find a wealth of vocabulary builders, apps to teach you how to write in hiragana and katakana, kanji flashcard programs, pronunciation guides and powerful dictionaries.

I asked a few Japanese language teachers and Japanese language learners for their recommendation. The result was a list far too long to cover in a single article, so I’ll be breaking them down into several groups, starting off today with Japanese-English dictionaries.

Whilst not the sexiest of apps, dictionaries can (literally) be lifesavers for non-Japanese in Japan – don’t leave the house without one! Whilst there are a huge number of English-Japanese dictionaries in the App Store, for a long time now there have been two clear leaders, Kotoba! and Japanese, and it’s these two that I’m focusing on here.


Free: iTunes | Website (currently no iPad version).

This app has progressed a great deal in the past year, with a range of new features having been added to turn it into a force to be reckoned with.

The main database was created with files from the JMdict project (which in turn was based on Jim Breen’s EDICT), resulting in it containing over 130,000 Japanese / English entries. Version 2 saw the addition of example sentences, and a more recent update an astonishing 6,500 stroke order diagrams added. Aside from the English translations, there’s also partial support for French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian – accounting for another 100,000 translations.

There are several ways to look up a character, making it almost impossible to not find what you’re looking for. The search function accepts romaji, kana or kanji input – and kanji input can of course be done using your finger to trace the character (go to your iPhone’s keyboard settings panel to enable the Simplified Chinese Handwriting keyboard).

If you don’t know the reading of the kanji there are also a number of pre-defined lists to work from, including the SKIP index (used in the popular Kanji Learner’s Dictionary), Radicals and JLPT levels.

A note on JLPT levels: in most Japanese language learning apps you’ll find that the JLPT lists have yet to be updated from the old four levels to the new five levels (N1~N5). There’s a simple reason for this: the organisation behind the test is refusing to make the new kanji lists public, thus at this stage any attempt to classify them by the new levels would have to be based on guesswork.

Having found the character or word you’re looking for you’ll be presented with a wealth of information, including the reading, meanings, all verb conjugations, kanji compounds and a staggering number of example sentences. You can add individual words or entire sentences to personalised lists, copy them to the iPhone clipboard or append them to the clipboard – meaning that if you’re wanting to paste a string of kanji into an email you don’t have to go back-and-forth between the dictionary and your mail app between kanji. Cross-reference numbers are also provided for about 19 other kanji lists including Heisig, Nelson and Halpern.

But better than being able to share entries via the iPhone clipboard is the export feature. Simply go to your chosen list and send it via email as text or a CSV file.

Overall, revisiting Kotoba! after a year of not using it, I was pretty blown away by how comprehensive it is – although at times I must admit that I felt a little overwhelmed and lost in all the options – what other app do you know that has over 40 options to toggle in the settings panel?!


$15.99: iTunes | codefromtokyo Website (iPad version available soon as a free update)

This was one of those apps that I loved right from the start. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend, prior to even owning a iPhone to run it on. I’ve used it consistently since, and it remains one of my favourite (and most expensive) apps. It was definitely worth it.

With over 150,000 Japanese entries and about 12,000 kanji, it’s a truly comprehensive dictionary. There are many similarities with Kotoba!, including word lookup by romaji/ kana / kanji / handwriting, kanji lists, multiple example sentences, personal vocabulary lists and cross-references for other kanji resources.

However, it has a number of other features that set it apart from the Kotoba!, and make it feel like more than just an interface for the JMdict database.

Firstly, the search function activates as soon as you start typing, with suggestions appearing below. When you tap on the word you’re looking for, along with translations and example sentences you’ll find popular compounds and conjugations – no need to dig deeper into the sub-menus.

Also, should you enter a long phrase into the search box, the search engine will try to break it down into individual elements (see image below). Numbers can also be transcribed – just enter the digits and out comes the kanji & reading.

Similar Kanji are another feature, helping avoid confusion with lookalike characters, whilst the recent addition of furigana (little hiragana characters above the kanji) show you the readings of individual characters in search results.

Adding words to your personal lists just takes two taps- you also have the ability to apply self-defined color labels.

Integration of Spaced Reptiton flashcards

The killer feature for this app, and the one that really sets it apart from Kotoba!, is the integrated Spaced Repetition flashcard function. This can be used with any word list within the app – not just those that you create yourself. Pre-loaded lists include JLPT (pre-2010 for reasons explained above), expressions, proverbs, interjections, nouns, verbs, adjectives, particles, a huge array of subject categories such as Art, Chemistry, Food etc …and many more.

What this means for the student then is that there’s no need to export your lists to import to a similar SRS such as Anki – although should you wish to you can share lists as text-emails for import – let’s hope that CSV exports are on the cards for a future update.

Another feature that makes this app stand out from the crowd in the ability to import vocabulary lists – provided they are in the same format as when exported – just copy and paste from the email app into a new list.

A nice little touch is the ability to change the color of the app; personally I’ve gone for purple now.

