Best VPN for Protecting Your Privacy in Japan

Greg Lane
For an overview of streaming TV services in Japan, see our post Have a TV Party with Streaming Services in Japan.
These sinister eyes are a crime prevention measure - we're watching you!
These sinister eyes are a crime prevention measure – we’re watching you!

What is a VPN and why do I need one?

Think of a Virtual Private Network as a protected tunnel through the internet that surfaces far from your physical location. From your computer to this location (often a server in a different country) all the web traffic going from your computer is completely invisible to anyone on the networks in between. So what’s a VPN good for? The answer to this question used to be simple—to access streaming services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. However, efforts to block VPNs by most streaming services have made it near impossible to bypass these geo-blocks (trust us, we’ve tried). At the same time, services like Hulu and Netflix are now well established in Japan. So are VPNs useless? No. What they offer are two increasingly important things—security and privacy.

Online security and privacy risks in Japan

As with most countries, there are two main groups that are interested in messing with your privacy and security. One is the criminals, the other is the government spooks (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference). Public wifi networks are especially risky with the major risks being having your unencrypted data snooped on (most emails can be viewed by anyone with admin access to the network) and being tricked by a man-in-the-middle attack. What does this mean practically? It means when you go to login to your internet banking service, that login page might not belong to your bank. Additionally, Japan’s laws against illegal file copying are harsh by any standard. Illegal downloading of movies or games is not just a civil matter, it’s also a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison.

Movie thief campaign from the "Let's go to the movie theatre Action Committee" - free japan vpn
Movie thief campaign from the “Let’s go to the movie theatre Action Committee

Choosing the best VPN

As your main goal is security, the best VPN is one that you can trust. Ultimately, the only VPN that you can trust 100% is a VPN that you made yourself. If you have some technical nous, you should consider making your own VPN. However, if you’re one of the other 99%, you have a tougher decision. Factors to consider might be the reputation of the company running the VPN, speed (overloaded VPNs will let you experience what dial-up was like), how long they’ve been doing it, data retention policies (whether they log traffic), the jurisdiction (a VPN in China is probably a bad idea) and lastly the price.

Making your own VPN

If you can do this, it’s highly recommended. Digital Ocean and Scaleway offer cheap VPS instances for $US5/month and €3/month respectively. Digital Ocean also has an excellent tutorial on setting up your own VPN that I was able to follow. If, for some reason, you must have your VPN surface in Japan, then one of the providers that will drive you less crazy than most is ConoHa VPS—available in English and provided by GMO internet.

The speed on speedtest.net on my custom made VPN through my own server is 60Mbps down and 18Mbps (my regular wired home connection is 688Mbps down and 274Mbps down).

Low-cost VPN providers

Due to the nature of the internet (borders are for people not bits) you can choose a provider anywhere in the world. We don’t recommend Japanese VPN providers as we are yet to find a consumer-oriented service with English support.

CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost reportedly has 7.5 million customers worldwide and is one of the lowest cost providers. The premium plan works out to $US2.50/month when paid annually.

Data traffic: Unlimited
Devices: Max 1 device at a time
Server locations: Any of 24 countries.
VPN Types L2TP and PPTP, apps for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android.
Tracking policy: No logs, yearly transparency reports
Company incorporated in: Romania
Prices & Sign-up: $US2.50/month (paid annually)
CyberGhost Website

Pure VPN

Pure VPN has one of the biggest networks among VPN providers with more than 500 servers in locations throughout the world. This is handy if you want to check geo-blocked websites from many different countries. They offer their service for as low as $US5.75/month if paid annually.

Data traffic: Unlimited
Devices: Max 5 devices at a time
Server locations: More than 500 servers in 6 continents.
VPN Types PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, OpenVPN & Stealth, apps for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android.
Tracking policy: No logs kept
Company incorporated in: Hong Kong
Prices & Sign-up: $US5.75/month (paid annually)
Pure VPN Website

Hide My Ass

Hide My Ass claims to have the biggest VPN network in the world with servers in more than 190 countries (there are only 193 member states of the UN).

