Wednesday, December 26, 2012

INGRESS tourism in Tokyo

UPDATED with mobile 3G data options for visitors.

Photo by J. Maurice.
December would appear to have been an unusually slow month at Japan Mobile Tech if you were only counting the number of blog posts (three including this one). The reason for the low post activity is preoccupation with something else:


Every contributor to JMT is participating in the closed beta of Google's surprisingly addictive GPS maps-based, augmented reality game. (Sorry, we don't have any invites.) One contributor actually left another contributor waiting for over an hour at a local craft beer establishment (!) because he was fighting to retake several portals from The Enlightenment (green). (May we suggest The Resistance as the path best chosen by newcomers?)

If you are unfamiliar with the game play and back story, it doesn't really matter. It's very simple: control predetermined points and take territory by linking three into triangles uninterrupted by enemy links. In Tokyo, most of the Googlers are playing on the side of The Enlightenment, which gave them a headstart and a stronghold in the Roppongi, Shibuya, i.e., the Yamanote area. The Resistance are relegated to shitamachi, which is actually quite appropriate because it gave The Enlightenment time to obtain higher levels and more territory — resistance should be defined by lower numbers occupying less desirable areas.

Two remaining resonators were best destroyed from inside a station

A side benefit (really the entire purpose of the game) is improved navigational data (and likely more) for Google Maps. If you can't agree to sharing anonymized location data with Google, then this game isn't for you. I actually see this as not just a good thing, but a brilliant thing. Google's walking directions in Japan, which are still in beta form, need a lot of work. They've gotten better since introduction but will still often direct you across multiple lanes of traffic in locations where no proper crossings exist.

Just ask Apple. You can't build a mapping service from scratch with crowdsourced data.

But you can powerfully augment a robust database with the fundamental background layers already in place. Rather than providing a path to walk, provide two points and analyze the route.

Lose the guidebook for a day

If you've got a day in Tokyo, why not leave the guidebook at the hotel and explore lesser known areas on foot? Many of the "portals" are shrines, monuments, or temples, and often the most interesting of those are not necessarily the largest and most famous.

For getting around, each of the Subway companies (unfortunately there are two independent ones) offer 1-day passes, often for less than the cost of opening a taxi door. Each network is well built out and can get you within a few kilometers of any portal in the 23 wards of Tokyo. Add a few hundred yen for the occasional JR or private rail ticket and you can get just about anywhere.

The best value are the Toei tickets for the services operated by the metropolitan government. All Toei subways (Asakusa, Oedo, Mita, Shinjuku) can be ridden all day for ¥500. However, this is only available during weekends and public holidays during certain times of the year. The standard pass is ¥700 and available all year. This adds the extensive bus system, the rustic Arakawa Line tram, and the Toneri Liner, which departs from Nippori (which is in need of a stronger Resistance presence).

More on Toei passes here:
Metro information here:

Currently available 1-day Tokyo transit passes

Toei subway weekend/holiday 1-day pass
Unlimited usage of Toei subway lines (restricted availabilty)
Toei 1-day pass
Unlimited usage of all Toei services (subway, bus, tram, etc.)
Tokyo Metro subway 1-day pass
Unlimited usage of Metro subway lines
Toei/Metro subway 1-day pass
Unlimited usage of Toei and Metro subway lines
Tokyo free pass
Unlimited usage of all Toei services, Metro, and JR lines (23 Wards)

Mobile data options

Japan Communications Inc (JCI) sells a variety of prepaid data-only SIM cards, primarily under the "b-mobile" branding. For around ¥3,000 (perhaps a bit more), you can have mobile data access for portal hacking. Make sure your phone is 1) unlocked and 2) supports UMTS Band 1 (2100 MHz), as explained here. These SIMs can cause high battery usage in some phones, but there is a patch for most rooted phones.

See our comparison of b-mobile SIMs. The easiest by far (but at a relative premium price) are the Visitor SIMs, which can be delivered to a hotel or picked up at major airports.

The "U300" and other reduced speed products might not be the best choice as they have high latency, and Ingress needs to have actions synched between the servers and all clients simultaneously. The 1GB options, which have much fewer speed restrictions, will be more suitable.

The absolute best value is the "1GB Flat Rate" SIM purchased from a major electronics retailer, but this requires activation from a Japanese mobile phone and has no English support other than "pressing 2 for English" during the activation process.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Subway Tunnel Coverage

The Tokyo Metro has been boasting in its carriages that mobile coverage within the underground tunnels is being improved.

Those used to the subway in New York City or Washington D.C. are often impressed with the ability to get a signal in the stations.

Those from South Korea are spoiled: not only do they have cell coverage in the tunnels but many of the subway cars in Seoul have Wi-Fi.

The three men representing the signal bars are doing three different things with their phones in the tunnel: work, love, and play. I do two of those three things.

The small print warns that the cell usage in the trains should be data only, not done near the priority seats, and may be spotty in some areas.

Indeed, when I tried it out on the Chiyoda line, the reception was much better than usual, but I was unable to maintain a streaming video without interruptions in the dead middle of the tunnel.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Softbank pushes advertisements to iPhone 5s over emergency warning system

EMERGENCY! The direction of your marriage depends on you,
the newly wed experience in a game. (Via twitter.)
Anyone who was around during and after 3/11/2011 would be familiar with these alerts. Upon arrival, any silent/manner mode settings are overridden and all phones in the vicinity start simultaneously squawking this annoying, swept-frequency alert that has come to be associated with an impending earthquake that may or may not be the "big one".

There has been an issue with Softbank iPhone 5s receiving advertisements for marriage role playing games, news of an ANA commuter flight overrunning a runway, and an announcement that pitcher Shuhei Ohtani signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Well. I guess some of that might be important.

It's not yet clear exactly what is going on behind this. According to what I can gather from the wrong side of a paywall, Softbank is apparently saying that they are not sending these messages. It is my understanding that the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) pushes these, and they are then relayed through the carriers and broadcasters. It has to be a problem on Softbank's side.

The No! Softbank blog has been collecting these.

EMERGENCY! Asahi Shimbun extra edition:
Ishinomaki East high school pitcher Shuhei Ohtani to sign with Nippon Ham! (via twitter.)
Emergency! Asahi Shimbun extra edition:
ANA flight overruns runway at Shonai Airport. Stops in grass. No injuries.