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How to Watch Netflix in Japan

NOTE: Yes, I know that Netflix is now available in Japan.  However, the services I explain below have proven extremely valuable to me for viewing streaming services from other countries, such as the USA.  Since Netflix Japan doesn't have nearly the content library that Netflix USA has, I am most definitely keeping my Smart DNS subscription.

Living abroad in Japan I often miss out on cool stuff that my home country comes up with.  Netflix USA and Pandora are prime examples.  On one trip back to the States, my friends demonstrated the infinite advantages of an all-you-can-watch flat-rate streaming service.  I wiped the drool from my lips.  I too wanted this magic boom stick; however, for various legal reasons various streaming services do not work in various countries.  My next home IT project was clear...

Step 1: Use a Selective DNS Proxy or VPN Service
Here's the technical part.  Basically, these are services that will make it look like your Internet traffic from Japan is in fact coming from inside the USA (or other location).  I found 2 approaches that would accomplish this--a selective DNS proxy and a VPN.

Selective DNS Proxy
Also known as "Smart DNS," this service will only trigger on certain sites (e.g. Netflix, Pandora, etc.), keeping other traffic routing normally.  The advantage here is that your Internet connection will not slow down.  Japan has famously fast Internet service, so this is a key brownie-point advantage in my opinion.

A VPN is a more aggressive solution.  This service will typically route all of your Internet traffic through a "tunnel," making it look like you are totally and completely located in the USA (or other country).  While it is possible to configure a VPN to be selective, I didn't see the need to bother since the selective proxy solution would save me the trouble.

However, a VPN could offer certain advantages over the selective proxy since it really looks like you're in another country.  Sites not covered by a selective proxy would probably work with a VPN.  Additionally, you wouldn't have to deal with sometimes-frustrating geo-location.  For example, have you ever wanted to view the English / USA version of a website, but the site's overzealous geo-location continuously redirects you to the Japanese version?  Yeah, that can be annoying, huh?  A VPN would likely fix that.  Albeit more aggressive, a VPN is a more versatile and configurable option.  But in my case I didn't need such a multipurpose solution, so...

What I Use
Personally, I went with the selective proxy service because I only really wanted Netflix and Pandora, and I did not want to sacrifice my blazing Internet speed.
I have 2 recommendations:

Unblock Us
I used this one for a few years, and I had a very satisfying customer experience during my time with them.  They offer a free trial, so you can try before you buy.  They support a ton of overseas streaming services, and their helpdesk is top-notch.

This is the one I use now.  Why did I switch?  I switched simply because I'm a cheapskate, and Getflix is a tad bit cheaper.  They too offer a free trial, have a friendly responsive helpdesk, and support a ton of overseas streaming services.  Oh, and best of all is that Getflix also includes optional free VPN service, so you can get the best of both worlds for no additional cost.  I honestly haven't tried their VPN service yet, but it's nice to know it's included with my subscription if I ever want to use it.

After signing up with the service, all I had to do was modify the DNS settings on my home router, and I was good to go.  The services above also allow you to set whichever Netflix region you prefer (Japan, USA, UK, etc).  Now I can watch not only Netflix USA, but Netflix from a diverse mix of countries with sundry content libraries.  Mission accomplished!

Step 2: Sign Up for a Netflix Account (Duh!)
Now that Netflix is available in Japan, this is easier than ever.  You can approach this in one of two ways:
1) Set the Netflix region to Japan and sign up.  This is the better choice if you prefer to pay in yen and/or have a supported Japan payment method.
2) Set the Netflix region to your home country and sign up.  This is the better choice if you prefer to pay in your home country's currency and/or maintain a payment method (e.g. a credit card from your home country).

I originally signed up for a Netflix USA account, but since Netflix arrived in Japan, I have since re-created my Netflix account here so that I can pay in yen.

NOTE: If you found this article helpful and you do plan on using one of the Smart DNS services mentioned above, please show your appreciation by using the links provided in the article.  This tells them where the referral came from.  Thank you!

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  • That's right--If you set the DNS settings on your router, you're covered for any device you connect to your network, including Apple TV. Only the sites listed on Unblock-Us's website will route through their proxy. Everything else routes as it used to.

  • Guest - He-day

    This is the information I was looking for since I am leaving for Japan this week. I tried to use VPN rather than DNS. Do you know which VPN software is free for good (most of them let you try only for certain period)? Thank you.
    He-day in NY

    from New York, NY, USA
  • Free VPN service? Dunno. I'd be surprised to find a free VPN with enough bandwidth to stream video.

  • Guest - James

    Thank you so much for sharing this information. Luckily I found your article quickly. The free week trial sealed the deal for us. I have never had such a simple free trial sign-up experience before (just provided my email). Now we can watch and Amazon Instant Video without too much technical fiddling. What an easy and elegant solution. The only downside is that my IP address seems to change nearly daily and so I have to hit the webpage just as frequently in order to register my new IP address with the service. I understand this is necessary in order to prevent free-loaders, but it is annoying.

    from Nerima, Tokyo, Japan
  • Guest - cody100

    is there an answer to the "annoying" requirement to constantly manually change the IP address?

    from California, USA
  • Guest - david

    Hey do you know if these will work if I am staying at a hotel in Japan? I believe they have both wifi and wired ethernet connections, but I have to assume that the modem/router will not be located in the room itself. I also own an Apple Express that I could plug their ethernet into if that would help.

  • Yes, I've used it in a hotel before. You can get it to work by setting the DNS servers directly on the device you're using (instead of globally on the router). The SmartDNS provider sites have step-by-step guides for setting the DNS on various devices.

  • Guest - SD

    Thank you so much for this information.

    Please advise if Selective DNS Proxy with Getflix will work for a new subscription from Netflix/Hulu Japan without a prior subscription in the US. Should I be careful of the sequence of steps, for example signing up for Getflix first, modifying the DNS setting on my router, and then accessing Netflix/Hulu Japan sites for signing up?

    Many thanks in advance,

    from Tokyo, Japan
  • Guest - David

    Guest - SD

    You don't need a prior US Netflix subscription, and the order doesn't really matter.

  • Guest - Dan

    Hi, have anyone of you experience some problems with netflix and smart dns on apple tv's??? I have been able to use it for over 1 year, but nowadays I am not able to stream a single video. I have restored the apple tv and tries any possible solution online...