So you handled the move to Tokyo like a pro, and now the only thing missing in your life is unlimited access to the internet? We know that feeling. While pocket wifi is great (and some cheapos do use it long term), it’s not unreasonable to want something a little more stable, something that gives you uncapped data and takes advantage of Japan’s lightning-fast internet speeds. But it can be tricky figuring out which is the best internet provider in Japan for your budget and usage needs. There’s a lot of fine print, most of it in complicated Japanese. We’ve put together this guide to make it a teensy bit easier for you.
Note: The focus of this post is on long-term internet providers in Japan. If you’re looking for something shorter term (under a year), check out our post on renting a wifi router or our comprehensive guide to data SIM cards.
First: Where do you live? Internet speeds
No, we’re not creepsters—it’s just that your choice of ISP (and type of internet) may be limited by where you reside. If you rent an apartment (“mansion” in Japanese) in a big ol’ block, you may be restricted to the provider that services that building. If you live in a house, you should be able to pick from all the internet companies that service that particular area (unless you live out in the sticks, that should be most of them, but ask your landlord/property company to be sure).
When it comes to the type of internet, you’ll likely have a choice between ADSL and fiber optic cable. Both are superfast in Tokyo and much of urban Japan; you’re generally looking at a minimum of 50 Mbps and a maximum of 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps (with fiber). Since 10 Mbps is still considered “decent” in some parts of the world, even the 100 Mbps end of the spectrum should be more than fast enough to serve your needs. My previous line was that speed, and I never had any lag or difficulties. Still, it’s best to go for the fastest connection you can afford. We have included a few slower ADSL options below for the sake of comparison. Most fixed internet here is pretty much uncapped.
Apartment-dwelling cheapos, your first step is to ask your landlord what the deal is. If that requires Japanese language skills you don’t possess, call in the help of a fluent friend.
Useful Japanese for internet stuff
Before flinging yourself into the internet fray, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with these terms:
- 光 = hikari = fiber optic
- ADSL = ADSL (yeah, alright)
- モバイル = mobairu = mobile
Unless you’re looking for a language challenge, it’s a good idea to sign up with an internet service provider (ISP) that offers English support. Previously, I failed to do this, and boy was set-up fun. Such fun. Almost as much fun as removing one’s own foot with nothing but an heirloom grapefruit spoon.
Here in Japan, internet is unbundled. What that means, in actual English, is that your line is provided by one company (usually NTT East, sometimes au KDDI), and the actual internet service by another. This can mean two separate contracts, and two separate bills, but you can avoid that by organizing everything through a good Japan internet service provider.
Be prepared to persuade the various providers that you don’t need a home phone (if you think having one would be retro awesome, think again—they cost a small fortune), nor do you require a fax machine. Some of them might try throw cable TV into the mix—that’s your call. I had it for about a year, but soon tired of flicking through high school baseball championships and music channels that were devoid of music.
Set-up fees and timelines
Once you’ve decided on an ISP and signed the contract(s), you’re looking at anything from a few days to a few weeks to get your internet connection set up. It all depends on where you live, what kind of place you live in, and how busy the company is. Moving season can be pretty crammed—that’s around March and April, as well as August and September.
The set-up and installation fees can be anything from ¥3,000 up to ¥30,000—look out for deals that waive this amount or allow you to pay it off over 12 30 months. Contract periods usually start at one year, with 2-, 2.5- and 5-year options (and sometimes a few others). Prices are not necessarily much cheaper the longer you’re locked in.
Cheapo note: While you might be used to internet peeps coming to do the physical set-up at your pad, this isn’t the norm in Japan. Your provider may post the modem and other essentials to you, and then set-up is in your hands, with telephonic assistance (one reason why English support is an attractive feature of an ISP). Once, when switching to a new computer, I spent many minutes begging, pleading and even weeping (okay, that was an exaggeration) on the phone with my provider, trying to get them to send someone to save my tech-unsavvy butt in person. I was told this would not be possible, and eventually resigned myself to sorting it out ear to ear.
Comparison table of internet service providers in Japan
To save you trawling through zillions of websites, we did some research and made a list of some of the best internet service providers (including some affordable long-term wifi providers). In no way is it exhaustive—it’s just meant to be a very basic introductory guide to give you an idea of what’s out there. We’ve limited our entries to ISPs that offer (obvious) English-language support (starting with their websites). Note that these (rough) prices are for apartments—standalone houses are typically around ¥1,200 more expensive per month. You may also need to add in 10% sales tax. Oh, and the rates tend to be higher the fewer connections there are in your building. So ask your neighbors what they’re using, if they seem friendly.
Other than the wifi providers, if you’re interested in contracting with any of them, the best thing to do is give them a call and have all your options (and costs and conditions) explained in detail. Trying to figure out exactly how much you’ll be paying, for how long, for what, is virtually impossible online.
