When I visited Japan for the first time in 2013, I was baffled by how difficult it was to find and access wireless internet in Japan as a tourist. Luckily, my friends and I had a portable wireless device that let us access WiFi anywhere. Otherwise, there would’ve been much hair-tearing frustration. How the hell could there be internet woes at the tech center of the world? I mean, have you guys ever seen the ramen shield? Sort of joking.
In this article, I’ll share all I know about the options for free and paid WiFi anywhere (well, almost anywhere) in Japan, as well as tips for more convenient or longer term solutions to your WiFi situation.
Free WiFi in Japan
Publicly accessible WiFi in Japan has gotten noticeably better, but if you’re relying on public WiFi for work and stability, well, you’re better off trying to weave a basket underwater. You should use these for lighter stuff, like finding out where you are or checking Instagram.
There are actually a few ways to get free WiFi in Japan: You can get them through public hotspots at well-known, reliable places, or through mobile apps.
Free Public WiFi Places
Certain establishments reliably provide free public WiFi in Japan and won’t require you to jump through flaming hoops. Many of these places are sprinkled throughout Tokyo, obviously, but don’t worry, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, and other sort of touristy hubs are slowly catching up.
Before you can use some of these services, you’ll have to confirm with your Facebook, Twitter, or some other social networking service (SNS) account. Or you can say, “F that” and authenticate with a throwaway email address (one that you won’t ever use again). BUT sometimes you’ll need to do this beforehand, when you do have internet. So it’s kind of a big, wrinkly sour pickle since you need to open the URL they send to your email. I’ll indicate the services that require you to do this below.
- McDonald’s: WiFi in McDonald’s didn’t used to be free, but now it is and available in many of its thousands of branches all throughout Japan. Just look for the Free WiFi sticker at the entrance to make sure that particular McDonald’s offers it. The SSID is usually 00_MCD-FREE-WIFI, and you’ll have to go through an authentication process using an SNS or email account.
- Starbucks: Thank the WiFi heavens for Starbucks, except you’ll need to pre-register on the website here if you’re not going to use a SNS. Afterward, you can access the interwebs at_STARBUCKS_Wi2.
- Tully’s Coffee shop: There are plenty of Tully’s around, and you can easily connect to tullys_Wi-Fi.
- Family Mart: The Family Mart convenience stores have WiFi through Famima_Wi-Fi, but the registration is all in Japanese. This article shows you exactly what to check off and buttons to touch to successfully connect. This one is worth doing because Family Marts are everywhere.
- JR Stations: The Japan Railway (JR) is separated into East and West stations, and they have free WiFi.
- JR East: If you’re on or around the central Tokyo area or main green-colored Yamanote line (which connects the major stations like Shibuya, Tokyo, and Shinjuku, you’ll see “JR-EAST_FREE_WIFI.” As far as I know, you just accept the terms and go online. Check out this PDF for a full list of places JR East covers.
- JR West: In western parts of Japan, you’ll see “JR-WEST_FREE_WIFI”, but the service is less comprehensive and you’ll need to authenticate via SNS or an email account.
- Narita airport: Connect to FreeWiFi-NARITA and just follow the on-screen prompts to get online. The coverage range is limited within certain parts of the airport. Additionally, check this link to see if you can continue having WiFi as you ride a bus or train into Tokyo.
- Haneda airport: There’s free WiFi here, but the important thing here is that you can register your passport to receive two weeks of free WiFi at major hotspots around Japan, via TRAVEL JAPAN WiFi app. Look for a specific “free wifi code” kiosk, where you can scan your passport and obtain a premium code. Then you’ll need to download the TRAVEL JAPAN WiFi app and use the code there. More on the TRAVEL JAPAN app below.
- Other airports: In addition to Haneda and Narita, Chitose, Chubu, Kansai International Airport, and Fukuoka Airport also have WiFi.
- Atre department stores: Atre is the name of a major Japanese department store with locations throughout Japan. Sometimes you’ll find “atre_Free_WiFi” at some locations like Akihabara. You need to enter your email address to log in.
WiFi in Japan is only going to get more and more convenient as time goes on. Keep an eagle eye out for WiFi stickers on the street. Areas like Akihabara and Omotesando already have WiFi that you can connect to while you’re out and about.
Once connected, most of these services give you a time limit per connection. You can reset the time by closing your browser and reconnecting, but some also have daily limits. In my experience, the public WiFi is spotty at best, but hey, they work. Sometimes you have to look like a weirdo and move around to different spots to be able to connect properly.
When you visit places like Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, or Shizuoka, it’s always worth visiting the tourist center of that city to ask about access to WiFi. Oftentimes, you can just show your passport and you’ll get free access to WiFi for a limited number of days. Heck, a friend of mine got loaned a mobile WiFi hotspot (more on what that is below) at Shizuoka for free just by asking.
Most WiFi spots will ask you to authenticate with a social network account or an email, the latter of which you need to do beforehand since you need internet to check your email (yeah, totally backwards). So have a throwaway email address handy and pre-register for WiFi access with McDonald’s and Starbucks. You’ll always find McDonald’s and Starbucks. And in general, check with the city’s tourist information center and inquire about WiFi.