A video demo of the app can be found at


So there we have it – two powerful dictionary apps for Japanese language learners. Considering the price tag (free), Kotoba! is an incredible resource, and for those who just need a dictionary and are not actively studying Japanese, it makes sense to choose it over Japanese.

For serious students of Japanese however, the integrated SRS makes Japanese a better choice. It has some really handy extra features, and I find it to be a more ‘beautiful’, iPhone-esque app – little things like that instant search function, the smoother kanji stroke animations, the text styles used.

Whilst some may think the price tag a little high, it compares well with many other major dictionary apps, and in my view is well worth the investment.

Code from Tokyo is also due to release an iPad version soon – look forward to seeing that in the app store.

With just hours to go until the official launch of the iPad in Japan, we are gearing up for another long night.

Right now, there is a live party going on at Velours in Aoyama.  While the event is closed, there is a Ustream feed that you can catch live now here.

I’ll be heading over in an hour or so to check out the scene and will be sticking around as long as I can, hopefully up to the launch ceremony at the Omotesando Softbank shop at 8am.

Hopefully I will be able to update this blog entry with photos and streaming video on my Ustream channel.

Continue reading

SIM Locked or Not SIM Locked, that is the iPad 3G question in Japan.

In order to get our facts in order, I’m going to recap what we’ve learned so far.

May 8: Softbank keeps iPad SIM Locked

As pre-orders are about to start in Japan, rumors that Softbank was able to keep the device SIM locked in Japan are turning out to be true.

IT media reporting on Softbank press announcement:


translating into

According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

The wording used by Softbank to the media outlets is quite clear: SIMロック

It only mentions iPad sold from Softbank shops since the Apple Store only sells the Wi-Fi versions.

May 10: DoCoMo abandons plans to sell iPad microSIMs

Since Softbank’s relation with DoCoMo suddenly became even more exclusive, DoCoMo announces it backs out from its plans to sell iPad microSIMs.

May 12: iPad in Japan Not Really SIM Locked

Thanks to a Mobile in Japan community member, we are able to report that Steve Jobs contradicts Softbank:

Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.

May 12: Apple changes its official iPad FAQ, adds to confusion

The official iPad FAQ is changed on that same day (the 3rd edit since it got online) and adds to the confusion, due to what can be described as clever wording. Indeed,

you cannot use a microSIM purchased overseas for an iPad in Japan

can be read in multiple ways.

Our commenters seem to be agree that it means that while abroad, one is free to switch microSIM, the iPad is tied to Softbank microSIM in Japan.

May 15: Steve Jobs says both Apple and Softbank websites are wrong

Kernel Panic gets another clarification from Steve Jobs

Our website and Softbank are wrong, and we are getting them the correct information ASAP. The website should be fixed soon. Sorry for the confusion.

Steve Jobs is basically saying that Softbank employees, mentioned in Gabe Glick‘s original email, should not have been saying the iPad 3G was locked nor that it wouldn’t work with any other microSIM than Softbank’s.

May 15: Wall Street Journal Confirms iPads only work with Softbank in Japan

Thanks to Yukari Iwatani Kane reaching out to Apple for the WSJ, it seems now a certainty that iPads can only be used with Softbank in Japan:

Japanese 3G iPads will only work with Softbank’s 3G service in Japan. But outside of Japan, those iPads are unlocked, so they can be used with SIMs for local carriers in their respective markets. Whether 3G iPads purchased outside of Japan will work in Japan will depend on the roaming agreement that the users’s home carrier has established in the country

May 16: Steve Jobs confirms the Japanese iPad works with international microSIMs

On the following day, Ed Andersen gets the same confirmation from Steve Jobs himself:

It is locked to Softbank in Japan, but you can use any international microSIM.

Only to learn, one email later, that there must be some software SIM lock.

Thanks for the reply. So Japanese 3G iPads are not SIM-locked at all, you are just forced to take out a Softbank contract. Is this correct?

No, not exactly.

May 17: Softbank’s CEO responds

Friend Hideki Francis Onda adds a nail into the coffin with a brilliant post summarizing the iPad in Japan situation.

Son Masayoshi, the operator CEO candidly admits the iPad exclusivity is due to the relative lack of robustness of his network compared to DoCoMo

We are at a disadvantage compared with NTT. We will lose massive customers if we did not lock the Japanese iPads to our network

Interestingly, he adds that he would consider unlocking the device if Softbank can get the 800MHz spectrum.

Softbank has a long history fighting for this band that the government doesn’t want to license again until 2015, but already used by DoCoMo and au/KDDI.

May 18: Apple updates the iPad FAQ for the umpteenth time

The new FAQ wording makes it clearer. In Japan, Softbank only!

iPad Wi-Fi + 3GモデルはソフトバンクのSIMカードのみに対応していますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本で使用する場合、iPad向け3Gデータプランを提供しているソフトバンクのmicro-SIMカードのみに対応します。海外で使用する際は、その国で発売されているmicro-SIMカードもご利用になれます。
その他の通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードを使って、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを海外で利用できますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本国内ではソフトバンクの3Gデータサービスのみに対応します。その他の国内通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードには対応しません。海外では、その国の通信事業者が提供しているmicro-SIMカードとデータプランを利用して、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを使用することができます。

直営店のApple Store、またはiPad正規販売店でiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルと一緒にmicro-SIMカードを購入できます。(日本国外で購入したiPad用に、micro-SIMカードを購入することはできません。)

So, what do we know so far?

