One of the worst things about world travel is that feeling of being held incommunicado. You have no phone, you have no wi-fi access, you have no way of getting in touch with anyone. And if you get lost…well, you won’t stay that way, but it sure won’t be fun trying to find your way back to familiar surroundings.
If you travel frequently, you already know that you don’t dare use your own phone beyond the direst of emergencies. Unfortunately, this also means that you can’t make or receive phone calls, use Google Maps to find places, coordinate meetings with acquaintances, or do any of the dozens of other useful things that have made our phones an indispensable part of our daily lives.
But what can you do? Wait until you return to the hotel to check your email? Not update Facebook with pictures of what you are eating? Leave notes with the concierge and plan ahead? Like some sort of pre-technological savage?
No way! Here at Enable Japan, we have put together this guide to help you keep you connected via cell and the internet to the rest of your life back home.
BUYING AND RENTING A PHONE IN TOKYO
Rental Phones (1 week or less): If you are coming to Tokyo for the short term, such as for a vacation or a business trip, renting a phone might be the way to go. By using one of the websites below, you can have a phone delivered to you at the airport, to your hotel, or any other place you might need one. Or, if you know where you are going, you can also pick up a rental at any of their convenient locations. Rates and phone types vary, so be sure to check out all of the options before deciding.
Prepaid Phones (1 week to 30 days or more): If you are planning on staying in Tokyo for a longer period of time, a prepaid phone may turn out to be a less expensive than renting. Prepaid phones are purchased from vendors and then filled with credit (via a prepaid phone card), and can later be refilled at by purchasing additional prepaid cards from places such as kiosks and convenience stores. Prepaid phone vendors offer prepaid phones from ¥6,500 and up, depending on the phone, but it is possible to get no-frills models for as low as ¥2000.
Prepaid phone registration usually requires official Japanese documents (such as a residence card, health insurance card, Japanese driver’s license, etc.), so this option is best for people staying in Japan for a longer period. Some stores may be able to register you with just a hotel information and passport, so be sure to ask.
Buying a Phone (1 year or more): For an extended stay, you will probably want a cell phone contract, which will allow you to buy a smart phone. Because of the duration of the contract, subscription plans are best for locals or people holding residence cards.
WI-FI SERVICE IN TOKYO
Phone service is nice and all, but not everything can be done on a tiny phone screen. What about your computer or tablet?
- Reputable hotels usually provide free Wi-Fi services. Even better, the service extends out into the hotel’s lobby and coffee shop, which means that you won’t be stuck in your room while checking your email.
- Major train stations (such as the Metro subway stations, the JR lines, and the Keikyu lines), buses, and convenience stores have free Wi-Fi connections that requires email registration when used for the first time. Although useful, you can’t completely rely on these networks—if there are a lot of people using the service, you may not be able to make or keep a connection.
- Japan Connected Free Wi-Fi is an app that can locate all the free Wi-Fi spot near you and help you connect to it.
- Free WiFi Passport is a service provided by Softbank that allows travelers to use over 400,000 hot spots in Japan (mostly restaurant, cafe, and hotels) for up to two weeks. However, the service must be set up before you arrive in Japan. To do so, you must call *8180 with a phone that has a global roaming contract to get a password. With your phone number and password, you can connect to any network called “SSID .FREE_WI-FI_PASSPORT” for the duration of your trip.
Another common method of connecting to the Internet in Japan is by way of a Pocket Wi-Fi rental. A Pocket Wi-Fi device acts as a mobile modem that allows multiple devices to connect and is charged like a cell phone battery. A Pocket Wi-Fi device can be rented prior to your arrival in Japan, picked up at Narita or Haneda Airport, or delivered to your hotel or other location. Prices vary depending on the data plan.
In addition to the services offered under cell phones, the following providers also offer Pocket Wi-Fi devices–
If you need both phone and data services (typically for a smartphone or a cellular-connected tablet), you may want to consider renting a Japanese SIM card. Prepaid SIM cards can be bought at most large electronics stores, such as Bic Camera (Tokyo locations) and Yodobashi Camera (List of Tokyo locations at the bottom of this page), or through one of the cell phone service providers listed above. The plans are offered in monthly increments, and vary in both cost and duration. You will likely have to change the setup on your phone or activate it from a Japanese phone, so be sure to ask the salesperson to help you set it up.
And there you have it! Now there is no reason for you to be out of touch or for you to stay lost (unintentionally). So fire up that Google Map, check out the Enable website to find someplace cool to go, and then call someone up and have them meet you there! Your (connected) adventure in Japan awaits!