While travel is (or should often be) about living in the moment, nothing ruins a trip more than the inability to “connect”. The internet has become our all-encompassing help desk, providing us with train timetables, detailed location and map services and the chance to chat with friends and family while far away.
If you’re looking to stay plugged in while traveling Japan, a Pocket WiFi router is the way to go.
What is Pocket WiFi?
Pocket WiFi is a portable version of your home WiFi router. Often referred to as Mobile WiFi, Portable Hot Spots, MiFi, or Rental WiFi, these devices can keep you connected to the Internet. They can connect to all manner of Internet-compatible device, including smartphones, laptops, tablets and more.
How to decide if Pocket WiFi is for you?
Reasons that explain the rise of Pocket WiFi
Regular Wi-Fi has become increasingly popular in Japan in recent years, but the service can still lag in more rural areas.
- Many ryokan (traditional inns) have poor connections—if any at all—and even some hotels still aren’t set up for the service.
- Some locales, particularly those in the mountains, are simply too remote for a good connection.
- Japan’s cities—notoriously tricky to navigate, with unnamed streets and a chaotic block numbering system—have certain Wi-Fi hotspots, but that doesn’t help when attempting to follow a map to your destination.
Benefits of Pocket WiFi
Being connected to the internet will be highly valuable to people used to having email, chat and Google at their fingertips, but there are a number of reasons that make this especially so when travelling in Japan.
- Google Maps Finding your way to your destination has never been easier. Google Maps can be invaluable for anything from locating your hotel or ryokan, or working out the best public transport route to get there. These days there is a wealth of transit information within the app, including cost information, and the app handles addresses well in both Japanese and English. It's also worth noting that due to rights issues with local providers, Google Maps doesn't allow you to download offline maps for use. This means you'll need an internet connection—i.e. Pocket Wi-Fi—to use Maps on the go.
- Download apps Being connected to the Internet means you can instantly install any app for any situation, beyond Google Maps. From survival phrases, to Japanese dictionaries, or live translation provided by Google Translate, it takes the pressure off researching and installing in advance, or having too many apps at once. Read on for more app recommendations.
- Keep in touch Whether that means checking-in on Facebook, updating your Intagram Stories, or keeping in contact with friends and family on WhatsApp, Pocket WiFi can help keep you stay connected. It can also help keep you together with your travel companions too, in case you get lost or trying to meet up in the middle of the busy Tokyo's rush hour.
- Connect to multiple devices These days travellers are armed with multiple devices, from phones, watches and laptops all calling out for a WiFi connection. Through just one Pocket WiFi device, you can keep all your gear connected – though check the device limit before purchasing.
- Book experiences These days more people are booking last-minute, online and through their phone, with the wealth of fun experiences on offer to do in Japan unparalleled.
How to Buy Pocket WiFi in Japan?
Rental Wi-Fi can be reserved in advance on the official website of any of the providers listed in this guide.
Devices can be collected either immediately upon arrival from a kiosk in one of the airports or delivered directly to a hotel or rental property. This stress-free service means you can connect almost immediately after arrival in Japan.
The return process is equally uncomplicated. Prepaid mailing envelopes are provided by each company – simply drop the portable Wi-Fi device and any accompanying accessories and drop it into any mailbox before departing Japan. Or, return it to an airport location, even if you fly out of a different hub.
Comparison of Common Features
When choosing a rental Wi-Fi device, it’s important to keep in mind:
- Carrier Different Pocket WiFi providers use different mobile carriers to provide their service. It is best to check in advance on the provider website with regard to strong/weak coverage information from any provider you are considering. This is especially useful if visiting a remote, rural area that may suffer from weaker coverage. Docomo and Softbank are known to have some of the best, most comprehensive coverage in Japan, but it always pays to check in advance if possible.
- Network Type & Data Capacity Most providers offer 4G/LTE Pocket WiFi devices in 2019, which typically fall back to HSDPA or 3G where coverage is weak/patchy. Also consider how much data you'll need before your speeds get throttled.
- Device Limits Check to see the number of devices that you may need to connect simultaneously and whether this is supported. Be sure to choose a plan that can accommodate the extra usage while still maintaining quality Internet speed. Some portable Wi-Fi routers can support up to fifteen devices while still maintaining quality speeds; other more affordable packages may only support three to five.
Which companies provide Pocket WiFi?
So you may be wondering who provides the best Pocket Wi-Fi in Japan? Read on to browse our list of recommended services.
Simple pricing scheme (charge per day), as low as JPY 300. No handling fee, no delivery fee. Enjoy extra 8% discount by ordering 2 weeks in advance. More >
Plans that can accommodate nine straight hours of internet coverage for multiple devices. More >
Range of Pocket Wi-Fi options for travellers and those staying longer. More >
If you staying for longer in Japan and can provide proof of stay and fine with signing a longer 2 year contract, a range of other providers, such as Y!Mobile, may also be relevant to you. More >
What are the alternatives to Pocket WiFi?
Rental or Pocket Wi-Fi may not be for everyone, and certainly there are many alternatives out there.
For those who don’t want the responsibility of carrying around an additional device, Japan has recently begun offering data SIM cards. These are often available at ports of entry (airports, ferry ports, etc) in a range of packages depending on length of stay and estimated data use. While the majority of the plans do not assign a local phone number or allow for in-country calls, they do provide users with a way to communicate, post photos or videos on social media and use travel-related or other apps.
One data SIM provider we can recommend is Simify which offer prepaid travel SIM card for travel into Japan. Specifically, there are highly reviewed 6GB and 10GB data card options valid for 12, 15, and 30 days. These cards would cover most needs and the best part is that there is no worry about returning anything once the trip is complete.
For travelers who want to make more in-country phone calls, a rental phone is a smart choice. Packages offer a choice between simple calling plans and those that are also data-enabled.
Japan has come leaps and bounds in the past decade to upgrade its Wi-Fi infrastructure, with both cities and businesses working hard to offer complementary, free Wi-Fi to visitors and customers alike.
This means that it's fairly easy to get connected just from visiting a convenience store, coffee shop or train station – of course, you might not get the speeds or flexibility you need, compared to other alternatives.
Learn more about free Wi-Fi at Japan’s convenience stores and cafes.
Prepaid Wi-Fi Hotspots
Another of providers, like Softbank, Line and Docomo, provide free Wi-Fi hotspots to their mobile subscribers, but even then connections are often limited to a single smartphone device. For everyone else, you may find a prepaid plan gives you what you need – access to a huge network of hotspots around Japan and the ability to connect from any of your devices.