Using an iPhone in Japan

Current as of October 2009: technology changes – FAST – so some/all of this may not be relevant, but hopefully helps someone

As I am in Japan for an undecided amount of time, am decidedly hooked on technology, but don’t like spending a heap of money, I decided I needed to get a mobile phone whilst in Japan, but it couldn’t be on a contract, and I wanted to be able to use my iPhone from Australia. Not too difficult a task I thought, having accomplished this in China earlier in the year. How wrong I turned out to be…

I have an (officially) unlocked 3G iPhone bought in Australia, running OS 3.1. It wasn’t jailbroken when I bought it to Japan – I had no desire to jailbreak my phone, as it did everything I needed it to in Australia. However, in order to get S! Mail working in my iPhone in Japan, it turned out to be necessary to jailbreak the phone. There are negatives to using a prepaid SIM in your iPhone in Japan – please read though before deciding to do this. The biggest negative is that prepaid SIM’s here don’t have any data included, which means safari, maps etc will not work. Also, to receive and send messages, wifi must be turned off, which can be annoying if you use wifi while at home/work etc.

Japan’s texting system is a little different from that of Australia’s. Whilst I don’t have a technical understanding, basically SMS’s can be sent to people on the same network (for example from Softbank to Softbank) by sending an SMS the standard way (ie using the SMS application, and using the phone number e.g. 080 XXXX XXXX as the To: number). To send a text message to someone on a different network, you need to send an S!Mail, essentially a short MMS that is sent to a specific mobile email address, e.g.

The steps I used to get my iPhone to work with a prepaid SIM from Softbank:

  • Unlock iPhone
  • Buy Softbank prepaid SIM
  • Activate S!Mail
  • Jailbreak iPhone
  • Buy SwirlyMMS² and setup
  • Change APN Settings
  • Turn off Wifi
  • Change S!Mail address to something memorable

Unlock iPhone
I did this in Australia before I came to Japan. As I was on a contract with Optus, it was as simple as calling them, no charges applied. I understand this is the same on other networks – for prepaid phones you may need to pay a fee/credit your phone with a certain amount.

Buy Softbank prepaid SIM
Certainly not an easy task. In my case I needed to provide a passport and an Alien Registration Card (a card that you apply for if you are going to be in Japan for more than 90 days). There have been reports on different forums that this card isn’t always necessary – it was in my case. It took a few days to find a shop that had stock of the prepaid SIM’s, I must have tried about 12 shops. Don’t mention you are going to put the SIM in an iPhone, I made this mistake at one shop, and even though they had the card, they wouldn’t sell it to me, as they were adamant that it wouldn’t work in an iPhone. I created a nice tricky story about how I was buying a SIM to replace a lost one, but the store I eventually ended up getting it from didn’t ask any questions and was happy to sell it to me. The card itself was free, and I put 3000 yen credit on it (you have the option of 3000 yen or 5000 yen credit).

Activate S!Mail
I don’t know if this is a necessary step or not, but it certainly can’t hurt. Before activating mail, I had to change the service menu language to english, sign up for unlimited mail (300yen per month) and put the credit onto my phone. To do this, put the sim card into your phone, then:

  • Change Softbank prepaid service menu language to English
  1. dial 1400
  2. press 3 to change language
  3. press 2 to choose English
  4. press # to confirm
  • Sign up for unlimited mail on Softbank prepaid service – press 4 to for mail options and follow the steps
  • Register credit on Softbank prepaid service
  1. press 2 to register a card and follow the steps

To activate S!Mail I then pulled my SIM card out of my iPhone and put it into a friend’s Japanese phone. I then sent an email to my normal email address using my friend’s phone. If nothing, this helped me find out my default email address (started out as something like, which helped with trouble shooting later on.

At this stage, my phone worked to receive and make calls and to send SMS’s to other people on Softbank. For some people this may be enough – many people have Softbank phones (certainly the majority of foreigners in Japan), so you could probably get by with this. However, after being used to receiving emails when I was out and about in Australia, I wanted to try and get as much functionality out of my iPhone as possible.

Jailbreak iPhone
Not a step that I was planning on taking, but it proved to be necessary to get MMS working. Unfortunately I had *just* upgraded to OS 3.1 before coming to Japan – I wasn’t aware that (at this stage) there were limited options on how to jailbreak an iPhone running OS 3.1. Luckily for me, there was an option for mac users, so I followed those steps. It was fairly straight forward, but make sure you sync your phone before doing this. I have heard reports that this *can* brick your iPhone, so proceed with caution. If there had of been another option, I wouldn’t have done this, but I tried everything else before trying this step, and for me, this was the only option. I followed the instructions from QuickPWN (thanks Hans!).

Buy SwirlyMMS² and setup
To download SwirlyMMS² open Cydia (which should appear on your jailbroken iPhone), touch ‘Search’ and search for SwirlyMMS. Install by following the steps.

Download the XN02NK User Agent profiles from this webpage: iPhone 3GでSwirlyMMS(S!メール)のまとめ (click the X02NK link in the 3rd agenda point -> “- DiskAid..”) (thanks necomo). You will then need to SSH into your iPhone (like FTP’ing into a website). I followed the instructions from appadvice (thanks Nic Elder). Save the files UAprof & UserAgent to the folder /private /var /root /Library /MMSApp /Phones /X02NK/

Open SwirlyMMS² and purchase it (I found reports of demo versions which would have been great to find out if it worked before I purchased it, but I couldn’t get it working without purchasing it). Click on settings and set it up. I used the following settings:
MMSC: mms/
Username: softbank
Password: qceffknarlurqgbl
UserAgent: X02NK

These settings for SwirlyMMS² were found on the SwirlyMMS forums (thanks mmulin).

Change APN Settings
Go to in your iphone using safari. Tap Continue. Tap Custome APN. Enter:
Username: softbank
Password: qceffknarlurqgbl
V3 Tethering + MMS: Yes
Carrier: Blank
Tap Create Profile and then Install. These settings were found on GaijinPot (thanks wdenver).

Turn off Wifi
An annoying problem, MMS can’t be downloaded whilst wifi is on – the message will come to your phone, but you can’t download it (receive proxy errors until it is turned off) until wifi is turned off.

By this stage, your messages should be working, test it by sending a message from your iPhone to your PC and vice versa.

Change S!Mail address to something memorable
Rather than the default address, I wanted something I could remember. To change this, goto Softbank’s Forgotten Password Page and enter your mobile phone number and your 4 digit PIN that you setup when you purchased your SIM card (it should be on your paperwork if you’ve forgotten it). This will send a password to your default softbank email address.

Go to Softbank’s Mail Settings page and login with your mobile phone number and the password that was emailed to you. Follow the steps to change your email address to something more memorable. These instructions were found on GaijinPot (thanks Chris).

The long and short of it?
There’s a lot of work involved. And, at the end of the day, this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use your iPhone to its full capabilities – with no data (softbank’s prepaid SIM, the only prepaid SIM available in Japan, doesn’t come with any data) you can’t use your normal emails or safari etc. So while I wouldn’t rush out to buy an iPhone to bring with you to Japan, if you already own an iPhone, I think it’s worthwhile, rather than carrying around a mobile phone and an iPhone (if you plan on using your iPhone for music, dictionary etc).