Only a few years ago, tourists and business people seeking net access in Japan had a hard time. While it’s still far from perfect, things are looking up. Here are a few of the options currently available to people seeking wireless connections, be it portable Wi-Fi or hot spots around town.
Paid Wi-Fi Options
Probably the most convenient and popular option for visitors, prepaid SIM cards are available over the counter at both Haneda and Narita airports. Note that some of these prepaid plans can be rather pricey. For internet-only plans, NTT’s Docomo network plans start from ¥3,980 (tax included) for either a total of 1GB worth of bandwidth on LTE and 3G networks, or unlimited access of up to 300 kbps. Both plans last for up to 14 days. Information on the various plans is available in English at the counter.
If you left the airport forgetting to buy a SIM card, fret not. Large electronic stores such as Bic Camera have you covered. A caveat: Activating your SIM card net access might get a little tricky as some of their available plans require some Japanese language. Probably best to activate it at the store if you need language assistance.
With prepaid SIM cards easily accessible, it is unsurprising that pocket Wi-Fis have not gained traction but the big bonus is that more than one device can use a pocket Wi-Fi simultaneously. Most pocket Wi-Fi rentals can be paid for in advance, so they’re be waiting for you at the airport when you arrive at your destination. SoftBank, PuPuRu and GlobalAdvancedComm are a few of the Wi-Fi vendors with info in English.
A couple of years back, renting a cellphone to get around Japan was a favored alternative to paying an arm and a leg for international roaming on your phone. While not as common as buying a SIM card or renting a pocket Wi-Fi anymore, one can still rent a cellphone from large phone companies such as SoftBank or PuPuRu. Rental prices can go as low as ¥400 per day, and both SoftBank and PuPuRu have information available in English.
Wi-Fi Hot Spots
NTT’s Docomo provides Wi-Fi hot spots for visitors who apply the service in advance. However, the service is only available at locations with Docomo’s Wi-Fi service, hence it may not be viable for users requiring constant access. Its website offers information in English, tradition and simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Wi2 provides a similar service, but with more payment options. Wi2 offers four different plans ranging from six hours to one-week passes, whereas Docomo only offers one-week or three-week plans. Its website offers information in the usual four languages (English, traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean) as well as Thai.
SoftBank also provides free Wi-Fi to tourists, with approximately 400,000 hot spots available. Dissimilar to NTT’s Docomo and Wi2, SoftBank’s service is completely free for tourists and is available for two weeks. However, to use its service, a global roaming contract on your mobile provider is required, and its free service is dependable on your network operator. Setting it up can be a little complicated, as a phone call (albeit toll-free) is required to get a password from its audio guidance before being able to connect to its hot spots. Its brochure is in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean as well.
Free Wi-Fi in Tokyo
For those who want to save money and OK with using unencrypted Wi-Fi sources, here is a sample of locations providing free Wi-Fi to locals and tourists alike. However, do note that some of these free Wi-Fi sources require your information to gain access to the net.
How to connect:
Haneda: Register with your name and email address
Narita: Select the network “FreeWiFi-NARITA.” Launch an internet browser and follow the instructions to connect.
TMG’s Free Wi-Fi
Part of Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s initiative to turn Tokyo into a Wi-Fi haven, numerous tourist spots have wireless local area networks (WLANs) under the ID of FREE_Wi-Fi_and_TOKYO.
How to connect: Register with either an email address or social media account. That gives you up to two weeks of access, after which one is required to re-register.
Free Wi-Fi Cards
Supported by NTT East, tourists are eligible to use NTT East Free Wi-Fi for up to 14 days upon presenting their passport.
How to connect: Present your passport at any of the locations listed here to get a Wi-Fi card and then connect to their Wi-Fi networks.
Corporate Free Hot Spots
More and more business are using Wi-Fi has a way to attract more customers, and numerous B2C multinationals have hopped on the free Wi-Fi bandwagon. Naturally, you have need to provide your email or SNS account to gain access. Here is a short list of such corporations drawing customers with free Wi-Fi:
- Starbucks: The coffee giant provides one hour on the spot Wi-Fi when you register with your SNS accounts, or you can pre-register for unlimited access. However, do note that not all Starbucks outlets provide this service.
