As 2010 draws to a close, smartphone use in Japan has risen to an all-time high, accounting for around 50 percent of all handset sales here. Yet it shames this columnist to admit that I'm still rockin' an old Windows 6.1 phone — insofar as a Windows 6.1 phone can be rocked at all — because as someone who writes a lot I'm still very much tethered to my laptop. So, in an effort to discover which applications Japan-based smartphone users have loved this year, I decided to ask a variety of people which are their favorites and why. The valuable insights they've shared tell me that I might not be able to put off buying a smartphone any longer.

Whether using Apple's iOS or Google's Android, for newcomers to Japan there have never been more tools available to help you get around. Train route apps abound, including both Jorudan and Ekitan that have applications available for iPhone and iPod touch. In November, Hyperdia — in addition to having a route-search app for iPad and iPhone — released Hyperdia Lite, an application for Android. Android users can also opt for Japan Trains, a popular train route tool that works especially well for tourists because it doesn't require any Japanese reading skills.

Travelers should also enjoy a couple of apps from developer LucSens, Japan Goggles and Lost in Japan seemingly miraculous applications that allow users to take photos of Japanese words to get an English translation. LucSens founder Iulian Florea explains that the apps even work for vertical text: "You just turn the phone to the right and the whole interface changes to a vertical one."