I got a cell phone in Japan. A prepaid model, without any kind of contract, since I do not know how long I will be here. (I will talk about prices in yen, since that is what I paid, but a yen is about $0.01, 1 cent. NOT 0.01 CENTS, Verizon)
Even though I was going prepaid, and would thus be buying the cell phone outright, (¥5,000), I had to provide an ID, proof of my registration with city hall, have an alternate phone number, and jump through several hoops there.
The phone (Softbank 730SC) is definitely only worth ¥5000, with a 1.5 Mpix camera, no internet access, games, or anything like that. It does have several tools, like a unit conversion that is essential for translating American to
The way that the Softbank prepaid phone works is that I pay for a ¥3000 card for 2 months of service. Minutes are ¥90 each, so that is about 30 minutes for 2 months, which would be useless if Softbank didn't provide SMS/Email.
Incoming calls are free, so if someone else has a contract phone they can cheaply call me, and I don't pay anything to get a phone call.
SMS/Email is the main point of a Softbank prepaid phone. ¥300 a month out of that ¥3000 card for unlimited SMS, and emails up to about 30KiB. Sending, receiving, it is all unlimited. Pictures from the phone, to the phone, big stuff, all unlimited for ¥300 a month out of what I have to pay to keep the line live.
So, in Japan, on Softbank, for ¥1500/month, I have a phone with free SMS/Email, incoming calls, and horribly expensive outgoing calls. All without a contract.