Mark: New Discriminatory Policy by Rakuten Mobile Inc., now “stricter with foreigners”, refusing even Todai MEXT Scholarship Students cellphones


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Hi Blog.  Here’s another example of how unequal treatment in customer service, when predicated upon things such as visa status (which is in fact none of the company’s business), leaves NJ open to discrimination.  According to Submitter “Mark”, this is affecting people on Student Visas, where denial of service is apparently new and arbitrary.  He describes his experience at Rakuten Mobile below.  It’s tough enough for NJ to do the basics for life in Japan, such as open a bank account or rent an apartment.  Now NJ students can’t even get a cellphone from Rakuten.

Alas, this is in fact nothing new (I’ve written about, for example, cellphone operator’s NTT DoCoMo’s unequal policies before, which were so silly that they eventually abandoned them after the information came out in one of my Japan Times columns).  But it still should be known about, so people can take their business elsewhere, if possible.  Anyone know of an alternative cellphone company with less discriminatory policies?  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


From: “Mark”
Subject: New Discriminatory Policy by Rakuten.
Date: April 26, 2019
To: Debito Arudou (

Dear Debito,

I would like to make public a New Discriminatory Policy being implemented systematically in Rakuten Mobile.

It seems that the company recently decided to deny the service to foreign customers.

I have living in Japan for 2 years. When I arrived, I applied online for their service and they accepted my application immediately. This week, I tried to make a contract online for 2 friends that just came to Japan. Their online application was rejected 3 times without providing the reason. I checked everything in their application and was correct. They uploaded their scanned residence card and the quality of the image was perfect. Also the contents of the application were correct.

Hence, we went to a Rakuten Mobile Store in Ikebukuro on the afternoon of April 23. They asked for their residence cards: after seeing the residence card they denied the service arguing that the company just established new rules and are now stricter with foreigners.

The 2 persons that were denied the service have a valid visa until April 2021 (2 years). They are graduate students at the University of Tokyo as me. They didn’t ask anything about the applicants. They just turned down the request based on being foreigners.

I asked the reason and the lady was ashamed and said that recently the Company has began to be stricter with foreigners. I replied back saying that 2 years ago my application was accepted under the same conditions and the lady was ashamed. It seems to be a new a discriminatory policy set by a well-known company.

I would like to explain things chronologically:

– April 19: Two international students enrolled at The University of Tokyo apply online for a SIM Card Plan only (they have cellphone already). I carefully checked their application since my level of Japanese is better. They got rejected. “Reason: Other” (理由:その他). In total, 3 attempts were done.

– April 23 (5.00pm): We went to Rakuten Mobile Ikebukuro Store (Telf. 03-5957-3051). A lady asked for their Residence Cards and consulted privately with other staff. She said: “Sorry. We cannot accept your application. Recently the Company began to be stricter with foreigners”.

I replied back: “Two years ago my application was accepted under exactly the same conditions as them. Why are they being rejected ?”

The Employee was really ashamed. She said “The Staying Time [在留期間] is not enough and the Company has become stricter with foreigners”.

My friends are MEXT Scholarship Students at The University of Tokyo with a mid-term visa valid From April 2, 2019 until April 2, 2021. Under the same conditions, I was accepted in Rakuten Mobile in 2017.

– April 25 (5.30pm): We visited Rakuten Mobile in BicCamera Akihabara. Again rejected. The only employee of Rakuten at that Branch said: It is NOT possible with this Visa.

We decided to try again and took a train to BicCamera in Kashiwa, Chiba-Ken. There, another MEXT Scholarship Student from The University of Tokyo got his SIM Card that same day few hours earlier. Another rejection! Surprised, I asked the reason(s). They said that my friend who went earlier had a “a few days more of validity” in his residence card and the system of Rakuten was issuing a rejection. My friend’s visa is valid from April 3 2019 until July 3, 2021 (3 months more than my friend rejected).

According to JASSO, there are 300,000 foreign students in Japan and 90,000 of them are enrolled at language schools. By law, their maximum period of stay is up to 2 years for life and they are usually granted visas of 1 year renewable. Other categories of students are also never granted more than 2 years. It seems that more than 50% of foreign students in Japan have Visa of 2 years of less. In essence, Rakuten Mobile seems to have established a new rule to deny service to most foreigners that hold a student visa.

