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 at lightning-fast speeds. And you can have that. But it can be tricky figuring out which of the many, many Tokyo internet service providers are best 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 connectivity in Tokyo. If you’re looking for something short-term (under a year), check out our post on renting a wifi router or our comprehensive guide to data SIM cards.
Where do you live?
No, we’re not creepsters—it’s just that your choice of Tokyo internet service providers (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 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 super fast in Tokyo; you’re generally looking at a minimum of 100Mbps and a maximum of 2Gbps (with fiber). Since 10Mbps is still considered “decent” in some parts of the world (looking at you, South Africa), even the 100Mbps end of the spectrum should be more than fast enough to serve your needs. My line was that speed, and I never had any lag or difficulties. Still, opt for the fastest connection you can afford. We included a few slower ADSL options below for the sake of comparison. Most 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 a Tokyo internet service provider (ISP) that offers English support. 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 Tokyo 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 ¥24,000—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.
Comparing Tokyo internet service providers
To save you trawling through zillions of websites, we did some research and made a list of some of the options for Tokyo internet service 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 8% 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.
The ISPs here are listed in no particular order. 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||Type of internet||Speed||Minimum contract period||Monthly rate||English|
|Asahi Net||NTT Docomo fiber optic/|
NTT FLET’S fiber optic
|Up to 1Gbps/|
Up to 1Gbps
|24 months (price higher for shorter contracts)/|
|From about ¥4,900/|
|Assist Solutions (SonixNet)||NTT FLET’S fiber optic||Up to 1 Gbps||30 months (ask about shorter contracts)||About ¥5,300–¥5,700||✔||Pricing info|
|Rakuten Broadband Premium||NTT FLET’S ADSL (with IP phone)/|
NTT FLET’S fiber optic (with IP phone)
|Up to 47 Mbps/|
100Mbps-1Gbps, depending on the area
|Probably 12 months/|
|SpinNet||NTT FLET’S ADSL or fiber optic||ADSL up to 47 Mbps, fiber up to 1Gbps||12-24 months||About ¥5,940–¥8,000||✔||Pricing info|
|au Hikari||au fiber optic||100Mbps-1Gbps, depending on the area||Probably 12-24 months||From about ¥4,400||Very limited||Pricing info|
|SoftBank/Yahoo! BB||SoftBank fiber optic/|
Yahoo! BB ADSL
|Up to 1Gbps/|
24 months (preferably longer)
|Very limited||Pricing info/|
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 also rent out pocket wifi routers.
Notes on the ISP table
Asahi Net: Also offer a dial-up option, for old-school less-than-cheapos. 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).
Rakuten Broadband Premium: The website looks a little dodgy, but the services are legit (as far as we can tell). Their pricing plans are complex though, and you have to pay for an IP phone (¥380/month, included above) if you want to sign up for an internet connection.
SpinNet: Also seem to offer a dial-up option.
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. If you don’t, add around ¥1,000 to the monthly price. Yahoo! BB offers a range of different ADSL speeds. All pricing, for everything, in Japanese. Combined cell phone usage discounts are a possibility. You can also sign up for Yahoo! BB with FLET’S fiber. And possibly a dial-up package too.
A few other things …
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 internet service providers and their packages. That will also give you an idea of what cash-back bonuses, if any, are on offer. You can sometimes score amounts of ¥30,000+ back, but this may involve a long waiting period (think 12 months) and lots of Japanese. You may also be able to find a contract that’s closer to ¥4,000 a month, all inclusive.
Note that if you don’t already have one of your own, you’ll also have to rent a router from your internet provider, and return it if you cancel 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 ¥2,000 or quite a bit more.
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 is a viable alternative to fixed-line internet. Your speed may be a little slower and your data limited, 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 stop-gap 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 fairly short rental, 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?
Which Tokyo internet service provider do you recommend? Give us your two yen in the discussion forums!
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