Okinawa Hai fallback

Here’s a puzzle I’m sure you all have pieces to: Jenn needs the team to huddle up for a moment and talk cell phones.

So, after being here 2 years I am officially fed up with cell phones!

When we arrived, we signed up for monthly plans at AU. The coverage was great, voicemail message could be in English, and a discount after a year of membership. It cost us almost $100 a month, and my husband is deployed at least 2 weeks a month and I used mine only occasionally…it seemed like a waste of money.

So then we switched to SoftBank pay-as-you-go phones. The cost was much cheaper, but the reception is awful! Plus, the minutes only rollover if you activate another card before your current one expires. The husband being gone a lot comes into play here as well.

My question is, what has everyone found the best cell phone service to be? Help!

HERE’S a link to another post about phoning home.

NOTE: We have closed the comments on this post as of October 3, 2011.  We have since published a new post on this subject have continues the conversation there.  If you have asked any questions on this post that have not been answered please ask on the more recent post.  Thanks!


  1. We have a Softbank account and we aren’t too happy with the reception, but then again we have the cheap phones. We were thinking about moving up to the iPhone, are there any praises/complaints out there?

  2. Does anyone know if there is a way to look up when your bill is going to pull out of your account if you have AU. we have had them for about 3 months and every month our money gets messed up on the account that we cant read our bill and it pulls at all different times of the month

  3. I have had AU for 2 1/2 years. I have reception in places my friends with Softbank don’t. My bill has always been the same. Around $55 a month for two cell phones. My phone has the 60 minute plan like Jeff’s and my husband has the 25 minute plan because he only has his for when work needs to call him. We can call and text each other for free and can text anyone with AU for free. We have free incoming calls as well. I go off base to do all my cell phone stuff and have always had great service in their stores.

  4. AU is not the way to go, I have had constant headaches. I got the plan I have 60 mins to call bill 75.oo not using it at all I made one call 3 mins to another AU customer bill 376.00 I took this in to AU in December. They told me I have to pay almost 1,000 dollars to cancel the phone etc. They looked at records and said they dont understand why it happened but it wouldnt again, well low and behold same thing again next month and the phone call was a TEST CALL they did at the store. I told them I wanted my money back and they told me I was out of luck. I have been fighting them working with the lawyers and the Bank to fight them, they still are taking money out on my OLD Check card that was cancelled 3 months ago. this company is very shady is horrible Navy federal is aware of this company it is currently on the stay away list, they will tell you NOT to give them your credit card. When you leave island they will still continue to take money from you. BEWARE!!!!!!!

  5. Do the barracks have any internet coverage? Our Marine will be moving to Okinawa in February and we are trying to determine if he should take his computer – in order to sign up with VOIP or Skype or Magicjack.

    Any assistance will be greatly appreciated.

  6. Try a magicjack – it’s a USB attachment for your computer – uses the internet. You can call any number for a year. Works with a cordless phones too. It costs $40 for the first year. Unlimited minutes. I used it in the sandbox and other places. w w w dot magicjack dot com

  7. We have Softbank for personal use and my husband has Docomo for work. We’ve never had any trouble with Softbank as some others have. We always have service, even in our house. We have, jokingly, texted and called each other from other rooms when asking for something from the kitchen or something like that.

    The Docomo phone seems to have good service, as well. My husband is always reachable and we’ve yet to have one of his Marines tell him they couldn’t get ahold of him.

  8. Does anyone use Docomo? We’re arriving in a few weeks and I’ve been fortunately/unfortunately literally attached to my smartphone for the last three years. Are there phones that sync with Outlook and can send/receive emails in English? It’s not necessary for me to have another smartphone but just wanted to know what was out there. Thanks.

  9. My husband and I have Softbank. As most of you have said it is hard to get in touch with each other unless we have our phone sitting in the right spot. There are only certain places in our home that we can use our phone. Matt M, I use my cell phone to call back to the states using a military access calling card. I asked softbank when we moved here about using the cell for calling the states and they said to use the calling cards because they are cheaper. You can buy the calling cards at the shopette in the vending machine.

