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I need to send a message, preferably while I'm on a Shinkansen, to tell someone which Shinkansen I'm on.

I tried to find out how I could do this and ended up with ridiculously expensive options like booking a mobile internet device for 30$ or renting a mobile phone for similar prices. Call me cheap, but 20$ for one text is simply ridiculous. I don't really want to sign up for anything longterm, because I won't need it in the weeks after this.

Just for one message, roaming might be an option, but as far as I understand my phone simply won't work in Japan, except for the 3G capabilities, and with data roaming I will probably end up with the 20$ again.

So, I thought I'd ask here for any other ideas. Or maybe some cheaper options to get a mobile or a wifi connection.

I've also considered simply asking someone if I could use their phone for a minute, but I'm really not sure how Japanese people might react to this. Also, I'm not sure if I could even use a Japanese phone if someone would let me have theirs. Does anyone have any experience regarding this?

Another option I found, although it's more of a workaround, is to use the free Wifi-access on stations, before or after the Shinkansen ride, but the description I found was not quite clear. Can this be used for something other than surfing the official JR-West website, or is it restricted?

If it makes a difference, I'm going from Shin-Osaka to Hakata (Fukuoka).

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Sounds unreliable, but: Ask someone else on the train? (Just an idea, maybe bad.) –  yo' Feb 17 '14 at 9:26
@tohecz yeah, I was wondering about that, but I really don't know how much of a no-go it is to ask someone for their phone in Japan, if anyone has any experience with that, please share. –  fifaltra Feb 17 '14 at 10:50
@fifaltra: Japanese people are generally very helpful. And instead of asking for their phone, you could write down the message and recipient number and let the phone's owner send the message. –  Michael Borgwardt Feb 17 '14 at 11:00
Agreed, you should ask a japanese speaker to write down the sentence "can I use your phone to send a message to a japanese number?" on a paper. Say hello in japanese, ask if they speak english, if they don't you can show them the paper. In the whole train you should find a good Samaritan. –  travelot Mar 6 '14 at 9:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

You've got three options:

  1. The JR West free wifi service at the stations seems like your best shot, as far as I can tell you can surf the Internet freely once you've got it set up.

  2. You can also sort out Internet access on the train itself, but it's a bit of a pain. First, you need to sign up for a Wi2 300 account, ¥380/month, which gets you access to the UQ network. Then you need to activate the Shinkansen add-on to your Wi2 account, which is charged at ¥150/3 hours. Beware that a) you'll need to beg, borrow or steal someone's Japanese mobile phone to get this activated, although once set up you shouldn't need this anymore, and b) Wifi is only available on the newest, shiniest N700/N700A Shinkansen models, although fortunately for you this is the most common (but not the only!) one used for (Tokyo-)Osaka-Fukuoka services.

  3. The last option is to kick it old-school and use pay phones (remember those?) on the train, since most Shinkansen are still equipped with these. These are unsurprisingly a bit of an endangered species in Japan as well, with the PDC cellular service most of them relied going off the air in 2012, but if I'm parsing the Japanese Wikipedia right, the phones on the San'yo Shinkansen were refitted to use VOIP over wifi in 2009 and should still work. Again, there may be some train model dependencies with this.

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Hm, pay phones, hadn't thought of that. Do you know how these work? Do I need coins, or some sort of card, and if card, can you buy them on the train? –  fifaltra Feb 17 '14 at 10:48
IIRC, these are the standard NTT "green" or "gray" phones, which both take coins. There is (was?) also some weirdness about the numbers you can call with them; in particular, non-NTT mobiles may be off limits. (As you can probably tell, I haven't actually used one in ages...) –  jpatokal Feb 17 '14 at 11:08
Doesn't Japan have cheap prepaid cell phones? In the US you can buy a prepaid phone for $14 at any StuffMart. No contract, no ID, no hassle. You can't do that in Japan? –  Warren P Feb 17 '14 at 12:24
Nope, because terrorism(tm) it's very difficult to get a prepaid phone if you're not a Japanese resident with Japanese ID. –  jpatokal Feb 17 '14 at 12:31
@Warren, it's very difficult to get a prepaid phone even if you're a Japanese resident with a Japanese ID. I did it for a friend's visit, took me about 2 hours in a mobile phone shop. Absolutely ridiculously complicated. –  jmac Feb 21 '14 at 7:49

If you only need to inform the person of what Shinkansen you are on (the train's number), it will be written on the platform before you leave so you can send it then and not worry about it on the train.

The person awaiting your arrival can look up the arrival time if they have the train number.

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