Using the Amazon Kindle in Japan


I recently brought my faithful Kindle DX (small screen 3G version) to Tokyo, Japan. This version is advertised as being usable in over 100 countries, one of which is Japan.

While still in the US, I prepped the device before my trip. The registration process and downloading of eBooks worked perfectly in the States. I even signed up for two magazine subscriptions.

Upon arrival in Tokyo, I eagerly activated my device; the Whispernet 3G connection worked and I was able to navigate to the Kindle Store. This was a good sign as I had been worried that the device would not work as Japan is famous for being the island where outside cell phones refuse to work. Travelers to Japan routinely find that their “Worldwide” GSM phones will not work here. The Kindle uses the same frequencies as mobile phones, but apparently Amazon has worked out an arrangement with the local Telephone Companies.

My initial excitement was quickly taken away by the first message I received stating that International users would face additional charges to use the device via Whispernet 3G.

Here are the details:

International Service Fees for U.S. CustomersKindle DX (Free 3G) customers from the United States can travel internationally and still get books in less than 60 seconds. Customers have the option to wirelessly receive periodicals and personal documents via Whispernet for a fee or transfer files from their computer for free.

  • International Subscription Service: Receive all of your newspaper, magazine, and blog subscription content via Whispernet for a weekly fee of $4.99.
  • International Personal Document Service: Transfer personal documents to your Kindle via Whispernet for $.99 per megabyte (rounded up to the next whole megabyte). For more information about transferring personal files to your Kindle, see the Transferring, Downloading, and Sending Files to Kindle Help page.

At least you can still browse the Kindle store for free.

After reading the message, I assumed that to avoid the extra charges, it was necessary to shop for eBooks via my regular computer, select them for purchase, and then download them for transfer to the Kindle via the USB connection. That really cut down on impulse purchases via the Kindle Store.

So for the first few weeks here in Tokyo, that’s how I received my subscriptions and new eBooks. However, one night, while relaxing in bed I decided that getting up and firing up my laptop to download a book was too much trouble. I decided to use the Whispernet 3G to download the book. It downloaded in seconds and I read most of the book that night. I noted that at the same time, the Kindle automatically downloaded my most recent subscriptions.

The next day, I checked my Amazon account, expecting to see download fees, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the download of individual books carries no fees. After a careful reading of the “International Service Fees for U.S. Customers” message, I realized that individual books were never mentioned.

I was also shocked to find that the charge for the International Subscription Service was missing. It certainly seems that I should be paying the $4.99 per week fee to receive my subscriptions; but as long as Amazon is happy not charging me, I am happy to not be paying. Perhaps there’s a loophole for U.S. customers who subscribe, then travel overseas. If so, it is not mentioned in the documentation.

I also want to mention that Amazon has great customer service. Since it is very easy to order books while browsing the Kindle Store, Amazon has also made it easy to cancel these orders. If you make a purchase inadvertently, you will be given a chance to cancel the order. If you miss the chance to cancel, an email to the customer service department will easily get the charges reversed. I speak from experience. I recently fumble fingered while browsing and ordered a diet cookbook for the Kindle. I love the Kindle, but I seriously doubt that I can cook with one hand and hold the Kindle in the other. Some things just require a real book.

So I now had a cookbook on my Kindle and no use for it. I read Amazon’s “no refunds on downloaded content” policy with regret, but decided to try Customer Service anyway. I emailed with the details of my order and requested a cancellation. In reply I received a kind email from Customer Service that waived the charge. The email also stated that Kindle purchasers had a seven day period to return the items. That is an extremely generous refund period.

There were no problems with the Power Supply, because Japan uses 100 Volts and the same plugs as in the US. US Voltage is 120 Volts AC, but I have noted no problems with charging my Kindle. Note that this model only comes with a US style plug. Adaptors for other parts of the world will have to be purchased separately.

Here’s my rundown on the Kindle DX –

Pros –          Great BW screen, it is very readable

                    Whispernet 3G works in Japan

                    Great battery life

                   Excellent Customer Service

Cons –         No color screen available, therefore some magazines lose readability

                    High charges for Whispernet access overseas, if you don’t download through your computer

                   PDF’s on the 6” screen are hard to read

Of course, now that the larger Kindle DX (Free 3G) Graphite model is available, several of these objections no longer apply. You can download via 3G or USB, the screen is bigger, and the PDF rendering is improved. I will try to get one of these to review soon.

1 Comment

  1. Ward

    Hey, thanks for the info. Didn’t want to get subscriptions here because of the cost.

    If subscribing in the US eliminates that cost, I can subscribe. My next US trip I’ll set up some Kindle subscriptions.