Guide to the Best Pocket WIFI and SIM Cards for Traveling in Japan

The Best Pocket Wifi & Sim Cards for Traveling Japan

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If you’re planning a trip to Japan, one of the most important things will be staying connected to the grid, aka the internet. Unless you’re going to Japan for a retreat to disconnect, you’ll need the internet for navigation, communicating with your group or people back home, or even for translation. Japan’s infamous big cities like Tokyo and Osaka are full of crazy things to do, but free WiFi is not easy to find without a connection to one of the major networks: Softbank, Docomo, and AU. Tokyo has ample WiFi all over the city, but unless you have portable WiFi or a Japanese SIM card, you won’t be able to connect to any of them. 

So, before you make your way over to Japan, it’s best to order a portable WiFi device or SIM card online. Of course, if you don’t have time to reserve online, then you can pick up a device or SIM card at any one of the major airports in Japan (i.e., Narita Airport, Haneda Airport, Kansai Airport); however, you’ll find the best deals when you order online so that you can spend your budget on more fun things while in Japan.

Pocket WiFi and SIM Cards in Japan

When I first came to Japan for study abroad in 2015, I had never been abroad in my life. It was a totally new experience and it wasn’t just for a week or two, it was for a whole semester at a Japanese university, in one of the most notoriously crowded cities in the world. What started out as excitement when I first got the clear from my university turned into a slow onset of dread. 

Around that time, travel blogs were picking up speed quickly, but it was hard to find information about how to prepare for basic things before going abroad. Like, how was I going to Skype my mom the the weekly requirement she made me promise? Luckily, after some quick searches on the ol’e Googler and some rushed determination (it was T-minus one month from my flight), I found the beauty of pocket WiFi. It was a great option for me as my American phone was carrier-locked and I couldn’t get a SIM card. 

Even though my cell phone provider had a very expensive “global” plan, I found that renting a portable WiFi device for a couple of months was much cheaper than using it. There were no data overage fees, and I could connect multiple devices to one little pocket-sized device. 

Whether you’re traveling to Japan for a short-term stay or for something more long-term, it’s best to buy a portable WiFi device, “pocket WiFi,” or a SIM card while you’re there (here?). It’s a stress-free and cheap way to travel while staying on the grid.

Tip

There are a few free WiFi hot-spots around the city, so be sure to check out the handy list published by the Japan Tourism Agency! If you open the webpage with your phone, it can use your GPS location to find WiFi hot-spots near you.

What is Pocket WiFi?

Pocket WiFi is a portable wireless modem or hot-spot that can connect many devices that use WiFi to the internet through a telephone network, usually with 3G or 4G speeds. It’s useful for travelers in a group, for those who tend to use a lot of WiFi, or for those who bring multiple devices that require WiFi (i.e., laptops, tablets, etc.). 

Portable WiFi, “pocket WiFi,” or “mobile hot-spots” come in many data packages and speeds, and these factors are all influenced by the cellular or telephone network the WiFi service is connected with. Most can connect to up to 10 devices, depending on the service, and provide a safe and secure internet connection.

What is a SIM Card?

A SIM card, or “subscriber identification module” is a small or micro-card that contains unique information that identifies it to a specific cellular network. This allows the “subscriber” to use the network. Without a SIM card, the “subscriber” won’t be able to connect to the internet or use features of a device that requires internet (i.e., phone calls, text messages, etc.). 

For this reason, many cellular devices use a SIM card that is carrier-locked. This means that the SIM card only works with that specific carrier or provider, and the cell phone only works like an actual cell phone (and not, say, a camera) with that specific carrier as well. These types of cell phones are called “locked phones.”

For example, if you are from the United States and your cellular provider or carrier is Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint or AT&T, then you should check with your provider to make sure your cell phone or any other device bought with that carrier is unlocked before you buy a SIM card for your trip to Japan (or anywhere else for that matter).  

Additionally, there are services that will “unlock” your cell phone or device for you through an “unlock code”, but these many of these services are often not legitimate. It’s best to talk to your actual carrier before unlocking your device through a third party service. 

How to Use Pocket WiFI or SIM Cards

Pocket WiFi
Other than perhaps a full charge at the end of the day, portable WiFi requires no wall-unit connection cables for your device and no installation is necessary. You will just need the password found in the settings menu under “SSID” to connect any mobile device to your pocket WiFi.

To connect to your portable WiFi, go to the settings menu of whatever device you’re trying to connect and go to the “Wireless and Networks” menu. From there, you will find your portable WiFi device’s ID. It’s usually written somewhere on the front of the device or on the instruction manual. Select the ID from the menu and input the security key. If the key is not in the instructions, you can find it in the “SSID” menu. In Japanese, it is usually written as “セキュレティーキー” (sekuritei ki).

Once you input the security key or password, you’re good to go! You will be able to use the internet through the WiFi device for however long you rented it for.

