Auntie tries to use Singapore phone with ‘SIM-free’ MNVO Japanese SIM card with great results!

I’d typed up this long-ass entry about learning Japanese but I think I’ll have to save it for my Christmas special or something because long-ass entry is long. Didn’t have time to finish it for my regular first-of-every-month posting date, but as it turns out I have another story to tell you guys!

OMG I just realised Jin-chan posted something about mobile networks as well. I haven’t read it. KABUCCHATTA. You guys know what this Japanese expression means? It’s usually rendered partway in katakana because it’s a casual idiom, like this: カブっちゃった!

What it means: It’s like that trope in US high school dramas/movies where someone, usually a girl, accidentally wears the same clothes as another girl and they meet outside the lockers and are horrified that they’re wearing the same outfit (I think there’s a scene exactly like that in Mean Girls). This is the epitome of the expression and when it happens it’s highly appropriate to dump your face in your hands and quietly sob: “Kabucchatta…”

It’s from the verb ‘kaburu’ (被る), which literally means ‘to cover’, ‘to put on’ or ‘to shoulder/bear’. You can also say ‘kabutta’, but it isn’t as nuanced as ‘kabucchatta’, which is a watered-down version of ‘kabutte shimatta’, from ‘kabutte shimau’. Stuff ending in ‘te shimau’ gives a feeling of, like, habis. LOL I’M USING MALAY TO EXPLAIN THIS, SORRY. I don’t know if Singaporean kids use ‘habis’ nowadays, but it was popular in my family as my mum speaks fluent Malay. I think the Hokkien equivalent is ‘liao liao’, which means ‘done for; finished’. Both ‘habis’ and ‘liao liao’ literally mean ‘finished’, but they can also be used to express what Wikipedia calls a ‘regrettable situation’ (link here, look for ‘te form; shimau’). This bit of Japanese grammar is very similar to the usage of ‘habis’ and ‘liao liao’.


Re: the title – I’m turning 30 next month so while I can’t exactly call myself an auntie because of my age, I certain do qualify as one because I have nephews. On top of that I’ve been married for almost nine years, so I do feel like my career in auntiedom has started a lot earlier than my peers, because my husband is seven years older and his friends had kids earlier than my friends did, so I got called ‘auntie’ a lot earlier than most people my age.

Branding, people. Remember me as the auntie who writes for


Here’s the actual story.

Whenever I go back to Singapore my dad will hand me one of his spare phones and SIM cards – he’s got a lot of lines contracted, I don’t exactly know why, but he’s an insurance agent so maybe that has to do with something – and during the trip before last he gave me a brand new Sony Xperia. He got it for free from his friend who had too many phones, and Dad isn’t an Android fan so he didn’t want the Xperia, and decided to give it to me. I know, we are utterly blessed.

So I brought this spare phone from Singapore, and realised it worked perfectly in a WiFi environment back home in Japan. I use my phone for work a lot – I am obliged to be on social media for an hour a day because of work – so I was glad to have a spare phone, since my three-year-old Kyocera was getting quite worn out and would sometimes freeze halfway through my work, which was quite infuriating.

Last week, a good friend of mine became interested in maintaining a phone line in Japan, so I offered to look into the MNVO ones for her since I could just use my spare Singapore phone to operate the SIM card. Called ‘SIM-free’ in Japanese, the actual term for it is MNVO, which stands for ‘Mobile Virtual Network Operator’. Basically there are these companies that ride on the big networks – think of it as networks providing the radio waves, and the companies provide the ‘surfboards’ (i.e. the SIM cards) – and allow users to contract with them, or buy prepaid SIM cards from them, to use in unlocked phones.

There is actually a lot of information on the internet about MNVOs, you can check out this link for an extremely detailed write-up for long-term use, but here’s my experience with a particular provider. I’m also going to talk about my experience with BIC Camera x Kojima, where I got the SIM card.


Provider: IIJmio

Overview: The company I chose was IIJmio (link), and they were my first choice because I was looking for a plan with data and the ability to receive SMS. There are basically three types of plans available: data only, data + SMS and data + voice. I needed the SMS receiving function because my friend’s purpose of contracting the line in the first place was to register for a certain fanclub, and that fanclub sometimes requires you to key in a verification code that you will receive via SMS. I was looking for a company that offers that, and Google gave me IIJmio as the first result. The plans were relatively cheap, 940 yen per month if you ride on the au waves, and 1040 yen per month if you ride on the docomo waves. docomo typically gives you better coverage. My friend decided to go with that. The SIM card itself was a little over 3000 yen.