That information can be verified at any Rakuten Branch in Japan but it is not disclosed online anywhere!  I didn’t ask for the written rules. It seems that it could be verified at any branch since is a nationwide ban on most foreign students. Interestingly, from October 2019 Rakuten will be a full Mobile Network Operator (MNO) at the same category as AU, Softbank and Docomo. My friends were not asking for installments to buy a new cellphone. They just wished to have a 3 Gb plan that according to Rakuten Mobile can be cancelled after 12 months without any fee . Anyways, Rakuten Mobile seems to be consistent in their rejection of foreigners.

I notified the Embassy of Japan in Venezuela (my native country) and they wished to investigate too. I hope the information could be useful to improve the situation. I regret that I didn’t ask the names of the employees and my friends seem to feel discriminated and disappointed as to go back to the stores! Their first experience in Japan in just few days after arriving! That reminds me of the United Nations Report written by Doudou Diène in 2006:

“The Special Rapporteur concluded that there is racial discrimination and xenophobia in Japan… The manifestations of such discrimination are first of all of a social and economic nature. All surveys show that minorities live in a situation of marginalization in their access to education, employment, health, housing, etc. Secondly, the discrimination is of a political nature: the national minorities are invisible in State institutions.”

Thanks for your attention and hard work! I always recommend your latest book and articles!

Sincerely, “Mark”

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13 comments on “Mark: New Discriminatory Policy by Rakuten Mobile Inc., now “stricter with foreigners”, refusing even Todai MEXT Scholarship Students cellphones

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Well, Rakuten is aiming to be a big internet brand in the US and the west. It’s president, Mikitani is Harvard educated and literate in English. Surely he should understand how his company discriminating against NJ in Japan could backfire on his company’s broader overseas goals?
    Seems to me this case needs more exposure so that Mikitani realizes how dangerously counterproductive Rakutens discriminatory policy is.

  • realitycheck says:

    I`m not an international student but as a working foreigner I have found AU to be fine.
    I have known teachers on one year visas courtesy of Immigration`s illogical approach – experienced, history of paying their dues but don`t get 3 or 5 yrs – who were turned down by other phone companies. They tried AU and were able to get two year contracts – of course if you plan to break the contract or leave before 2 years you have to pay a fee.
    Softbank is also known to be a good company for foreigners.
    If you`re in Tokyo, try Yodo Bashi in Akihabara. Pay a visit to AU and Softbank there.
    And memo to all foreigners especially Americans – contact the US media about this. Give Rakuten the kind of publicity they`re asking for re their discriminatory practices.
    Most of the time you will only change these things by publicising the problem and encouraging people to withdraw their custom and therefore money from such companies.
    In the USA international students including Japanese have some among them who don`t pay their bills and skip off home.That is not a reason to discriminate against foreign students.
    Rinse and repeat – tell the international media esp in the USA about Rakuten。

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    (I’m not the “Mark” in the story, by the way.)

    Did these applicants have any other forms of identification?

    Phone companies have lists of acceptable identification and alien cards are just one of many possible documents. A health insurance card is something available to anyone without regard for nationality so I highly recommend using it when signing these kinds of contracts.

    With this card not having a photo, often a secondary document, such as a utility bill or property tax bill, will also be required — but it is worth going out of your way to not use the alien card; these companies are not immigration officials and you have every right to use the same forms of identification that a Japanese national would.

  • cynical.nj says:

    I’d avoid the big three (docomo, au, SoftBank) since they often force a phone purchase on the prospective customer, are expensive in general and tend to have long term inflexible contracts with a penalty in case you terminate them before they due..

    Although not on an exchange student visa anymore, back in the days, both IIJ and Excite Mobile worked fine for me. Also, since I’m a cheap bastard, were I to get a new sim now, I’d probably try first getting one from either Line Mobile or DMM Mobile. Good luck!

  • AnonymousOG says:

    Well, if it’s a 2 year contract that ends for example at the end of May 2021: then the rule/law requires the contract signer’s visa to be valid until at least the end of May 2021 (so basically the visa must be valid until June 2021.)

    Regardless of your “it’s possible to cancel this contract after a just year” point, the contract is still at the moment of signing a 2-year-contract.