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will be tied exclusively to Softbank while in Japan.

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will have the ability to switch microSIM while outside of Japan (or to roam using Softbank microSIM).

Any iPad 3G bought outside of Japan won’t accept any Japanese microSIM, since Softbank is the sole microSIM vendor (at this point) and won’t sell the SIM & plans without an iPad.

It is unclear how Softbank is SIM locking iPads sold in Japan. A software lock is possible but not confirmed, but Steve Jobs remarks seems to indicate that there is more than a simple country contract exclusivity.

So, yeah, Steve Jobs was right all along: both Softbank’s iPad announcement (and customer relations) and Apple’s website (until today’s modification) were wrong. And misleading I should add.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

The iPad drama continues in Japan.

Since Apple’s CEO promised at launch that the device would be SIM free, long time contributor to our community, Doug Lerner, admittedly quite upset by the situation like many others, took the initiative to send Steve Jobs an email.

And, in one of these nice moments when Steve answers, Doug got this:

Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.

Here’s Doug original email:

Hi. In the U.S. iPad 3Gs are cool. They are SIM-unlocked, which is great. And the unlimited no-committment AT&T contracts are convenient.

But in Japan we won’t have the option to buy an internationally usable iPad 3G. SoftBank has been given exclusive rights to sell the iPhone 3G, and the unlimited data option at about $35/month requires committing to a 2-year contract. There aren’t any no-commitment unlimited contracts like the $30 AT&T plan.

And what’s worse, unlike the U.S. version, the iPad 3G sold will be SIM-locked! So we can’t get an AT&T microSIM to use during travel in the U.S.!

The reverse is also true. If you are coming from the U.S. to Japan, you can’t get a microSIM card from SoftBank to use your iPad 3G here.

The iPad 3G could be such a cool, internationally usable device. Why isn’t Apple letting it be open in Japan like it is in the U.S.?


Doug Lerner,

Now look at these two screenshots taken from the official Apple website, more specifically from the iPad FAQ on the Japanese online store:

One is from yesterday. One from this morning. Notice anything different? Yes, Apple Japan does now explicitly states that you cannot use a micro SIM obtained from another country for your iPad.

Kinda contradicts what Steve Jobs just sent by email, no?

What a nice drama. We’ve got Steve Jobs relieving the Japanese iPad users willing to travel and avoid data roaming charges contradicted by a last minute edit on the official iPad FAQ.

Sit down and watch, I’m pretty sure there will be more to that story.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

Impress Watch is reporting that as of 3:30 pm today, just two days after the iPad opened pre-orders in Japan, retailers in Japan have ceased to accept new pre-orders citing limited supply of the initial shipment.

According to customers who pre-ordered the iPad already, even people with a pre-order are not guaranteed to get an iPad on launch day if stocks are depleted before they pick up thier order.

At the Apple Store in Ginza, customers were told that it additional stock might be available for walk in sales on May 28, but there is no guarantee any additional iPad stock would be available to walk in customers.

Pre-orders are still possible on Apple’s online store, however the estimated shipment date has slipped back from May 29 to June 7.

It is unclear how many iPads will be made available in the initial launch day shipment, but it is increasingly likely that Apple will have a sell-out first day.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

The last 48 hours have been quite a rollercoaster. Following the announcement of pricing for the iPad in Japan and other global markets, the big question has been “will it be SIM locked”.

From the first announcement by Steve Jobs introducing this “Magical” new product, the announcement that the device would be SIM free has been a big boost for Apple. Sure, no other product on the market uses the micro-SIM standard that the iPad requires, but the possibility that you’ll be able to move your iPad easily to another network in the future should you move or find a better provider was sweet music to those iPhone owners suffering under less than satisfactory carrier restriction. The pricing model made sense. Since the device is wholly unsubsidized by the carrier, the iPad should be portable to any company that can provide a network compatible for it.

But of course, no one was sure if this promise extended to the iPad in other global markets. It is slowly becoming clear that this will not be the case, at least in Japan. While no official statement has been published on either the Softbank or Apple Japan webpage, entries in the iPad order page FAQ posted this morning on the Apple website seemed to imply that the iPad sold in Japan would indeed be SIM Free.

Specifically this section

As it turns out, this is simple a translation of this section found on other international Apple webpages.

You would assume that if you can travel and get a SIM in a country you are visiting, the device would have to be SIM lock free.  Well, you would be right, but in the case, it turns out that the website is wrong. In Japan at least we are getting confirmation that all iPads sold in Japan will be SIM locked to only work on Softbank’s mobile network.

