Welcome to Japan! First time staying in this super modern yet conventional country can be overwhelming, especially if you have no one to ask and limited Japanese communication skills. But fear not, as your smartphone can be your savior with these apps.
The recommended apps in this article will be split into 4 categories: Language, Traveling/Navigation, Food, and Daily Necessities. If you're looking for remittance apps, read Top Recommended International Remittance Services to Send Money from Japan instead.
Moving to a different language-speaking country is a big challenge for many people. It’s difficult when you want to buy food but can’t read the ingredients or when you want to use an ATM, but there’s no English option. Even if some people already speak Japanese before coming to Japan, it still takes time to get used to it.
These apps will help you understand your surroundings and improve your Japanese competency.
When it comes to translation, Google Translate is a must-have tool. It’s easy to use and covers more than 90 languages, so you can quickly translate to your native language, although it’s not always 100% accurate.
Google Translate is accessible through the website or the app. The app version offers more services, though, so if you only use the website, you are definitely missing out. You can type, copy-paste, or use speech recognition to input texts on the website. The app gets all those features, scribble, and camera recognition. The app is also available offline.
The camera function in the app enables you to translate text by taking a picture of it. The app will auto-detect Japanese words (Kanji, Hiragana, or Katakana). Simply highlight which part you want to see the translation.
More than just a translation app, Imiwa? is a dictionary that also helps your Japanese learning process. You can find the meanings of words and sample sentences so you can use the words correctly. You can learn how to conjugate verbs, write kanji in the appropriate order, and read different kanji readings.
You can translate Japanese into English, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. According to Imiwa? users, the translation is pretty accurate. The app is available offline, so you can use it without the internet. However, it means the app takes up your phone storage, and you will need Wi-Fi to download it.
DeepL Translate is a rising app for translating text, speech, images, and files. Many people recommend this app for its highly accurate translation. The features are similar to Google Translate, where you can translate text to speech, open the camera or upload an existing photo, and hand-write the text.
DeepL Translate is available in 29 languages: Bulgarian, Chinese (simplified), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (American), English (British), Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazilian), Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian.
One of the most important things to do when moving to a new area is to know your surroundings. Therefore, apps to help you to navigate are crucial to have.
If you are already using Google Maps back in your country, you have good news: it works well in Japan. You can use it to find places, read their reviews, and check the routes and time estimation to get there by car, public transportation, or on foot.
Google Maps also works great for public transportation, especially in Tokyo. As one of the cities with the best public transport, you can conveniently move around using trains, subways, and buses. However, those numerous lines and stops may be confusing at first.
If you choose the public transportation route, Google Maps will show you lines, transfer options, travel time, and price. It will also tell you which platform your train will depart from, if the train coming right now is the rapid train or not, where the best position for the fastest exit is, which exit you should take, and all sorts of information. You can put your desired departure or arrival time to help you plan the trip better.
Navitime (Japan Travel by Navitime)
Navitime is a popular navigation app in Japan that will guide you as local people would do. You can search a travel route door-to-door, whether you want to drive, take public transportation, or walk. Your recently searched routes will be saved so you can access it offline later.
The best thing about Navitime is you can search essential places without the internet, such as free Wi-Fi hotspots, currency exchange spots, and train stations. Moreover, you can read travel blog articles in this app, add places mentioned in the article to your favorite spots, and plan an itinerary to visit later.
Although public transportation in Japan is a top notch, you may still want to use taxi. If you do need one, Uber is available major cities in Japan, such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. However, your Uber driver won't be drivers with private vehicles. When you use Uber to book a taxi, you will actually get a licensed taxi. This app has multiple languages so you can easily use it.
Exploring Japanese cuisine is a must when you come to Japan. Some apps can help you to find a good restaurant, especially if you have a specific diet like vegetarian or halal food.
Start your culinary journey using this app! Gurunavi has almost 70,000 restaurants listed in its system. You can search them by location and categories or filter them by your preferences. After finding the ones you like, you can easily make a reservation through this app. On special occasions, Gurunavi offers discount coupons and free drinks.
As for the restaurant features, you can filter them by services, menu, occasion, atmosphere and location, and payment method. Let’s say you want to eat breakfast in a restaurant with free Wi-Fi and Korean-speaking staff that is wheelchair accessible and located near the train station. You just need to tick all the features you want and find restaurants that fit them all. Very convenient, right?
It’s unfortunate that Gurunavi doesn’t have vegan/vegetarian restaurant features, but Happy Cow solved the problem for you. It has the same functions as Gurunavi but only caters to vegans and vegetarians.
Happy Cow is a location-based restaurant finder. Not only can it shows the restaurants around your current area, but you can also input which area to search. So, you can look in advance for vegan or vegetarian restaurants near your stay.
Halal Japan Mobile App
As the Muslim community grows in Japan, the demand for halal food and beverages is also increasing. Halal Japan is created by a group of religious scholars and Ph.D. holders in medical and chemical departments to help fellow Muslim watch their diet. This app is not for finding halal restaurants but rather for finding halal and Muslim-friendly products.
You can search for halal products by category, shop name, or brand. Type the name or scan the barcode to find its information. Halal Japan has 6 levels labeling system ranging from halal certified, Muslim-friendly (little to no ethanol and no cross contamination), doubtful (lack of information from manufacturer), to haram.
Daily Life Necessities
Other than language, navigation, and food-related apps, here are more apps make your stay easier.
Don’t want to bring a stack of cash every time you go out? PayPay is your answer. It’s a popular cashless payment app in Japan that is acceptable in most stores. Connect the app to your bank account or credit card to top up your balance. You can get points for paying by PayPay and use them as cashback.
While Japan has some fantastic secondhand clothes and household appliances, it may be tiring to browse one by one directly. Instead, use Mercari, the largest C2C marketplace in Japan. You can find some good stuff at low prices. Mercari is heaven to find anime or idol merchandise if you’re into Japanese pop culture. On the other hand, you can also sell your things there.
You can comment to ask the seller about the condition or to bargain. Once you buy the goods, you can message the seller privately. However, you will need Japanese conversational skills to do that or to operate this app in general because it’s only available in Japanese.
Line is the most commonly used messaging app in Japan. It works like WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, and such apps. However, you can purchase cute themes and stickers to make your experience more enjoyable.
The unique thing about Line is that it offers much more than just a communication tool. You can create a post or comment on it as a Facebook post would do. It has a Line Camera feature with fascinating filters (mostly Japanese kawaii style). You can use built-in services such as Split Bill (simply scan your bill to divide it among friend groups) and Ladder Shuffle (assign tasks fairly among groups).
Many stores and brands have Line Official accounts. You can get points, coupons, and promo notifications if you add them as a contact. Lately, Line has also developed its financial services, such as LinePay (e-wallet service) and Line Bank.
Yurekuru Call (Earthquake Warning System)
An average of 40 to 50 tremors happen daily in Japan. Most of them are too weak to cause anything, but it can be intense once in a while. Yurekuru Call will alert you a few seconds before an earthquake happens. It gives you a chance to prepare and save yourself. After an earthquake occurs, you can check related information, such as where the epicenter is, how the seismic intensity is, and whether there is a tsunami warning or not.
Now you don’t have to worry about coming to Japan. These 10 apps will help you to settle down quickly. Note that some of these apps are only available in Japan. It means you can download them as soon as you have a Japanese address and change your phone location settings.
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