    And regardless of the incorrect explanation “admittance” some lower worker might have given, this is the standard old “visa validity must exceed contract end date” unfortunate reality about signing contracts.

    So, it sounds to me like the situation you’re complaining about is really not related to racial discrimination being done by any “new rules”, nah, instead it sounds to me like the situation you’re complaining about is really more related to the standard old “visa validity must exceed contract end date” rule/law.

    Of course it WOULD be nice if a phone company were to create a “pay all the 2 years of fees upfront, so let’s not even call this a 2-year contract, so let’s not even think about visa validity end date” kind of deal, but currently such a “2-year-contract while not really being a 2-year-contract” deal does not seem to exist yet.

    Basically, phone company presidents in Japan are refusing to prioritize the extra profits they would receive by selling phones/lines/services to the millions of potential customers who happen to NOT have “at least 2 years remaining on their current visas.”

    Basically, phone company presidents in Japan are refusing to create a “2-year-contract while not really being a 2-year-contract” deal.

    Hmm, I wonder what phone company presidents in America do, to wisely grab the business of the millions of people in America who legally don’t have the visa validity residence length required to sign 2-year-contracts.

    Perhaps in America the phone companies don’t think do a “citizenship / residence visa validity length” check in the first place.

    Perhaps in America the phone companies are quietly ignoring (or aren’t required to obey) this “visa validity must exceed contract end date” stance about signing contracts which we see here in Japan.

    Probably the solution (which is probably already being profitably applied around the world, and which should be applied by profit-desiring presidents in Japan as well) is having the OPTION of simply “paying 100% upfront for the phone, so no phone loan here, and no service loan either, always paying for the next month of service in advance” month-to-month service contracts, thus no longer requiring any “2-year” contract/visa.

    Perhaps the phone companies in Japan are pressured by the government of Japan to not offer such a solution?

    • I appreciate the info, but Sakura Mobile vaguely reminds me of the Yuransen bath-house in Hokkaido, which had a foreigner-specific fee, much more expensive “because it included all extra options”.

      Now Sakura’s fee is not extortionate, but certainly more expensive than other VPN carriers, for example what I pay:
      1,980¥ (tax incl.) for 5G (DMM Mobile). Activation 3,000¥
      3,980¥+tax for 5G with Sakura. Activation 15,000¥
      It does comes with 40 min. of call time vs 0 min. for DMM, but that’s why it reminds me of the aforementioned bath-house.
      You’ll also notice that their site is only in English. No surprise here. Patronizing “foreigner-friendly” services that exist because of exclusion actually strengthens discrimination. (Old-timers will be familiar with Sakura House, their main business.)

      • Excellent point, Gulf.
        We should never support “foreigner-friendly” services, as they should not exist in the first place. “Foreigner-friendly” means “Put up with our shoddy English, whether you need it or not, in exchange for overpriced services. But at least we won’t refuse to do business with you over racist BS!” In other words, “We’re pretending like the only reason minorities have trouble accessing basic social services is a language barrier.”

        It’s extraordinarily telling that their motto is “foreigner-friendly,” rather than “We’re not racists.” They are not on our side. The solution to racist business practices is an anti-racism law. We do not want to create a market sector the existence of which is dependent on the perpetuation of racism.

        • “Separate but equal?” except we are charged more. Reminds me of an anti racism poster in the 70s, “Black people are forced to live in substandard, over priced housing”.
          and then I came to Japan, and only 4 out of 28 landlords called would accept me….and would you know it, these were all overpriced, substandard, far from the station, etc accomodation.

  • Update: MUFG Bank created a new policy this Fiscal Year similar to Rakuten > If you are a foreigner it is harder now to apply for a DEBIT card from MUFG.

    April 2017: Applied for bank account and debit card at the same time (resident visa for 2 years).

    May 2019: Foreigners cannot apply for a DEBIT card from the Bank before being living in Japan for 1 year (according to an employee at Hongo Branch). However, the online application for the DEBIT card was also rejected saying “non-permanent residents” cannot apply for a DEBIT card.

    It seems that many companies are allergic to foreigners ! Maybe they expect that with the new migration policies too many “gaijin”(read: outsiders) would arrive at Japan….

