When I first came to Japan, I rushed to buy a SIM card. They charged me a foreigner price, but I was still happy because I could call my family and connect to google maps. Time has changed and there are numerous ways of surviving without a SIM card (or a wifi router) in Japan.
What’s wrong with Japanese SIM cards
If you are a tourist, you are able to buy only a prepaid data SIM card. Which means you will not be using your smartphone as a phone. The regular SIM cards (those that go with a number) are for long-term residents. The longer the residence term is, the better (an less expensive) option you may choose.
The deal with prepaid data SIM cards is that they should be activated with Internet connection. If you stay in a hotel that might be an easy task, but what if you rented the apartment. And despite my imagination, the wifi is not like oxygen in Japan, I could not connect even at McDonald’s.
I totally got fooled by those Japanese folks who gave me the SIM card and failed to tell that I need Wifi connection to activate it. Talking about the famous client gets the best service in Japan.
Eventually I bought a regular card and gave a prepaid one to my friend.
Do you need a SIM card in Japan?
Three years past and the foreigners that come to Japan now are offered a lot of wifi spots all round the Citi center. However, be ware that this luxury is only for those who walk around the center. If your hotel is somewhere in the suburb, or if you go someplace remote, be prepared for the loss of connection.
There are lots of maps, but who am I fooling, I won’t move in the right direction if the google maps don’t show me the route.
So, answering your question. You can survive without a SIM card in Japan. That is only if you are planning to stick to your hotel or walk around the city center. Those who want to travel around Japan can use these very convenient wifi spots and activate the prepaid SIM card.