Travel

Getting around Japan: 10 essential and free apps for travel

by Michael Estifa

The idea of navigating your way around Tokyo — with an area nearly three times the size of New York City — can be a little daunting. Here’s a selection of useful apps that will help you get from point A to point B, as well as make the most of your time in Japan. And all of these are free (though some offer in-app purchases for more features).

GETTING AROUND

Japan Official Travel

Created by the Japan National Tourism Organization, this app contains tourist information, lists of Wi-Fi hot spots and more. Metro maps are also available offline so you can navigate without Wi-Fi, and the app also comes with a built-in day planner.

HyperDia

While most tourist-centric apps offer maps and information regarding transportation, HyperDia will show you recommended routes synced with train schedules.  From your starting point to your goal, right down to the minute. The app also lets users look up shinkansen bullet train times that can be sorted by speeds and will show you where you have to make a train transfer.

JapanTaxi

Tokyo has a very efficient railway system, thus making cabs more of a pricey last resort. However, for those who missed the last train or are going off the beaten path, the JapanTaxi app will come in handy. You can call a taxi with a tap, or make a reservation. Paying your fare is also simple, as the app connects to your preferred payment method — credit cards, Apple Pay, etc.

LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE

Bravolol

The phrase dictionary app will be more than enough to get you through most of the day-to-day interactions you’ll encounter. The phrases are logically cataloged in groups such as Food & Beverage, Transport, Emergency and more. Bravolol provides text in both Japanese and English, as well as an audio button so you can actually hear how to pronounce phrases.

Google Translate

Beyond just translating words and sentences, this dictionary in the cloud can help you read Japanese text. Just point your smartphone’s camera at the characters you wish to read, and voila! In addition to the meaning, you also get the pronunciation in Latin script (known as romaji). Granted, it’s not always perfect, but does provide the gist, whether you’re looking at restaurant menus or sign boards.

FOOD & DRINK

OpenTable

Japan is a culinary wonderland and while, yes, you can easily survive on well-known fast-food franchises, there’s a lot more on the menu.

OpenTable is perhaps better known as an app/site for making restaurant reservations, but it’s also a great tool for discovering restaurants in your area. You can search for cuisine, budget or availability.

Surprisingly, the largest food sites — Gurunavi and Tabelog —  don’t have apps in English. They do have mobile-friendly web sites, though.

Japan’s largest restaurant and gourmet guide, Gurunavi can help travelers find whatever they are craving, wherever they are in Japan. You can search by location, food category, opening hours and budget. Extra filters include places with English-only menus or establishments that allow credit cards. While it’s not an app, another solid option is Tabelog, which is powered (mostly) by user reviews. Also be sure to bookmark the restaurant section of The Japan Times City Guide. While it isn’t as comprehensive on the flip side, our food writers have carefully selected the best restaurants Japan has to offer.

THE NECESSITIES

Ecbo Cloak

Don’t want to lug your luggage around? Coin lockers can be found at most train stations but they’re often full. Ecbo Cloak offers alternative. Plug in your location, and a map will help you to quickly find a place to store your luggage. It connects you with different storage spaces shown on a map, where locations and prices are shown, whether they are in a train station or somewhere else close by. Simply pay online by card, and enjoy the rest of your day without hauling around luggage.

Travel Japan Wi-Fi

Imagine coming to a new country and not having an internet connection. Luckily you won’t have to do that if you download the Travel Japan Wi-Fi application ahead of time. If you’re not planning on renting a portable Wi-Fi device when you arrive at the airport or at an electronic shop, you can use the app to connect automatically to over 200.000 hotspots across the country, while also eliminating the process of having to sign in multiple times a day. The map function allows you to quickly find a hotspot, and the app can even be used in offline mode.

iFlyer

Looking for some loud fun during your time in Japan? With the iFlyer app, select the type of music you want to hear or just punch in your location to see nearby events. As a plus, the app offers discounts for certain events.

XE Currency Converter

New country, new currency. To make sure you know exactly how much you are spending at a restaurant or department store, use XE app for an instant conversion rate. Just input the Japanese yen, or vice versa, and you will instantly see the price of something. The app can also be used to transfer money, check exchange rates, and track up to ten currencies at a time. The app is always up to date and will save you from all the math-inducing headaches.

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