  • Japanese companies will continue their policies of discrimination as long as foreign countries don’t punish Japanese companies and citizens in their country. Citizens of foreign countries have to force the situation to be fair. The freedoms that Japanese enjoy in the EU, U.S., and elsewhere need to be reciprocated for foreigners in Japan.

    What such Japanese companies and institutions are doing is abusing the freedoms Japanese are given in other countries, while executing massive discrimination in Japan.

  • So much for Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga saying last December that they “will ask mobile phone companies to let foreign workers sign service contracts if they show their residency cards”. He “also suggested that opening bank accounts and finding housing information will be made easier”.

    I thought it was pathetic that government intervention is needed for basic paperwork in 2018, but felt hopeful because Suga was realistic: he said “This is an age in which foreign talent can choose the country they want to work in”.

    And choose they will, in time.

    Japan eyes fast access to phone and bank services for foreigners
    As more workers arrive from abroad, 100 help centers will be set up nationwide
    SHUNSUKE SHIGETA and HIROMOTO DEGUCHI, Nikkei staff writers

    PHOTO CAPTION: The Japanese government plans to set up around 100 help centers nationwide to support foreigners in their daily lives. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

    TOKYO — Japan will take measures to help workers from abroad meet essential needs in their everyday lives ahead of an influx expected next year to address the nation’s labor shortage.

    The government will ask mobile phone companies to let foreign workers sign service contracts if they show their residency cards, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a speech Sunday in the southern city of Fukuoka. The top government spokesman also suggested that opening bank accounts and finding housing information will be made easier.

    “This is an age in which foreign talent can choose the country they want to work in,” he said.

    Around 100 help centers will be set up across Japan to support foreigners in their daily lives, Suga said. Roughly 2 billion yen ($17.7 million) will be earmarked in the budget proposal for next fiscal year covering related costs, including interpretation systems.

    Japan’s parliament passed a bill on Dec. 8 that will create a new foreign worker program to help address labor scarcity. The country’s doors will be opened to blue-collar laborers in a major policy shift in April 2019.

    Legislation intended to prevent abuse of public medical insurance programs will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session that convenes next month, Suga indicated.

    Currently, family members of foreigners working in Japan are covered by insurance even if they live abroad. But in light of concerns that this provision could strain the nation’s finances as more foreign workers arrive, eligibility likely will be limited to dependents residing in Japan.

    The government also will increase monitoring of Japanese-language schools to prevent incidents in which foreigners enter Japan to study but find work and stay without authorization.

    “We need to resume on-site inspections to check whether [foreigners] are receiving a proper education,” Suga said.

    These measures are among initiatives being devised this month by Japan’s government for receiving foreign talent.

    The central government will allocate financial aid to local governments, which bear the responsibility of supporting relations between longtime residents and foreign workers. The money is expected to fund events for promoting interaction between locals and foreign employees as well as establishing help desks that refer jobs and hospitals to those workers.

    The central government also will support efforts to connect local governments with foreigners seeking employment in Japan, as municipalities look to fill jobs that serve the influx of tourists from abroad.

    These efforts to boost areas outside big cities will include measures for Japanese people as well. Those who move from central Tokyo to rural areas will receive 3 million yen — around $26,450 — if they launch new companies or 1 million yen if they join small or midsize businesses. These proposals will be presented Tuesday during a meeting at the prime minister’s office on regional revitalization measures.

    However, more Japanese oppose than support the government’s decision to receive up to 345,000 foreigners over five years starting in April for fields experiencing a severe labor shortage, according to the latest survey by Nikkei/TV Tokyo.

    Forty-eight percent were against the policy change, approved by Japan’s parliament this month, while 40% favored allowing the increase in foreign workers.

    Respondents split along gender lines. Among men, those in favor outnumbered those against 47% to 44%, but 53% of women opposed the policy compared with just 31% in support.

    The poll also found that younger people were receptive to the new labor policy while those 40 and older largely rejected it. Those ages 18-39 favored the change by a ratio of 56% to 38%. But those in the 40-59 age group disapproved, 52% to 39%. Support dwindled to 35% among those 60 and older, while 52% opposed the policy.

    The survey was conducted by Nikkei Research through random-digit dialing from Friday to Sunday, receiving 990 responses from those 18 and older for a response rate of 46.3%.


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