From wifi to sim cards, getting connected during a short-stay in Tokyo can be trickier than you might expect.
For a city with a reputation for tech, Tokyo hasn’t quite taken to the free wifi trend like other capitals. While they’re definitely upping their game with public hotspots, many are tethered to mobile providers making them pretty unhelpful for tourists looking for internet in Tokyo. Depending on whether you need occasional browsing or intend to work while away you may have to consider investing in your own connection be it via a portable wifi router or a temporary data sim. We’ve summed up the best options depending on your needs below.
Four Ways to Find Free Wi-fi in Tokyo
While there may not be as much as you’re used to, there is still some free wifi in Tokyo to be had, you just have to know where to stand. Since phone contracts here come with unlimited data, it isn’t such an issue for locals, so free wifi specifically for tourists in Tokyo is a big investment for the city. There is a focus on transport hubs and popular neighbourhoods having their own networks.
1. Coffee and Cafes
For an easy connection, Starbucks is your friend. No matter what you think of the coffee, they are by far your best bet for a reliable connection and have over 200 stores in the city limits. While you previously needed to sign up for wifi in advance, these days you just connect and agree to their requirements on the portal page – something you’ll have to repeat on an hourly basis. Alternatively, check out our wifi-friendly cafes elsewhere in Tokyo – you might have to buy a few more coffees to justify your stay, but it’s a nicer afternoon for sure.
2. Hang around at Train Stations
The Tokyo Metro Free Wifi scheme supplies wifi to over 200 of the stations in the city. Select either the ‘Metro_Free_Wi-Fi’ or the ‘Toei_Subway_Free_Wi-Fi’ SSIDs and open your web browser to complete free sign in. The Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists App (catchy title) has a handy list of stations with free wifi while the Japan Connected App will log you in without having to fill in the portal pages.
JR East also has a wifi scheme signified by the bright green wifi signs (they are strategically placed to highlight areas with strong signal). Connect to the ‘JR-EAST_FREE_Wi-Fi’ SSID and enter your email on the portal page. Your connection will last for three hours and can can be renewed an unlimited amount of times. Rather than covering stations as a whole, the stongest areas are often by ticket gates, with a full list of spots available if you want to be sure.
3. Pop into Convenience Stores
7-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart offer free wi-fi at most (if not all) of their thousands upon thousands of branches. Given that most stores don’t have anywhere to sit down, you’ll either have to stand, sit down out front (Japanese high school students do it so why not?) or find a cafe next door. 7-11 gives an hour at a time, three times a day and you can use the Japan Connected App for 7-11 and Lawson.
4. Download Apps and try Hotspot Schemes
The Japan Connected Free Wifi App is one of the best options as it combines a variety of wifi hotspots across the country. You do have to have an internet connection to download the app and create an account in advance of course, but after that it’s pretty helpful. The app allows you to connect to a variety of different hotspots by clicking a button in the app rather than filling out individual sign-up pages each time. While you need wifi to view the locations map, there is a list version available offline.
Ekonnect is a hotspot scheme with a free option and a paid one. For free you get access to 5,000 wifi spots which automatically connect when you use the app. If you upgrade to the 390yen/month version, you get 100,000 spots and an improved connection speed, so this is a pretty cheap internet option for Tokyo
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FON – a system that allows people who provide a free hotspot to use the network for free – is almost everywhere and is probably the most ubiquitous of all the wi-fi networks. Unfortunately, FON has done some kind of horrible deal with Softbank in Japan that detects when you are trying to connect on a mobile device and then asks for some kind of Softbank ID.
One last option worthy of mention is Free Spot. They have an English map of available Hotspots and the system is very simple – free wi-fi. If the hotspot has a password, all you have to do is ask the shop that hosts the free spot for the password and they’ll give it to you. Some hotspots may require email authentication, but that’s all explained on the web site.
Portable Wifi Options
If you want a reliable connection for a laptop or have multiple people looking to connect, portable wifi might be the option for you. Small devices that need to be kept charged, they solve some problems and create others, but can be really great if you have to work. Rental is surprisingly easy, but you do have to be sure you can return the item and may have to pay a deposit or insurance on the device in case of damage or loss. Prices start from around 800 yen a day and can work out really well if divided between two or more people.
Ninja Wifi offer some of the best value options, especially with our special cheapo discount. You can get a 5-day plan with unlimited data (but throttled after 3gb a day) for ¥3,402 or 3 days for ¥2,041. Although their contracts state data is throttled, this is rarely enforced in our experience.
Japan Mobile and Wifi Router Rentals offer some good deals for long-term stays but are throttled after 10gb per month. Rental for 30 days costs ¥9,159 and has a ¥1,000 delivery fee to be considered.
Sim Card Suggestions
If you have an unlocked phone then getting a temporary visitor sim can be a cheap way to get internet in Japan wherever you travel. While it means you can only use your phone as opposed to a laptop as well, it does mean you don’t have to worry about keeping an additional item charged. Be aware that sim cards are often data only, voice call options cost extra. We have a full article explaining all the best options if you think this is the best option for you, but some simple suggestions below too.
GTN Mobile offers affordable high-speed data plans with full English support and no years-long contract. They also making paying easy—either set up autopay through you credit card or bank, or settle up at your local convenience store.
With a huge variety of SIM cards including options with Voice as well as data, Mobal is an affordable option. Perks include free world-wide shipping or airport pickup, data-only packages of up to 10gb for just under 6,000 yen (30 days) or voice and data packages of up to 7gb for 4,500 yen (30 days)
In Store Sim Cards
If you haven’t planned ahead and are in a hurry for some internet access in Tokyo, you can head straight on over to BIC Camera or Yodabashi Camera and grab one of the travel sims off the shelf. While these are a little pricier/lower on data, they are prettyy convenient and don’t have to be returned to anyone when you leave.
Internet cafes are more commonly called Manga Cafes and are located around most major and even not so major stations in Tokyo. It’s not exactly mobile internet, but they’re great if you want to plan your travels for the day. They also have printers – so you can print out maps and useful information that you can take with you.
Finding them can be a little difficult for the uninitiated as they rarely have any English signage. If you can’t find one, just ask – mothers with push chairs (strollers) and dog walkers are usually the best bet as they’re likely to be local.
** Warning: The following is a bit technical ++
In order to unload some capacity from their networks, the big cellular providers – Docomo, AU and Softbank all operate widespread wi-fi networks. After sign-up on the provider’s web site, anyone with a handset from one of these companies can access their wifi hotspots for free. However, the hotspots check the headers of every device that tries to connect to figure out if it is a mobile device from that company. Therefore, if you use a Firefox or Chrome plugin like User Agent Switcher, you can spoof the headers sent to the network and join the wifi network with your laptop. This may require you to do some network sniffing to work out what headers are sent – so you will probably need the assistance of a Japanese friend with a mobile contract in order to figure this out.
The wonderful Money Saving Expert has some excellent general advice on roaming on your smartphone. To summarise, switch off 3G/4G, turn off app updates, don’t watch video or download music (download those podcasts before you leave!) and use ‘offline’ tour guides.
To this, we would recommend installing a free app called ‘Line’ before your travels. This is a voice and messaging app that is hugely popular in Japan – especially with young people – so it’s ideal for keeping in touch with your Japanese friends and acquaintances while you’re here.
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