From Impress Watch

“It has been announced that the iPad wi-fi+3g version sold by Apple will be be locked to only use SIM cards from Softbank Mobile.

Apple has also confirmed that “All iPad’s sold will only be able to connect to Softbank Mobile’s network”. No reason or details have been disclosed.”

From IT Media

“According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

Over the next 10 days, many people are expected to stop by the Apple Store to pre-order.  They will be told by Apple staff “Apple iPad sold in Japan are all have SIM locked”. Softbank is Apple’s exclusive partner with for the iPad and iPhone. Basically, all iPads sold in Japan are SIM Locked.

To make matters worse, more news is emerging showing even more draconian controls. Impress Watch goes on to explain that you will not be able to get an iPad compatible micro-SIM from Softbank if you do not purchase an iPad from them. You will not be able to use the Softbank network if you bring an imported iPad sold in another market. They explain this is due to the fact that imported models are not certified wireless devices.

Weekly Ascii backs this up by confirming with both Apple stores and Softbank that

  • No SIM Free iPads will be sold in Japan
  • 3G models will not be sold without a contract
  • Even using micro-SIM from another network will not work on SIM locked iPads
  • You can not make a contract for an imported iPad

What I’d like to know is when did Softbank kidnap Steve Jobs’s dog? Apple is getting nothing from this deal. Softbank is not subsidizing the iPad, except to waive interest fees for people who want to pay for their iPad on a two year payment plan and who sign up to a two year unlimited data contract. iPad customers will not be able to get local pre-paid data SIMs when they travel, and people coming to Japan will also not be able to use their 3G iPads in Japan without paying insane roaming fees. Japanese customers are getting a hobbled product and are not getting anything in return.

To add insult to injury, Apple seems to be pretending that nothing is wrong here. As of the writing of this article, the iPad Pre-order page on Apple Japan’s website still indicates that the iPad wi-fi+3G in not SIM locked. Apple has agreed to let Softbank completely run the show for this product, and Softbank has decided to lock this puppy down.

It will be interesting how Docomo will react to this. Just a few weeks ago, Docomo announced plans to release an iPad compatible micro-SIM with the expressed purpose of capturing some of the iPad market. However Bloomberg is now reporting that those plans are now officially dead in the water. It’s one thing to treat your customers like cattle in Japan. It’s a very different thing to lock out all your competitors from similarly abusing their customers. Especially when that competitor is a psudo-government entity like Docomo.

So what can you do?  Well, if enough people complain before the 28th, maybe something can happen. Nothing seems to be official enough that either Apple or Softbank is willing to just come out and say it publicly. However realistically it;s far to late to change things for launch.  Still, early online response to this is decidedly negative and the dissatisfaction is growing. We can hope that eventually Apple will develop enough of a backbone to stand up to Softbank as they did finally getting permission to sell iPhones in their retail outlets.

Or another option is just to grab an EMobile Pocket wifi and go with an iPad wi-fi model, it’s the solution I have been using for weeks now, and to be honest it works just fine. I can use Maps with no problem, get YouTube in full resolution, download any size app and even use Skype. All with no jailbreaking required.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

[* Updated: Local news agencies now reporting iPad 3G will be SIM locked in Japan. Read below for details]

It’s P-Day in Japan.  That’s “P” for Pre-order I mean.

As of today you can pre-order your shiny new iPad.  But remember, no iPads will hit the street until May 28 in Japan.  As I am writing this, I am even hearing reports of  people lining up in front of shops to be the first to put their names down.

If you want to know what it will cost you, check out our price breakdown post, but besides price, what else do you need to know?  Well, to start with;

Where can I pre-order an iPad?

The iPad can be pre-ordered in person at the following locations.

You can also pre-order the iPad online at the Apple Online Store.  But note that you can only pre-order the Wi-Fi only model online.  You must stop by in person to pre-order a wi-fi+3G model.  Also, there is no in-store pickup option in Japan like there was in the US, so if you order online you have to have your iPad shipped to a location somewhere.

What do I need to pre-order an iPad wi-fi+3G?

Sure, it’s just a pre-order, and not an actual contract at this point, but don’t forget your documentation if you want to reserve your iPad 3G.  Here’s what you will need.

ONE of the following forms of identification.

  1. Drivers License
  2. Japanese Passport
  3. National Health Insurance Card + Proof of local residency
  4. National Health Insurance Card + Credit Card
  5. National Health Insurance Card + Student ID card with Photo
  6. Disability certificate
  7. Foreign passport + Foreign resident identification card

In addition for the iPad, the only method of payment allowed for the iPad plan is credit card payment.  So it looks like automatic bank withdrawal and convenience store payment are not acceptable.

Micro-SIM and SIM lock

There have been plenty of rumors floating around the intertubes over the last few days, but here’s is what has been officially announced regarding the iPad SIM cards.

According to Apple Japan’s website, the iPad is not SIM locked.

“The iPad wi-fi+3G can be used with a micro-SIM card provided with an iPad compatible data plan”.  On international usage, “To use a local data plan while roaming, use a micro-SIM with iPad data service.  For international roaming service, please check with your domestic service carrier”.

