This article was written while traveling around Japan using pocket Wi-Fi.
Japan is an incredibly modern country in almost every way.
But when it comes to the availability of free Wi-Fi, staying connected is much more difficult than most travelers imagine.
So we wrote this simple guide to staying connected while traveling around Japan.
To keep things as simple as possible, we’ve focused only on the essentials (and avoided complicated jargon).
There are some alternatives to the options we recommend below.
However, even though our recommendations are not necessarily the cheapest, we’ve found this to be by far the easiest and most convenient way to stay connected while traveling around Japan.
A Little Background: Wi-Fi in Japan
Before we get into details about how to best access Wi-Fi in Japan, you may be wondering why it’s so difficult to find Wi-Fi in Japan.
These days, most good hotels – and even an increasing number of ryokans – offer Wi-Fi to guests. However, this is not always the case – particularly in remote areas of Japan.
But even if you do have an Internet connection while at your hotel, what about when you’re out exploring?
Unlike in most other developed countries, finding Wi-Fi and connecting to the Internet while out and about – even in major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto – is much more difficult than people expect.
It can be downright frustrating.
Most trains and bullet trains also do not offer Wi-Fi, so staying connected while traveling around Japan can be extremely challenging, unless you have a pocket Wi-Fi device.
Hands down the first thing you should do if you’d like to stay connected while traveling around Japan is rent a pocket Wi-Fi device.
This is simply a mobile hotspot that allows you to connect to the Internet from your laptop, tablet or smartphone – from almost anywhere in Japan.
Pocket Wi-Fi is very easy to use.
Simply charge it, turn it on, and log into its network from your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
You can generally use pocket Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet while out sightseeing (in case you need to look something up); from trains, taxis and bullet trains; at coffee shops (to determine your next move); and in a variety of other situations.
While it doesn’t always work in very remote areas, it works extremely well in almost all places travelers usually visit.
Ordering Pocket Wi-Fi
Ordering pocket Wi-Fi is extremely simple.
We highly recommend ordering your device well in advance, and having it sent directly to your first hotel.
Supplies occasionally run out during peak travel periods, and orders take at least a couple of days to process, so make sure you don’t leave it to the last minute.
Here is a short video showing what it’s like when you receive your pocket Wi-Fi:
We recommend a Japanese company called PuPuru.
While there are also other companies offering this product, we’ve found them to be professional and reliable, and it has proven to be a fantastic solution not just for us, but also for clients and friends.
When ordering pocket Wi-Fi, it’s not a bad idea to add on a Japanese mobile phone as well. Not only is it inexpensive to add on, it can come in handy in a variety of situations (see below).
Click here to order your pocket Wi-Fi and/or mobile phone.
Renting a Mobile Phone in Japan
If you have an “unlocked” smartphone, then you can make advance arrangements to order a SIM card and data plan for your phone.
However, if you don’t have an unlocked phone – as is the case for many travelers (particularly if you’re from the United States) – you may want to rent a Japanese mobile phone in addition to a pocket Wi-Fi device.
Many non-Japanese cell phones will simply not work in Japan, and the ones that do will likely incur high roaming charges.
Assuming your phone is not unlocked, it will most likely be exorbitantly expensive for you to use your mobile phone in Japan to make calls and/or use data (to find out how much, you’ll need to ask your local service provider).
Because of this, the easiest and most inexpensive way to have a phone on hand for emergencies and occasional local calls is to rent a Japanese mobile phone.
This is why we recommend getting a pocket Wi-Fi (which will allow you to use your phone for basic Internet purposes) in conjunction with a rental Japanese mobile phone.
Having a local Japanese mobile phone makes it easy and inexpensive to make local calls, which can be really handy for doing things like:
- Calling restaurants
- Contacting your hotel concierge or front desk
- Calling guides and local friends
- Making calls if/when lost
Of course, you can make telephone calls from your hotel room, as well.
But most travelers spend most of their time out and about, exploring and traveling around Japan. For when you’re out exploring a city or town, or in a train or taxi, having a local Japanese mobile phone can prove extremely convenient.
If you have a smartphone with Skype installed on it, and have a pocket Wi-Fi device, this is also a fair back-up option. However, in areas with a limited Internet signal it can be a bit unreliable. In addition, the call quality of Skype is not always great (unless you have a very strong Wi-Fi signal), so it’s nice to have a regular mobile phone.
If you order through PuPuru, we recommend ordering your pocket Wi-Fi device together with a rental Japanese mobile phone, and having them delivered together to your first hotel in Japan.
Wi-Fi at Cafes
Because Wi-Fi is not yet widespread yet in Japan, it’s not easy – as in other countries – to simply pop into a cafe to quickly connect to the Internet.
Coffee shops in Japan commonly don’t offer free Wi-Fi, except to locals who have contracts with local service providers.
Hence, the great benefit of having a pocket Wi-Fi device. With a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can turn any cafe into a Wi-Fi cafe!
One notable exception is Starbucks – while not as unique or charming as many of Japan’s stylish coffee shops, Starbucks can be a huge help to travelers thanks to the fact that they offer complimentary Wi-Fi.
However, there is a catch (and it’s very important). You cannot simply show up and connect to their Wi-Fi network. It’s necessary to register online in advance. If you think there’s a chance you might need Starbucks’ free Wi-Fi during your trip to Japan, take a few moments to go register online now, or at least before you leave your home country.
We hope our simple overview of Wi-Fi and mobile in Japan helps you stay connected!