Pricing is from 607 yen/month when billed annually.

Data traffic: Unlimited
Devices: Max 1 device at a time
Server locations: 190+ countries
VPN Types L2TP and PPTP, apps for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android.
Tracking policy: No activity logs kept
Company incorporated in: United Kingdom
Prices & Sign-up: 751 yen/month (paid annually)
Hide My Ass Website

Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access claims to have more than 3,200 servers in 24 countries. The also put their money where there mouth is when it comes to internet privacy by sponsoring the Electronic Freedom Foundation and various free software projects.

Their pricing is from $US3.33/month when billed annually.

Data traffic: Unlimited
Devices: Max 5 devices at a time
Server locations: 24+ countries.
VPN Types PPTP, OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec
Tracking policy: No logs, yearly transparency reports
Company incorporated in: United Kingdom
Prices & Sign-up: $US3.33/month (paid annually)
More about Private Internet Access

japan free vpn Free VPN providers

The joke with free VPNs is that they are sponsored by the NSA. While that’s unfair, it does reinforce the idea that the security of the VPN (free ones included) comes down to trust in the people behind it.

Opera Web Browser

Opera tout themselves as “the first major browser maker to integrate an unlimited and free VPN”. While you could argue over whether Opera is a major browser maker, having a free and unlimited browser is an undeniably awesome feature. Muddying the waters on this is the acquisition of Opera by a Chinese company with a less than stellar reputation.

More about Opera’s integrated VPN

ProXPN

proxpn - (free japan vpn)

Sign-up for ProXPN is quick and painless. Once you have an ID and password you can use these with the client software that you can download from their site. Once started on the MAC, the VPN controller that allows you to switch it on and off resides in the notifications bar at the top right of your screen. On the free plan, you can only connect via the ProXPN server in Florida and the Speedtest.net test results indicated speeds were quite slow.

Apart from the speed, the downside with ProXPN is the constant nagging. Each time you load a new site, you’ll get the ProXPN splash page and an artificial delay before the page starts loading.

Data traffic: Unlimited (free version speed limited to 300kbps)
Performance:
Ping/Down/Up
240ms/0.57Mbps/0.46Mbps
Server locations: Florida
VPN Types OpenVPN (PPTP on paid plans)
Tracking policy: No logs kept
Company incorporated in: Netherlands
Website and download: https://proxpn.com/

VPN Book

VPN book doesn’t even have paid accounts—all their plans have a $0 price tag with their income from donations and the ads on their web site.  Set-up is not as easy as the others as it doesn’t come with a client—you have to download an OpenVPN config bundle and then run your own OpenVPN client. The user name and password for using it are the same for everyone. Although this might sound a little daunting, there is an easy to understand guide on their site. After connecting to a US server, my IP address displayed as Virginia. Despite the slow download speeds, the ping time was reasonable. For UK VPNs, your mileage may vary. The first UK server I tried to connect to failed. The second was so slow I couldn’t even load whatismyip.com  I connected to the third server successfully.

Data traffic: Unlimited
Performance:
Ping/Down/Up
288ms/0.44Mbps/1.09Mbps
Server locations: United States, Canada, Germany, Europe
VPN Types PPTP, OpenVPN
Tracking policy: IP Address logged. all connection logs are automatically removed every week.
Company incorporated in: Zurich Switzerland
Website and download: vpnbook.com

SecurityKISS

To use the free service, you need to enter your email to receive the PNPP login info (PNPP is a flavor of VPN).  As advised on their homepage, you’ll need to check your spam folder—that’s where my email ended up. Your initial information will contain your User ID and password along with some servers that you can connect to. Note that these IP addresses sometimes change, so keep this handy. To find up-to-date IP addresses you will need to log in to the client area on the SecurityKiss website. As with vpnbook, there are detailed instructions for every device you can think of.