Features: You can add-on a lot of other options, like IIJmio’s WiFi hotspot service, which opens up to you thousands of WiFi hotspots around the country, because God knows Japan doesn’t have free WiFi the way the rest of the world does. You tend to always have to register something, or verify something, and after an hour they’ll log you out and you have to re-login again, or you can only log-in 3 times per day with every session being 60 minutes. That sort of thing is common in Japan, so I can get why IIJmio positioned themselves as ‘YO WE’RE OFFERING WIFI HOTSPOTS’. But you gotta pay for it, so. 💁‍♂️

Online support: When you register with IIJmio you make an account with them that’s accessible online, so everything can be handled on the internet. I had some problems registering because I was pedantic and the system was pedantic, so they kept showing an error because my official name didn’t match with my credit card name (which is abbreviated from my full name) so I navigated to the chatroom where an agent was able to exchange messages with me and help me out. I really liked that; I thought being able to speak to an actual person, however virtual, was very helpful. Brownie points for that. (PS. Yes you need a credit card. Not sure if it needs to be Japanese, sorry. Check out my credit card post if you’re considering getting one after you come to Japan!)

Caveats: With the data + SMS plan, the minimum contract period is two months, and then you can choose to get rid of your line for whatever reason. With the data + voice plan, however, the minimum contract period is a year, during which you would have to pay a cancellation fee (I don’t know how much) should you choose to terminate your line. I don’t have any info regarding the data-only plan, but I suspect it is similar to the data + SMS.

Set-up: I had to manually key in the APN (what is an APN?), but there were detailed instructions on the packaging for that. You would have to understand Japanese, but it was very easy otherwise.

Why a contract line: I didn’t go with the prepaid SIM cards you can get in convenience stores even though they’re cheaper as I really needed that SMS function (because of the fanclub thing), and those cards are data only. So far I have been able to receive SMSes as promised.

I was really surprised that it worked, to be honest, because the person serving me at BIC camera said it doesn’t mean an unlocked phone will definitely work, due to APN configuration problems. But mine worked anyway, so.

Talking about BIC Camera, let’s move on to that bit of the story!

Purchase experience: BIC Camera x Kojima

BIC Camera x Kojima is a big electronics store in my area, and I went there because it’s only a short drive, and the IIJmio website said there was a booth there I could go to for help. I went there and quickly got to speak to the person in-charge of MNVO SIM cards. It just is more assuring to me when I can speak face-to-face with someone who knows their stuff. This is the true auntie way.

Review of on-site staff: The person in-charge very kindly helped me search up the limitations for my preferred plan, and I didn’t have to prompt her for her to help me look up when the minimum contract period was. It was really reassuring. She also explained to me BIC Camera is the only place where you can physically buy the packages off the rack – usually everything is done online. More about this later. The staff did try to hint at it being safer to buy an unlocked phone from them instead of using my Singapore phone, which might not work due to APN configuration cock-ups, but I get it – it’s her job to make the sale, but she didn’t push it, so that was favourable in my opinion.

Buying ‘off the rack’: Basically, there are these hanging on the rack –

Image courtesy of IIJmio

The ones shown in this picture are the prepaid ones. There are several types to choose from (I’ve mentioned the types in the section above), all clearly labelled. I believe these are called ‘coupon cards’? You take your preferred one, go to the counter, and make the purchase. All the registration is done online on the IIJmio website after you open up the package, which contains your SIM card and other relevant instructions. It’s that simple.

Why get an MNVO SIM card?

I think it’s not for everyone, because internet speeds are significantly slower than actually being connected to the carrier network, but if you’re like my friend, who needs to register for a fanclub and needs a functional number, or are going to come to Japan frequently in the future and just want something semi-permanent for emergencies, then it makes a lot of sense. It’s cheap for Japanese standards, and if you’re not big on surfing the internet outside of a WiFi environment, I think it’s a fantastic deal. I’m not sure how much the data + voice package is, but it’s not as expensive as contracting with a carrier (namely au, docomo and Softbank).

To be honest, I don’t know if the market is going to collapse, because MNVO SIMs only got officially launched very recently (last year? this year?) because the government wanted to open up the market or something, I’m not sure – and Japanese are generally wary of something so cheap and so easy to set up, but as a Singaporean, I think IT’S HIGH TIME THEY JUMPED ON THIS BANDWAGON. lol. A lot of people are starting to use these SIMs, and they’re exceptionally popular with foreigners. They’re also popular with students, as unlocked phones aren’t expensive and can even be gotten secondhand at recycle stores or online. Some parents also give their grade-school children phones with these cards so they can contact them through LINE. It’s cheaper than contracting a legit mobile line for the kids as the kids themselves don’t really need a phone number, considering their needs.

That’s all I have to say for this topic. Hopefully this is helpful for anyone who’s curious about MNVOs! Do follow the links embedded in this post if you are curious. Don’t do the lazy thing where you don’t google first and ask questions in the comments and expect auntie to cater to you, tyvm. Auntie is a teacher by trade and generally doesn’t like to spoonfeed her students; this applies to readers as well. Auntie is kibishii this way. Thanks ah.


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