ISP comparison table
|ISP||Type of internet||Speed||Minimum contract period||Monthly rate||English
|Wi-FiRental.com||Portable wifi||Up to 187.5Mbps||1 month||¥5,000||✔||Pricing info|
|Mobal Wifi||Portable wifi||Up to 150Mbps||3 months||¥4,980||✔||Pricing info|
|Asahi Net||NTT Docomo fiber optic/
NTT FLET’S fiber optic
|Up to 1Gbps-10Gbps/
Up to 1Gbps
|24 months (price higher for shorter contracts)/
|From about ¥4,620/
|Assist Solutions (SonixNet)||NTT FLET’S fiber optic||Up to 1Gbps||12-30 months (ask)||From about ¥5,300||✔||Pricing info|
|Rakuten Broadband Premium||NTT FLET’S ADSL (with IP phone)/
NTT FLET’S fiber optic (with IP phone)
|Up to 47Mbps/
100Mbps-1Gbps, depending on the area
|Probably 12 months/
From about ¥5,610
|SpinNet||NTT FLET’S ADSL or fiber optic||ADSL up to 50Mbps, fiber up to 1Gbps||12-24 months||About ¥5,940–¥8,000||✔||Pricing info|
|au Hikari||au fiber optic||Up to 100Mbps-1Gbps, depending on the area||Probably 12-24 months||From about ¥4,400||Very limited||Pricing info|
|SoftBank||SoftBank fiber optic||Up to 1Gbps-10Gbps||From 24 months||From ¥4,180||Very limited||Pricing info|
|Docomo Hikari||Docomo fiber optic||Up to 1Gbps-10Gbps||24 months||From ¥4,000||Limited||Pricing info|
Note: The information in the table above is based on our own research. It’s not official, and it’s subject to change. Also note that each provider has their own initial fees, as well as cancellation fees, which are not listed here. Ask before signing anything!
You may recognize some of the names from our guide to Japanese SIM card providers. Since several of them also offer mobile phones, you can often combine your cell phone + home internet for a discounted rate on both. Some of the ISPs may also rent out pocket wifi routers.
Tips for choosing the best internet provider for your needs
- Wi-FiRental.com: Flexible packages make getting online easy. Good for initial internet set-up in Japan, especially if you don’t know how long you’ll be in town. Special discount for Tokyo Cheapo readers: ¥500 off the monthly fee on the most popular package, if you sign up using our link. Extra fee of ¥550 in the first month, for device delivery.
- Mobal Wifi: Easy set-up and great customer service. You need to buy the device upfront, which costs ¥6,980. The minimum contract period is 3 months, but you can cancel early—the termination fee is ¥4,980. A bonus of Mobal is that the bulk of profits go to charity.
- Asahi Net: The NTT Docomo option is great for families and existing Docomo users, as there are combined usage discounts available. Asahi Net is one of the older, more established ISPs serving foreigners in Japan.
- Assist Solutions: They’re actually a kind of broker, connecting you with the ISP (SonixNet) and line provider (NTT FLET’S). Business services also available.
- Rakuten Broadband Premium: Formerly known as Fusion GOL. Business internet service plans, including web hosting, are also available.
- au Hikari: A good deal for au mobile users, as there are combined usage discounts available. Pricing and customer support is in Japanese, however.
- SoftBank: SoftBank’s fiber option seems quite reasonable if you already have a FLET’S connection set up.
Money-saving tips on setting up your internet connection in Japan
Most shops and third parties will have some sort of special offer (coupons, freebies and discounts) to get you to sign an internet contract with them. If you’ve got time and a knack for the vernac’, it’s worth poking around on comparison sites like kakaku.com for a more comprehensive breakdown of the various cheapo Tokyo and Japan internet service providers, and in our experience the best offers are found here. The comparison sites help you quickly find the most generous cashback bonuses or introductory pricing, and skip over the less useful offers. You can often score amounts of ¥30,000+ back, and have your first year of the contract at a steep discount. But bear in mind that this might involve a long waiting period before you get your dosh (think 12 months), a jump up in monthly fees after the first year, and, of course, lots of Japanese small print.
The offers can seem very generous, but once you factor that you’re signing up for a 2+ year contract the longer term cost adds up. The comparison sites are usually very helpful in this regard as they usually show you the effective long-term cost of the contract, with all the bonuses included.
Note that if you don’t already have one of your own, you may have to rent a router from your internet provider, and return it when you cancel the contract. Apart from the router to share the connection among your devices, the ISP may send you a “box” of some form for the ADSL or fiber connection (unless your mansion has an ethernet port and this box is already in the wall), which you will also be expected to return at the end of the contract.
Speaking of cancellation, it pays to ask what those costs are before you sign up. Ending a contract can cost you anything from ¥0 to ¥10,000 or quite a bit more. But you if you’re moving, you can usually take your internet connection with you, just be sure to give your ISP a month notice for a smooth transition.
Cheapo tip: Watch out for hidden costs in your monthly internet bill. Sometimes unnecessary extras like email virus checks or spam filtering will be thrown in there; cancel these where possible to save some yen.
Pocket wifi and other alternatives
If you’re not sure you want to commit to a 12–24 month contract, mobile wifi like that provided by Wi-FiRental.com is a viable alternative to fixed-line internet. Your speed may be a little slower, and your data capped at 3GB/day, but unless you’re a hardcore gamer or streamer of something, a pocket wifi router should be more than adequate for your daily usage needs.
A big advantage is that set-up is pretty much instant, so you can start browsing immediately (also making it a good stopgap while you wait for your fixed line to get set up). Plus, contracts tend to be simpler and shorter. Of course, portable wifi also gives you access to internet on the move—useful for when you want to upload that deeply reflective blog post from the summit of Mount Fuji.
If you’re looking for a very short rental (a few weeks or so), Ninja Wifi is an excellent choice (and cheapo readers get a 30% discount). If you’re after something longer term, check out these other wifi router rental options.
You can also go full-on cheapo and rely exclusively on the free wifi offered in various cafes and public spaces in Tokyo. Or go low-tech and become a digital hermit. But then how would you check out all the other awesome content on our site?
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This article is intended only as a rough guide to Tokyo ISPs. Always read the T&Cs carefully before committing to any contract. Post first published in January 2018. Last updated in December 2020.