At least when I tested it, speed was by far the best of the free VPNs. There were two UK servers—one failed, while I was able to connect to the other. The UK server was definitely faster than the VPNbook server, but not quite as quick as the US one. Also, there was a couple of erroneous results with very, very low download speed—so there might be connection dropouts. The big catch is that it’s limited to 300MB/day. So even though the streaming speed was awesome, the limit means it’s probably not practical for streaming or heavy use.

Data traffic: 300MB/day
Performance:
Ping/Down/Up
184ms/5.95bps/5.36Mbps
Server locations: UK, US, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands
VPN Types OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec
Tracking policy: User’s IP address and connection time logged, automatically deleted after 10 days.
Company incorporated in: Dublin, Ireland
Website and download: securitykiss.com/

JustFreeVPN

Like VPNbook, JustFreeVPN is as the name suggests, an only free VPN provider. No sign-up at all is required with PPTP login information on the home page of the site. At first the speed on the US server seemed pretty good. However, it was the only VPN on which I got a “download error” on speedtest.net.  When it eventually ran, the results showed good latency (only 206ms) but low download speeds. Unlike the others, this VPN was checked in the evening rather than during the morning. JustFreeVPN could be a good VPN if you ever find yourself behind the bamboo curtain and you need to try a few different VPNs so you can check your Facebook. Although they also have a UK server, I was unable to connect to it.

Data traffic: Unlimited
Performance:
Ping/Down/Up
206ms/0.35Mbps/0.36Mbps
Server locations: UK, US, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Hong Kong
VPN Types PPTP
Tracking policy: N/A
Company incorporated in: N/A
Website and download: justfreevpn.com
Written by:
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20 Responses to “Best VPN for Protecting Your Privacy in Japan”

  1. This was my first (world) problem when I came to Japan. I tried free web-based proxies and it didn’t work.
    I guess I will give this a try.

    • CheapoGreg

      I never had any luck with those free proxies, but this works really well for me. The paid options would be a little bit speedier, but it’s not a huge inconvenience.

  2. megane

    Project Free TV is a great free alternative and one that requires no downloading. They have almost every new US and UK show available, with an okay selection of movies. I have been using PFTV for a few years now with no problems, and see no need to use anything else. I will never become a Netflix or Hulu user again or pay for cable!

  3. Not every VPN service provides exceptional speed, I’m using UnoTelly’s UnoDNS and I’m loving it. Yuda, as you stated you tried web-based proxies and they didn’t work. First off, web-based proxies are just kind of junks. There is a couple of good VPNs out there, though you wish to try best one. I must suggest you to try UnoTelly, their service is quite cost-effective as well as reliable.

    https://quickstart3.unotelly.com/pricing

  4. Jason Kenah

    If your looking for a great free smart DNS service to get all the big players Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, BBC iPlayer and much more, check out our new service dns4me we have opened it for free while its in beta testing, and it has alot more features than unotelly or unblock us, you can enable only the services you want, you can override your own domains, you can use the service in more that one location (upto 3) at the same time, it even has a host file generator for those people who don’t want to change there DNS settings.

    The address is https://dns4me.net

  5. TomHardyy

    Free vpns are not secure and even are quite slow. Netflix can pick you if you take free vpn or proxy route. I strongly recommend to choose paid vpn opion though you can look at some of the cheapest vpn options in the industry here. Cheap VPN services for Netflix

    • CheapoGreg

      Suggesting that Netflix will block you if you use a free VPN is absolute bullshit! Hulu blocks VPN providers (both free and paid) not Netflix. Ironically, I was watching Netflix with no buffering on a free VPN when I read your comment. Also, where is your evidence about them being less secure than low cost VPNs? The only thing you’re right on is that they are slow – which I mentioned repeatedly throughout the article.

      • I think you are unaware about Hola. They have been selling users bandwidth. A wise man once said “if you are not buying product, than you are the product”.

        • CheapoGreg

          At the time I wrote that comment I wasn’t, but if you’d looked at the article you would have noticed a big red warning box added in June that says “If you’ve installed it(Hola), you’d be best to remove it completely.”
          I thought that was fairly unequivocal.

