Using mobile apps can make your life in Japan a lot easier. In this article I will show you the five most useful apps for a journey through Japan.
I want to start with “Google Translate”, which can be categorised as “useful everyday“. One of the huge barriers when coming to Japan is the language. I often find myself in a Japanese supermarket, wondering what kind of product I am holding in my hand. Or looking at a menu in a traditional Japanese restaurant, wondering what the heck it says. In these situations Google Translate helped me out. Even the Kanji is no big deal when using this app, due to the build in camera function. Using this feature, you can take a photo of the written Japanese and translate it into your language. This way you can easily determine if the meal you are looking at contains any ingredients you are allergic to.
Tip for saving some mobile data volume. You can easily download the translation file for your desired language. This way you can translate texts offline. Just open the side-menu and hit “Offline-Translations” to manage your translation files.
Google is also the developer of a navigation application. The app is called “google maps” and comes pre-installed on all Android smartphones. It can be a real struggle finding your way in a country that has such a different postal system from your own. The usage of Kanji at most of the street signs doesn’t make it any easier. All in all, Google Maps can help you out in these situations. It manages the route navigation between subway lines, train lines and walking paths, while a lot of other apps just handle Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, google maps combines them all. This way you can easily navigate through the busy streets of Tokyo and the rest of Japan. A negative point to Google Maps is that you cannot download offline maps from your frequent visited areas. Therefore, it can turn into an app with a huge data consumption, so please have this in mind.
Tabelog is a very useful app for food and restaurant recommendations. This service is used by most Japanese people when they are looking for the best place to eat. It is comparable to the American equivalent “yelp”. After starting the application on your smartphone, you can find the best restaurants nearby, and sort them by rating or price. It can be really helpful if you find a good looking restaurant but want to be sure they serve good quality meals. The user reviews give a good impression on what to expect after entering the place. If your Japanese is not so good, you can rely on the rating system. Using the typical 1 to 5 star rating system you can easily make a decision. Besides the reviews and the rating system, you can find the navigation information and useful pricing information.
*You may need a Japanese Google/Apple account to download this app.
Another just slightly less popular app starring in the food category is Gnavi. This application comes with one big advantage compared to it’s more popular brother Tabelog; the service is also available in English, while Tabelog is Japanese only. Using this app you can easily determine the nearest restaurants and filter through them by price, type of food, and many other things. But there is one negative point which makes it necessary to use another app like Tabelog or Google Maps. The application does not come with an integrated rating system. To sum it up, it is the perfect app to have a look at all the local restaurants and to filter the results as you wish in English. If you find one that suits you best, you can quickly check the rating in another app before you head out.
The best application for messaging and social networking is LINE Messenger. LINE is the most famous short message service in South East Asia. What WhatsApp is for the western countries, LINE is for the Asian area. So when you are planning to get in touch with local people, or want to inform yourself by using one of the hundreds of other LINE services, just download this app in advance. You just need an active mobile number or an email address to set your account up. This messenger is so popular around here it even has its own store in the Harajuku area, where you can buy merchandise with your favorite emoticons. In-app purchases allow you to buy different sets of emoticons (stickers) for a few dollars. This sticker and theme market is so huge, that it makes a total of 75 million dollars in the first years of its launch (https://linecorp.com/en/pr/news/en/2015/997).
Another very useful app in the category of social media is “HelloTalk“. It lets you easily get in touch with local people who are open minded and want to learn about foreign languages. You can send so called “Moments” about your experiences with the Japanese language and ask for help with your studying. Furthermore a lot of people ask for local meetings for language exchange face to face and to learn about foreign culture.
With these five apps on your smartphone you are on your way to getting the best out of your stay in Japan!