    For a home phone we have vonage and love it. We just use our cell phones to make calls in Japan.

  10. Amanda,

    With AU, you can get a family plan and you’ll be able to call and text your husband for free with that plan. AU has really good coverage. It’s slightly more expensive depending on which plans you get, ours is about $80 a month, but that’s cheaper than my cell phone in the states. Also, you can choose to share minutes or get roll over minutes. We use our cells instead of a house phone. And, we just use skype to contact people in the states.

  11. I respectfully disagree with Nikki. Most of my friends and I are on Softbank and we use our cells instead of a house phone. To us, the house phone numbers are a waste since you have to pay for a more expensive plan to be able to call offbase. For the limited calling we do like that, it’s cheaper to go with a cell. My husband and I went over $35 a month maybe 3 times in the 2 years we’ve been on island. The good news is, if you get one and decide you don’t use it enough, you don’t have to pay any fees (we don’t have a contract). Good luck.

  12. Amanda – we use Softbank and we never use our phones. My husband wanted them but they are SUCH a waste here for us. I am required to have one for my job but when our plan is up in September, I am switching to prepaid and my husband won’t have a phone (unless he decides he wants a prepaid but his current phone is always dead or at home). Our bill is around $45/month for phones that we barely use. I only use them to text message my friend when I’m at work. I advise most people to just not get cell phones unless you have kids or are pregnant or something that you would need to have the ability to contact your spouse 24/7.

  13. So my husband and I just got here and we are trying to figure out that endless question, Which cell phone carrier do we use?
    We used our cell phones ALL the time in the states but now we aren’t sure who we’d be even be calling yet here. We checked out AU and Softbank at the Foster exchange today and still aren’t sure which is best for us. The main questions we still have are does Softbank’s coverage really suck? (They couldn’t even show us a coverage map). And since it is only free to call Softbank customers, do the majority of people use Softbank? AU seems a little more expensive but much clearer in their plan. But my husband wants that spiffy 8gb iphone and internet. I read over everything here but some of it seems outdated already?
    So who do you use and what do you like/dislike about them?

  14. I’m moving out there this summer and my boyfriend is back in the states… is there a decent cell plan that I can get or have vonage forward onto a cell phone? His number will be the primary number I’ll want to call so if there’s any way to add just one number that I could call for free… that’d be perfect. Any ideas?

    I hear how great the technology is out in Japan but it’s not sounding that way from all of your comments…

  15. Laura is right. I just signed up for SoftBank’s White Plan for two family members. After getting the phones, we tested them in our house. It was absolutely amazing! The two phones couldn’t call each other within the same room (got the “Call Disconnected” notice)! The signal strength went through “out of range” to three bars within the same room! They did better when used outdoors. I don’t know what to do with them. Can we like cancel the plan within x number of days of sugnup?

  16. My strong recommendation is that you weigh VALUE against PRICE before you sign with Softbank. AU is the only way to go if you actually want to be able to communicate with other cell phone users!!! To those of you that espouse how great Softbank is, I can only say this—you clearly have never tried AU service AND you must be used to not being able to reach other cell phone users when you want/need to! Everyone of my friends that have Softbank constantly complain that they cannot reach anyone unless they make calls from outside, and even then they sometimes have to go to the top of a hill to make calls—not the top of a mountain mind you, just the top of a small hill. However, with AU I can reach anyone and everyone almost 100% of the time from anywhere! And if I can’t, invariably it is the Softbank users that I cannot reach. Case and point: I was at my friend’s house on Kadena and her daughter had gone to the Kadena BX—only about a mile away as the crow flies. My friend, using Softbank, tried to call her to remind her of a medical appointment (as most of you know, it often takes months to get in to see a specialist here on Okinawa so you never want to miss medical appointments—but that’s another subject). Anyway, as often as she tried, my friend could not reach her daughter. Agitated, my friend asked me to watch her 2 younger children while she went to give the message to her daughter the old-fashioned way—in person. At that point, I offered to try to call her daughter. My call went through the very first time! Her daughter said she had been in the food court with friends for the previous 2 hours and had not moved, so it was not a matter of her having gone outside or anything. It was simply a matter of Softbank providing poor service. Unfortunately, my friend is locked into Softbank’s plan and, just like with most cell phone plans in the states, it costs an arm and a leg to cancel your service early for any reason. So basically, she is stuck, as are my other friends who had the misfortune of signing with Softbank. As for prices, they are very competitive—they have to be. However, when it comes to VALUE, AU is the clear winner!!!

