Vote Charlie!

Party in Japan like it’s 1999: Internet

Posted at age 26.
Edited .

Working in Japan for the past year has tested my patience, and not all of it is due to my language skills. Case in point: Internet.

Now, before I get too deep here, please know there is a lot I love about Japan. And I recognize it may just be culturally insensitive for me to expect to be able to pay for basic Internet access in a country that is known for its advanced technology. But on this issue, everyone I’ve talked to agrees there is room for improvement.

When I looked for a place to stay for my first month in Japan, I went with an Airbnb rental for $1148 for 27 nights. Before confirming, I inquired about the Internet connection, as I knew I would be working around the clock, and my work is mostly web based.

I wrote:

I’m just curious what kind of Internet connection/service you have and have fast up/down it is.

The host replied:

The internet connection of here is optical fiber broad band one. Optical fiber broad band connection is actually standard in Japan. So Landlords have problem to get render without high speed internet in the apartment.

Well, upon arrival – after getting past an extremely awkward situation of being told I had to stay outside (to protect the host’s privacy) in the freezing, snowy weather to meet my friend who was coming to welcome me to Japan and help me get settled – I sat down (on the floor) to go online and catch up. It wasn’t long before I realized the promise of a fiber connection wasn’t going to materialize.

Over the next few weeks, I often had to sneak out and reset the modem and router hoping the previous poor performance was a fluke. Sometimes it seemed to help… but sometimes I believe conspiracies. But in the end, I was able to struggle through House of Cards on Netflix, with plenty of buffering breaks, and life went on. If only I knew then how much I should have cherished it.

I moved into my own apartment at the end of the month, and by some miracle managed to finally get Internet eventually. See “Six friends and many wasted hours later, I have Internet!” for more on the fails of two separate pocket WiFi devices before I got a wired connection. Anyway, once it was finally working, I felt like I was in heaven.


My speed test on Toppa! Internet over Flets Hikari Next fiber line

…If only it didn’t end after mere weeks. Either it was an evil marketing ploy, or buried in the contract was some BS data cap written in the ‘90s.

So the $80 per month I was paying didn’t buy stable Internet in Japan. For most of my tenancy, my connection was testing at less than one twentieth the advertised rate. That would have actually been fairly usable if it were stable, but many times a day I wouldn’t be able to load web pages at all. Again, resetting the modem sometimes seemed to help… but it was driving me insane. It’s no wonder I left Japan half a dozen times last year.

So anyway, now I have officially moved out of that apartment, but am back in Japan to finish some business and bring back the rest of my belongings. Since I’m here a few weeks, I knew I would need to get Internet access.

In a separate rant, I could complain about how my SIM card I had been using for months got deactivated due to my credit card changing, and it is apparently impossible to modify the account once a charge is declined. So I had to order a new SIM card.

Previously I was using a “100MB/day Data SIM (30days)” SIM card (¥ 3,800 + shipping) I ordered from eConnect Japan and then continued the “b-mobile 3G-4G Fair” plan for $20-30 per month through the service provider’s web interface. I can’t tell what that one’s data quantity or speed limits are, and I don’t think I tried using it with my phone’s WiFi access point function.

This time I opted for the 3GB Data SIM (¥ 4,700 + shipping) since I would need less than 30 days, and I knew I could recharge it if I ran out. There was nothing specified about a daily limit.

Needless to say, I soon discovered my service got incredibly slow, before I had used half a gig. I became incredibly frustrated because I needed to get work done, and that led to a dispute with my friend and host, who also needed to get Internet at some point, but wasn’t as willing to get it as soon as I would have liked.

So I had to transplant myself to the apartment of another friend who already had a pocket WiFi contract. That worked OK for a day or two, but then the same abysmal speeds infected that device, too.

Japanese Internet speed

Japanese Internet speed

After Googling “Tokyo pocket wifi” and stumbling on Japan Wireless’s products page, I found that apparently all WiFi routers by Emobile have a 10GB per month cap, even the “unlimited data” ones. Of course, my new host’s device is an Emobile device. So that’s a ~330MB per day average.

Then I researched my SIM card some more and found b-mobile’s FAQ for the 3GB plan.


お客様間の公平を確保するため、 特にご利用の多いお客様(当日を含む直近3日間の 通信量の合計が300万パケット(360MB相当)以上)に対しては 通信の速度を制限する場合があります。

So, there is a 360MB cap on a three day period. I was expecting to have full access to that 3GB I paid for, but instead I had access to 120MB per day on average, meaning the fastest I could exhaust the 3GB would be 25 days. So there’s not much difference between that and the 100MB/day SIM card that was significantly cheaper. In desperation, I even tried paying about $40 for a 3GB recharge on my SIM card, hoping it might at least reset the cap counter and let me enjoy another 360MB of access before ANOTHER pocket WiFi I ordered comes tomorrow. But nope, it had no impact. I just threw that money away.

I can understand that Japanese companies are out to rip everyone off:

  • Force users to pay one company for the wire and another company for the service
  • Throttle phone data so much that many opt to carry around a mobile WiFi unit so they can browse the internet on their PHONES

What gets me here is there is apparently no option to pay more for service that is actually usable. What kind of illogical people are running these companies?!

Given that a typical visit to Facebook with its auto updating news feed complete with preloaded videos could easily blow my daily data cap in just a few minutes, I have no qualms about saying the notion of Japanese technical prowess is dead, and I would not be surprised if the state of the Internet here is indicative of where this country and its economy are headed. People come here and try very hard to throw away money to get some work done, and still fail. They say Japan is in a crisis; perhaps this is why! Fix the damn Internet!