Japan Pocket Wifi: Best Way to Stay Connected While Traveling?

Japan Pocket Wifi: Best Way to Stay Connected While Traveling?

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Pocket wifi
Pictures: LuTiE78 / PIXTA(ピクスタ); Canva
Japan's lack of public wifi can be a problem for travelers. Here's why a pocket wifi device is an affordable and versatile alternative.

One of the biggest concerns for tourists to Japan is: how do I stay connected? The bad news is that, for travelers accustomed to using public wi-fi, Japan’s public hotspots leave something to be desired. The good news is that there are plenty of affordable ways to stay connected – including pocket wifi hotspots. Here’s why they’re so convenient – and how to get one for your trip to Japan.

Public wifi hotspots: Still spotty in Japan

Picture: mw / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

If you’re staying in Japan at a hotel or an extended stay residence, chances are near 100% that you have some form of wifi available to you there. (Whether it’s any good or not is, of course, a separate issue.)

The issue is when you go out in public. Despite its reputation as a technological mecca, Japan doesn’t offer a ton of options when it comes to public wifi hotspots – even in major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

How bad is it? Last year, the site GOOD LUCK TRIP ran a survey on what tourists found most inconvenient about Japan. The top answer, at 31.5%? Lack of accessible public wifi. The next largest area of dissatisfaction, inability to communicate with facility staff, landed well behind at 20.2%.

Survey: What tourists find most inconvenient about Japan.
Other top inconveniences for tourists to Japan: Communication issues with staff, signs without multiple languages or poor translations, use of public transportation, and lack of garbage cans.

In the past few years that I’ve been both a tourist and a resident of Japan, I’ve seen this get better. When I first came in 2016, it was difficult to connect to a wifi endpoint even at a Starbucks. Now, most major coffee chains offer free wifi access that’s easy to use. But many smaller chains and shops won’t – likely because they’re operating on thin margins and can’t afford the expense.

Japan has known this has been an issue for years. There was a lot of talk before the Tokyo Olympics about improving this before tourists landed. (Of course, the Tokyo Olympics didn’t quite go according to plan.)

Long story short: the paucity of public hotspots even in major Japanese cities remains a persistent and vexing problem.

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Japan pocket wifi benefits

Picture: bee / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

But don’t fret! There are a few ways to stay connected when in Japan. One of them is renting a pocket wifi device that acts as an Internet hotspot. You can connect your phone and any other devices to it so you can, for example, get reliable directions while you’re out and about.

Using a pocket wifi has several advantages. First, it works in your lodging and on the go. You can use it in lieu of your hotel’s wifi if the service there ends up being less than you expected.

Second, you can attach multiple devices to it. This is very handy if you’re traveling with your family or have multiple devices – like a laptop or a tablet – that you might want to use while out and about.

Japan pocket wifi vs. other options

Is a pocket wifi the best option for you? There are other alternatives. But depending on your circumstances, a pocket wifi might end up being the better option.

The two best alternatives to a pocket wifi are:

Roaming data

Most hometown providers offer some form of roaming data. For example, my old provider, T-Mobile, offers 5GB of high-speed data on certain plans, with a speed cap of 256kbps on other plans. You can also buy a block of international high-speed data – up to 50GB over 30 days for around USD $50.

Challenges with roaming data for Japan travel

However, roaming data plans may not meet your needs. First, they’re pretty expensive – and can get extremely pricey if you’re downloading a ton of data (e.g., watching videos on the subway).

Second, in my experience with T-Mobile, the download speeds are variable. They may be fast at times and dirt-slow at others.

Third, many of these plans don’t support tethering – i.e., connecting another device, such as a laptop, tablet, or another phone.

SIM/eSIM

A SIM is also an acceptable option. For the non-technically savvy, “SIM” stands for Subscriber Identity Module. It’s the little chip you get that goes into the side of your phone and provides access to your provider’s cellular network.

SIMs are a popular option for international travel. For a small prepaid fee, you can get data (and even text and phone calls, in some countries) simply by popping out your new SIM card and replacing it with one you get from a vendor at the airport.

The major problem with a physical SIM is that, if you need both lines while in Japan, swapping physical SIM cards in and out is a pain. An eSIM, which is a “virtual SIM” that exists only in software, provides the same function but without a physical chip. An eSIM is nice because you can use it on top of your existing SIM card. In other words, you can send/receive text messages or phone calls on your main line while using your eSIM for data while in Japan.

(Side note: eSIMs are also great for residents of Japan! I use an eSIM via local cell company AU, which enables me to keep my US line running for two-factor authentication as well as easy contact with my family and colleagues stateside.)

Challenges with SIMs/eSIMs for Japan travel

However, that leads to the major obstacle with both SIMs and eSIMs: they only work on SIM-unlocked phones.

When you buy a new phone on a payment plan from a cell phone company, they “lock” your phone to SIMs that only work with their network. That means that, until you pay off the phone and ask your provider to SIM-unlock it, you can only use the SIM that they’ve provided you.

One workaround to this is to buy a cheap, SIM-unlocked Android phone from eBay or Amazon and use it only for travel. But that’s expensive and can end up being more hassle than it’s worth. For example, some used phones will only work with SIMs from specific carriers.

Finally, most SIMs/eSIMs generally don’t allow sharing data as a mobile hotspot. That means everyone traveling with you needs their own separate SIMs for their phones.

Getting a pocket wifi for your Japan trip

Woman using a cell phone
Picture: Ran&Ran / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

One of the best deals you can get is if you find a hotel or lodging that provides wifi with a pocket device. This is the best of both worlds: you can use wifi in your room and then take it with you when you’re on the go.

Barring that, we recommend renting a pocket wifi device from our friends at Inbound Platform. (Note: Affiliate link – we make a small commission at no extra charge to you if you use this service.) Inbound Platform will ship your wifi to the airport for pickup or even directly to your hotel. You can also rent an eSIM for your phone at the same time if you want that additional convenience.

The Inbound Platform Premium pocket wifi supports speeds up to 187Mbps with no data limits. The battery lasts up to 20 hours without a charge and you can connect up to 10 devices simultaneously.

Inbound Platform’s pocket wifi service is highly rated with a 4.7-star customer satisfaction rating. Customers have good things to say about its speed and reliability. Plus, Inbound Platform has a great customer service team that can respond to inquiries in English and multiple other languages.

You can rent a pocket wifi device directly from Inbound Platform. Alternatively, you can create a custom itinerary or guided tour with Unseen Japan Tours and we’ll rent one on your behalf. We can also help you book transportation from the airport and Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets as part of your Japan vacation!

Sources

訪日外国人が「日本で不便に思うこと」のランキング。「地球の歩き方」が展開する訪日旅行情報サイト「GOOD LUCK TRIP」が発表。PRTimes

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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