You really want data when you’re in Japan. Being able to use the online versions of Google Maps, Google Translate and various transport search engines makes life a lot easier when you’re exploring. So, you’re probably going to need an eSIM, a physical SIM card or a pocket wifi. Here’s everything you need to know.
- You can use your home provider’s data plan but you’ll get faster and more extensive coverage in Japan with an eSIM, SIM card or pocket wifi.
- If your phone is locked, you can only use a pocket wifi.
- If your phone is unlocked, you can use an eSIM, SIM card or pocket wifi.
- eSIMs are easier and more convenient than physical SIM cards or pocket wifi.
- eSIMs cannot be installed on older phones but work with most new-ish phones.
Comparison of eSIMs, SIM Cards and Pocket Wifi
cheap, fast, easy to top up
only work on newer phones
work on older phones
fiddly, easy to lose
fast, multiple people can use
must carry charger, must pick up
First, Should You Use Your Home Plan?
Most telecoms offer roaming plans to their users. Some are built in and others are add-ons. These generally work fine in Japan and are not too expensive. However, the coverage and speed you get with these tend to be lower than you get with eSIMs, SIM cards or pocket wifis.
Which to Choose: eSIM, SIM card or pocket wifi?
First question: Is your phone locked? If so, your only option is a pocket wifi. If you don’t know if your phone is locked or unlocked, your phone is probably locked (meaning, tied to phone service provider). If your phone is not locked, you can use an eSIM, SIM card or pocket wifi.
The advantage of an eSIM is that you do not have to fiddle with physical SIM cards. They’re tiny things and you can easily lose one. If you lose your primary SIM card while on vacation, you’re going to be without phone service when you get home and it’s going to be a pain to get a replacement. Also, with an eSIM, you don’t have to pick up a physical SIM or have one mailed to you.
Just keep in mind that you cannot install an eSIM on some older phones. However, they work with almost all new-ish phones.
One thing is certain: eSIMs are the wave of the future and you’re probably going to be using them sooner or later. Once you try one, you’ll almost certainly never go back to physical SIMs.
As for pocket wifi, like the name suggests, it’s basically a portable wifi hotspot that works almost anywhere in Japan where there is phone service. You can pick them up at airports in Japan or have them delivered to your first night’s accommodations. The advantages of pocket wifis are as follows: several people can log into them at the same time; they tend to be very fast; and they offer unlimited data. The disadvantages are as follows: you must pick them up or arrange shipment; you can lose them; and they are another thing to carry around (actually, two things: the pocket wifi and the charger).
Best eSIMs for Japan
Ubigi eSIM logo
The two biggest names in Japan eSIMs are Ubigi and Airalo. I recently tested an Ubigi eSIM in Japan and found it easy to use, amazingly fast, and easy to top up. I installed it in Canada and it started working when I landed at Narita without me doing anything. For a full comparison of Airalo and Ubigi in Japan, check out this excellent Reddit thread on Airalo and Ubigi. You can also get eSIMs from both Klook and GetYourGuide.
Best SIM cards for Japan
If you’ve got an unlocked older phone, you might want a physical SIM card. You can buy them at airports and electronic shops in Japan. We like the SIM card offerings at BIC Camera shops in Japan. Alternatively, you can order one online and pick it up when you arrive at Narita, Haneda or other major Japanese airports. The SIM cards sold by Klook operate on the Docomo network in Japan, which is fast and extensive.
Order a SIM card from Klook here.
Best pocket wifis for Japan
You can rent pocket wifis (also known as mobile wifis) at Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports in Japan (and you can return them to those same counters when you leave Japan). We really like the ones offered by Ninja Wifi.
- Book a Ninja Wifi pocket wifi for Narita pickup here.
- Book a Ninja Wifi pocket wifi for Haneda pickup here.
- Book a Ninja Wifi pocket wifi for Kansai pickup here.
Final note: Beware of “unlimited data” plans
You will sometimes see “unlimited data” SIM cards and eSIMs. DO NOT trust these. While they may theoretically offer unlimited data, in practice, they severely throttle data speeds once you exceed a certain amount of data usage. So, they will work great for the first day or so, and then they will slow to a crawl and become nearly useless. As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Internet In Japan For Tourists: Wifi, Pocket Wifi, SIM Cards, Rental Phones etc
- Where to Buy a SIM Card in Kyoto
- How to Buy a SIM Card in Tokyo
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, you might save money with Japan Rail Pass – see if it's worth it for you
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world