SIM Cards
Perhaps not as easy as using pocket WiFi, but a SIM card should not be difficult to install into your cell phone. Your SIM card should come with some kind of instructions, or someone should help you install it if you buy it from a SIM card counter (i.e., at an airport), but the first thing to do when installing a SIM card is to turn off your cell phone or whatever device you’re installing it in. 

After doing that, you will need to turn the device back on, and input the APN information provided to you. This sets up the connection between your device and the mobile network of the SIM card carrier or provider. 

Once you’ve filled out those details, you’ll either need to input the serial number and “SIM number” of the card, or you’ll be good to go!

Tip

When trying to use a SIM card, be sure that your cellphone is not provider or carrier-locked to a cellular plan in your home country or the SIM card will not work. SIM cards work with unlocked devices only.

Advantages and Disadvantages

You get to use the internet whenever you want.

No, seriously, the biggest advantage of renting portable WiFi or a SIM card is that you get to stay on the grid and be connected to the outside world. Having access at your fingertips means that you can use critical resources to help you get around Japan and stay a happy traveler. 

Other than the above advantage, there are six other simple advantages for both options: they are easy to use, easy to carry–one can go in your pocket (or purse) and one is installed in your phone, usually have unlimited data packages, don’t hit you with roaming charges, and create secure connections to a mobile network so that you can surf the web with peace of mind. Also, one of the biggest advantages for portable WiFi is that you can connect multiple devices to it. 

On the other hand, when using portable WiFi, a disadvantage is that your data is shared with all the devices that are connected to it. That means that you may use up more data with a group of people using the WiFi than if you used it by yourself. 

A disadvantage to a SIM Card when traveling with a group is that only the person with the SIM card installed will have internet connection. The group will either need to rely on the hot-spot of the device with a SIM card, or rely on the person with the SIM card to do all tasks that require an internet connection while still not having internet for themselves.

I ran into this problem when I traveled with a few of my friends in Vietnam. We couldn’t find a portable WiFi provider so one of my friends had to get a SIM card. The downside was that we had to stick together and couldn’t really use their hot-spot because it drained their phone. We were largely without internet for most of the trip and had to rely on them–and for a Type A person like me, that sucked.

Choosing Pocket WiFi or a SIM Card

Many factors can determine the price of the WiFi and the services provided such as the data limit, the number of days you will rent the device, the number of devices you rent, the internet speed of the device, and the provider’s pick-up and return policy. When renting a pocket wifi or buying a SIM card, it is best to buy it at least 3 days before your arrival in Japan. For some companies, the earlier you book, the cheaper the service will be. However, many pocket WiFi and SIM card providers have counters at major airports in Japan for visitors to buy either service on arrival. 

Based on my experience with WiFi in Japan and my research on both pocket WiFi and SIM Card providers, I’ve recommended one WiFi provider and 5 other alternatives below.

MY RECOMMENDATION: NINJA Wi-Fi
Ninja WiFi Website

Ninja Wifi is a Japanese portable WiFi company by Vision Inc. The company offers WiFi options exclusively in Japan using Softbank’s mobile network. As a result, it has some of the best service coverage within WiFi options in Japan. When compared to other WiFi and SIM card options in Japan, it offers the best price for the service offered. 

When I used Ninja WiFi during a short trip in Kyoto, I was able to use the portable WiFi throughout the whole day before charging it at the end of the night. It was also easy to set up and the service coverage was very reliable. I was able to use it even when I used heavy-duty programs on my laptop without any issues.

Tip

Order your WiFi through NINJA WiFi and book with the Away From Origin referral link to receive 20% off the WiFi rental fees on your order.

The Breakdown

All prices below are without holiday discounts and include Japan’s 2019 sales tax increase to 10%.

Ninja WiFi Vision Global WiFi Sushi Wi-Fi Sakura Mobile Japan WiFi PuPuRu WiFi Japan Rail Pass
Portable WiFi

Price

¥990 /day
¥770 /day

¥299 /day

+¥2999 fee

¥6,100 /3days
¥780 /1day
¥1,000 /day
¥5,950 /5 days minimum

Speed
(Download)

187.5 Mbps
187.5 Mbps
187.5 Mbps
187.5 Mbps
150 Mbps

Data Cap
(Network)

Unlimited (Softbank)
Unlimited (5G)
Unlimited (Softbank)
Unlimited (Softbank)
500MB (3G or 4G LTE)
Unlimited (Softbank)

Battery Life

9 hours
5 hours
10 hours
8 hours
8 hours

Available Devices
(Tethering)

5 Devices
10 Devices
10 Devices
10 Devices
5 Devices
10 Devices
5 Devices

Pick-Up/Return

Free

Free Pick-Up

¥500 Return (free return in Store)

¥1,000

¥890 (labeled "shipping")

Free

¥1,000 (labeled "delivery")

