Pocket Wi-Fi or Sim Card? Choosing the right way to connect with Japan

pocket wi-fi
My friend and I studying the Tokyo railway map

Anyone’s first day in the big and bustling city of Tokyo is without a doubt daunting. Trying to understand that spaghetti maze they call the subway is the first hurdle. Then, the next is navigating it all while millions of people shuffle and bustle around you trying to catch their train. To be fair, it certainly makes for an exhilarating experience.

Once you get off the train though, the lights, colours and grungy urban-ness of the city is an even bigger shock to the senses that takes a few days to get used to. On my first day alone in Tokyo, I ended up horribly lost in the metropolis at night because my pocket Wi-Fi battery ran out and I couldn’t access Google Maps!

If I’ve learnt anything from that experience, it’s to make sure your pocket Wi-Fi router is fully charged. Also, try not to leave the battery on all day! But, while making sure your Wi-Fi router (and phone) are fully charged for your trip, it’s also important to think about what internet access platforms are available in Japan.

Deciding Between Pocket Wi-Fi and a SIM Card

The great question of the modern traveller is how to access the internet while away. I decided that during my 5-month exchange in Kyoto that the easiest option was to rent a pocket Wi-Fi router. They are very easy to use; all you do is turn it on, connect to it on your device, type in the password and voila! Easy internet! The advantages of pocket Wi-Fi are numerous. Many devices can connect to it, it doesn’t require inputting a new SIM card or ‘unlocking’ your phone, and often has better coverage in rural or mountainous regions.

Comparatively, a SIM card is restricted to one phone and requires a bit of manual setup. The only advantages of a SIM card are that you won’t worry about batteries dying or carrying the router around. Having said this, dealing with the telecom companies in Japan is a hassle, even for Japanese-speaking foreigners, so I would highly recommend choosing pocket Wi-Fi.

The one thing I would suggest is, don’t rely on free public Wi-Fi. Japan has recently been promoting its coverage of free Wi-Fi in train stations and major public areas like Shinjuku or Kyoto Station. When I’ve used them, they don’t work that reliably and I could never connect properly. Even when I was connected, it would often drop out and disconnect quite regularly. Comparatively, a pocket Wi-Fi offers peace of mind and different data plans that can be tailored to suit different budgets.

The best options for pocket Wi-Fi rental include:

Kyushu WiFi Rental :

This was the one I use whenever I go to Japan. Never had any problems with dropouts or loss of connection. I’d recommend the Unlimited Wi-Fi option for long-term stays, as never having to worry about data caps is a huge positive. The one caveat is that there is no airport pick-up, so you will have to have it sent to your accommodation.

Japan Wireless :

Probably the most popular pocket Wi-Fi rental service on the market. They have an airport pick-up option which is convenient, so you can receive the router as soon as you clear customs. On top of this, all their routers have unlimited data, and their rates are usually cheaper than other companies. However, their download speeds may not be as fast as those offered by Kyushu WiFi. Although, this shouldn’t be a problem for most travellers.

Sakura Mobile :

Another popular company, specialising in SIM cards. Probably the best option for those looking to use a SIM card or buy a Japanese phone. As this is their main product focus, you can usually find some good deals.

Ninja Wi-Fi :

Ninja is more useful for shorter trips due to having no discounts for long-term stays. Plus, the daily rental price of the unit is honestly quite expensive. Having said that, the router can be collected from a wide range of airports in Japan, which is extremely convenient.

CD Japan :

A newcomer to the pocket Wi-Fi scene, CD Japan offer rental units that are most cost-effective for trips of up to one month (anything more starts to get too expensive). One of the longest-running batteries of all the options.

A Wi-Fi unit from any of these companies will be perfect, though some are more suited to short trips, while others are more suited to longer stays.

Just remember to turn the router off when you’re not using it, or bring along a portable battery!

For other articles similar to this one, please check out the below list:

Essential tips for taking photos in Japan

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