- Internet is very important when English speakers travel to Japan because of the language barrier.
- International data plans can be prohibitively expensive.
- Most Airbnb listings in Japan include a “pocket Wi-Fi” device that provides unlimited data and can be brought anywhere.
Internet can feel like a necessity for a foreigner in Japan. English is a rarity, signs and menus are difficult to decipher, and public transportation is comprehensive, but complex.
Luckily, on a recent trip to Tokyo, I found a way to get internet everywhere for free. And it happened by accident.
When I was planning my trip, I kept coming across Airbnb listings that advertised “free Wi-Fi.” At the time, I was very confused. Doesn’t every lodging come with free internet at this point?
I ended up booking an apartment in the popular Shibuya-ku neighborhood that promised “free Wi-Fi” without a second thought.
When I arrived, I found that I had made a decision that made my trip infinitely easier. The listings were advertising that they came with free mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, or “pocket Wi-Fi” devices, like this one:
- Flickr/David Marsh
Pocket Wi-Fi devices are one of the most common ways to get internet access in Japan. The 4G, 3G, LTE and WiMax networks are so good you’ll have a pretty fast connection wherever you go. Except, perhaps, in some rural areas.
Prior to departure, I had purchased an international data plan for the month – $60 through AT&T for a measly 200MB. When I realized what I had with the “pocket Wi-Fi,” which came included with the Airbnb, I called and cancelled.
The device had unlimited 4G and LTE data and network strength nearly as good as my home internet in New York City. I’ve since heard that telecoms in Japan will throttle you if you use too much data in a day, but I didn’t experience that.
I was able to video chat with family and friends in the Tsukiji Fish Market, use Google Translate in every convenience store I walked into, and stream Netflix on the bullet train to Osaka.
At this point, there are more than 30 companies in Japan offering “pocket Wi-Fi” rentals. There are kiosks at airports and in most major shopping districts. Renting through them will run you somewhere between $8-16 per day depending on data allowances, coverage areas, and connectivity speeds. TokyoCheapo has a good rundown of the options.
But most Airbnb listings advertise free “pocket Wi-Fi” devices with unlimited data and high connectivity speeds. They know they’re catering to demanding travelers.