Living in Japan will provide you with a wonderful opportunity to experience another culture and way of life. However, for some people, homesickness will prove to be one of your greatest battles during your time on the Programme (unless you live in the forests or mountains…then it’s bugs…bugs will be your greatest battle). Never fear though! It’s very easy to communicate with home. Over time, it will feel as if you’re in next room to your friends and family as opposed to miles/kilometers away.
The most popular options for JETs to contact home. You can enjoy free video and messaging services with Skype. Skype can be used on your computer or smartphone. You can buy monthly plans to call internationally, or you can buy credit to call cell phones and landlines. You can call toll-free numbers for free as well. The call clarity can be a little shaky depending on how clear your connection is. Using a wi-fi connection will help with this.
This is a fairly new option, and American JETs will find great benefits in using this. Using the Google Hangouts app on your smartphone or computer, American users can call any cell phone or landline for free. You can make international calls as well after purchasing credit. The service for non-US users is expected to increase over the years too, so JETs from Europe, Australia, etc. can expect to see this service apply to them in the near future.
If you’re accustomed to using your phone’s natural texting service and not an application, and most of your friends and family back home have iPhones, then you might want to invest in an iPhone for your cellular needs in Japan. If you have an iPhone you can send a text, video, or picture message to any other iPhone or Apple device in any country for free. You will know when you’re sending an iMessage, because the send button will turn a nice shade of blue.
Warning! If that send button is green, and you’re sending a message to an international phone then don’t hit it! Green means that using iMessage is, for some reason, not an option. You and your friend will both enjoy a nice international texting charge if you hit a green send button….
You can also use your iPhone to make Facetime audio or video calls to your friends and family that also use iPhones or Apple devices. The call clarity on Facetime audio calls is great too. Wi-fi connections increase the reliability of calls.
This is the most popular text based messaging service in Japan, and many JETs encourage their family members back home to download it as well for easy communication. You can make video calls, voice calls, send pictures and video to other Line users all for free. The call clarity can leave something to be desired, but it serves as a convenient form of voice communication. Many users also download (some free, some paid) stickers to use in their chats. There is no pesky add service as well. This will easily become the most used application on your Japanese smartphone.
The Facebook Messenger application is an increasingly popular way to communicate with home. You can send text, video, and picture messages to one another for free using your phone’s internet or wi-fi connection. You can also make calls to other Facebook Messenger users. The call clarity is pretty great while using this option.
Much like line but without the stickers. Not common amongst Japanese smartphone users.
(for American and Canadian JETs—thank you to Akita JET Lynne Francis for researching this option) Download Text Plus from your smartphone’s app store. You can use it to call and text American and Canadian phones just as you would your normal cell phone from home. You are even given a regular, working number. Calls are inexpensive, and occasionally they have free calling times.
If you don’t have a smartphone or computer you still have options. People didn’t need fancy technology to call home ten years ago and neither do you! Japan still has widely accessible phone booths on the streets that you can make international calls from. Just go in, put in your coins, and dial away! The dial procedure is 0033+010+country code+international number including area code.
If you have a simple keitai, check with your phone’s service provider about getting an international plan or buying prepaid international phone cards from them directly.
If your contracting organization allows, you might be able to access some of the above options using your school or BoE’s computer. This will largely depend on your contracting organization though, and I would recommend only using this as a last option.