Cheap Internet When Staying in Tokyo

Greg Lane

For somewhere that has such an over abundance of fast wireless internet options, it can be quite difficult to cheaply get on the net when visiting or staying short term in Tokyo.  Unless someone else is paying the bill (ie. you’re on a business trip) then you shouldn’t even consider data roaming.  For example, if you’re on US carrier Verizon Wireless, 1GB will set you back about $US20,480!  Not all international carriers are as bad as the US ones, but no matter which country you’re from, you can still purchase a new compact car for the cost of a single Gigabyte of data on your local mobile carrier.

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So what are your options if you don’t want your data charges to cost more than the rest of your trip put together?

Free Wi-fi

Starbucks is your friend.  No matter what you think of the coffee, they are your best bet for free internet in Tokyo.  Don’t worry about not being able to find a Starbucks either – the 23 wards of Tokyo alone have 220 branches!  Before you can use the free wi-fi (labeled at_STARBUCKS_Wi2), you need to sign up here.  It’s even in English – but you need an internet connection to sign up for it so make sure you do it in advance.

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Apart from Starbucks, there are a number of other options. 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.

Mobinect StickerMobinect is another option that seems to be quite widespread. It’s mainly offered by shops, cafes and restaurants.  If you find a ‘mobinect’ network nearby, you’ll have to hunt around for a shop with one of the stickers shown at left.  They apparently offer 30 minutes for free (you might have to ask the shop staff how this works), or you can buy a 100yen scratch card with an access key from the shop staff that will give you access for 1 day.

7-Eleven also offers free wi-fi at most (if not all) of their thousands of branches.  Given that most 7-Elevens 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.  Like Starbucks, it also requires you to sign up before you can use it.  Unlike Starbucks, the sign-up page is in Japanese.  However, it translates almost perfectly to English using the Chrome translate tool.

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.

I should also mention that it would be unusual to find a hotel or hostel that didn’t at least have free wireless internet in the lobby. Check this before you arrive.

Biglobe Ninja SIM

Biglobe’s Ninja SIM provides 4G/LTE mobile data through SIM cards with 1GB, 3GB or 7GB of data.  Despite the fact that you can insert them into your phone, they will not allow you to make voice calls – they’re data only.



They have a good English site which allows you to purchase the SIM directly. Their cheapest tourist SIM is 2,916yen + delivery charges for 1GB of data which must be used within 30 days.  After that, it can be recharged with your credit card online.

In terms of supported devices, the SIMs can be inserted into all versions of iPhone and iPad – as long as they are SIM unlocked – so make sure you do this before leaving because you’ll have a lot of trouble trying to do this in Japan. Ninja SIM also supports almost all recent Android devices.

If you’re already in Japan and you’re in too much of a hurry to use their web site, head to the major electronics stores such as LAOX, Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera.  You’ll have to ask the staff where it is though, as the Biglobe desk will probably be located in a cupboard under the stairs.

For more options, see our article Prepaid and cheap data options in Japan.



Internet Cafes

Internet cafes or more commonly ‘comic cafes’ (like this one) 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

** 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.

 


Watch this next

New Video: Getting Wifi In Japan

Our guide to prepay SIM cards, wifi routers, cafe wifi and other places to quickly find wifi whilst visiting Japan.




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26 Responses to “Cheap Internet When Staying in Tokyo”

  1. David C

    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

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

  2. David C

    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

      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

      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

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

    • CheapoGreg

      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

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

    • CheapoGreg

      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

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

    • CheapoGreg

      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

    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

      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

        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

    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

      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

    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

      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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