While travel in Japan is surprisingly easy (even for those who don’t speak Japanese), there can still be challenges, even for experienced travelers. Challenges like finding your way around Tokyo, deciding which train to take in Osaka, or asking for help in Japanese can be overcome with a good app. Here are six highly-rated, user-friendly apps to make your life easier when traveling in Japan:
MAPS & ROUTE PLANNING
NAVITIME For Japan Travel
This helpful app provides a transit guide, train route maps, interactive street maps and searches for free wifi spots, making it one of the most comprehensive and useful tools for travelers in Japan. The only downside is that with the exception of the Tokyo train station maps and the free wifi search, the app requires an internet connection.
NAVITIME For Japan Travel offers free basic services, but premium services (such as turn-by-turn directions) must be purchased (7-day access to premium services starts at $7.99). The app can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store.
JR-EAST Train Info
Not only is this one of the best apps for the JR East train system (the most frequently used trains in Japan), the app is free. JR-EAST Train Info provides interactive train station maps for some of Japan’s busiest stations by locating your phone and providing helpful walking directions to the exit of your choice.
The downsides to the app are that it does not provide information for other JR trains (such as JR-WEST), and it requires an internet connection (luckily many stations and station cafes offer wifi services).
JR-EAST Train Info is free and can be downloaded on Google Play or the App Store.Hyperdia
If you’re like the overwhelming majority of travelers in Japan, you will use the train system (often). Therefore, having an app like Hyperdia that provides train timetables for both local trains and shinkansen is a huge help. Hyperdia also shows you where to change trains (if your route requires a switch) and lists fares.
LANGUAGE & TRANSLATION
While most of us have probably used Google Translate online at some point, this tool is also available as an app (and doesn’t use a lot of memory on your phone). The app provides two-way translation, from both Japanese to English and English to Japanese, and allows users to speak or type word(s) for translation. The big bonus on this app is that you can use it to translate text by simply pointing your phone at what you want to translate. The downside is, it’s often not a perfect translation, but usually gives you enough information understand a sign or menu. While Google Translate is free to download, it does require an internet connection. The app is available on both iOS and Android.
If you want to leave the bulky phrasebook at home, JED is a great option. This helpful app provides a Japanese-English dictionary and can be accessed even without an internet connection. While the app allows users to type in Japanese language characters and obtain a translation, this feature really requires some knowledge of Japanese because many characters look alike (and Kanji, one of Japan’s three alphabets, has over 3,500 characters!). That said, JED is great to have in a pinch, especially if you don’t have an internet connection The app is free and can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store.
This translator app works on text, voice and photos, so it can be extremely helpful when navigating around Japan. It even translates a conversation in two languages simultaneously. On the downside, it does require an internet connection. On the plus side though, it’s free and available on both iOS and Android.
If you need to call home or make local calls in Japan, LINE can be a lifesaver because not only is it free to download, it is free to use (helping you avoid data charges and steep international calling rates). LINE is a chat and voice over IP (VoIP) app, and to use it for free, all parties (both caller and call recipient) must have the app installed (and it is highly suggested you install it before your trip). Otherwise, the calls will not be free (though the rates are very cheap). You also must have an internet connection to use the service.
LINE is extremely popular in Japan, and there are several LINE Friends stores in Tokyo (with the main store in Harajuku) that sell app-related LINE character merchandise.
So, if you’re looking for ways to make your travel in Japan as worry-free as possible, apps are a great option. For maps, route planning and train timetables, check out NAVITIME For Japan Travel, JR-EAST Train Info or Hyperdia. For language and translation assistance, try JED or Google Translate. Finally, for calling services, try LINE.
I figure if you can get around, say what you want to say, and stay connected, the rest of your trip should be a breeze.