Now, we still do not have practical verification.  That will come when we actually have reports of people plugging in different SIM cards.  Also keep in mind that Apple can change the wording on their site any time before the actual launch day, but take this as a positive sign that the Japanese iPad will remain SIM-lock free.

Also note, that Apple has stated that the iPhone SIM and the iPad micro-SIM can not be swapped.  Well, certainly they are different sizes, so they can’t easily be exchanged, but they go as far as to say that you must be on an iPad compatible plan, so even filing down you iPhone SIM to fit into the micro-SIM slot might not be enough to get your iPad working (and would certainly violate you users agreement).

UPDATE #2: Impress Watch and ITMedia are now both reporting that all iPad wi-fi+3G models sold in Japan will be SIM locked.  This contradicts information on Apple’s own webpage, but according to ITMedia, an official statement from Apple confirms that “Due to Apple’s partnership with Softbank with the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the only network that all iPads sold in Japan will be able to access is Softbank”.  As of this update, Apple’s webpage has still not been updated and continues to state that the iPad can be used with any micro-SIM card that has an iPad data plan.

Docomo has reportedly expressed regret that their plans to offer a micro-SIM compatible with the iPad are not going to work.

In addition, Impress notes that customers who buy iPad 3G models overseas will not be able to make a contract for due to the fact that imported models are not certified to operate in Japan.

This is very disappointing news, and you will certainly be hearing more, both on this website and others, leading up to the May 28 launch of the iPad in Japan.

UPDATE: The discussion on twitter regarding the locked status of the iPad is quite lively now.  Information coming from the Apple camp implies that the iPad is unlocked, however inquiries to Softbank have been coming back that the iPad will be locked to Softbank only.  Is the Apple website just an unedited translation or is Softbank trying to play up their launch exclusivity. We may not know until May 28 so buyer beware.

Softbank exclusivity

In the MetPod Podcast yesterday, Softbank Store General Manager Mihoko Kasuga stated that Softbank has an exclusive for the iPad launch in Japan.  While this doesn’t restrict other carriers from coming out with compatible micro-SIM cards and plans, it does look like at the very least, we won’t see them on May 28.

While it’s only a matter of time until micro-SIM cards start to appear in Japanese handsets, the iPad will be the first device in Japan that uses them.  I would bet that the iPhone 4G will be the second, so there is certainly no rush by Japanese carriers to support the format.

For now at least, Softbank has the only horse in town, but you can bet EMobile is salivating with at the number of Pocket wi-fi’s they will be able to sell with the iPad wi-fi.

Accessorize your iPad

Bring out the bling!  While Amazon Japan has been flooded with 3rd party iPad accessories for a while now, but now we have the official add-ons.  On the Apple online store, along with the iPad, you can also pre-order the iPad case, dock, keyboard dock, camera connection kit, vga adapter, and 10 watt usb power adapter.

So what are you waiting for?  If you are in line right now to pre-order or will be signing up, make sure to check out our iPad forum and discuss the iPad with your fellow iPad peers.

Thanks to @TokyoDan for the pic!

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

[* Updated with new plan information]

Sorry for all the iPad traffic lately. Rest assured we are still keeping our eagle eye’s out for other mobile coverage in Japan.

But the moment we have been waiting for is here.  Softbank has announced pricing for the iPad and iPad 3G, as well as details on two 3G connection plans, a monthly unlimited plan and a pre-paid option.

So let’s take a look at what we have got.

First of all, you will have a choice of paying up front cash, or buying on a two year installment plan.

So pricing for an iPad Wi-fi only model in cash would be

16GB: 48,960,  32GB: 59,040, and 64GB 68,880

Using installment ups it a bit at

16GB: 53,280, 32GB: 63,360, and 64GB 73,200

Pricing for the iPad 3G model with the prepaid plan would be

Cash purchase

16GB: 61,920, 32GB: 72,000, and 64GB 81,840

monthly installments (24x)

16GB: 66,240, 32GB: 76,320, and 64GB 86,160

If you sign up for a two year contract for unlimited data, Softbank will eat the interest for you so there is no difference between cash purchase price and installment plan.  So the 3G model on the monthly unlimited data plan (2 year contract)

16GB: 58,320, 32GB: 67,920, and 64GB 77,280

see the full price chart with detail here

Note that all iPads come with two years of free access to Softbank’s Wi-fi hotspot service (after two years the cost will be 490 yen/month).

Next we have the data plans.  You’ll have to sign up some data service in addition to purchasing an iPad to use Softbank’s 3G data network.

Softbank is offering their standard unlimited data plan of 4,410 yen a month, however if you are using an iPad, you can receive a 1,500 yen a month discount dropping the monthly charge to 2,910 a month.  I assume this means that if you pop out your micro SIM and somehow get it into a computer or other device you risk losing your discount.

