Why, oh, why no WiFi in Tokyo?
Let's cut to the chase: Tokyo is a WiFi wasteland. This city may be renowned for its cleanliness, its timeliness, its aura of cutting-edge tech, but trying to find a free hotspot is nearly impossible. Logic dictates it should be there, but invariably it isn't. Airports, coffee shops, hotel lobbies, restaurants, college campuses: all of the places one might normally expect to find free WiFi zones are, in Tokyo, arid deserts devoid of access to that glorious spread of the electromagnetic spectrum we so dearly need to browse YouTube -- I mean, get our work done.
Even Starbucks is stingy with its WiFi here. Most don't have it at all, but beginning April 26, select Starbucks shops will offer free WiFi... for one month and usage limited to just 30 minutes per customer. Did we mention you have to register, too?
So much for a supposedly high-tech metropolis. "Japanese cellphones have traditionally met the demand for mobile communication and services such as email and music downloads, so there hasn't been a consumer demand for more mobile bandwidth," explains Mozilla's Gen Kanai. "In fact until 2009 and the advent of smartphones such as the iPhone, there was really no need for WiFi for mobile devices at all, thanks to widespread 3G coverage."
In other words, you can blame the lack of WiFi infrastructure on Japan's early lead in cellphone technology. Unfortunately, we no longer live in an era where keitai reign supreme. Hybrid devices like the iPhone or Google's Android phone are standard issue. And when it comes to laptops, WiFi is the easiest solution for connectivity.
Some solutions: Searching, paying
Okay, so what's a wannabe wireless warrior to do? You could try one of the city's innumerable 'net cafes,' but many are, to put it mildly, kind of gross inside. And plenty of them also prohibit customers from hooking up their own laptops. You could stalk the streets of the city like a 'wardriver' of old, searching for unsecured spots (dense 'shopping streets' in urban areas, like Kichijoji's Nakamichi Dori, are a good bet.) Or you could consult one of the several websites that purport to show free WiFi zones in the city. Unfortunately the vast majority of entries are either outdated or located inside well-secured office towers -- not exactly conducive to getting your work done unless you happen to be Spiderman.
Barring that, you can always pay. Yes, paying for free WiFi might sound like blasphemy for those used to getting it for the price of a cup of coffee abroad, but the fact is that the bulk of the so-called 'free spots' you will encounter in the city are locked down by a variety of companies that charge users a monthly fee for access. Some of the more commonly encountered ones are those set in McDonalds by SoftBank BB, but a variety of companies, including Wi2, Docomo, Yahoo BB, Livedoor Wireless, UQ_Wifi, and others offer competing plans. These are fine and dandy for long-term residents but not much use to those who just need to jump online for a few minutes here and there. Also, some users complain that the service for these companies can be hit-and-miss.
Barring that, you may be relieved to know there are a few spots in town that allow (paying) customers to partake of their precious WiFi signals. Here's a short list to get you started. The vast majority are clustered in the trendier areas downtown. But remember: in this city, cafés and restaurants appear and disappear at a breakneck clip. If WiFi is absolutely essential to your visit, I recommend calling before making a trip or asking before sitting down. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comment section below.
Free WiFi Hotspots in Tokyo as of April 27, 2010
Tas Yard Cafe
The Aldgate (pub)
SUS: Shibuya Universal Society (café)
Wired Cafe Shibuya
Blue Square Cafe
Brooklyn Parlor (restaurant)
Wired Cafe Shinjuku Mitsukoshi
This privately-created list, keyed to Google Maps, is a treasure trove of potential WiFi spots. Bear in mind that we haven't vetted these, so try them at your own risk.
This Japanese-language blog is written by an Osakan in Tokyo whose hobby is uncovering cafes that offer un-advertised WiFi.