Best VPN for Japan: The best options for surfing safely in Japan
Japanese Internet users don’t have to put up with the kind of service blocks and censorship that affect many Asian territories, with free speech protected and censorship prohibited by the Japanese constitution. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no reason to use a VPN in Japan. New laws have made things more difficult for whistleblowers, while users in Japan are subject to the same kind of government and corporate snooping as users everywhere else in the world. A VPN can help on both counts, concealing location and identity and helping to ensure privacy and security while you’re online. What’s more, with a VPN you can make it look as if you’re connecting from within the borders of another country; useful if you want to enjoy streaming services that might otherwise be blocked.
Choosing the best VPN for Japan
While Japan offers more in the way of Internet freedom than many of its neighbouring countries, there are still situations where a greater degree of privacy and anonymity are required. Japan isn’t a member of the fourteen eyes intelligence-sharing community, but there are still concerns about surveillance and Japan has been known to pass information to the five eyes nations. Residents and visitors are still subject to the invasive data gathering used by a wide range of online services, while new laws designed to cover national secrets have criminalised the leaking of a wide range of information is a criminal act, regardless of the content or intent.
There are also many other practical reasons to use a VPN. Japanese users may want to access US streaming services, including the US version of Netflix, HBO Now and Hulu, which are blocked to users outside of the US. They may also want to access homegrown streaming services, to get news or watch favourite programmes while travelling or living abroad. A VPN can also be a sensible precaution for using public WiFi services, giving an extra layer of protection against snooping..
You’ll find general advice on choosing a VPN in How to buy the best VPN [URL here], but in Japan your priorities are likely to be privacy, security and anonymity. As a result, we’ve focused in on VPN providers that take protection to another level. We’ve also mentioned whether providers log your activities, and it’s worth checking what information they retain and in what circumstances they might share it – and with whom. We’ll also note those providers that take payment through an anonymous currency, like Bitcoin.
Not all VPNs can get around the blocks that prevent Japanese users using US streaming services, particularly as the services keep getting better at spotting and blocking VPNs. We mention where a service has features in place to counter these measures, though there’s no guarantee that what works now will work next week.
The best VPNs for Japan
1. Buffered VPN: The simplest VPN for connecting in Japan
Price: $12.99 (£9.92) per month, $6.60 (£5.00) per month with annual contract
It’s hard to make connecting to a VPN much easier than it is with Buffered VPN. Within seconds of launching the app you can pick a country from the list of 44 and get browsing with your real location and identifying IP address concealed. Buffered has servers in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, plus servers across Europe and North America, where the service is currently able to circumvent blocks on Netflix and other streaming services. Buffer’s speeds are very competitive as well, with a 23% to 33% speed hit on short-range VPN connections. Though it’s not quite so fast when connecting to an Asian server from Europe; Hide My Ass and Nord VPN do better here.
Buffered VPN is based in Hungary – outside of the fourteen eyes network though still inside the EU – and the company maintains no logs. All your traffic is protected in transit by 256-bit Blowfish encryption, and the service passed our DNS leak tests with flying colours. Our biggest concerns are that it doesn’t take anonymous payment via Bitcoin, and that it doesn’t have a killswitch feature, potentially leaving your real IP address visible should the VPN disconnect. Still, if privacy and anonymity aren’t your focus, Buffer is a great, trouble-free VPN.
2. Nord VPN: The best VPN for privacy
Price: $11.95 (£9.13) per month, $5.75 (£4.39) per month with annual contract
Nord VPN is hard to beat on global reach, with over 1400 servers in 61 countries, including eight in Japan. It’s a slick, feature-packed service with an intuitive UI, and some particularly useful features if you’re concerned about surveillance or feel your privacy is under threat. These include optional double encryption and a dual-hop VPN, which disguises your IP address not just once but twice to throw anyone snooping off your trail. You can also route traffic via the TOR network using an Onion over VPN server, further covering your tracks. Look to the Advanced Settings for an Obfuscated Server option, designed for use in heavily restricted countries, while the killswitch can be set to close specific apps immediately should your VPN disconnect.
We don’t normally see Nord as a fast VPN, but it’s one of the fastest we’ve seen for connecting back to Asia from Europe, with speeds in excess of 10Mbps where many other services struggled to get above 5Mbps. And as Nord VPN is based in Panama, you don’t need to worry about fourteen eyes surveillance or mandatory data retention laws. The company claims a strict no logging policy as well.
3. PureVPN: The best VPN for expert features
Price: $11.95 (£9.13) per month, $10.95 (£8.36) per month with annual contract
Pure VPN is based in Hong Kong and has a good presence across Asia, with two servers based in Japan. There’s a lot to like about its purpose-based approach, where you can ask for the optimal configuration for streaming, file-sharing or circumventing censorship, and it has an easy-to-use, feature-packed PC app. This includes a killswitch and split tunnelling, enabling you to configure the VPN so that some applications use it, while others work outside it, which might be a necessity for some to work. Pure also scores for building and running its own networks, servers and apps, making them more secure than some hosted on third-party infrastructure.
PureVPN claims it doesn’t log activities and Hong Kong isn’t a member of the fourteen eyes network, though it is within China’s sphere of influence. It’s also one of the fastest VPNs out there, particularly for short or local hops, though we found Europe to Asia speeds a little on the slow side, which might influence you if you’re planning to use it to VPN back to Japan while travelling abroad.
4. Hide My Ass: The best VPN for travel
Price: £7.99 per month, £4.99 per month with annual contract
The superbly-named Hide My Ass seems to have a presence just about everywhere, with servers in over 280 locations in 190 countries, including 10 servers in Japan and may more nearby in Asia. The rather funky, donkey-themed UI is surprisingly intuitive, with an Instant Mode that takes you straight to the closest, fastest server, a Freedom Mode for use in countries that routinely block or censor, and a Location Mode where you can pick your country and location. Hide My Ass’s new Liberty Island location also gets past the blocking provisions made by Netflix and other US streaming services. With 174 servers in the US, congestion shouldn’t be a problem.
HMA is fast, as well, with a good performance on short, local hops and the second-best speeds when connecting to Asia from the UK, with speeds of 8.6Mbps; nearly double those of some providers. Privacy protection features are good as well, with a killswitch and options to double-hop from one VPN sever to another. The only issues are that HMA is based in the UK – a core member of the five eyes network – and that it keeps logs, though. HMA claims it doesn’t store or monitor activity.
5. CyberGhost: The best VPN for anonymity and P2P
Price: €10.99 (£9.74) per month, €4.99 (£4.42) per month with annual contract
CyberGhost is a growing VPN provider, with 1114 servers covering 43 countries around the world, with eight now covering Japan. The app is well-designed and easy to work with, with instantly accessible modes designed specifically to counter censorship or unblock streaming websites, though you can also do things manually, selecting your location from a list. What’s more, the server map gives an anonymization score for each server, based on the number of users online. If the server is busy and being used by more users, it’s harder to trace who’s been up to what online.
CyberGhost also has some other benefits. It’s not particularly fast – connection speeds are merely average – but it has strong DNS and IP leak protection plus an automatic killswitch. CyberGhost also promises unlimited bandwidth, and while P2P traffic isn’t allowed on certain servers for legal issues, it’s tolerated on many others, making CyberGhost one of a shrinking number of VPN providers that will handle torrents. It’s based in the US, which is bad news from a five eyes point of view, but has a strict no-logging policy. A fine P2P-friendly VPN.