Mobile Internet access is something especially the younger generations are very familiar with and can almost not live without. When you’re in such a unique and new country like Japan (日本), being able to rely on things like Google Maps or Translate during your travels can be a real life-saver.
Now, what are the possibilities to have Internet access in Japan? Let me first lose a few words about the WiFi access in Japan. The country is in many ways quite technologically advanced, and Internet is not an exception. Especially in big cities like Tokyo (東京) and Osaka (大阪), you can expect to find free WiFi in a lot of places.
Department stores, major train stations, airports, McDonalds, Starbucks and even some convenience stores or other chains offer free WiFi.
Internet access necessary?
You can usually connect to it right away or with a password that is provided by the staff.
Either way, if you’re not too heavily reliant on your phone or want to immerse yourself better, you can get by just fine without mobile Internet. I did that for the majority of my first trip in 2017 and it was amazing! It felt good to be able to enjoy the trip without sticking to my phone all the time. My recommendation: Plan well beforehand, look up sights and access in your accommodations/at home or use offline maps that you download with WiFi.
If you don’t trust your ability to plan everything beforehand or want to be able to change plans spontaneously then I highly recommend getting some sort of mobile Internet in Japan. There’s a few ways to do this:
Some cellphone providers, especially American ones, offer data plans for either worldwide or just Japan travel. If you have this option and don’t mind the price (which is likely quite high), then this is easily the most comfortable one.
For people without this option, there’s about three main possibilities to get mobile Internet access in Japan: I’ll rank them from most expensive to cheapest.
1. Pocket WiFi
The “Pocket WiFi” is a wireless router that you can take with you on your journey. Many plans offer unlimited daily data and battery life of up to 20 hours at a time. For a single person, the Pocket WiFi is the most expensive option as it usually costs around $110USD per month. Accordingly, 2 weeks would come to around $55. However, the big advantage is that you can connect multiple devices to it. If you travel with a laptop and a tablet, you can connect those as well. Traveling with 2 or more people? Easy Internet for everyone. Another advantage is that you can keep your phone as is and don’t have to play around with a Japanese SIM card.
2. Rental phone
If you’re unsure whether or not Japanese SIM cards are compatible with your phone or if you still want to use your own SIM card, then getting a rental phone with a built-in SIM card would be an option for you. The advantage of this is that you also get a Japanese phone number for the time, in case you need one. With a rental phone, prices usually range between 8,000 – 10,000 Yen (67€/$73 – 83€/$91; exchange rate as of August 2019) per month.
3. Japanese SIM card
This is the most affordable option and recommended for every budget traveler out there. Just get a data only or data + voice/text SIM card and insert it in to your phone. Staff can help you with the setup, it’s pretty easy. You have to check if you’re cellphone is compatible with the Japanese mobile network beforehand, but pretty much any phone that can connect to 3G is okay. Your phone needs to be unlocked (SIM-free) as well.
There are a lot of providers for Japanese SIM cards. I recommend either Simcardgeek.com or mobal.com to get yours. Simcardgeek offers 8, 16 and 31 day-plans with a fair amount of data for affordable prices starting at just 3,480 Yen (29€/$32).
Mobal is similar but they also offer text/voice plans within their data SIM cards. For the unlimited data + text/voice plan there is currently a 25% discount going on, making it available for 4,500 Yen (37,50€/$41) per month! The great thing is that the profits that mobal makes are donated to charities that help kids in Africa. It’s a win/win for everyone!
Takeaway on Internet in Japan
In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you need mobile Internet access in Japan and if so, which option to go with. If you’re trying to save money and your phone is compatible, go for one of the SIM cards mentioned above, they’re the best value for your money.
If you’re traveling in a group or plan to use multiple devices, the pocket WiFi might be the better choice. Either way, you’re sure to be sufficiently covered with Internet. With that, you’re sure to overcome any challenge on your adventure to Japan. May it be translation issues or being lost, Google is there for you.
That’s it for mobile Internet in Japan, I hope you enjoyed it!
If you found this article useful, please consider sharing it with your friends and family, it would mean a lot to me!
For my next post, I plan on teaching you some important survival Japanese to make your trip a lot easier!
See you there!