If you're considering bringing a laptop (or even a desktop) to Japan and setting up an Internet connection here, it may help you to read through this lot. Apologies if I show a bias towards PC users; I have no direct experience of Macs, but I understand that they're quite well-supported in Japan.
Information correct (to the best of my knowledge) as of summer 2001. This page deals with dial-up connections only.
1. Buy your computer before you go. They're not really noticeably cheaper in Japan - in fact if you're from the US then you'll probably find them considerably more expensive than at home. Also, if you buy a PC here then it will come with a Japanese keyboard and operating system - not such a problem if you can read kanji, but definitely not advisable if you can't. There's always the option of buying over the Internet, but that relies on you already having an Internet connection, and if there are any problems with your purchase you may have difficulty sorting them out if the vendor is on the other side of the world! Having said that, there are a few dealers in Japan who will supply computers configured for the English-speaking market - they tend to advertise in the English-language newspapers and magazines such as Kansai Time Out. Also, the warranty on equipment purchased in Japan is usually limited to within Japan, which means that if you take your machine back to your home country and then it packs up, you're stuffed, so check before you buy.
2. Make sure you have the right kind of plug and telephone jack. The telephone connector is the same as a US one. I was lucky on that count; my modem came with a US connector and a UK adapter attached to it, so all I had to do was remove the adapter. The plug for Japan has two flat pins, fairly close together and lying parallel to each other. I believe this is the same as a US plug but without the earth pin. You can buy adapters in Japan for the US (3-pin) version. Due to the lack of an earth connection, though, it's a good idea to unplug your computer in stormy weather - even more so than at home! If you bring a computer with UK plug and telephone connector, you're liable to have difficulty finding the appropriate adapters in Japan, so it's best to buy them before you leave. Make sure that your laptop's power supply can cope with a 100V AC supply, as that's what they have here. The frequency is 50Hz in eastern Japan, 60Hz in western Japan (starting from around Nagoya). Most laptop power supplies should be able to cope, since laptops are designed for international portability. However, this is probably not the case with peripherals; I brought a handheld scanner with me, thinking it would be fairly easy to get a 15V DC supply for it, but unfortunately such an item does not appear to be available in Japan.
3. Ask a few people in your area - preferably other gaijin, as relatively few Japanese have home Internet connections - which ISPs they recommend. Unlike the UK, Japan doesn't have free ISPs, and nor does it have free local calls (as in the US) or such a thing as a national local-rate number (like 0345 / 0645 / 0845 numbers in the UK). Therefore you need to make sure you pick an ISP with an access point as close to you as possible, particularly if you anticipate spending a lot of time online. NTT's call charges are notorious! If you're in a big city like Tokyo or Osaka then you'll still have plenty of choice, but if you're out in the sticks then this will narrow your options considerably. NTT do telephone deals called Time Plus (gives you longer for your money on local calls) and Area Plus (allows you to reach a wider area at local rates) which are worth looking into. Each of these costs ¥200 per month. ISPs' prices for unlimited use range upwards from about ¥12,000 for a year. Some charge you annually, others monthly, and some of them also ask for a sign-up fee. If you're only intending to use your account for e-mail then GOL offers a light user scheme which gives you 5 hours a month for ¥500. This is a special rate for AJET members, but they probably do a general deal that's nearly as good. But bear in mind what I said about access points!
My Japan links page provides a few links to Japanese ISPs who provide some degree of English-language support; however, if you are fairly computer-literate then you probably shouldn't regard English support as a major criterion in your selection.
4. Get a telephone line. This is frighteningly expensive, but I was fortunate enough to have one installed by my school, so I can't give you much advice on the matter. Basically, before you can get a line installed you have to purchase the right to have it, which costs somewhere between ¥70,000 and 80,000 if you buy it direct from NTT, although you may be able to get it a bit cheaper - usually around ¥50,000 - if you can find someone who's leaving and wants to sell theirs. Follow some of the "living in Japan" links on my Japan links page for further information.
5. Find a friend who can read Japanese, and go through the ISP's sign-up process. Unless you're going with one of the (generally expensive) multinational ISPs, it's unlikely that the form will be available in English (or any other language than Japanese). With some ISPs you can sign up online, if you have Internet access elsewhere, but with others you have to obtain a leaflet and fill in the form inside. You may be able to request a leaflet online, or you may be able to get one from bookshops or computer shops. If you're struggling to make your needs understood, try "Intanetto no [ISP's name] no chirashi ga arimasu ka" ("Do you have a leaflet for [ISP] Internet?") - it worked for me!
6. Submit the form and payment information, and wait for the ISP to get back to you. This may take a week or two, and then they may tell you that it'll be another couple of weeks before you can actually get online. Try dialling up anyway - it may work!
If you want to be able to change ISPs without having to tell everyone your new address each time, I recommend you use an online provider which gives you the option to either
(a) stick with web-based mail, so you can read it at an Internet cafe when you're travelling, or
(b) forward your messages to wherever your current POP e-mail account happens to be, so that you can download it and then read, store and organise it offline, rather than running up huge phone bills as you deal with it online. Don't forget to update your "reply to" address in your e-mail software!
I used to use Switchboard for this but they withdrew their free services. However, there are other services out there that still offer equivalent facilities.
One more piece of info that may be of use, epecially either before you get your account set up or while you're away from home: as well as Internet cafés (mainly in major cities), you can get Internet access at NTT shops - and they'll give you it free for half an hour! There is one drawback though: you're not allowed to use e-mail sites such as Yahoo! and Hotmail. Libraries and large department stores are worth a try too.
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