  6. How about the simple chrome extension Zenmate VPN? It supports 5 countries as well!

    • CheapoGreg

      Adl, thanks for the suggestion. We’ll check it out and add it to the post if it performs OK. Really appreciate the genuine comment as this post attracts lots of fake comments from VPN companies trying to sneakily promote their products.

  7. You can use any lousy slow free VPN (but I use a paid one anyway) without needing to compromise any speed (or thus quality since netflix will lower the bitrate to match your connection). Netflix only checks your location when logging in and browsing, not when streaming. You can add a routing table rule to pass traffic to (and thus from) the streaming servers straight through your standard internet connection. The command looks like:

    route add 108.175.32.0 mask 255.255.240.0 192.168.0.1

    The first IP range (range defined by the mask) seems to catch all the U.S. netflix servers as far as I can tell. The last IP should be the LAN IP of your router or other default gateway. Put this in a file named fastflix.bat and right click it to “run as administrator” Then you can use your vpn which will work for logging and browsing shows, but the actual shows and movies will bypass the VPN and work at full speed. It doesn’t matter when you run the .bat file (unless maybe your VPN software wipes out your routing rules. It shouldn’t but if it does, run it after connecting).

    You could instead undo the VPN routing rules entirely and add routes for sites that should use the VPN. This would be a little more ideal maybe but is slightly more complicated.

    As far as I can tell you heard this trick from me first (I rigged this myself) although it should be basically what the smartdns services are doing.

    Hola should even be smart enough to do this (I don’t know), but hola doesn’t work with the Metro app, and the metro app allows higher bitrates (better quality) than the browser version of Netflix.

  8. Andy Chang

    free vpn services can never be as good as paid services because mostly free VPN services come with a lot of limitations – limited bandwidth, resources and devices that can be used. Plus most of them come with advertisements. The only free VPN I would recommend is ZenMate: http://vpntips.com/zenmate-best-free-vpn/ which is very easy to use and speed is very good as well.

    • Read my post right before yours. Speed doesn’t need to matter. I use one of the better paid vpn’s and it still often limits my speed below netflix’s top quality of 3Mb/s (plus audio), but not if I route the actual streaming outside the vpn. Still I agree that there are some advantages to paid ones, like you can leave them connected all the time for instance. You have an awful lot of links in your posts to vpntips.com. That’s fine with me, but maybe now you have one more tip to add from me.

      Anyway, zenmate is not a vpn. It is a browser proxy and it only works with the browser version of netflix, which is limited to lower bitrates anyway. So that would be a vpn-ish tip.

  9. Adele Samantha

    That’s a good article Greg :). I personally prefer UnoTelly. It’s similar to Smarty DNS but they offer a DNS server close to physical location and I can achieve better performance.

  10. EmilyWilson1900

    I personally not prefer free VPN because of limited features and speed. I use paid vpn providers from vpnranks. After reading your article i think i should give one more try to free one but to be honestly i do not have good experience with free providers.

  11. Tracy Leonsey

    In japan if you want to stream all these channels so i will suggest everyone to go for paid vpn tools. Vpnranks is the best source for all vpn users where they can choose the best provider as per choice.

  12. i am use hidemyass vpn it’s best hide ip software on the word and it’s the best service to unblock netflix and hulu … but it’s pro vpn Not Free and it’s the best …

  13. Ronda Cerillo

    Thanks. Useful information. But you say “trust us” in the first par. Hmm…. I’ve been watching iPlayer a lot (mostly) happily and smoothly using two easily found vpns you don’t mention.

    • CheapoGreg

      Hi Ronda,
      Thanks for the comment. It would seem that iPlayer is a little less rigid with blocking VPN providers than the US content providers. When I said “Trust Us” I meant I’d tried many ways to get around the blocking by Netflix, Hulu et al in the US. I’ve tried DNS masking, commercial VPNs, making my own VPN (which I’m using right now as I type this in a cafe) and using incognito browser windows to negate any saved cookies – all to no avail.
      What are the VPNs that you’re using? Some of the chrome plugin based VPNs (like Hola) have a particularly dodgy record.


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