Cheap Internet When Staying in Tokyo

Greg Lane

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.

Ninja Wifi is the biggest provider of rental pocket wifi devices to international visitors coming to Japan. They also have the most pick-up points. [caption click here for details
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Four Ways to Find Free Wi-fi in Tokyo

free wifi cafes 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.

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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

Photo by yoppy used under CC

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

Japan SIM card
Relying on free wifi alone for connectivity isn’t recommended in Japan. SIMs are cheap enough and easy to find too. | Photo by Miki Yoshihito used under CC

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

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.

Mobal

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

Tokyo manga cafe
Manga cafes sometimes have quite roomy booths with comfy reclining chairs. | Photo by Connie Ma used under CC

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.

Hackery

Coding on laptop
Photo by Christiaan Colen used under CC

** 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.

General Tips

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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26 Responses to “Cheap Internet When Staying in Tokyo”

  1. David C August 27, 2012

    With regards to internet cafes, Maboo!, the one featured in the photo, now requires you to register using your Alien registration card before you can use their PCs so it’s not really good for travelers in Japan.

    • CheapoGreg August 28, 2012

      I wonder why they decided to do that? There are plenty of other places – at least around that area.

  2. David C August 27, 2012

    With regards to internet cafes, Maboo!, the one featured in the photo, now requires you to register using your Alien registration card before you can use their PCs so it’s not really good for travelers in Japan.

    • CheapoGreg August 28, 2012

      I wonder why they decided to do that? There are plenty of other places – at least around that area.

  3. Love the website, moving out to Tokyo in October so I’ve signed up and I’m ready to go!

    • CheapoGreg August 28, 2012

      Thanks! I’m not sure about Starbucks elsewhere, but in Japan they’re incredibly tolerant of squatters. If I need a change of scene (from home) I sit with a single drink for about 4 hours working on my laptop. The coffee tastes just as bad as everywhere else though 🙂

  4. George on the Go August 27, 2012

    Love the website, moving out to Tokyo in October so I’ve signed up and I’m ready to go!

    • CheapoGreg August 28, 2012

      Thanks! I’m not sure about Starbucks elsewhere, but in Japan they’re incredibly tolerant of squatters. If I need a change of scene (from home) I sit with a single drink for about 4 hours working on my laptop. The coffee tastes just as bad as everywhere else though 🙂

  5. David C August 27, 2012

    In the section Hackery, at least for Docomo, apparently you need to pay 350 yen per month to use their wifi hotspots.

    • CheapoGreg August 28, 2012

      Hi David, Thanks for the info. My cheapo colleague Chris used this technique with Softbank – hopefully I can get him to write up exactly how to do it and we’ll look at the charges too. 350yen/month for wifi isn’t a such a great deal – perhaps Docomo is still looking for income streams after their i-Mode golden goose dropped dead.

  6. David C August 27, 2012

    In the section Hackery, at least for Docomo, apparently you need to pay 350 yen per month to use their wifi hotspots.

    • CheapoGreg August 28, 2012

      Hi David, Thanks for the info. My cheapo colleague Chris used this technique with Softbank – hopefully I can get him to write up exactly how to do it and we’ll look at the charges too. 350yen/month for wifi isn’t a such a great deal – perhaps Docomo is still looking for income streams after their i-Mode golden goose dropped dead.

  7. The impression I had all this time was that you had to be a customer of docomo or Softbank to get wifi at Starbucks, or have your own mobile router with you!! Duped!!

  8. The impression I had all this time was that you had to be a customer of docomo or Softbank to get wifi at Starbucks, or have your own mobile router with you!! Duped!!

  9. This foursquare user has a bunch of lists of venues with free wi-fi in the 23 Wards of Tokyo. The lists are not easy to find because he used Kana to identify the wards. This Twitter user is part of a consortium that is investigating how to turn all of Tokyo’s 23 Wards area into free wi-fi networks.

  10. belackguyjean March 10, 2013

    how can i use my iPod touch 5G as a phone (e.g. skype, line, sidecar, facetime etc) with just wi-fi service from softbank?

    • CheapoGreg March 10, 2013

      Hi There,

      That will be quite a challenge as you’ll have to spoof your iPod as an iPhone on the Softbank wifi network. So you’ll need a header from an existing phone with a contract that you can ‘borrow’ and then you’ll need to hack your iPod to send that – which probably means jail breaking it at the least. I’ve never done anything like that though so you’d have to try somewhere else for advice on that.

      Line (in Japan at least) requires you to have a mobile number. I did install it on an iPod (well an iPhone 3GS not connected to the network) recently but it required sending a text message to another phone (not a smart phone) and that phone can’t already have Line running on it.

      My advice with the wifi is to go for another option, like this one -> http://300.wi2.co.jp/

      • belackguyjean March 15, 2013

        cheapo-greg,

        thanQ. i will try the “we two, three hundred” suggestion. it will save me some money! not big on jail breaking, hacking etc….

        cheers,

        mike

  11. Kudesai July 10, 2013

    My japanese friend says that you can get around the FON detection by using Chrome, dolphin, basically any internet browser besides safari on iPhone.

    Also, if you put FON, 7-Spot AND Starbucks all in your wifi favorites, You’re pretty much guranteed wifi for miles with little to no deadspots by foot/bike, he also recommends using some sort of keep alive such as a streaming radio program on your laptop or phone to keep your connection from idling.

    • CheapoGreg July 11, 2013

      It’s not free, but a friend of mine uses the wi2 service as well in addition to the Softbank spots. Only costs a few hundred yen a month.

  12. Viktoria Emma August 14, 2014

    I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 and it’s Europe locked but I was planning on having a Samsung branch office in Tokyo unlock my phone so that I might be able to use a SIM card in Japan but you say, “so make sure you do this before leaving because you’ll have a lot of trouble trying to do this in Japan. “. 🙁 🙁 What kind of trouble can I expect? I’m going to stay in Japan for a year as an exchange student.

    • CheapoGreg August 14, 2014

      You might want to confirm that the Galaxy shops offer this in Japan before you leave. To be quite honest, I’m not really sure – but I’ve never seen an unlocking service in Japan. It’s been a long time since I was in Europe (about 10 years) but unlocking services seemed to be everywhere. Anyway, no matter what, this type of request would be very infrequent in Japan which means there is unlikely to be support for it.

    • Just waltz into a shop of the provider you want to get a SIM from, make sure they sell the model you have, and ask them to unlock it. I have an S5, did the same, took 10minutes but dont expect them to speak English.


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