Biggest mistake a techie can make when going to Japan: thinking that free, accessible wifi exists anywhere. Not sure why, but I guess I though Japan would have convenient wifi, like in America. Turns out even Starbucks and McDonalds (at least the ones I’ve been to) don’t have free wifi. Here’s a quick article showing you how to solve your internet problem.
Rent A Dongle
That sounds dirty. Anyways, you can rent a USB dongle that lets you connect to a cell network. If you’re used to using Comcast in America, you’ll find that a Docomo Dongle is really, really fast, just like regular (slow) American cable internet. I’m sure there are other options out there, but I went with Pupuru. I just went to the Tokyo Office after being tired of not being able to find internet, picked one up, and got back on the train. In fact, I’m writing this article from the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), and it’s awesome. Tunnels give me a little trouble, but it’s still totally worth it. All in all, for 20 days, it cost around $100, which includes unlimited internet, the dongle, a one time fee, and a package to mail the dongle back in, before I leave for America again. The one I got was the “USB type” Docomo one.
You can pick these up at the Airport, one of their offices, or even have them send it to you (for an extra fee) to wherever you’re staying. It’s super convenient, and not as expensive as I expected. Plus, unlimited data, woo!
Internet / Manga Cafes
Internet cafes are pretty common, and you can even sleep in them. Sometimes you can use your own computer, though mostly you have to use the computers provided, which means you might not be getting the best computers or browsers. It’s really cheap (the last one I went to was about 150 yen an hour, which comes out to a little less than $2 an hour). It gets you internet, and sometimes things like free food and drinks, showers, and more. You can sleep in some internet cafes (just rent out a room for a long time) if you need to. My only recommendation is to go to a non-smoking internet cafe. They can get pretty smokey.
Paying For Wifi
There are a good number of hot spots out there that you can pay for. It’s not that expensive (Maybe $5-ish for an hour?) and in big cities pretty easy to find. The hard part, often times, is finding a place to use your computer when you do find one of these. It’s less convenient to go out searching, and not always as good. You can find these at Starbucks, and other places as well. I’d just go with a dongle, myself.
If you do want to find free wifi, though, http://freespot.com/ is pretty good. Thank you to all of those who recommended it, it helped me out a lot!
A good number of hotels have internet, though in general it’s going to be a plug in Ethernet connection (Macbook Air people should definitely bring a USB to Ethernet converter!). Of course, to do this, you have to pay for a hotel (which you might be doing anyways). If you’re relying on this, be sure to ask the hotel people if they have internet first before booking your room.
I paid for 200mb of data on my iPhone. In one day, I used 80mb. Now, I barely use my phone at all, out of fear (it gets expensive when I use more than 200mb…). Still, you can get a bit of data if you have the right kind of phone and use it in Japan. For this, though, I’d only recommend you use it for emergencies (or if you’re filthy rich). The connection on my iPhone is great (better than when I’m on the AT&T network), but you’d be surprised how fast you burn through data when your phone isn’t on wifi all the time (like mine is, at home). Now I’m only using my phone for the occasional tweet, sending messages on email (in regards to meeting friends, and such), and for finding my way around in Google Maps. If you do go with this route, just know you aren’t going to be able to use your phone as much as you’re used to. 200mb of data isn’t as much as you think.
There’s something freeing about not having internet. That being said, I still have to do work and stuff while on my trip, and I have a lot of long train rides that are perfect for the Docomo Dongle I rented. Still, why not head to the countryside and go without internet for a while? You’ll feel better… at least after your Farmville shakes die down.
What other “getting internet in Japan” tricks and tips do you have? I’d still like to know – I’m a newbie when it comes to finding Internet in Japan. We have it so easy in America, apparently.