Free WiFi in Tokyo and the rest of Japan?
November 2, 2009 8:39 PM   Subscribe

How widespread is free, open WiFi in Japan (Tokyo especially)?

I've had good success using free WiFi in malls and such with my iPod Touch when I'm in unfamiliar major cities. It's great for accessing Google maps, looking up addresses, etc.

Will I be able to do this when I'm in Tokyo next year? What about when I'm in smaller rural cities? Are there any potential technologic or legal worries I need to consider or things I should prepare before going?
posted by teem to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are a few pay services that offer hotspots throughout the city. I was there 12 days and never found a free hotspot at all.
posted by contraption at 9:17 PM on November 2, 2009

It essentially doesn't exist. The norm is for people here to use their cellphones for internet/mail, so the laptop/iPod touch thing isn't that common. Very, very little free wifi to be had in Tokyo, and I'd bet absolutely none to be had outside of Tokyo.

I've got an iPod Touch here, and I don't really ever get to use it with wifi. It sucks.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:00 PM on November 2, 2009

Summer 2008 was the last time I was in the city, and unless things have changed a lot since, I'd have to say "not prevalent at all". As Ghidorah says, people use phones for e-mail and browse the web at home or work.

There's not really an internet cafe culture, at least not that I have ever found. The few "internet cafes" seem to be there to cater to travelers.
posted by rokusan at 10:07 PM on November 2, 2009

The few "internet cafes" seem to be there to cater to travelers.
In the sleazier parts of town there are also the kind that cater to folks who want to look at some porn or use a high-end gaming rig, where you can get a seat in a communal room (gamers) for a very reasonable rate or a private booth (porn) which I assume is more expensive. I did this once in Kabuki-cho after staying the night in a love hotel (highly recommended) to do a bit of email and it was a really interesting experience, well worth the couple bucks I spent on the computer time.

My trip was this past summer (May 2009) so I doubt things have changed much. Wifi doesn't seem to have ever really caught on, and you should not count on it for information on the go. As for "looking up addresses," there are police kiosks everywhere and if you can show them the name or address of the place you're trying to reach they'll probably be able to point you in the right direction. You should also read up on the Japanese address system which is completely unlike what you're used but will start to make sense once you've been using it for a few days. I'd recommend getting a detailed English map of the city before you go, something I wished I'd done once I arrived and realized that Google Maps is really not useful for an English speaker. We did have the Time Out guidebook for Tokyo and it was quite helpful, but a good atlas would've been preferable a lot of the time.
posted by contraption at 10:50 PM on November 2, 2009

As rokusan and contraption point out, there are internet cafes, and you can use them (though you usually have to sign up for membership first, and it could be difficult if you speak no Japanese), but they're totally different from what you know back home. As rokusan mentions, they seem to cater to travelers. More accurately, they cater to people who have no where else to go. A lot of people who miss the last train crash in them, but also, a lot of people who really can't afford anywhere to live have taken to staying at them, and in a lot of ways, the cafes have begun to cater to them. Some of them have showers, food, all sorts of amenities. People like to say there's not a lot of homelessness in Japan, but that only works if you don't count people living day to day, forced to sleep in internet cafes.

By the way, about the iPod Touch, I meant to say the lack of wifi sucks. If you're going to be here any length of time (doing any commuting?), there are some good apps for learning Japanese, and I use it to catch up on old tv shows.

I wouldn't worry about any legalities. No one will check you iPod for pirated music, if that's what you mean.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:10 PM on November 2, 2009

Just got back from Tokyo this past Sunday. The week we were there we stumbled upon 1 open wifi network, that was a terribly poor signal. It is indeed non-existent currently, and seems unlikely to be common within the next year.
posted by dogwalker at 4:17 AM on November 3, 2009

D'oh - I'd read that story earlier and not seen the most recent correction, that it was only for specific customers.
posted by Gortuk at 6:26 AM on November 3, 2009

If you're going to have the iTouch and no other web browsing option and find yourself staying in hotels with wired ethernet but no wifi (the norm in the places I stayed) you can get a little travel router/access point like this (I hate to recommend a D-Link product, but it's the only currently available travel router I seem to be able to find) that will allow your wifi-only devices to connect.
posted by contraption at 10:32 AM on November 3, 2009

Because of the ubiquity of mobile phones and 3G technology for most of the past several years, free wireless has never really taken off. Plus, most coffee shops and fast food places are so crowded most of the time I find it hard to believe that the owner would *want* people sticking around for hours in front of laptops without buying anything (as I see so often in the US).

I recommend you rent a phone while you're here.
posted by armage at 8:43 PM on November 3, 2009

The hotels and serviced apartments that I stay in offer free wired or WiFi access. The wired variety tends to be very fast.

Armage's suggestion about renting a phone (which you can do on arrival at Narita without a reservation) is a good one. A variety of plans are available and having a phone will make Japan a lot less daunting, especially if you are a first-time visitor. If you do rent a phone, be sure to learn about Japanese cell phone etiquette.
posted by quidividi at 5:59 AM on November 4, 2009

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