Road Report:
Travelers still find a mixed bag in Japan

Japan is the source of much of the electronic gear we carry around the globe, but when it comes to traveling through the country with a laptop computer, not everything is as user-friendly as an outsider may expect. For particulars, this Road Report comes from Japan-based American David Russell who runs an advertising/marketing agency there.

Are modular telephone plugs pretty standard in Japan?

Modular jacks are becoming quite common. They're not ubiquitous, but close enough. There is an older three-prong Japanese connector, but the US-style RJ-11phone plug is much in use. In fact, you can bring almost any standard US telephone (excluding PBX systems and cellular phone) to Japan, plug it right in and talk. I've used US-made cordless phones in Tokyo. NTT, the Japanese phone company, swears that Japanese standards and US standards for phone service are so different that equipment made in one country absolutely will not work in the other. This is nonsense.

If you need to buy phone or electrical adapters once in Japan, what type of store should you look for?

With the growing use of the RJ-11 plug, travelers have fewer and fewer problems connecting their modems, but there are always times you need something else. You will find that inside a big city most electrical shops (denki-ya) will have some basic phone connectors (at least enough to start rigging up a make-shift connection), but there is nothing like the American Radio Shack here (hard to believe, isn't it?). In the suburbs and in the country, there are many giant do-it-yourself/hardware stores with good electrical supplies departments, but here, too, there are no guarantees you'll find what you're looking for.

Anything that conducts electricity is available in Tokyo's Akihabara district. Akihabara has lots of little shops, but be aware that few there speak English. A better bet would be the big electronics department stores. These are 5, 6, and 7-story stores devoted exclusively to electronics, everything from washing machines to laser printers. Many of these have a "duty-free" section where someone will surely speak English and point you to the right floor to find whatever you need, or possibly write its name down in Japanese so you can show it to a vendor elsewhere in the casbah of little shops that hawk all sorts of parts, cables, and so on.

How easy is it for travelers to find "dataports" on phones for use in going online?

As I live here in Japan, I'm not that familiar with the situation at business-class hotels. Travelers should be aware that it is possible to jack right into an ISDN line from many pay phones in Tokyo (and probably Osaka and other big cities as well). NTT was one of the world's first big promoters of ISDN and has made it very easy for people with portable computers to go online from street corners. Of course you have to have a modem capable of handling ISDN.

NTT has a toll-free English-language help line (0120-364-463, operates 9-5 on weekdays only) which should have information on all types of phone service for travelers on the go.

What's the story on Internet Access Providers in Japan?

There are currently about two dozen companies offering dial-up analog access to the Internet in Japan, and as elsewhere the situation is constantly changing - especially in light of changes underway at NTT. Most of the ISPs have a fair number of foreign subscribers, and probably most of them have English-language help and support services. (For a good list of Internet Service Providers in Japan, go to http://www.gronski/jis, or check one of the worldwide lists of ISPs found on the On the Road web site at

Does the phone company offer Internet access?

NTT is the world's largest private phone company. It has said that it intends to become an Internet Service Provider, but I am not sure whether it is yet offering direct Internet service.

Are Internet cafes common?

No. This is perhaps bearable. But there are almost no outdoor cafes either, and that is really hard to live with. (For locations of Internet Cafes in Japan, see the On the Road web site,, and go to the Information and Services section.)

What's the going monthly rate for Internet Access?

Around $20-25, not much different than US rates.

Is CompuServe widely used in Japan?

CompuServe here operates through NiftyServe, which is a service I personally dislike. I would venture to say that CompuServe is relatively unknown in Japan except among the foreign community.

Is America Online active in Japan?

Word was that they were supposed to have gotten up and going last April with a service that costs about US$8 a month for three free hours of access. Will it be at all popular here? Hard to say. It will require a huge amount of investment (most of it in advertising) to sell it to the Japanese. And in a nation where personal computers are still relatively rare and hardware such as modems (even the locally made hardware) costs much more than in the US, any online service has its work cut out for it.(May'01)


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