Japan tries to improve tourists’ access to SIM cards, Wi-Fi

by

Staff Writer

The government kicked off a campaign Monday to give tourists access to SIM cards and Wi-Fi routers, aiming to offer a better quality communications environment.

The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) said that while the government has been working to spread free Wi-Fi availability for international travelers, it isn’t possible to provide blanket coverage nationwide.

Yet Japan has high quality mobile communications networks all across the country, and this is something tourists can take advantage of, officials said.

Yuri Furusawa, a senior JTA official, said a recent survey by the agency suggests that many tourists from overseas who had intended to buy SIM cards after arriving in Japan were apparently unable to do so.

The survey found that 28.6 percent of 6,971 travelers had planned to purchase SIM cards, but only 13.2 percent actually did.

“We asked (travelers) what tools they had planned to use (for mobile Internet access) and what they actually used, and found that the largest gap was in SIM cards,” Furusawa said.

With more tourists coming to Japan, many firms are now trying to provide them with prepaid SIM cards, but their availability not be widely known among travelers yet.

The agency said it is launching a one-month campaign to help travelers buy SIM cards or rent Wi-Fi routers.

The campaign includes setting up special booths at Narita International Airport, having popular bloggers write about their experiences using SIM cards, and advertising in magazines in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Also, on its website, the Japan National Tourism Organization shows about 800 designated locations, such as airports, electronics stores and convenience stores, where travelers can buy SIM cards.

The agency is teaming up with 11 SIM card and Wi-Fi router providers to promote the campaign.

For more information, visit www.jnto.go.jp/mobiletips.

  • JustSomeGuy

    Only in Narita airport? Was hoping if they’re doing the same thing at Haneda, since I’m kinda planning to arrive there next year for a trip to Japan. I’ve looked into a few websites that provide pocket wifi and have yet to decide which service is reliable to use. It would be great if, not just Narita, but other international airports in Japan like Haneda provide the convenience of SIMs and pocket wifi for foreigners. Like a dedicated section in the airport, correct me if there is already. As far as I know, you have to order online and pick it up at an airport or if you want, at the hotel you’re going to stay in. My point is, there should be a dedicated section in the airports where you can get yourself a SIM or a pocket wifi without hassle and you can be on your way to explore Japan without a problem.

    • Travis Croft

      I’ve used Global Advanced Communications now twice for my pocket wi-fi and they’re super reliable, easy to use. You’re right that you need to know where you’re staying before ordering so they can deliver it, but hotels are usually the first thing I book, so that’s not been a big deal. I’d recommend them if you go down the pocket wifi path.

      • JustSomeGuy

        GAC was one of them that I was looking into and they’re one of them that I’m considering trying out. I’ll probably end up doing so anyways. Thanks!

  • Stephen Kent

    The spread of freely available Wi-Fi outside of Japan has been largely organic in nature, and has not required any policy-making or encouragement from governments. So the fact that the Japanese government is stepping in to try and increase the availability of Wi-Fi for tourists suggests to me that most owners of bars, cafes, restaurants, and other such establishments in which Wi-Fi is commonplace in other countries simply don’t realise that a 3,000 yen investment in a wireless router will allow them to offer a free service that will likely increase the appeal of the establishment to foreign visitors.

    While portable Wi-Fi routers are definitely very convenient in that they allow you to stay online all the time if that’s what you want, getting people to pay for something that’s more than likely been provided for free in every other country they’ve been to might pose problems. There’s also the hassle of renting one, keeping it charged, and taking it back before leaving to consider; something that might not be very appealing to people who are used to being able to get online just by saying “excuse me, what’s the Wi-Fi password?”.

    I suppose you could argue that Wi-Fi has never been as necessary in Japan as it has overseas due to the relatively generous amounts of data you can use on standard mobile phone plans here, but if the government are concerned about the lack of Wi-Fi availability and any potential problems this might cause for the increasing numbers of foreign tourists, then a better course of action might be to start raising awareness among regional and local business associations and encouraging business owners to buy wireless routers for their establishments.

  • Stephen Kent

    The spread of freely available Wi-Fi outside of Japan has been largely organic in nature, and has not required any policy-making or encouragement from governments. So the fact that the Japanese government is stepping in to try and increase the availability of Wi-Fi for tourists suggests to me that most owners of bars, cafes, restaurants, and other such establishments in which Wi-Fi is commonplace in other countries simply don’t realise that a 3,000 yen investment in a wireless router will allow them to offer a free service that will likely increase the appeal of the establishment to foreign visitors.

    While portable Wi-Fi routers are definitely very convenient in that they allow you to stay online all the time if that’s what you want, getting people to pay for something that’s more than likely been provided for free in every other country they’ve been to might pose problems. There’s also the hassle of renting one, keeping it charged, and taking it back before leaving to consider; something that might not be very appealing to people who are used to being able to get online just by saying “excuse me, what’s the Wi-Fi password?”.

    I suppose you could argue that Wi-Fi has never been as necessary in Japan as it has overseas due to the relatively generous amounts of data you can use on standard mobile phone plans here, but if the government are concerned about the lack of Wi-Fi availability and any potential problems this might cause for the increasing numbers of foreign tourists, then a better course of action might be to start raising awareness among regional and local business associations and encouraging business owners to buy wireless routers for their establishments.

  • http://heartoffuriousfancies.wordeeprunes.com Disqust will eat my comment

    The part that is hard to get is that Japan’s providers have phone sims – with data as well as Data-only sims. Generally phone providers have been loathe to supply phone+data sims to short-term visitors on tourist visas. I suspect a government policy or informalrule to curb phone scams- which plague Japan. Data-only sims, know in the west as “tablet sims” are widely available. I use Asahi Net for the month each year I spend in Japan. I call before setting out, pay with my furreign credit card and the sim is waiting on arrival at my friend’s place. 3gb per month then unlimited at a slower speed. $30 setup, $9/month.

    And no one has ever paid me to mention their name, although I run a couple of small blogs. I wonder where to line up to get some of this promo cash.

    Ps: pretty well all the data sims services subcontract from NTT, which used to be the gov monopoly and has infrastructure to spare. For voice calls, I run an old Softbank flipphone on pay-as-you-go for $30/month. Softbank allows this for tourist visas (show passport, get name recorded, extra $35 1st time) Softbank will not set me up with a voice and data pay-as-you-go. Their rent-a-sim is expensive, but works for 1-2 week stays. Others I have not tried.

    In Bali, I went to a booth on the street and paid $8 for a sim with voice and data. Enough to run Google maps. No one in Indonesia would send money to a voice on the other end of a call saying “Its me it’s me I’ve been in an accident, send $$$, but Japanese folks do… Hence all the bureaucracy and expense.

    See, that wasn’t complicated, so why didn’t the story mention all this??? Duh!