- Tully’s: Select Tully’s Wi-Fi service, and then open a browser. Tap “connect” to the internet, and then accept its terms & conditions. Unlike Starbucks, there is no need to pre-register or login with a SNS account. Its login information is available in English.
- McDonald’s: Select McDonald’s Wi-Fi service, and tap the “agree” button on the Wi-Fi login page. Users are required to authenticate and link their account via their email address or SNS accounts. While its login page is in Japanese, McDonalds’ how-to connect page provides a step-by-step list, which shows which is the ‘agree’ button.
- 7-Spot: Available in various locations such as 7-eleven stores, Ito-Yokado, Sogo/Seibu, Denny’s, Ario, York Mart, Akachan Honpo and Loft, this Wi-Fi service is available in locations marked with the 7 Spot logo. Users are required to input their email address, gender and birth year, and create a password. Information on its website on how to set up its Wi-Fi hot spot is in Japanese, so that might be a barrier to English speaking users.
- Family Mart: Available in Family Mart stores, users are only required to key in their email address and set up a password. However, the entire application process is in Japanese.
- Midtown: Shopping destinations such as Roppongi Hills and Shibuya Hikarie provide free Wi-Fi to visitors. Some of these (like Shibuya Hikarie) require visitors to present their passports to get their login credentials from the information desks.
- Apple Retail Stores: Free Wi-Fi is available for all users, no registration necessary.
Japan Rail has recently rolled out free Wi-Fi on its Yamanote Line, where users get up to three hours of free internet usage per registration. Once the three hours are up, users can re-register to get another couple of hours free. Tourists will most likely use the Yamanote Line at least once while in Japan as it covers major sightseeing areas such as Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa and so forth. Registration information is available in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Its login information is available in English.
How to connect: Connect to “JR-EAST_FREE_Wi-Fi,” and open your browser and register your email address. Instructions will be available.
Stations include: Narita Airport Terminal 1, Narita Airport Terminal 2, Haneda Airport International Terminal, Tokyo, Yurakucho, Shimbashi, Hamamatsucho, Tamachi, Shinagawa, Osaki, Meguro, Gotanda, Ebisu, Shibuya, Harajuku, Yoyogi, Shinjuku, Shin-Okubo, Takadanobaba, Mejiro, Ikebukuro, Otsuka, Sugamo, Komagome, Tabata, Nishi-Nippori, Nippori, Uguisudani, Ueno, Okachimachi, Akihabara, Kanda, Ochanomizu, Suidobashi, Iidabashi, Ichigaya, Yotsuya, Shinanomachi and Sendagaya.
Tokyo’s metro provides free Wi-Fi hot spots at 143 of their stations in Tokyo.
How to connect: Connect to “Metro_Free_Wi-Fi,” and open your browser and register your email address. Instructions will be available. Its login information is available in English.
Stations include: Ikebukuro, Higashi-Ikebukuro, Sugamo, Kasuga, Korakuen, Ueno, Ueno-Okachimachi, Ueno-Hirokoji, Naka-Okachimachi, Asakusa, Oshiage, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Yoyogi-Uehara, Meji-Jingumae (Harajuku), Roppongi, Naka-Meguro and Ebisu
Full map available here.
Apps to auto-connect smartphones to Wi-Fi networks are becoming increasingly popular. They require on a one-time registration and allow access to several hot spots. Each app has their own hot spot locations by different providers. Here are two recommended apps for free Wi-Fi in Japan:
- Japan Connected Free Wi-Fi: The app requires your email, name, sex and age group, and its service will be available upon completion of membership registration. However, re-registration is required if the app has not been used for 90 days. The app will also help you connect to some of the aforementioned corporate free hot spots such as 7-Spot, Roppongi Hills and Haneda Wi-Fi.
Available on both the App Store and Google Play.
- TRAVEL JAPAN Wi-Fi: Unlike Japan Connected Free Wi-Fi app, TRAVEL JAPAN only requires an agreement with their user policy. The app also offers tips for nearby tourist destinations. Available on both the App Store and Google Play.
(Additional research by Monica Ireland)