When planning a trip to Japan, you may be wondering what apps there are to help make your trip easier, and more enjoyable. Luckily there are a range of apps that will help even the most seasoned of travelers with the language barrier, navigating, things to do, finding free WiFi and more. In this guide below I cover some of the most useful travel apps for Japan. A lot of the apps listed are available for both Apple and Android devices, and a lot of them work offline.
The most useful travel apps in Japan
Google Translate (Offline) (Android) (iOS)
Google Translate is the perfect app for over-coming the language barrier. Google Translate fully works online, with the option to download language dictionaries for offline translation. When online, you can use google translate to translate speech, writing, typing, or taking photographs. While offline, you can use the app to translate by typing into it which makes it useful when trying to overcome a language barrier. Open the app, select Japanese to your chosen language, and hand the phone to the person you are talking to. Not all Japanese people can read and use romaji, so I recommend installing a hiragana keyboard and swapping to it when you open the translate app. If you need to translate a menu, food packets, signs etc and have internet access then choose the camera option, to snap a photo, highlight the Japanese text and translate it.
Google Translate is available for both Android and iOS.
Japan Free WiFi (Android) (iOS)
Free WiFi has become more popular and easier to access throughout Japan’s major cities, especially Tokyo. Most convenience stores (Lawsons, 7/11), Coffee Shops (Tully’s Coffee, Starbucks etc), train stations, and shopping malls have WiFi. There’s even some shrines, streets, and shopping streets with free WiFi. However, some of these locations require tourists to login using applications such as Japan Free WiFi. These applications are free to download, and register on. But you must register before you are able to connect to the free WiFi with the app. Make sure to download and register, and while you’re out and about Japan you can search for hotspots such as”Free_wifi_passport” to get online.
Japan Free WiFi is available for both Android and iOS.
Maps.me (Offline) (Android) (iOS)
Maps.me is a free offline map app, that uses your phones GPS to let you navigate while offline. Initially, you must download the maps for each area you are visiting and it is recommended to do this over WiFi due to the large file sizes. Once downloaded, you can navigate offline as long as you are able to pick up a GPS signal. The app can be used for navigating by car, or foot while offline. The app allows you to look up things such as restaurants, attractions, toilets etc or type in where you wish to go. You can bookmark locations to easily find them later. This application is definitely one of the most useful travel apps for Japan, as it makes navigating the streets of even the smallest Japanese village a breeze.
You’re probably well aware of what TripAdvisor offers already but I believe it is worth mentioning as some people do overlook it. TripAdvisor is great for Japan. You can look up restaurants, things to do, tours, etc and read reviews of each location. The app does require internet access, so I recommend combining it with Maps.me. Research where you wish to go on TripAdvisor before you leave your accommodation, and bookmark the locations on Maps.me for easy access throughout the day.
NAVTIME is a free travel planning app for Japan. It allows you to plan your train routes, find free WiFi Hotspots, ATMs, and train stations. It also contains free travel guides to help you get online, use public transport and enjoy Japanese culture. The greatest thing about this app, that makes it handier than other train planning apps, is that it allows those using the JR pass to prioritize train routes that will make use of their pass. The app has partial offline functionality for the following search features; Free WiFi hotspots, currency exchange, ATMs, tourist information centres, stations, and “spot locator”. NAVTIME allows you to save up to 50 train routes for offline access.
Happy Cow is an app for vegans and vegetarians, allowing them to locate restaurants, cafes etc that serve vegan and/or vegetarian food. Travelling around Japan while a vegan or vegetarian is challenging, and even those who live here find it hard to manage with the lack of options. Japan is not a vegan and vegetarian-friendly society. Even food that would otherwise be vegan, or vegetarian, normally contains some form of fish such as dashi (fish stock) or bonito (fish flakes). Adapting dishes is not normally an option in Japan, and most restaurants will be confused as to what you exactly want and why you’re trying to change their menu. HappyCow makes the life of those avoiding animal products much easier. The free version lets you search for restaurants nearby, and the paid version lets you plan ahead. The app will exclude places that do vegetarian or vegan dishes that also serve meat dishes or use non-organic products. . Due to that, you may find it to be quite limited outside of major cities.
Most of us already use and rely on Google Maps for navigating. But thanks to some new features, the app can be used for offline navigation. In order to do this, you need to download sections of areas you’re visiting, to your phone while online and then you can later navigate them. However, these sections tend to be more limited than those covered by Maps.me. Meaning, you need to plan ahead and make sure you have the right areas saved before you head out. You can also use Google Maps for viewing Google Street View and terrain to let you research an area before you visit. You can check the opening times, reviews, contact details for attractions, restaurants, etc. Google Maps lets you bookmark places, and you can have customised categories within your bookmarks, which makes it great for travel planning. It can also be used for planning public transport, but it isn’t always perfect, giving short connection times and won’t prioritise JR pass routes – which is why I recommend using NAVTIME. Google Maps, Maps.me and NAVTIME are 3 of useful travel apps for Japan when it comes to navigating!
Uber, a taxi ride booking application, is available in some areas of Japan such as Tokyo. Taxi’s in Japan are not cheap but if you must use one, booking through Uber is easy.
Uber requires the internet, so you’ll either need a data plan or WiFi before you can book a taxi. But if you plan on staying out past midnight, and end up missing the last train back to your accommodation then Uber is one of the most useful travel apps for Japan.
The final app on my list is Lingodeer, a free, language learning application. Lingodeer helps you learn Japanese, Chinese, or Korean for free. The application lets you learn the alphabets and will teach you words, phrases, and grammar as you progress throughout each stage. Learning even some basic Japanese can make your things a bit easier when travelling around Japan, especially if you can read Katakana. Katakana is the alphabet used for words adapted from foreign languages, mainly English. This means if you can read Katakana you can normally make out what it is you are reading – E.g.カレー/Ka-re is curry, and ゼロ / zero, is – you guessed it, zero! It is normally used for zero sugar drinks such as Coke Zero. The great thing about Lingdoeer that makes it better than other language apps, is that it lets you download the lessons offline. This means you can learn Japanese while on the plane, trains, etc – a great educational time killer.
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