  17. Gwynne, For any call made to a Japanese phone (Cell or land line) from overseas you would drop the first “0”.

    So if your family were calling you (off-base) they would not dial the 098, just the 98, same for the cell# no 090, just 90. A quick google search would have told you that and saved you an hour on the phone with vonage, but glad you have it working.

  18. We read everyone’s input when we arrived last month and chose what would be best for our family (I always recommend considering your needs then weighing the options). Here is the breakdown of what we chose and why:

    CELL PHONE- We went with AU for cellular service. Please forgive me, I don’t remember all the different names and colors of each plan but will do the best I can from memory (and update everything later when I have time to revisit AU). There are two different color options for each available plan. Both options come with an initial two year commitment; however, one gives you the option to go monthly once the initial two years is up. The other will renew for another two years unless you visit them at that time and change it in person.

    The plan that automatically goes monthly after two years only gives you an option of one type of phone in three different colors. The other plan gives you a variety of phones AND the option to upgrade phones after the first two years.

    Another option we had was to share our monthly minutes (we have two lines) OR rollover our minutes to the next month (one or the other).

    Our final option was to include the price of the phone into our monthly plan (we chose this) or to pay upfront.

    If I am correct, the plan that offers the two year intial then monthly committment but only one choice of phone was a bit cheaper each month than the other plan which offers a renewed two year committment but a choice of phones with option to upgrade later.

    Our payments are automatically taken out of our account (I don’t remember if this was mandatory or by choice).

    We asked about the difference of having a bill in English or Japanese, but they didn’t give us an option–they are in Japanese…BUT FEAR NOT…I plan on breaking down each section of my bill (I just received my first one) in English for everyone and get it posted in the coming weeks to help anyone else that is looking at a page of beautiful but confusing characters.

    VOIP PHONE- We ordered Vonage and had my parents ship it to us. The regular plan came out to approximately $33.00 a month which includes an enormous amount of options and features that we absolutely love.

    We upgraded to the Asia plan ($10 more, so now our bill is $43) which allows us to call local numbers here in Okinawa and in about 16 other countries as well (some cell phone numbers may incur a charge, but Vonage can check your Oki cell numbers first to see if they will or will not–ours are free). With the Asia plan, we were able to forward our calls to our Oki cells for free (all incoming is free with AU so we don’t go over our minutes). We used the “SimulRing” option on our Vonage online account to input our cell numbers. This forwards our Vonage calls to our local cells and allows both our cells to ring at the same time. The caller ID works with calls that are forwarded so we know if I should answer or my husband (especially if we are not at the same place at the same time). **If you forward or SimulRing your calls with Vonage, you must put the country code first then delete the “0” at the beginning of your cell number in order for this to work. For example, our cell number is 090-****-****. Online, we inputted the country code (which I think it is 011-81) then our cell minus the initial zero. So online, it looks like this “011-81-90-****-****”. Vonage stayed on the phone almost an hour trying to figure that one out.

    Anyway, I hope this helps. Aloha.

  19. I’ve used docomo for 5 years now. Free calls between the family, I can list 5 other users for discounted calls, the bill for the wife and I is around Y6,000 and with our son is only Y9,000. We have his phone with a set limit so he can not run it up too high.

    You can set your phone message in English, I have an English (downloaded) cell phone manual. My phone has two numbers assigned (one for work and one for personal…but that costs extra)

    Haven’t had too many problems with dead zones, except when passing through Kadena around the thrift store.

