Internet in Japan

The Internet in Japan provides high quality services to more than 90 percent of the population and almost 100% of medium to large businesses. The use of smartphones to access the Internet is increasing rapidly with roughly equal numbers of users using computers and smartphones to access the Internet in 2015. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) oversees the telecommunications, Internet, and broadcast sectors, but regulation of Japan's Internet industry is largely through voluntary self-regulation. While there is little or no overt censorship or restriction of Internet content, there are concerns that the government indirectly encourages self-censorship practices.


  • Internet users: 117.5 million users, 5th in the world; 92.0% of the population, 15th in the world (2016).[1]
  • Household penetration: 96.2% (2016).[2]
  • Business penetration: 99% for businesses with over 100 employees (2011).[3]
  • Fixed broadband: 39.8 million subscriptions, 3rd in the world; 31.2% of population, 32nd in the world (2016).[4]
  • Mobile broadband: 166,879 million subscriptions; 131.9% of population, 5th in the world (2016).[5]
  • Internet hosts: 78.2 million, 2nd in the world (2017).[6]


Japan's Internet industry is characterized by voluntary self-regulation. There is no independent regulatory commission in Japan. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) oversees the telecommunications, Internet, and broadcast sectors. The government and especially the MIC, takes a hands-off approach, while law enforcement agencies tend to push for stronger official regulation. Non-governmental, non-profit organizations supported by for-profit companies in the sector have been formed to self-regulate the industry. These include the Content Evaluation and Monitoring Association for mobile platforms and the Internet Content Safety Association, which manages blocking of child pornography online.[3]

NTT, formerly a state monopoly, was privatized in 1985 and reorganized in 1999 under a law promoting functional separation between the company's mobile, fixed-line, and Internet services. Asymmetric regulation, with stricter rules for carriers with higher market share, helped to diversify the industry.[3] Japan has three major mobile operators—au by KDDI, NTT's DoCoMo, and Softbank.[7]

While the market is open, the NTT group remains dominant and the Japanese government is still the mandated largest shareholder of NTT. The government owns a third of the company, enough to control the vote at shareholder meetings. The government has not exercised this power to manage the company and may have little incentive to challenge NTT's market dominance and push for more competition because of the returns it gets from being a shareholder. No major foreign firms have successfully entered the market, with the exception of smartphones by Apple and Samsung.[3]


Public library (2017, Aichi)

In Japan, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone planned a step-up process from dialup 56 kbit/s ISDN 64 kbit/s, to FTTH. Under this plan, NTT had been selling ISDN products primarily toward home users while corporate customers sometimes skipped ISDN entirely and immediately upgraded to the still-expensive FTTH service. In the late 1990s, Cable Television operators began offering their own Cable broadband products, but relatively high initial installation costs and cheaper alternatives limited its spread.

The world's first large-scale mobile Internet service, iMode, was pioneered in 1999 by the nation's largest mobile carrier, NTT DoCoMo.[3]

ADSL services were started by a venture company, Tokyo Metallic in 1999. After this NTT started and some other companies followed. In 2001, SoftBank started a 12 Mbit/s ADSL service. It was a shocking event, because the price was around only 3000 yen (30US$), which was half the cost of other companies. This, coupled with aggressive marketing campaigns led to their capturing of large shares of the market. Competitors and Softbank each dropped prices in a price war and repeatedly readied higher speed services to entice customers (12 Mbit/s/s 24 Mbit/s/s, 50 Mbit/s). In 2004, Japan had the best cost to performance ADSL service in the world (50 Mbit/s, 35US$) which it held on to in the successive years.

At the same time, NTT and electric power companies expanded FTTH areas. In most urban areas, people can use FTTH (100 Mbit/s, 50US$), but ADSL is still mainstream. However, large discounts and free installation have boosted FTTH adoption. Many new apartments are built to accommodate this service with little or no wiring. In 2005, Kansai Electric Power launched a 1 Gbit/s FTTH service at 8700yen (90US$).

In September 2000, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (Japan) (communications ministry) forced Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, the incumbent operator, to unbundle its copper local loop. The price was fixed considering the line costs were covered by Voice Telephony. Alternative operators could only support incremental costs linked with newly offered functions. In the fiscal year of 2004, partial unbundling rates were 120¥ per month and 1,300¥ per month for total unbundling.

In 2000, rules for operators co-location inside NTT facilities and line delivery terms were established. In 2001, NTT were required to unbundle their interconnection optical fiber links between exchange points. Finally, it was forbidden for NTT East & NTT West to offer internet access services.

Softbank, a major Nippon ISP, launched its DSL service in 2001 "Yahoo! Broadband" and massively invested in DSL technology to become the largest DSL operator by 2003 before the incumbent.

In 2004, 52.1% of households had internet access,[8] with more than half of these using broadband.

In March 2005, DSL had more than 13.6 million customers. The concurrence of FTTH was stronger and stronger, with the arrival of operators like TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), allied to KDDI and NTT. Three million customers were wired with FTTH in March 2005 and it could supplant DSL in 2007 according to Yano Research

The Japanese model of optical fiber deployment is difficult to compare to other markets. The last kilometer is often done on Lattice Towers, shared between operators, even cable operators. This distribution technique reduces the vulnerability to earthquakes and lowers costs dramatically.

