Digital nomad in Japan

March 15, 2023

Our editor Daniel Sacha writes from Japan:

Is Japan an ideal country for digital nomads? Well… let's see. Here are some first-hand observations.

Personally, I'm perfectly happy with the time difference here, since I can go on a trip and be active on the PC at a time when colleagues and clients in Europe are just waking up (while it's 4 p.m. here, it's only 8 a.m. at home). You just have to remember to come back from these trips, because if you really love this country, you really don't want to come back to the computer. And at the same time, I'm working on things that I really enjoy.

It's worse with the internet, which I feel especially when I'm actually traveling. Although I think it has improved a lot in the last ten years, I prefer not to rely on internet connections in public places. And I recommend asking before booking accommodation, because even in hotels or Airbnb apartments, the internet can be an Achilles' heel.

Fortunately, you can solve this problem with something called Pocket WiFi. It's a little box about the size of a power bank that contains a SIM card (in my case) with unlimited data and transfer speeds. It's a fact that it's been bugging me a lot this year, but other times I haven't had a problem with it. To give you an idea, the monthly rental for such a device comes out to about €4 per day and multiple devices can be connected to it at the same time.

By the way, while I'm on the subject of accommodation, there are plenty of types to choose from here and changing them can be a great way to get the creativity flowing. While my first post was sent to you from a typical apartment near downtown Osaka, a city of several million people, today I'm sitting on the tatami between the four bare walls of a traditional, centuries-old house in the middle of the Kannawa spa area.

And in a few days, my favorite capsule hotel, where I've done most of my work on past trips, awaits. The possibilities are endless. But I'd recommend practicing working in a slightly hunched position, since it's definitely not the norm to have a classic desk in your apartment.

Of course, you can also go to a coworking space, of which I happen to have one across the street (a day's work for about €6.60 / month from €66 depending on the plan), and in Tokyo and Kyoto there are branches of the well-known Impact Hub (basic membership from €75).

You might also be interested in what it is like to work on trains, especially the Shinkansen. It's fine, you have an electrical outlet, WiFi, a small table at each seat, quite a bit of leg room and space for your backpack, but I find it hard to work there. Part of the reason is that I find the constant going through the tunnels distracting, which is a bit annoying without better noise-canceling headphones, probably because of the speed. And because Japan is a very mountainous country, you'll be in tunnels for a good part of the trip on some of the main lines. Other than that, I love trains and it is by far my favorite mode of transportation.

A big help for all local travelers are definitely the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), which in most cases are open 24/7 and you can buy whatever you need at the time. A charger, a towel, ice cream, an energy drink and a hot lunch. You can make a cup of tea, connect to WiFi, get money from the ATM, go to the bathroom and print documents. I love it. Just be aware that this convenience comes at a price, and compared to supermarkets, you'll pay about 10-20% more for mainstream products. The most common chains are 7-Eleven, Lawson's and Family Mart. Public laundromats are also plentiful.

You'll especially appreciate ATM withdrawals, as Japan, strange as it may seem, is still very much a country of physical money and, especially outside the big cities, they often won't take your card.

So. Maybe my brief summary will help you make your own decision. And if you're interested in anything else, let me know. Mata ne! In other words, I'll see you soon.

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