Before I went to Japan I had heard that internet connectivity would be a problem. And, as surprising as it can be given Japan is one of the most connected country in the world, if you go unprepared it can actually be an issue because free wifi is not really that common.
At your hotel
Most hotels I visited had a wifi connection available in the lobby but only a few of them had wifi in the rooms. Although all the hotels were providing an ethernet cable, make sure you bring one along to connect your laptop. If you only have wifi enabled devices (smart phone or tablet) then see the “Everywhere else” section below.
At your host’s
If you are using services like AirBnB make sure the host is advertising internet access. Especially if you rent an entire home/apartment. The best is when they offer a mobile wifi device (a mifi, see the “Everywhere else” section below for details) that you can take along with you while you are visiting. If you are a CouchSurfer, make sure your host knows how to use and configure his router.
There is actually a wifi service at all Starbucks in Japan, and it is free, but you will need to register on internet before you can get access to it (right, you must go on internet before you can go on internet). So, from your hotel or your house before you leave, go to the Starbucks Wi-Fi Service website and create an account there.
The best and cheapest option I found was eConnect Japan. You can rent a Data SIM card or a mifi device. I chose the mifi because 3G is a drain on batteries and my iPhone wouldn’t have last half a day. Using a mifi I was able to split the consumption on two devices and the mifi was also readily available for my iPad and laptop (no need to turn on my iPhone’s hot-spot). You can order the thing online and they will send it to you by post wherever you are. When you’re done you just need to put back the device in the provided envelope and post it back (from the airport for example). I had a configuration issue with my laptop and had to deal, via email, with their support and they where perfect.
For me, those mifi devices are the most convenient option you can get:
- They are portable wifi routers that connect through the phone network (LTE in Japan).
- The coverage is really good in Japan (If I remember well I only lost the signal half way to the top of Mt Fuji and when ridding the metro in Kyoto. The metro in Tokyo seems to be fully covered).
- You can connect up to 5 computers at the same time (Ideal for the family).
- Having internet at hand saves you a lot of planning and allows you to be more flexible, make more last-minute choices.