There is also a monthly prepaid service that offers you up to 1 GB of data that you can use for up to 30 days.  This will cost you 4,410 yen a charge.  This is not as great a deal and if either 30 days pass or you use your 1GB of data up (whichever comes first), you will need to recharge your plan.  You can set this up to work automatically, but that could lead to some scary charges if you somehow download a lot of data.

Remember, pre-orders start on Monday, May 10 at 10 am.

and as for Docomo, no official word.

*UPDATE 5/9: Thanks to community member ketahi who found information on a third data plan.  It seems that in addition to the 1GB prepaid plan, there will be an additional 100MB prepaid plan offered starting July 1.  This plan will cost 1,510 yen per month and people who sign up for the 1GB plan will be able to swap over to the lower plan when it becomes available.

press release with more detailed plan information

So what do you think of the pricing for Japan?  Send us your comments!


UPDATE 5/10: All you need to know in order to pre-order an iPad

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

This just in! Apple has just issued a press release listing nine countries that will be launching the Apple iPad on May 28.  Pre-orders will begin in just a few days on May 10, with pricing and data plan information soon.

From the release sent by Apple PR.

Apple® today announced that iPad™ will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK on Friday, May 28. Customers can pre-order all iPad models from Apple’s online store in all nine countries beginning on Monday, May 10. In the US, Apple has already sold over one million iPads and customers have downloaded over 12 million apps from the App Store, as well as over 1.5 million ebooks from the new iBookstore.

Apple plans to release iPad in Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore in July. Apple will announce availability, local pricing and pre-order plans for these nine additional countries at a later date.

Are you planning on picking one of these”Magical” devices up? If so, check out this discussion post in our forum.

We’ll be bringing you more news about the Japan release as it is announced.  Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Softbank has released pricing information. Check out the scoop here

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

For years there has been tremendous interest in using Japanese cellphones in other countries. Recently however, as  development of next generation handsets has stalled within Japan, there’s been growing interest in using foreign handsets in Japan.

In the 2G era, while Japan was protected as a technological Galapagos island, network incompatibility prevented anyone from either using Japanese cellphones abroad or from bringing cellphones for use in Japan, unlocked or not. But with the introduction of the global W-CDMA 3G standard came foreign immigrants in the form of Nokias, HTCs and or course the iPhone.

Both NTT Docomo and Softbank operate on the 2100 Mhz W-CDMA band which is compatible with most of the global 3G network providers around the world so now, most 3G hardware available on the open market is technically able to work in Japan. I say technically because there are still quite a few safeguards put in place by Japanese carriers to prevent both exporting and importing.

One barrier is SIM locks. While there has been quite a bit of discussion lately in Japan on the subject, the fact is that now Japan is one of the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to locking down of cellphones to a single carrier. Breaking a SIM lock in Japan not only voids your contract and warranty, but is against the law and Japan is one of the few countries that enforces this.  There have been raids on shops that unlock Japanese cellphones. In spite of the recent interest and discussion I am doubtful that this trend will change anytime soon. SIM lock free phones, while not unheard of, have been rare to the point of insignificance, and as such carriers are usually unwilling to assist customers in attaching an “unsupported” handset to their network, even if the phone is a legally unlocked model.  There are no incentives for carriers to modify their business plan and the government is too inclined to the the industry regulate itself.

Luckily there are an abundance of webpages that assist the few brave souls who attempt to go this route with settings and guides on how to use their foreign booty in Japan, but as with all thing, relying on the advice of unknown individuals on the internet is not without risks. For one, there is the danger that the carrier you shoehorn your mobile onto might not be happy to have you as a customer.

Japanese carriers still treat data as a premium commodity. While recently with the arrival of true internet capable smartphone such as the iPhone, reasonable pricing plans have started appearing, these are mostly band-aids on a broken pricing model. I can get unlimited data on an iPhone for less than 5,000 yen a month, but that’s only because I am getting a discount equivalent to the extra amount of my monthly data usage. The raw cost of data is unreasonably high, with a real charge of over $500 for just 100MB of data. Without the discount on my plan, my monthly iPhone bill would be in the thousands or tens of thousands of DOLLARS each month! Of course any unauthorized use of my SIM card can void my discount, so even if you get your imported phone working, you still take a risk that an very unfriendly bill can find it’s way into your mailbox next month.

With so many deterrents standing in the way of consumers, it’s hardly a surprise that you don’t see many off network cellphones around. With the scarcity, of course come yet even higher costs. The few stores that deal with imported goods tend to charge ridiculous import fees. I’ve seen imports going for as cheap as 30% over retail to over 200% from local shops. A better route for many is mail order. There are plenty of websites selling unlocked mobile phones that will ship to Japan. Of course there are plenty of risks with this path as well. Aside from standard complaints of online retailers such as poor customer service, delayed shipments, and even fraud, you also have to deal with international shipping, customs duties, and potentially expensive shipping costs if your phone needs to be replaced. You are also not guaranteed to get the phone working in Japan and have no official support should you have some problem operating your device in Japan.

