Thanks to mobile internet high speeds in Japan, it is possible to do good video or audio streaming, for example for a Skype video conference right in the middle of your stay in Tokyo or anywhere else (do not forget to take time difference into account though). You can also very conveniently operate a GPS, depending on the applications available on your smartphone.
In this article, we are therefore going to present several ways of getting permanent internet access during your stay in Japan. As far as we know, it is not possible to get free unlimited access; the following offers therefore come at a cost, but they are perfectly reliable and will not fail you.
This is the method we always favor when we travel in japan. Pocket WIFI is an all-Japanese solution whose popularity is on the rise and which is now in use outside of the Japanese archipelago.
It is a small box equipped with a SIM data card and therefore connected to the internet, which looks like a portable router modem: you can connect up to 10 devices (computers, smartphones, portable videogame consoles…) simultaneously to get internet access.
Transfer speed is more than acceptable, being under the LTE standard, i.e. 75 Mbps downstream / 25 Mbps upstream; this means that you get speeds of 9MB per second, i.e. a hundred times faster than 3G and very close to 4G. Besides, there is no limit to the amount of data you may transfer.
Another major advantage is that it provides almost uninterrupted coverage: in greater Tokyo, we rarely get disconnected even on trains and in the subway, except maybe in the deepest underground stations. You can settle comfortably in your seat on the Shinkansen and work away undisturbed until you reach Kyoto, sometimes with reduced speeds and very occasional disconnections. Even in the remotest places (for example Nokogiriyama), you seldom get disconnected.
Another good point, in our opinion, is that Pocket WIFI automatically switches to sleep mode as soon as there are no devices connected to it. Most of the time, we will connect an smartphone to check our email or send a photo on Kanpai, then disconnect the WIFI mode to save battery power. After a few minutes, Pocket WIFI will suspend router mode, allowing it to be reactivated upon a simple pressure of the power button. This ensures a 12-hour battery life span (a full day of visits) whereas the battery would otherwise be empty after 4 to 6 hours.
Pocket WIFI is small and light (140 grams), you can slip it in your pocket when deactivated. We strongly recommend it where several people travel together with smartphones, tablets, computers and other devices requiring an internet connection. It comes ready to use with its WPA code; no configuring is required. You merely need to plug it in at the end of the day to recharge it, and it even comes with a USB cable for a wired connection.
Rates and services
You typically need to sign up for a paid account based on monthly, sometimes daily rates.
Here are the main providers:
- we recommend Ninja Wifi (normally ¥972 / ~US$ 9.40 per day, but only ¥875 / ~US$ 8.40 by clicking our link)
- Japan Wireless
Considering the comfort provided by this service, it seems to us that these are very affordable rates if there are several of you travelling together. Indeed, you will obviously be able to break down the total amount into the number of travelers.
It seems that the best deal however is with Airbnb (which we strongly recommend to find accommodation in Japan). As a matter of fact, many Japanese landlords will provide a ready-to-use Pocket WIFI for free for the duration of your stay, thus saving you any further steps. Unbeatable!
SIM data card
The SIM method is just as well-known to foreigners travelling in Japan; there are some advantages to it but also some downsides compared to Pocket WIFI. It is not intended for the same usage and meets different kinds of requirements, providing a more limited internet access.
It consists in a SIM, Micro-SIM or Nano-SIM card for online data exclusively (not for telecommunication data), which replaces your own SIM card.
We wish to underline the following points about the use of a SIM data card.
- They are SIM cards for data only, which means that phone telecommunications (to Japan or any other places) are not included in the price – you may however use such tools as Skype or Line to phone via internet;
- If your device does not have a tethering (connection sharing) option, only the person whose device is equipped with the SIM data card will be able to access the internet;
- Your device needs to be unlocked in order to support the SIM card (which uses a Japanese network such as NTT Docomo) – if you have bought your device from a service provider, you may ask them to have it unlocked with your IMEI number.
It is very simple to use the card: you simply have to insert the SIM card into the device, activate 3G / cellular connection (not foreign data) then enter your login.
Rates and Services
The best known and most convenient operator is probably B-Mobile as they offer this service in English. They have two fairly similar SIM data cards to connect a smartphone or a 3G tablet to the internet. Be careful though: they have withdrawn the old U300 card (which was the most widely used in the beginning) from their offer since July 2012; if you are offered to buy one, somebody is probably trying to con you.
If you order a B-Mobile SIM card, it will be delivered to your hotel or directly at the airport (for a ¥210 / ~US$ 2.00 fee).
B-Mobile offers two types of “Visitor SIM”:
- “14 Days Visitor SIM” offers a 300 kbps downstream speed (i.e. a low speed for daily use) yet, although unlimited on paper, traffic is controlled for video streaming or Skype.
- “1 GB” offers a theoretical maximum speed of 14Mbps, which allows for more possibilities, yet the amount of data is limited to 1Go and can therefore be rather quickly used up.
Both cards cost ¥3,980 Yen (~US$ 38.40) for two weeks. After two weeks or if you have used up your data volume, you may recharge your card for the same fee on this page.
As an alternative, Softbank also offers unlimited SIM, Micro-SIM and Nano-SIM cards at the rather high rate of ¥1,500 (~US$ 14.50) per day.
Japan-Wireless also has its own LTE SIM data cards via NTT Docomo, for a maximum total usage of whichever limit comes first. See the rates below:
- ¥4,000 (~US$ 38.60) for the 3GB / 30 days version
- or ¥3,500 (~US$ 33.80) for the 1.5GB / 15 days version
eConnect offers a better deal from ¥3,800 / ~US$ 36.70 for 30 days, also available for 7 and 15 days.
The most cost-effective solution however probably comes from So-net (an affiliate of Sony): ¥2,838 without tax / ~US$ 27.40 for 1Go over a 60 day period (also available in 200 or 500MB).