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Telephones

To call Japan:

1. Dial the international access code: 011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia.

2. Dial the country code for Japan (81).

3. Dial the city code (3 for Tokyo, 6 for Osaka; for other area codes, check the listings for each city in this guide) and then the number.

Domestic calls: If you're making a long-distance domestic phone call, all telephone area codes for all Japanese cities begin with a zero (03 for Tokyo, 06 for Osaka).

Despite the proliferation of cellphones, you can still find public telephones in telephone booths on the sidewalk, in or near train stations, in hotel lobbies, restaurants and coffee shops, and even on the bullet train (the latter require a prepaid card). A local call costs ¥10 for each minute; a warning chime will alert you to insert more coins or you'll be disconnected. I usually insert two or three coins so that I won't have to worry about being disconnected; ¥10 coins that aren't used are returned at the end of the call. Most public phones accept both ¥10 and ¥100 coins. The latter is convenient for long-distance calls, but no change is given for unused minutes. All gray ISDN telephones are equipped for international calls and have dataports for Internet access.

If you think you'll be making a lot of domestic calls from public phones and don't want to deal with coins, purchase a magnetic prepaid telephone card. These are available in a value of ¥1,000 and are sold at vending machines (sometimes located right beside telephones), station kiosks, and convenience stores. Green and gray telephones accept telephone cards. In fact, many nowadays accept telephone cards exclusively. Insert the card into the slot. On the gray ISDN telephones, there's a second slot for a second telephone card, which is convenient if the first one is almost used up or if you think you'll be talking a long time. Domestic long-distance calls are cheaper at night, on weekends, and on national holidays for calls of distances more than 60km (37 miles).

Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 0120 or 0088 are toll-free. Calling a 1-800 number in the U.S. from Japan is not toll-free but costs the same as an international call.

To make international calls from Japan: For a collect call or to place an operator-assisted call through KDDI, dial the international telephone operator at tel. 0051. From a public telephone, look for a specially marked INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC CARD/COIN TELEPHONE. Although many of the specially marked green or gray telephones, the most common public telephone, accept both coins and magnetic telephone cards for domestic calls, most do not accept magnetic cards for direct overseas calls (due to illegal usage of telephone cards), especially in big cities, except for those in a few key facilities such as the airport and some hotels. You'll therefore either have to use coins, or purchase a special prepaid international telephone card that works like telephone cards issued by U.S. telephone companies. That is, an access number must first be dialed, followed by a secret telephone number, and then the number you wish to dial. Such cards are often sold from vending machines next to telephone booths in hotels or in convenience stores such as Sunkus, Circle K, Family Mart, or Lawson. There are numerous such cards (with instructions in English), including the rechargeable Brastel Smart Phonecard (tel. 0120/659-543; www.brastel.com), which charges ¥49 to ¥54 per minute from a pay phone to a land line in the U.S. or U.K.; or the KDDI Super World Card (tel. 0057; www.kddi.com), which gives approximately 21 minutes of weekday talk time to the U.S. on its ¥1,000 card. Some hotels have special phones equipped to accept credit cards.

International rates vary according to when you call, which telephone company you use, and what type of service you use. Direct-dial service is cheaper than operator-assisted calls. The cheapest time to call is between 11pm and 8am Japan time, while the most expensive time is weekdays from 8am to 7pm.

If you're not using a prepaid card (which has its own set of instructions and access numbers), to make a direct-dial international call, you must first dial one of the international access codes offered by the various telephone companies -- 001 (KDDI), 0033 (NTT Communications), or 0061 (Softbank Telecom) -- followed by 010 and then the country code. The country code for the United States and Canada is 1; for the United Kingdom, it's 44; for Australia, it's 61; and for New Zealand, it's 64. Next you dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., using KDDI you would dial 001-010-1-202-588-6500. If you're dialing from your hotel room, you must first dial for an outside line, usually 0.

If you wish to be connected with an operator in your home country, you can do so from green international telephones by dialing tel. 0039 followed by the country code. (For the United States, dial tel. 0039-111.) These calls can be used for collect calls or credit card calls. Some hotels and other public places are equipped with special phones that will link you to your home operator with the push of a button, with instructions in English.

If you have a U.S. calling card, ask your phone company for the direct access number from Japan that will link you directly to the United States. If you have AT&T, for example, dial tel. 00539-111 to place calls using KDDI or tel. 00665-5111 to use Softbank Telecom.

Cellphones

The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobiles). Unfortunately, Japan uses a system that is incompatible with GSM, and foreigners are not allowed to buy cellphones in Japan. You can, however, use your own mobile phone number in Japan by bringing your own SIM card from home and inserting it into a handset rented from Softbank Global Rental or NTT DoCoMo. It only works, however, if your home service provider has a roaming agreement with Softbank or NTT. For more information, contact your mobile phone company, NTT DoCoMo (http://roaming.nttdocomo.co.jp), or Softbank Global Rental (www.softbank-rental.jp), where you can also find out about rental costs and rental locations and make online reservations. Another option is to bring your own mobile phone and rent a SIM card from Softbank.

Otherwise, if you want to have a telephone number before arriving in Japan, consider renting a phone before leaving home. North Americans can rent one from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or Roadpost (tel. 888/290-1606; www.roadpost.com).

You can also rent a phone in Japan. If you're in Japan for only a few days and are staying in an upper-class hotel, most convenient but most expensive is to rent a mobile phone from your hotel. A check of several hotels in Tokyo turned up rental fees ranging from ¥600 to ¥1,200 per day (the more expensive the hotel, the more expensive the rental). I suggest, therefore, that you rent a phone at Narita Airport. Lots of companies maintain counters at both terminals, including NTT DoCoMo and Softbank Global Rental, as well as G-Call (www.g-call.com/e), Telecom Square (www.telecomsquare.co.jp/en), and PuPuRu (www.pupuru.com/en), which have the extra convenience of easy pickup and drop-off and offer online reservations. Most rentals start at ¥525 per day, though bargains are often offered online or on-site. Charges for domestic and international calls vary, but incoming calls are usually free.

For travelers staying in Japan a week or longer, Go Mobile (www.gomobile.co.jp) offers 1-week, 2-week, and 30-day rentals, including a limited number of free local calls. A 1-week rental costs ¥2,995 and includes 15 minutes of free local calls. Phones are shipped to an address in Japan (such as your hotel) and returned via a prepaid, pre-addressed envelope.

Over & Out -- If you're traveling with a buddy, consider bringing along walkie-talkies. They're cheaper than phones, could be a lifesaver if you get separated, and make it easier to rendezvous, especially in big cities.

Internet/E-Mail

Without Your Own Computer -- Many hotels in Japan, especially medium-range and business hotels, have computers in their lobbies, either coin operated (usually ¥100 for 10 min.) or for free. Otherwise, cybercafes can be found in most cities, though they're often nonexistent in small towns. I've listed cybercafes for many destinations when I could find them, but more may have opened by the time you travel. Ask local tourist offices for updated locations.

With Your Own Computer -- With the exception of some budget hotels, virtually all hotels in Japan's major cities provide Internet access in their guest rooms. While most provide high-speed connections, more and more are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity). I'm also happy to report that more and more are also offering Internet connections for free. Otherwise, expect to pay anywhere from ¥500 to ¥1,050 on average per day.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.