So why go through the hassle? As someone who has gone this route many, many times, I think it has to do mostly with prestige. The difficulties and additional costs rule out any real practical advantage, but there is certainly something to be said for being the only person in a party with that cool new phone (as I am writing this article in a cafe on my imported iPad). If you can afford to spend a few extra yen on a prestige phone, or are subsidized by a company to do testing of a non-supported phone, it’s always fun to see the surprised expression on someones face when you pull out that mystery device and show off it’s amazing functions. But be prepared to trade emails with online vendors and shipping companies, scour internet newsgroups to get your contraband working, and live in mortal fear of the dreaded DOA shipment.

If you have any success or fail stories involving imported mobiles in Japan, feel free to add them to the comments below.

“Who is my boss” is a new campaign led by DoCoMo to announce something by Tuesday May 11th. What will they announce? Is this a product? a new phone? Is DoCoMo going to get out something that nobody will be able to imagine?

Who is my boss?

This campaign has a story, our friend, Darth Vader is looking for a boss. He is like a ronin looking for a lord that will fit his expectations. Go to and check the website, you will find a funny video of Darth Vader trying to desperately find his boss.
You have to write your name in Japanese characters, then link an image avatar from twitter or your disk and finally you have to make a call to a free dial number and introduce a code that they will provide for just few seconds. If you are not in Japan, forget about the call, you can wait it timeouts and see the same result in the website. Basically, if you call that number, Darth Vader will call you back giving some important messages for your life :-)
If you don’t know how to write your name in Japanese, try this website but remember that Japanese language uses syllables so if your name is “Michael” you have to write it as “Maikeru”.

The campaign is quite aggressive. Darth Vader just invaded all the walls and corners of Shibuya station.

Who is my boss?

The big screens in the Shibuya crossroad constantly show Darth Vader looking for his Boss…

Who is my boss?

Who is my boss?

More pictures at Flickr

Check the website and try to play. Your picture will be included in the video :)

In an attempt to find his boss, Darth knows how to use new technologies and social networking. He has a twitter account and will reply to your questions with a nice link including your avatar:

It’s quite weird to see Darth Vader in every corner, I thought that he won’t make it but finally it seems that he will invade earth soon… :)

As you may (or may not) know, here at Mobile in Japan, we started as a service to the english-speaking community in Japan by providing a place where people could exchange ideas, support questions and information about everything mobile.

The creation of this blog was only made possible through the backbone of that vibrant community, and, if you’re new to the website, you might not have yet ventured to these forums (you should ;-))

As stories about the iPad in Japan are heating up with a probable release of the device by the end of this month, we’ve created today a dedicated forum for you all to share your iPad stories, but also, like for the other forums, get help from the community directly (like how to get your SIM into that machine, for instance). Note that we also created a dedicated Twitter account to curate iPad Japan news.

We think it might quickly become an interesting place of exchange, the most successful discussion group having so far been the iPhone one. With the upcoming release of Android devices by most of the operators in Japan, we’re still expecting some more movement there as well.

Please let us know what other type of value we could bring you by commenting to this post. Oh, and thanks a million for coming back here daily, we’re all honored.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

I’m a bit wishy washy about the title of this article as the iPad has had it’s US launch, but it hasn’t launched in Japan (or anywhere else in the world) yet, and we are still a weeks away from Apple’s “magic” device arriving on our shores officially.

Through the efforts of great friends at Rinkya (a must use service for non-Japan based people to purchase hard to find Japanese goods), I was able to procure a 16GB wi-fi iPad just a couple days after the US launch.  I’ve had it for several weeks now and have been trying to figure out what the iPad is and what it isn’t, and most importantly, is it worth getting one.  After spending many hours with the device (it has hardly left my sight since I first got my hands on it), I can confidently say “maybe”.

What the iPad is:

The iPad of course is the new tablet device released by Apple to fill the void between the mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the laptop Macbook line.  With a 9.7 inch capacitive resistant, LED backlit screen, the iPad is much more than just a “big iPod touch”.
While it runs a similar OS to the iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad’s larger screen makes a world of difference to the overall experience.  Remember, the iPhone’s OS has been  billed by Apple as a full (albeit customized) version of OSX, so the new 3.2 OS adds support for 1024×768 pixel screens, a Safari browser much closer to the desktop version with support for html5, and a new category of iPad only applications which are optimized for the larger screen and more powerful device.
For over a year I have dragged a MacBook Air around with me as my mobile office solution.  It’s been great and I love the design and slim design of the Air, but with the iPad I have been able to knock off about half of the weight.  For a setup that I usually just carry around with me in case I want to get some productivity out of a hour in-between appointments, this has been great on my shoulder.  Throw in a small stand and an Apple bluetooth keyboard and I have pretty much everything I need while on the run.  A powerful web browser, word processor (I am using the iPad only Pages app to write this), and apps that cover my major productivity needs, NewsRack for Google Reader RSS feeds, Twittelator for iPad for twitter, and LogMeIn Ignition for when I need to access my more powerful system at home.  Note that I do more complicated work at home on a full desktop system, such as anything multi-media related or data management tasks.
In particular, I really like using the Safari browser and am starting to feel that touch is the killer app for browsing.  The in-line video support is very impressive and the A4 processor of the iPad seems to handle high quality video without even breaking a sweat.  I now feel pity for anyone watching TV on the sofa who does not have an iPad within reach.

