The internet is a crucial component to so many people’s lives, it’s a wonder what we would do without it. One thing that surprises people when they move to Japan is the complexity of getting standard internet connectivity in their apartments or homes. Dealing with the Japanese internet system might be a little different than the way it works in your home country. Let’s take a look at some information that might help you get a better grasp on the internet situation in Japan.
Different Kinds of Japanese Internet Connections
When I first came to Japan, there weren’t as many options. There were two choices, ADSL or fiber optics. I knew which one I wanted! I went with a fiber optic line.
These days, there are a lot more ways to connect online than ever. Many newcomers might be tempted to get internet access through a cell phone company when they first arrive. While that may be convenient, there are better deals out there.
How Japanese Internet Service Providers Work
In the United States, getting the internet is pretty straightforward and you usually go through one company. Dealing with billing and support is pretty easy. In Japan, things have not always been so simple.
How it used to be
In Japan, you had to normally deal with two companies. You have NTT West/East, which installs and maintains the actual infrastructure such as fiber optic lines. THEN you have the “provider”, which provides you with servers to connect to for accessing the internet. You ended up having to pay both companies. Most of the bill went to NTT for the actual infrastructure and then a little bit to the provider.
Some of you might be wondering, “Why do we need a provider if we have to pay one company for the infrastructure?”
I hear you and I’ve also had those thoughts. Apparently, in an effort to prevent a monopoly, it was decided that NTT could not directly charge for internet access. Instead, many different companies could be created and charge customers to use their internet services on top of NTT’s infrastructure.
I did a quick translation of an illustration to help people understand the changes between the old system and the new system.
How it is now
In recent years, companies have been able to sell entire internet packages without customers having to pay two separate companies. You can go through one company which still uses NTT’s infrastructure, but charges you for everything. It makes life a lot simpler but does make it slightly more annoying/difficult to switch providers.
You might see the word コラボ (korabo) or コラボレーション (korabore-shon) from companies. This means the company is in “collaboration” with NTT to offer you the internet and billing exclusively. No more dealing with multiple companies to handle your internet.
Deciding on a Japanese Internet Provider
You’re definitely missing out if you don’t check all the deals going on for new customers when signing up for the internet. The best place to find out what deals are available for you is kakaku.com
Kakaku.com is a comparison site that shows the rankings of different categories of products and services.
All you need to do is go to the “provider” section. Once there, choose what kind of establishment you live in (apartment/house) and the prefecture and city. After you narrow those down, you can see what the actual cost from month to month will be from each company. Kakaku even has additional campaigns that go on top of the existing ones from companies. The most fun are the “cash back” ones that promise to give you a lot of money back after a certain time has passed on your contract.
There are countless internet providers, but I wanted to mention two.
OCN is a famous internet provider that is considered a major backbone of the Japanese internet. This means OCN has the biggest servers or central network points in which most other providers end up going through. If your focus is on good network quality and speed, OCN is probably where you should sign up.
This company has been around for a pretty long time. They are one of the few internet providers that have an English website as well as English support. Another bonus is their prices are cheaper than other companies. Asahi Net is a great choice for both newcomers and anyone wanting to lower their internet bill.
Data caps and data throttling
Depending on which company you go with, you may encounter some limits in how you can use your internet bandwidth. Some companies implement a 30 GB a day limit before slowing you down. Others have anti-P2P systems in place that prevent you from file sharing at fast speeds.
Thanks to this lovely site, you can check out the known limitations from each provider. It’s a list that is contributed to and maintained by volunteers.
Unfortunately, the choice of wireless routers is rather small in my opinion. In most retail stores, you’re only going to find routers made by either Buffalo or NEC. If you want something else, you’ll have to check Amazon Japan.
A lot of clueless consumers end up paying a company to provide them with wifi or set things up, but I think a lot of people coming from overseas would rather set it up themselves.
Most routers in Japan only function and display information in Japanese. It also doesn’t help that the interfaces to configure Japanese routers are usually pretty ugly and bare bones. Here’s an example of a Buffalo router configuration page.
For someone that may not be comfortable configuring routers to begin with, having to deal with a Japanese interface may make it overwhelming.
For the hardcore tech people: You can try to overwrite some routers with English/different firmware, but it’s a mess. I’ve done it and it’s not worth the loss of stability.
For those that don’t want to struggle with a Japanese interface, there is a router that will work in English and a variety of other languages. Apple’s “Airport” series of routers (“AirMac” in Japan) work really well and can be configured from the comfort of your computer (Mac and Windows) or iPhone/iPad in your language of choice.
Apple routers can be configured in a very lovely user interface from different devices. It’s visually pleasing and can be configured to display in English and other non-Asian languages. It makes connecting to your internet provider really easy.
I’m fine setting up Japanese routers, but a long time ago I would have really appreciated knowing that Apple’s routers function in multiple languages. They might be more expensive than what you can find in a Japanese store, but if you want to feel comfortable setting up a router in your native language, it might be worth the cost.
My advice for buying Apple routers is to check the refurbished section on Apple’s Japanese website. You can save more money this way and get a router that’s as good as new. You can even call Apple Japan and ask about them since they have English phone support as well as people who can assist you with buying products in English.
Final Thoughts on Japanese Internet
This is in no way a complete guide, but I thought I would jot down a few things I would have liked to have known when I first arrived in Japan.
Are you lost at deciding what company to go with or what internet to choose? Maybe you’re happy with the company you’re currently using. Regardless of your situation, leave a comment below and tell me your internet situation.