The prevalence of FTTH can be explained by the Japanese government's forced local loop unbundling of NTT and very low charges to connect for new isps, leading to new isps connecting dsl with low cost and being able to charge cheaper prices due to having a smaller scale operation to challenge the incumbent NTT into using its greater finances to lay fiber to the home to distinguish itself from the competition with higher speeds and also incentivizing some other isps to explore fiber to the home, although it remained the dominant fiber provider.

The unique problem facing Japan's broadband situation is due to the popularity of high-speed FTTH. Operators struggle to maintain enough bandwidth to allow maximum usage of the service by customers. Even the largest operators have capacities in the region of tens of gigabits while customers with 1 gigabit FTTH services (or higher) may number in the thousands. This problem is further compounded by limits caused by internal router bandwidth. Estimates of traffic based on data collected in May 2007 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications set total network usage at approximately 720 Gbit/s combined. The report further states that by May 2008, total traffic will exceed 1 Tbit/s.

In April 2018, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (the most major provider) said it will block access in Japan to 3 illegally uploaded foreign websites. It's an exceptional emergency measure following a government request.[9]

Internet censorship and surveillance[edit]

Japanese law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government respects these rights in practice. These freedoms extend to speech and expression on the Internet. An independent press, an effective judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure these rights. The government does not restrict or disrupt access to the Internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitors private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The Internet is widely accessible and used. While there is little or no overt censorship or restriction of content, there are concerns that the government indirectly encourages self-censorship practices. A Reporters Without Borders survey concluded that media self-censorship has risen in response to legal changes and government criticism.[10]

Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2017 reports that "Internet access is not restricted" in Japan.[11] Their Freedom on the Net reports have rated Japan's "Internet freedom status" as "free" every year since 2013 with scores of 22 each year except for 2017 when the score was 23 (where 0 is most free and 100 is least free). The slight decline in Internet freedom in 2017 was due to changes in the surveillance environment.[7]

  • The 2001 Provider Liability Limitation Act directed ISPs to establish a self-regulatory framework to govern take-down requests involving illegal or objectionable content, defamation, privacy violations, and copyright infringement. Industry associations produced guidelines where anyone can report material that infringes directly on their personal rights to the service provider, either to have it removed or to find out who posted it. No third party can do so. The provider notifies the individual who posted the content, and either fulfills the request with their permission or removes the content without the authors’ approval if they fail to respond within two weeks. If the poster refuses permission, the service provider is authorized to assess the complaint for themselves, and comply if they believe it is legitimate.[3]
  • Legislation criminalizing the use of the Internet for child pornography and the solicitation of sex from minors was passed in 2003.[12]
  • ISPs voluntarily filter child pornography, and many offer parents the option to filter other immoral content to protect young internet users. Depictions of genitalia are pixelated to obscure them for Internet users based on Article 175 of the penal code, which governs obscenity. In recent years, content removals have focused on hate speech and obscene content, including child pornography, "revenge porn", explicit images shared without consent of the subject, and increasingly the "right to be forgotten" where search engines are required to unlink inaccurate or irrelevant material about specific individuals.[7]
  • Speech was limited for twelve days before the December 2012 election under a law banning campaigning online. The legislature overturned the law in April 2013, but kept restrictions on campaign e-mail.[3]
  • Amendments to the copyright law in 2012 criminalized intentionally downloading content that infringes on copyright. There were calls for civil rather than criminal penalties in such cases. Downloading this content may be punishable by up to 2 years' imprisonment.[3]
  • Anti-Korean and anti-Chinese hate speech proliferated online in 2012 and 2013 amid real-world territorial disputes.[3]
  • In 2013 new state secrets legislation criminalized both leaking and publishing broadly defined national secrets regardless of intent or content. A July 2014 review by the United Nations Human Rights Committee said the legislation laid out "a vague and broad definition of the matters that can be classified as secret" with "high criminal penalties that could generate a chilling effect on the activities of journalists and human rights defenders."[7]
  • A 2014 law dealing with revenge porn requires Internet providers to comply with takedown requests within two days.[7]
  • In April 2016 the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression said, "The independence of the press is facing serious threats." He noted "weak legal protection, the [new] Specially Designated Secrets Act, and persistent government pressure".[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000–2016", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva), January 2018, retrieved 16 April 2018
  2. ^ "Japan", Core indicators on access to and use of ICT by households and individuals, International Telecommunication Union, January 2018. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Japan", Freedom on the Net 2013, Freedom House, 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  4. ^ "Fixed-broadband subscriptions 2016", International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved on 16 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in 2016, by country inhabitants in 2016", Statista. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Distributions by Top-Level Domain Name (by hostcount)", Internet Systems Corporation, January 2017. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Japan", Freedom on the Net 2017, Freedom House, 2017. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  8. ^ インターネット白書2004 (Japanese) ("Internet white paper 2004"), Internet Association Japan, 1 July 2004.
  9. ^ NTT to Block Pirate Manga, Anime Websites Jiji Press
  10. ^ a b "2016 Human Rights Report: Japan", Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Japan Profile", Freedom in the World 2017, Freedom House. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Japan's Lolita merchants feel the heat", William Sparrow, Asia Times Online, 23 February 2008

External links[edit]