What the iPad is not:

Well, for starters, the iPad is not small or light.  While it is quite thin, the iPad is still about as large and heavy as a hardback book.  This is not a mobile device that you carry with you all the time, but instead is more of a ultralight laptop or netbook.  In fact I often find myself typing on the iPad at the same time as I am checking up on things with my iPhone.  It’s a bit too heavy to pull out while I am walking around the streets of Tokyo and feels quite unwieldy when I try to use it while standing on the subway.
But it’s not quite a computer either.  It’s certainly more limited than a laptop computer.  No open file area I can use freely, means I have to rely on apps to take care of any complicated tasks I want to do via the iPad.  I like how it takes up much less table space when I want to work in a Starbucks, however, even with an external keyboard.  And the 10 hours of battery life (about what I have experienced even with wi-fi on) is miles better than my Air was capable of.

What about eBooks?

When I first saw the demo of the ipad I declared Amazon was doomed.  I now feel that sentiment was very premature.  Comparing the iPad to a Kindle2 is pretty much impossible.  The iPad looks gorgeous and offers color, backlit screen, animation, and tons of other features to boot.  But compared to the Kindle it weighs a ton.  The backlit screen is hard on the eyes in completely dark room and I just can’t see that reading on the iPad for hours on end will be either comfortable or good for your optical health.
The Kindle on the other hand has a much smaller screen, relies completely on available light, has  limited expandability and a prehistoric interface when compared to the iPad.  However with a weight only a fraction of the iPad it’s much easier to sit by the pool for a few hours catching up on a good trashy novel (yeah, I know. I never do this either, but I think I read a book where people do it).  The e-Ink technology, while still very limited compared to full displays, still gives the Kindle a battery life that makes even the iPad green with envy.  Simply put, the Kindle is a great single purpose ebook reader, the iPad is a much more powerful, and complicated computing device.

My suggestion, get both :)
If anything, I think that Amazon will come out a big winner here.  The Kindle App for iPad is great and in fact has some features that even the iBook app can’t match such as whipersync, allowing me to read one book on my Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Mac, and PC and have them all stay in sync so I never lose my place even when I swap devices.  While Kindle may lose some hardware sales to people who will stick to just the iPad, I think Amazon should see even better book sales (the Kindle store has much better selection) and I can see some people buying from the Kindle store now without even owning a Kindle.

To 3G or not to 3G

The US has just seen the launch of the 3G version of the iPad, and so far, the reviews are not stellar.  Basically, the 3G version only adds cellular wireless capability, giving the iPad the same data capability as the iPhone.  I am very amused by all the people who expected that the somehow the iPad would be exempted from all the restrictions.
When using the iPhone over 3G network, there are download caps, streaming video is restricted to low bandwidth resolutions and VOIP applications are for the most part unavailable.  Of course the iPad suffers the same limitations, and while high resolution video from YouTube on the iPad over wi-fi networks is amazing, I can imagine the disappointment of the blocky, rough 3G throttled version.
I have been using my iPad with an EMobile Pocket Wifi portable router, which has for the most part performed like a champ.  I can get data access for my iPad wherever I go, giving me pretty much the exact same functionality as a 3G version, with the bonus of a faster upload speed and ability to connect the internet to another four devices.  One problem I have noticed is that the iPad drains the battery on my portable router much faster that I have experienced in the past.  I think this may be due to the iPad forcing the connection to stay active, even when the device is in sleep mode, but need to do a bit more testing to confirm.  As such I had to pick up a spare battery for the Pocket Wifi to ensure I can keep the iPad properly fed and happy.
I can see the benefit of the 3G connection, but am not convinced that the additional monthly bill will be worth it for me as I have no plans to drop the EMobile.  And with still no official launch date in Japan (announcement expected on May 10), and no idea what kind of pricing plans we will see here, It’s still a very big question mark.  Also i am not in love with the big black plastic bar across the top side of the iPad 3G.  Love the clean back of the wi-fi version.

So is the iPad for you?

Well, for now, if you have to ask the question, probably not.  The people getting iPads right now are die-hard Apple fans, developers, journalists, and people with too much money (no comment on which categorie(s) might apply to me).
The iPad will continue to develop it’s own ecosystem, and soon we’ll see a pattern of what type of people get what kind of benefits from this new device.  But for the most part, the iPad does not replace any mainstream device.  And since it does not rely replace anything, it’s hard to make the case that it is necessary for anyone.  What we need to see is for the iPad to develop a new niche for casual computing hereto unseen similar to the iPhone revolution.  Judging from the response I have seen from Japanese consumers getting their first touch experience with the iPad, I think there are a lot of reasons for Apple to be optimistic about their chances here.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage