--TELEPHONE & INTERNET CONNECTIVITY--
When it comes to connectivity from the henro trail to the outside world, i used to say that the news isn't great and is getting worse each year, but in very recent years it seems to be getting better. There are three categories here: connecting to the internet (getting better), public telephones (getting worse by the hour), and mobile phones (i still don't have a very clear picture of this).
» First and foremost, know that no minshuku or ryokan will have internet access available (wifi or otherwise). None. Some (or many?) "business minshuku" and "business ryokan," those that cater to travelling business people, will have a public computer out in the lobby for all to share, but no internet access in the guest rooms, or any wifi.
» Hotels, on the other hand, do frequently have both public computers and free wifi in the lobby and wifi in each guest room. Certainly not all hotels, not even the majority, but a good many of them do, and it seems to me that the number of hotels offering wifi is increasing. In the more rural areas, count on just the free shared computer in the lobby. In the larger cities count on free wifi in the lobby and maybe in your room.
» There are more and more internet cafes to be seen along the trail in the less rural areas, particularly the provincial capitals (Tokushima, Kōchi, Matsuyama, & Takamatsu), but you'll have to look for them as they aren't obvious.
» Anthony Kimple (Known Henro) many years ago told me that some book stores and gaming arcades have internet access for ¥400 to ¥700 per hour.
» » The good news is that convenience stores on Shikoku seem to be making a concerted effort at increasing the number of stores offering free wifi to everyone. Here's what i know:
While not all phones allow international calls, you can find public pay phones in restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, bus & train stations, post offices, and some phone booths along the road. Of course all hotels & business hotels will have a pay phone in the lobby that you can use. One henro has even pointed out on the Online Henro Forum that there is almost always a pay phone near the mouth of tunnels of any length. (They are there for safety in case of an accident in the tunnel.)
One thing i have done on numerous occasions is to ask minshuku owners if i could use their phone in the morning before checking out to call another minshuku to make that night's reservation. I've never been told no. Many minshuku, ryokan, and hotels will also have a fax machine so you might be able to send and receive faxes (for a fee) from these places as well, if you are trying to talk to family back home.
Telephone Cards vs Coins
Telephones accept both coins and pre-paid phone cards. If you opt for coins, there is a good chance that you are going to find yourself getting cut off quite often unless you carry a lot of change and can feed the phone as fast as it uses them. This is avoided by carrying the phone card. These can be purchased in some vending machines and at kiosks at train stations, but the most convenient place to buy them is at one of the several million convenience stores located around the island. Telephone cards are pre-paid cards and come with fixed amounts on them, with the vast majority of the one's you'll find along the route being sold for ¥1,000. They are the size of a credit card, as thin as a business card, bendable, and plastic.
When you insert a phone card in the slot of a telephone, the phone will display how much money is left on the card. You can also get a good idea of how much is left by looking at the back of the card. A time scale is printed along the bottom of the back side of the card and just before it is ejected after each phone call, the telephone will punch a small hole along the line of numbers to indicate approximately how much money is left. If your card runs out of money before you complete your call, it will be ejected and you have only a few seconds to insert a new one before your call is disconneted. When the the card is ejected at the end of your call, the phone will beep to remind you to take it with you. The cards are not reusable so when one is used up, just throw it away.
A word of advice: If you are going to use public phones, buy a telephone card even before you set out from Tokushima. Forget about trying to use coins; the cards are just too convenient and easy to find.
Types of Telephones
All green phones accept coins, but not all of them accept a phone card (although most do). When using coins, you use either ¥10 or ¥100 coins. A ¥10 coin will last about one minute (depending on how far your are calling) and just seconds before it runs out you will hear a beep. If you get another coin in the slot within seconds, you stay connected; if you don't you get cut off. You can feed up to six ¥10 coins into the phone at one time. If you pre-feed several ¥10 coins at the start of your call, but don't use them all, they will be returned at the end of your call. A ¥100 coin will last about 10 minutes (again, depending on how far you are calling), but if you don't use it all during your call, change will not be returned.
Green phones are mainly used for calls to other desinations inside Japan and not all of them can be used to make international calls — in fact, most can not be. If they can be, this will be indicated on a gold plaque somewhere on the face of the phone.
Gray phones, like the green variety, can be used to make local calls, but all gray phones can also be used to make international calls. They accept either coins or telephone cards.
While they are hard to find (if not impossible) in the very rural areas, they are found in most cities and towns of any size, and in some phone booths along the highways in between. In the cities, look near the train & bus stations, near the post office, and near the city or town hall. Or, just keep walking; sooner or later you'll come across one.
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