There’s a lot of stuff on travel in Japan already, why another?
This for people determined to be adventurous through a mix of English and Japanese apps to make the best of both worlds.
Much of Japan’s best local favourites are in Japanese. If you take an extra step and use a translator to translate from English to Japanese and copy and paste the key words, you’ve opened all your doors.
Below, I have a complete set of apps I use every day to travel around Japan, and even just for daily life. It includes translating, getting around, lodging, weather, and food.
At the bottom, I have a bonus for regular internet access and information for more unique itineraries.
My top 10:
|1. Translation: Jsho – Hands down, my favourite dictionary. It inputs Japanese hiragana even as you type the pronunciation in English. It not only translates for you, but you can copy and paste the text into other apps to do searches. For language learners, it also identifies ‘common words’ and lists what grammatical function a word has (i.e. noun, i-adjective, na-adjective, suru-verb), and is therefore more accurate than Google Translate.|
2. Translation: Google Translate (Download the Japanese Offline Packet) I use this in addition to Jsho to translate sentences. It gets the job done.
|3. Getting Around: Google Maps, has very detailed maps of the large cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Kyoto. These maps usually include the interiors of major malls, which you can search up and keep loaded after you go offline. Alternative: Yahoo Maps|
|4. Getting Around: Maps.me Offline map with very updated routes, and in rural Japan, even more updated than Google Maps. Its GPS tracker I find is also more accurate than Google Maps.|
|5. Transit: Y!乗換案内 (Japanese) – My favourite transportation app for Tokyo and all of Japan. It’s extremely accurate for times and pricing, and saves your previous searches offline so you can compare. Alternatives: Jorudan (Japanese), Bus Navitime (Japanese)|
|6. Lodging: Airbnb (English / Japanese) – The best way to see what local homes are like, and speak to local hosts. AirBnB is a great platform to try minimalist modern homes to traditional farm houses. If it’s your first time, try a well-rated host! If you are in Tokyo, you’re welcome to stay at my listing!|
|7. Lodging: Couchsurfing (English) – This is an even better way to stay with locals – for free! Join this free platform and stay with hosts in the cities you want to visit. Your host may have an air mattress or sofa, but some might have a spare room. Check their description first. Make sure you personalise your request, as you are asking a favour!
(Tip: Sometimes, the best hosts are in small towns, and it’s a great opportunity to see somewhere unique even if you’ve never heard of the place.)
|8. Weather: Y!天気 (Japanese) – Much more accurate than foreign / global English ones like Accuweather. It will update based on your current location, and locations you search and save (just copy and paste the Kanji (Chinese characters). It will save multiple locations. It’s also good for typhoon, tsunami, and storm warnings.|
|9. Messaging: Line – THE Japanese messaging app. If you’re communicating with locals, get Line.|
10. LocalFood: たべログ Tabelog (Japanese) – The Japanese UrbanSpoon, Yelp, and OpenRice. It also searches based on your current location, which is the word ‘現在地’.
Vegetarian Food: Happy Cow (English) – A Vegetarian Food App. Look up the ‘Tokyo’ restaurants.
Always Stay connected (for free!)
The usual recommendations are downloading the apps to access Japan’s free Wi-Fi (limited to 2 weeks): Japan Free Wi-Fi, Free Wi-Fi Japan, Japan Wi Fi. Get all of them and register the day before you leave your country. These apps do two things: 1) give you access to the network provider’s Wi-Fi system and 2) aggregate many free spots around major cities (i.e. in malls and JR Stations etc.). They work 50% of the time, and give you access to some networks that are password locked so worth a shot if you want convenience. They are also only reliable in big cities.
What’s worked for me for 3+ months in 50+ cities and towns in Japan: Use convenience store Wi-Fi at Lawson & Family Mart. It’s free. No registration needed. No strings attached. It’s fast. It’s all across the country. I just take an extra step and load the area I’m going to on Google Maps before heading out and making sure there’s a Family Mart or Lawson nearby.
- Tokyo’s Central Metro stations have Wi-Fi.
- Major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Kyoto often have tourism-promotion Wi-Fi networks. Turn on your Wi-Fi when you arrive or ask the tourist information centre.
- Big malls sometimes have Wi-Fi too.
EXPLORING and Sight-seeing like a local
- Tokyo Insight – The mobile version of Japantoday.com, one of the leading English magazines
- Odigo Japan – User-generated tips and verified locations with a customizeable drag and drop trip planner. (Disclaimer: I work here.)
- Best Living Japan – Great local events, such as flea markets and antique weekends that make up a truly authentic cultural experience
- Japan Travel Guide With Me – An offline travel guide (think e-travel book), which recommends places around the country in relation to your current location and includes articles on sights and attractions.
- Triposo – Japan Mini Guides, available for Android and iPhones
- Goodluck Trip Japan
- As a final tip, all the districts in Tokyo have a local cultural map guide that is free and available at the Ward Office. These are usually in Japanese, but some have English, and have great walking courses and introductions of local historical sites that are non-commercial.
Do you have any favourite apps? Please tell me about it!
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