Yeah, there is no such thing as a free lunch. But for a data addict like me, a cup of coffee is well worth a cool, long pull of that sweet, sweet wifi.
Once a rare thing in Tokyo's vast sprawl, free wifi has more recently become a true unicorn. A beast of legends told of by grey bearded Linux wizards. Sure there are plenty of wireless consortiums, but of course they all require contracts and identification, forms that mention first born children, etc. Plenty of shady mystery networks offering free wireless as well, but they always want personal info and leave me feeling like I need a long shower and a shot of penicillin later.
So, on top of supporting some of the major subscription networks, Starbucks Japan Today has launched their own free wireless scheme, and so far, me likey.
So what's good? Well first, it's easy. Registration required just a valid email address. Go to the sign up page here – http://starbucks.wi2.co.jp/pc/menu2_en.html , conveniently available in both Japanese and (praise the lord!) tourist friendly English. Click on the sign up link, enter in your email and a password. You should receive a confirmation email (mine came within seconds) and once you click it, you are golden. I recently tried to sign up for Lawson convenience stores new free wifi network, but the process heavy and confusing registration system left my curled up in a ball crying in the corner. Hint to designers, please try to not make your interface suicide inducing.
Now look for a Starbucks with this wifi sign. It's not clear yet how many stores around Japan are supported, but my local 'bucks in Akihabara proudly placed the sign right next to the register.
Once you manage to find a table (may be difficult. See Unicorn reference above), you can look for the Wifi hotspot at_STARBUCKS_Wi2. After connecting, you will be prompted to enter your username (email address) and password. Again, all screens are bilingual. Now you are golden.
So now I sit, slurping down a cool iced beverage and typing this blog entry on my iPad while uploading some pictures from my iPhone. Multiple logins seem to be ok and my login credential were saved so you don't have to type in you user name and password if you lose the connection, although I don't know how long they will be valid. I tested out my VPN and had no problem connecting and streaming some video from Hulu, but wasn't able to ping a connection speed, so mileage may vary over time and from locate to location. Still, very happy with the service and this could be a lifesaver to travelers to Japan.
For completeness I tested the service outside as well, and was able to log in a few feet away from the entrance, so I suppose in a pinch a frugal cyber-vagrant might be able to sample a bit of free data without paying the for a cup of the only black liquid I can think of that costs more per barrel than oil, but I wouldn't set up your cardboard office in front of the store unless you are willing to find out if your local place box also has wireless (yes kids, unauthorized access to computer networks is considered hacking in pretty much most countries).
Hopefully the service will expand and improve. Then again, it's also possible that Starbucks will rethink the system, add restrictions, or start executing patrons who sit at tables too long typing away on laptops (a policy I wholeheartedly endorse when it is not me.) In the meantime enjoy your “free” wifi while you can.