There are a variety of ways to stay connected to the internet while traveling in Japan. However, this is a quickly evolving industry where services and rates are constantly changing. The following are the common solutions currently available.
A majority of hotels in Japan offer free internet in their guest rooms. A few hotels, typically some higher-end Western chains, charge for internet access based on 24 hour periods. Access is usually provided as wired internet via LAN cable or as a wireless network.
Internet in the room is much less common at ryokan. Instead, many ryokan provide wireless internet or a public computer in their lobby. However, there are also some hotels, ryokan and minshuku that do not have internet access of any kind, especially in remote places, such as national parks or rural hot spring resorts.
Many hotel reservation websites, such as Japanican, have details on internet availability for their listed properties and offer the option to filter for places with internet access.
Wireless (Wi-Fi) Hotspots
Both paid and free wireless (Wi-Fi) hotspots are available in Japan. Laptops and mobile devices can connect to publicly accessible hotspots found around airports, train stations, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
- Free Wi-Fi Hotspots
Thanks to recent efforts by businesses and governments, public Wi-Fi networks for free use by foreign tourists have become more and more readily available. Tourists will encounter these networks at international airports, major railway stations (including all Yamanote Line stations and many shinkansen stations), selected coffee, fast food and convenience store chains and many tourist information desks.
Networks vary widely from easy-to-use ones to others that require cumbersome advance registrations. A few networks are also limited to specific devices (e.g. iphone only) or restrict the content that can be accessed.
There are currently three major, nationwide products available that make connecting to free Wi-Fi hotspots easier:
- Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi
A smartphone app that unifies the registration process of over 100,000 free tourist hotspots by numerous companies and organizations so that visitors can use them all without having to register for each service individually. Registration of some personal data is required.
- Free Wi-Fi Passport
Two weeks (extendable) free access to approximately 400,000 Softbank hotspots at restaurants, cafes, major train stations, hotels and other locations across Japan. Registration is made by calling a toll-free number (*8180) from a foreign cellphone while connected to the Softbank network. Calling the number will get you a password that can be used on up to five devices.
- Travel Japan Wi-Fi
A smartphone app that provides two weeks (extendable) free access to over 60,000 Wi2 hotspots across Japan. Registration is not required, however by getting a “premium code” from one of several partners (e.g. JAL or selected shops in Japan), the number of hotspots can be increased to over 200,000.
- Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi
- Paid Wi-Fi Hotspots
Paid Wi-Fi hotspots are more common than free ones, although a few of the major networks make at least parts of their services available for free to foreign tourists. Otherwise, they may allow paid, short term access on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. A one-day pass typically costs around 500-800 yen and gives you access to all of that company’s locations (and their affiliates) for a 24-hour period.
Registration interfaces are often only provided in Japanese, and some services require a Japanese credit card or address. The following are a few of the rare nationwide services that provide English registration interfaces and accept foreign credit cards:
- docomo Wi-Fi for visitor
This service offers foreign tourists access to 150,000 high-speed access spots nationwide for 972 yen per week or 1404 yen for three weeks.
200,000 locations at hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and public spaces nationwide. Various plans are available from six-hour to week long packages. Foreign visitors can get free access to this network via the Travel Japan Wi-Fi app described above.
- Softbank Wi-Fi Spot
Hundreds of thousands of hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and public spaces nationwide. Generally targeted at Softbank subscribers, but 24-hour plans are also available to non-subscribers. Those with a foreign phone can get free access to this network via Softbank’s Free Wi-Fi Passport system described above.
- Skype WiFi
A special partnership between Skype and several of Japan’s major Wi-Fi providers (including Wi2 listed above) allows you to use the Skype WiFi application to bypass the Japanese login and pay for internet access in your own currency via your Skype account. Usage is charged by the minute and relatively expensive.
- docomo Wi-Fi for visitor
Personal hotspots (also called mifi, portable hotspot, personal Wi-Fi, pocket Wi-Fi, etc.) are small, battery powered devices that use the cellular phone network to create a local wireless network. They are easy to set up, provide reasonably fast internet, work anywhere there is cell phone service, allow multiple devices to connect at once and are relatively inexpensive. Personal hotspots are available to rent at major Japanese airports or via the internet for delivery to your home or hotel.
Several companies rent smartphones that include unlimited data and Wi-Fi tethering, effectively turning them into personal hotspots. This can be a great value as the devices serve as both a rental phone and as a means for connecting to the internet on the go. Both iphone and android models are available to rent at major Japanese airports or via the internet for delivery to your home or hotel. See our mobile phone page for more details.
USB modems are available to directly connect a laptop to the internet via the cellular phone network. They are offered by the same companies that rent personal hotspots, and have similar coverage and speeds. Conversely, they tend to be less expensive and require no batteries or charging, but they can only be used with one device at a time. Be aware that a lot of the rental companies are starting to discontinue their USB modem services, however there are still a few providers that rent them at major Japanese airports or via the internet.
Rental and Prepaid SIM cards
Those who wish to use their own mobile phones or tablets to directly access the internet in Japan can get rental or prepaid SIM cards that allow for unlimited internet access via the cellular phone network. They are available to rent or purchase at major Japanese airports, selected retailers or via the internet for delivery to your home or hotel. Your device must not be locked to a specific provider to utilize these services.
Sim cards of some major cell phone carriers. From left to right: Softbank, docomo, au.
International roaming is a convenient, albeit expensive way to access the internet during your travels. In order to do so, your device must be able to operate in Japan and your carrier needs to have roaming agreements with a Japanese provider. Be aware that international roaming can be extremely expensive, so check with your home provider for specific details, pricing and eventual plans.
Internet Cafes and Manga Kissa
Internet cafes, known as netto cafe (ネットカフェ) or manga kissa (漫画喫茶 or マンガ喫茶), rent out internet connected computers at hourly rates of a few hundred yen. Most offer discounted rates for longer blocks of time or special overnight deals. While internet cafes are often located near major stations, they may be difficult to find as they tend to be in inconspicuous locations with signs only in Japanese. Also, some internet cafe chains require that you sign up for a membership and pay a small registration fee.
Although increasingly rare, coin operated internet kiosks can still be found around some major train stations, tourist information centers and airports. They are also occasionally found at hotels and libraries. Coin operated internet kiosks usually only accept 100 yen coins.
An internet cafe with a rare sign in English