WiFi Mobile Apps
There are so, so many WiFi options that will leap out at you as soon as you turn on your WiFi, including the ones I mentioned above. They’re like “Yay, use me!”, but the catch is that you have to first download certain apps, register your info online in advance (because you need internet to download the app to begin with!), or both. Normally, I’d say ugh, but if you really want to ride that free WiFi wave, these are well worth the 20 minutes or so to set up.
- Japan Connected-free Wifi: This app allows you to connect to hundreds of thousands of the free WiFi hotspots through NTT East WiFi around Japan, including at 7-11 convenience stores and Tokyo Metro subway’s WiFi. Otherwise, you can’t connect to them. The full list of places you can use the app is here and registration information is here.
- TRAVEL JAPAN Wi-Fi: A super clutch WiFi app that not only gives you WiFi but tips for what to do and see in that area. Pretty useful! It also helps you find and navigate to other WiFi hotspots. What’s more, you can use your passport to get a premium code, which upgrades your access to even more hotspots and extends the time that you can use it. Visit special kiosks at places like Haneda airport, JAL ticket offices, and Odakyu department stores to get this code.
- FREESPOT: You’ll find FREESPOT in many restaurants, coffee shops (including Komeda Kohiya and Seattle’s Best Coffee), and other public areas. FREESPOT consists of a bunch of IT companies and provides this free service that’s paid for by taxes. The site says that it’s generally good etiquette to support the business in which you are using it (like eating there or buying something).
Download the Japan Connected-free Wifi and TRAVEL JAPAN Wi-Fi apps and register before you lose internet. It’ll make finding free WiFi a LOT easier.
Paid WiFi Spots
Of course, you can just pick up a SIM card while you’re in Japan, but if you forgot, there are these other paid options:
Normally, you pay for Wi-2, but if you flew with Japan Airlines (JAL), you can get a free username and password for free WiFi for up to two weeks. You’ll need to use this through the TRAVEL JAPAN WiFi app.
Pocket WiFis Are the Most Convenient Solution
While all of the aforementioned options are viable, they’re mostly great if you’re staying less than two weeks. Beyond that, there’s a much better option: a mobile WiFi device (or pocket WiFi, as they’re often called) that you can carry anywhere with you.
As someone who depends on WiFi to get work done and watch hilarious animal videos, I need WiFi at my fingertips, wherever I am, and I can say that pocket WiFis are the bee’s knees. It’s actually the solution I recommend for both short- and long-term stays, but it can get pricey. You can rent pocket WiFis from any number of companies, including at the airport. You can even place orders in advance or just pick one up the same day. Some examples:
- Japan Rail: 5400 yen for 5 days
- Japan Wireless: 4200 yen for 5 days
- Softbank: ~970 yen a day
- JCRCorp: ~2500 yen a day
- Pupuru: 400 to 800 yen a day
- Global Advanced Communications: 900 to 1700 yen a day
As you can see, the cost varies between 4USD to 10USD a day, depending on the speed and data limit. Most rates are designed for brief visits. And if you’re not a heavy data user, any of them will work.
There is one company that I really like.
CDJapan is a mobile WiFi and SIM card rental company that offers super reasonable 7-, 10-, 30-, or even 90-day rates, with the option to extend the rental period. I don’t have experience with their SIM cards, but I’ve rented their pocket WiFi (unlimited data plan) multiple times. Obviously, the longer you keep the device, the cheaper the rate.
But here’s the thing: the rate for extending your rental period is considerably cheaper than when you initially rent it out. And you can use that to your advantage.
If you’re planning to stay foreva (like several weeks, months, or whatever), I recommend doing a little second-grade math to break down the number of days you’ll be in Japan. Then just pay the basic 14- or 21-day package initially. When time is almost up, extend your rental period in chunks of 30 or 60 days and pay the reduced rate.
Let’s say, you’re going to hole up for 81 days-ish. Purchase the basic initial package of 21 days, and when that time is about to run out, log in to your CDJapan account and request to extend it by 60 days. The rate for extension will cost less than the initial asking rental price. In the end, this option is cheaper. If you find that you need an extra day or two, then you can do single-day extensions, too.
For me, CDJapan was very reasonable. Their prices were the cost of me paying for internet back home, and this was a much more convenient service. Plus, they have great customer service. Any time I had an issue with the internet they were responsive or credited days back to me.
The beauty of pocket WiFis is you can bring them anywhere with you and connect at any time. If you’re going to rent a pocket WiFi, go with CDJapan. For long-term stays, figure out the approximate number of days you’re going to be in Japan. Then purchase a basic 14- or 21-day package, and aim to purchase time extensions to lower the cost of the following months or weeks you’ll be in Japan.
Then There Are Internet and Manga Cafes
If you’re down for a more Japanese otaku experience, you can check out one of its many thousands of internet and manga cafes strewn throughout. What do you do at these cafes? Why, browse the internet, of course! At the manga ones, you just flip through hundreds and hundreds of manga until your eyes get paper cuts.
Most, if not all, are 24-hour and can actually be a place for you to spend the night if you find yourself stranded at a place. You just have to pay extra for a private room. They even provide showers, food, and other amenities.
I can only imagine WiFi accessibility continuing to improve with the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so if you’ve anything to add or correct, dear reader, please do so by contacting me here!