    I agree though, use the agents off base.

  20. I’ve never tried calling the states with a cell phone. But, if you have a computer with internet access, you can download Skype for free. They have a plan where you can call anywhere in the world for $10 a month. Also, if someone else has Skype on their computer, you can talk Skype to Skype for free. You just need a microphone (and a Web cam if you want to do video chats) for your computer or you can order a special Skype phone to use that looks like a cell phone. There’s also a way to buy a number so that someone can call you, although I haven’t done this yet so I don’t know how much it costs. Some other people use Vonage…I think it’s a little more expensive than Skype, though.

  21. Does anyone have information on calling back to the US with any of these cell phone services. My wife and I would like to be able to reach home or have them reach us for emergencies…what are the rates? Are there any international calling plans that we can get and pay for by the month rather than by the minutes per call? Thanks

  22. Rapid responses! I love it, Ya’ll are so awesome.

    Anyone know anything about internet for folks residing in the dorms on Kadena? Or internet in general, perhaps I missed a post about it somewhere…

  23. I had heard you can add you phone on you bill but when I asked they didn’t know what I was talking about. Just an FYI I found that the off base Softbank stores are a lot more helpful than the one on Kadena. Kim thanks for the tip on the voice mail!

  24. I’m not sure why they (Softbank) told you that you have to buy the phone outright. I think I pay $12 a month total for the phone + the plan.

    And I have most everything set in English. I get a text message in Japanese once a month that I ignore.

    The voicemail prompts were in Japanese for a YEAR and I just pressed buttons when I felt like it and sometimes a message would play. I never knew if I was getting all of them or if it was old or new. One lovely evening Aviva enlightened me and my voicemail plays in English now!

    If you have Softbank, dial voicemail (probably 1416) then once it starts talking, dial 2 1 2… Voila!

  25. Not a bad question at all. Some of the things on my phone are and some of them aren’t. I have a ticker with news that runs across the bottom of my phone that is not in English. Maybe there is a way to change them that I don’t know about. But all of the items I need to make and receive calls are in English. I have a feeling my phones does a lot more than I know because I couldn’t read the manual!

  26. If you are going to use AU, make sure you ask for the Japanese plan rather than the American plan. From what I understand, the only difference is that in the American plan, your bills come in English instead of Japanese. Oh, and it generally costs about 2,000 yen a month more than the Japanese plan. I had no idea this option when I signed up initially. I just changed over so we’ll see how it works.

  27. My wife & I are currently pleased with our service from AU. We went with them to get free phones (from the branch right outside Kadena Gate 1). We subscribed to their lowest family plan (for 2 phones) which only includes a few minutes per month but free text messaging (they call it C-Mail) between each other, which is what we use the most, I’d say. From home, we have a landline (required for ADSL) & Skype (for long distance). I forget how many minutes we actually average per month, but our cell phone bill is routinely only about $45 (or less) each month. There was something about having to cancel the plan during the month you signed up (e.g. Feb for us) or else having to pay a fee, but we haven’t faced that foe just yet & I don’t think it was a very high fee. Anyway, if you aren’t using your phone much, just when you really need to communicate with someone, especially someone on your plan, we like AU.

  28. what she said!!! my phone bill isnt so cheap, but that is because we use a lot of internet and email (text message) on my phone as well as my husband’s. also, instead of paying for our phones up front, we pay them off thru our phone bill. you dont have to do it, we just did b/c we got them the day after we arrived to the island.

  29. We have the Softbank White Plan which works great for us. It is $9/month per phone with free calling between these two phones all the time, free calling to other Softbank phones anytime except 9pm-1am, and free receiving calls. So the only time we get charged over that base price is if we call some non-Softbank person. Then it is 21 cents per half minute. Our calling habits (and the fact that almost everyone we know is also on Softbank) makes this a really cheap plan for us. I haven’t had any reception problems so maybe there is a difference between the phones on the plans v. calling card phones. Not sure.