Getting free Wi-Fi on the go in Kyoto will require a little homework, as most providers require you to send an email in order to register and access the service. You will then get a password which will open up Wi-Fi for your smartphone or tablet. In order to send this email, you may need to have Wi-Fi in the first place. So either you do this from the house, or go to a Seven Eleven or Lawson’s convenience store — they do provide Wi-Fi.
If you are at Kyoto Station during the day, you can go to the Kyoto Tourist Information Center “KYO NAVI” on the 2nd Floor of the Kyoto Station Building. It is one floor up from the central exit, on the west side up the escalators. The information counter is open from 8:30 to 19:00 every day, and it has free Wi-Fi as well as paid internet access.
Providers with free Wi-Fi include Kyoto City Tourism. This is mainly confined to the main roads in Central Kyoto, offering free 24 hour periods of Wi-Fi. You can use this Wi-Fi at most subway station platforms between Kyoto and Karasuma Oike, where they have a special Wi-Fi sign showing availability, as well as at major bus stops. Get more info and check out the map of the access points on their site: HERE in English or 这里 中国语文.
Then there is always Starbucks. The ubiquitous green café in most parts of Central Kyoto. Wi-Fi is why many people go there. There are over 20 Starbucks cafes around the city of Kyoto.
Next, there is the JR West Free Wi-Fi service, which is limited to the Kyoto Railway Station area, though they also offer it in Osaka and Kobe. To use the service, you must send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and then you will obtain a guest code (ID), along with detailed instructions which are in English and Japanese. You can then use it for up to 8 days at selected stations. It is best if you send the email before you get to the train station, as it may be difficult to find a free Wi-Fi spot amongst the crowds. It was tested by sending an email from Australia, and a reply was immediately received from WIRE AND WIRELESS Co.,ltd. The 8 day period doesn’t start until you enter the guest code. All the information is available here.
Occasionally when you are strolling, you may come across the SSID for Wire and Wireless (Wi2) “Wi2 300”. They offer a one day wireless plan for free for Visa cardholders, with discounted pricing after that. This service is spasmodic, but it can come in handy as it does cover some cafes and public areas, so in central Kyoto you may get coverage a few times a day as you move around.
Generally speaking, Wi-Fi is not available in most sightseeing spots, like Kinkakuji, Ryoanji or other world heritage sites, so if you are planning to use wi-fi as a backup phone/ email to meet your friends, it is probably easier to meet at a café or Lawson’s store.
Another website that has comprehensive maps of Free Wi-Fi spots is Freespot.com, which includes listings in both the city and country areas.