Free

Delivery

¥500
¥800

7 Day Rental

¥6,930 ($64.12 USD)
¥6,929 ($64.11 USD)
¥6,701 ($62 USD)
¥9,880 ($91.41 USD)
¥6,006 ($55.57 USD)
¥8,700 ($80.49 USD)
¥8,700 ($80.49 USD)
SIM Cards

Price

¥4,500 /8 days

¥6,500 /15 days

¥9,000 /30 days

¥4,900 /15 days

¥5,650 /30 days

*Micro and Nano SIM Cards Available

Speed (Download)

225 Mbps

Data Cap
(Network)

Unlimited
(Dococmo)

*tethering equipped

500mb

Tip

Is unlimited data really unlimited? Many pocket WiFi and SIM card providers warn that if you use a lot of data in a short period of time, you may experience slow downs in your data speed. This is called bandwidth throttling, a slow-down of the speed at which you can access data by mobile network or ISP providers.

Which Pocket WiFi or SIM Card Should You Choose?

I can of course tell you the pocket WiFi that I like to use and the SIM cards that my friends like to use, however, it’s more important to figure out the best option for you. To do this, you should consider a few things: how much data do you typically use while on vacation, will you be out and about or stay near charging outlets, what’s your budget, and how long will you need the service, 

If you’re a heavy data user–a user that is constantly using data on more than just mobile (i.e., tethering to a laptop), streaming videos, etc., then portable WiFi is a great option, especially if you’ll often be on the go. Additionally, if you will be sharing your data package with someone else on your trip or don’t have an unlocked cell phone, then portable WiFi will be a better option for you than a SIM card.

Alternatively, if you have an unlocked cell phone, are a casual data user (someone who isn’t usually on the internet, social media, etc.), or do not plan to share the data package with someone else, then a SIM card is a great option.

Based on my research and the chart that I’ve outlined above, Ninja WiFi is the best for short-term stay (2 weeks or less) and both kinds of users (heavy and casual). The unlimited plan worked best for me on days when I used it casually (only using data when I needed navigation and quick internet searches) and when I used it for heavier purposes (editing this blog and uploading photos). It is one of the cheapest options of portable WiFi and SIM Card options I listed when you include the free airport pick-up and cheap delivery fee, the fast speed, and the unlimited data plan offered.

*Receive 20% off

Although you can use Ninja WiFi for both short-term and long-term stays, I found that Sakura Mobile is best for long-term stays (over two weeks) such as study abroad. The provider offers three types of plans for portable WiFi–5GB, 50GB and unlimited for three three monthly prices of ¥3,480, ¥4,980 and ¥6,980. If going with Sakura Mobile’s long-term plans, I recommend you use the 50GB plan as your hotel, dorm or even school should have WiFi for you to use. Also, if you don’t need portable WiFi, Sakura Mobile also has SIM cards as well.

Both portable WiFi and SIM cards are convenient, easy to order and easy to pick up and return. When enjoying your trip in Japan, the last thing you want to worry about is staying connected to the internet when there are such great and easily available options out there. Instead, spend your time in Japan enjoying the rich culture, foods, and friendly people.

If you have any questions about portable WiFi or SIM Cards in Japan, feel free to leave a comment and ask!

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20 thoughts on “Guide to the Best Pocket WIFI and SIM Cards for Traveling in Japan”

  1. These portable Wifi devices are so smart! The worst wifi I ever had was in the Philippines, I wonder if it would work there. Perfect for knowing about Japan though, thank you!

  2. I totally agree that this is a great idea for staying in contact (and find your way around) in Japan. I rented a portable wifi last time we visited and it made getting around sooo much easier. 🙂

    1. Josy, I’ve experienced traveling without WiFi and traveling with WiFi, and I’d rather travel with WiFi! 😀 Plus, Japan’s network speeds are pretty fast and you can typically use WiFi even underground in the subway.

  3. This is such a helpful post!!! Figuring out SIM cards and wifi tends to be the last thing I consider when planning a trip abroad. It’s amazing that you’ve done all the research for me! Pinning for when I can safely reschedule a trip to Japan.

    1. Catherine, thank you for reading a saving my post! I usually leave SIM Cards and WIFI woos until the last step as well, but that has caused some stress in some of recent travels. ? I hope you can eventually reschedule your trip!

  4. This is such a useful post! I was supposed to be in Japan this March but unfortunately I had to cancel it. Hope I will be able to visit next year so I just saved your post later, thank you for sharing!

    1. Kriszti, thank you for reading and saving! Japan has begun to open its borders to foreign residents that were stuck in their home countries, but hopefully things clear-up soon for everyone to travel freely again.

  5. I have travelled to Japan without with and without wifi. I’ve rented both the SIM card and the portable wifi and found the later to be the best. It’s still possible to travel to Japan by using free wifi hotspots but the portable wifi offers more flexibility and freedom.

    1. Mayi, I agree! Portable WIFI is my suggested pick for internet when traveling and I always choose that in every country I visit, but SIM cards also allow you to connect to the network-locked WIFI that you can find in many places in the big cities.

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