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getting online | free options | bilingual computing
The digital revolution hit Japan and they took it in stride, albeit they were walking slowly ... and they still trip up here and there. Nevertheless, things are picking up and Japan (as well as Shiga) has several services to offer the computer generation.

The most common server in Shiga is BIWALOBE (In the recent past this ISP was known as Biwanet, so you may still occasionally hear it refered to as such). It has a lot of access number locations within Shiga and Kyoto, and the list continues to grow. Here is a list for Shiga Prefecture:

Otsu (2) Minakuchi Nagahama
Hikone Yokaichi Imazu

BIWALOBE costs 15,000 yen a year. You can get an application for BIWALOBE from computer stores, their website (, or, more than likely, from someone at work. If all else fails, they can be contacted directly at:

BIWALOBE Company ltd., (BIWA NET)
1-4-12 Hama-Otsu
Otsu-shi, Shiga-ken
Tel: 077-521-0500
Tel: 0749-24-4041
Fax: 0749-26-0983
Or email inquiries to:

Another service provider is BIWAKO NET. They are comparable to BIWALOBE, however, they charge 17,000 yen a year. You may find information at computer stores, but certainly not in the saturation BIWALOBE enjoys.

Both BIWALOBE and BIWAKO NET will send you set-up information specific to your computer type (Win3.1 / Win95 / MAC) in Japanese, but with the help of pictures and the occasional teacher/friend there should be no problems. They do have help numbers (in Japanese) if you really get stuck (or, if you can find access at somewhere, you can e-mail your problem in English). Both service providers post new users at the beginning of each month so you should send in your paperwork before the 20th of the month.

Both BIWALOBE and BIWAKO NET take the money directly out of your bank account when you sign up, so you will have to pay the full year in advance. Should you want to cancel, provided you give notice one month in advance, a portion of your money will be refunded.

Another option is NIFTY SERVE, a subsidiary of CompuServe. However, NIFTY SERVE charges a set rate per minute online. This is in addition to the NTT charges you must suffer.

IMAGINET is yet another provider, this one servicing southeast Shiga. The cost is 12,000 yen per year. Tel: 077-525-7056, Fax: 077-525-7046, E-mail:

These providers will occaisionally send out notices in to their customers informing them of the latest developments or down times. Sometimes they will provide some English in these notices, however, it is never as informative (or understandable) as the Japanese, so if your computer is unable to read Japanese characters, this may be one drawback (though a small one) in using these ISP's.

The IBM Global Network provides Internet and e-mail service worldwide. They have several dial-up numbers in Otsu, and this is a service that can be used even after leaving Japan. However, if you are an avid user of the internet and are not living in the Otsu area, telephone calls to this provider will add up. If you are only interested in using e-mail, and/or living inside the (077) area code, this could be a good option. The IBM Global Network provides fats connections and excellent service.

If you apply in Japan, the cost will be 2,000 yen a month for 15 hours of service. However, the contract conditions vary depending upon the the country in which you apply for the service. As IBM is an American company, the conditions in the US are best. For under US $20 a month, you can get 100 hours of service. In addition, if you want to use e-mail and do not need that amount of online time, you can get 3 hours for under US $5 a month. As payment for this service must be made by credit card, it does not matter in which country you are paying from.

There are two option for signing up for this service. If you currently have access to the internet and just wish to change providers, you can download the dialer program from their website ( The dialer program will assist you in setting up your account and provides easy dial-up options no matter waht country you are dialing from. If you are using this provider to get access for the first time, you can have the dialer program sent to you by calling the service center: (United States) 1-800-455-5056, (Japan) 0422-42-8625 Fax: 0422-76-3405, (Australia) 1-800-640-710, (United Kingdom) 44-990-426-426. If you wish to contract with, for example, the US, you must register by dialing into an access number in the United States when you call to download the software for the first time.

Some money saving tips:
With any of the above providers NTT will be charging you for the phone call to their access numbers (local calls are not free in Japan like they are in some countries). If you are accessing the server within your area code, calls are considered local and NTT will charge about 10 yen per 3 minute span. This can add up when downloading, surfing, or gaming online, and so NTT, in a half-hearted attempt at lowering costs, has bestowed upon us the TELI-HODAI.

For around 1,800 yen a month, you may call 2 "local" numbers for an unlimited time between 11pm and 8 am.

The number must be within 20 kilometers or the price jumps to 3,600 yen. Consequently, most of the ISP's experience a huge jump in traffic at exactly 11pm, making it almost impossible to log on until around 12. The morning is seldom busy however, so if you are an early riser you can log on before work. If you do mostly e-mail, your phone bill won't go up much, however if you plan on being online a lot, TELI-HODAI will surely save you some money.

You may wish to fight NTT's monopolistic presence, however, by avoiding NTT all together. NIHON TELECOM provides an international phone service (0041), a national long distance service (0088), and an internet service (0088-86). You can get information on their rates at 0088-22-1059 in ENGLISH. (Fax: 0088-22-8850, E-mail:

getting online | free options | bilingual computing
There isn't anyone on the planet who doesn't like to get something for free. Therefore, it should be a matter of great pleasure to hear that there are several ways to acces the internet and e-mail in and around Shiga for free.
Parco: Free internet use at NTT Multimedia Center (Otsu).
Ayahadio: Free World Wide Web usage.
Viva City: Free World Wide Web usage (Minami-Hikone).
Various stores around Maruzen, Kyoto: Free World Wide Web usage.
There are also internet cafes popping up here and there where you can access the WWW and E-mail. These tend to be trendy locations, however, and cafes come and go fairly regularly. Ask around to find out if there is one near you. A free, private e-mail account can be received from Hotmail and a variety of other sources. All you need is access to the internet. Also, many of the schools in Shiga have some kind of access, or are in the process of getting access, to the internet, though how much access an ALT has to these resources may vary.

getting online | free options | bilingual computing
There are many companies which produce programs which allow your computer to read and write kanji. Information, and downloads can be found on many sites on the web, and purchases can be made at most major computing stores (Osaka's Den-Den town offers the largest selection and best prices; see the electronics portion of the section on shopping for more information). PC users have a somewhat larger selection than Mac users when it comes to reading Japanese on a computer. Dragon Writer and Kanji Word are two programs that will assist an English system in writing and reading Japanese. PC users can download Japanese capability from Unionway. Another option is Tango, a multilingual browser which will allow you to read and input characters in over 90 languages, including Japanese. Mac users most commonly use the Japanese Language Kit, a program which allows an English OS to read and write Japanese, as well as run many Japanese programs. There are limitations to these kinds of programs, however, so check into what is right for your needs.

There is also the option of making your computer entirely Japnaese by installing a Japanese operating system like Win95J. A Japanese system still allows you the freedom of writing in English and even supports most English software. If this is too much of a comitment for you, there are also many stores which will install a dual-boot system with Japanese and a variety of other languages (including English, Chinese, Korean, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, etc.). Contact Sunder Mirpuri, the director of Mercantile Co. Ltd. in Kobe for more information (Orders: 078-251-5066, Support: 078-251-5966, Fax: 078-251-5358). If you are installing a Japanese/Dual-boot System, make sure to check whether you have enough space on your hard drive to handle what you are attempting.

For more information on computers, please visit the site produced by AJET's computer special interest group: COMSIG online (Using Computers in Japan, Bilingual Computing).

For information on purchasing a computer in Japan, please visit the portion on electronics in the shopping section.

getting online | free options | bilingual computing
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