I’m writing this post as an attempt to both provide information to readers and to rant. I’ve recently had the experience of attempting to connect to the internet out in public here in Tokyo, and it hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world. The majority of my problem stems from the fact that the battery on my computer is apparently shot, and so I have to carry my charger everywhere and plug in my computer if I want to use it.
In a city as famously technologically advanced as Tokyo, you’d think there would be Wi-Fi on every corner of the city. People’s heads radiate with it (maybe that’s just the cesium), and you can beam a coffee straight to your cup in the station. But alas, no, such magic does not exist here. The reality of the internet sitch in Tokyo is that most people connect to the internet via their phones. Japan has nationwide 3G, and most folks connect to the internet to check their email, download music, etc. using their fancy handsets. As a result, there isn’t such a strong demand for a nation-wide (or even city-wide) wireless network.
As a person without a fancy smartphone (my phone is a dorky pre-paid model because I’m cheap), this can present a problem when trying to work outside the home.
I’ve come to realize that I suck at working from home (at the moment, at least). My apartment is furnished with only a crappy futon and a refrigerator at the moment, so I have no comfortable place to sit and work. My ass can only handle so long sitting on the hardwood floor of my kitchen. In the past, when I’ve written blog posts, etc., I write everything down on paper in a notebook at a cafe or restaurant, bring it home, and type it up. I still like to do this, but I’ve got some new projects in the works, and being able to be mobile with my computer is becoming increasingly desirable.
While Wi-Fi in Tokyo isn’t everywhere, it’s at least somewhere. There are, of course, internet cafes that are designed for internet connections. You pay a designated amount for the time you anticipate using the facilities, and you have access to a computer, a comfy place to sit, and often times a shower and reading material! Some even use internet cafes as makeshift hotels when they’ve missed the last train. Handy in a pinch, but the stereotypical user of an internet cafe does make me cringe a bit (apologies to all non-stereotypical users of internet cafes). Besides, I already have my own computer.
Another option is to purchase a service from one of the big electronics shops in cooperation with cell phone providers like docomo, softbank, or AU. It’s a small device you can attach to your computer via USB. Once configured, you can use your computer to connect to the nationwide 3G (rather than Wi-Fi). Some new laptops even come bundled with this service. Handy. This is not a free service – usually, a small monthly payment of $10-$20 is required, depending on the company. For those who require mobile internet on a very regular basis, this may be a good option.
Other options include signing up for one of the many Wi-Fi providers. Again, the major cell phone carriers have plans you can sign up for (that include a monthly payment similar to the one above). Alternatively, I’ve discovered one plan (HOTSPOT) that I’m using today to bring you this post! HOTSPOT is a pretty simple plan – you can either choose to subscribe to their monthly service, or to use what they call their “1 day passport.” This passport can be purchased at any Family Mart convenience store at a green kiosk known as the “Family Port.” 500 yen (roughly $5-$6) gets you 24 hour internet access at any place that has access.
I know, sounds stupid.
Before I went out to get my pass, I looked up online the places with HOTSPOT access. Interestingly, most of the places are at station entrances and exits. There are also, however, many cafes on the list. So, I took a 10 minute stroll from my apartment to the Tully’s Coffeee near me, found a place close to an outlet, and set to work. When you purchase the pass, you take the receipt you get from the machine and bring it to the counter to pay for, like any normal item. The cashier will then give you a printed sheet of paper with the information you need to login written on it like this:
(If you’re reading this post within 24 hours of the time it was posted and at a location within Tokyo that has HOTSPOT, congratulations, you just got free internet!)
I created a new wireless connection on my computer with the WEP key and the ESS-ID (which, for me, was just the connection name). When I finished that, I opened a new browser window, where I was automatically taken to the HOTSPOT homepage to input my username and password. From there, I was connected! I had one small hiccup where I had to tell my laptop to automatically update the IP settings for the connection, but other than that, zero problems. I don’t anticipate using my laptop too much more outside my home for the next month, otherwise I think I’d go for the monthly plan.
As a last option, you can also look up a place with free Wi-Fi access. Yesterday, I tried out the “Wired Cafe” chain. There are a couple here in Shinjuku, and several more throughout the metro Tokyo area. Cafe patrons have free access to their Wi-Fi, but sadly, as I found yesterday, there are very, very limited numbers of sockets for computers. I’m guessing this is to prevent people from taking up space for hours after purchasing a coffee. If you’re feeling daring and want to find a free wi-fi place of your own, I found this Google Map – it supposedly shows all the places in Tokyo where you can get free Wi-Fi access. Use at your own risk!
While it would be more convenient for me to have city-wide internet access, I think it’d be more convenient for me if there were just more places with publicly usable outlets. Of course, I understand the reasons why they are so limited. Now that I’ve found a way to get my out-of-home access, though, I think I’m set for a while.
Though I do now find myself wishing for a shiny new phone or computer.
(If you have any questions about the companies and plans introduced here, use your Google skills. I’m feeling lazy. You can do it!)