We live in a world where information is at our fingertips. Maybe I’m being a little over-dramatic, but the truth is that we live in the information age. Ten or twenty years ago many of the things we take for granted didn’t exist. Like the smartphone. The days of the car-phone are over and you don’t need an operator to connect you to anyone. Now, with the proliferation of smartphones, traveling to a foreign country means no need to carry translation books and large maps. Here are four of my favorite, useful, and free apps to help make your next visit to the land of the rising sun a breeze. All apps listed below, with the exception of imiwa?, are available for download on both the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store.
This is a must get for all Japanese learners. The Japanese app has everything a language dictionary should have and more. Upon launching the app you can search in English/Japanese, create and review flashcards, and take notes. The app also has a built-in keyboard that allows the user to draw the Chinese character (Japanese kanji utilize Chinese characters) or search for it by components, which is great for people who are not familiar with the language. Each word has the definition(s) as well as sample sentences and a section to write notes. Besides just translation, the Japanese (app) is a great studying tool with flashcard groupings like the JLPTs and Japanese elementary school grade levels. You can even make your own flashcard group to create study lists to learn on the long plane ride.
Like the Japanese app, imiwa? (“What’s the meaning?” in Japanese) is a Japanese language dictionary app. Where it differs is the amount of Japanese characters it has to offer. While the Japanese app has a plethora of useful words it doesn’t have many of the more complex and older words you may encounter during trips to historic cities, like Kyoto. Whenever I cannot find a word in the Japanese app I can usually find it in the imiwa? app. The app also provides “similar” and “commonly mistaken” characters in case you get confused when searching. For frequently used words the imiwa? app also provides the meaning of the Japanese word in Korean, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. If English is not your forte this might be your main translation application. imiwa? is a free app unfortunately only available on the iTunes Store.
There are many map apps that you can use in Japan. If you are not going to sign up for a data plan while here, then maps.me will be your best resource for walking the streets of Japan. Japan has many back roads and short cuts making navigating difficult, not to mention that most streets don’t have names. maps.me is an offline map app that allows you to mark destinations ahead of time, while you have an internet connection, and then uses your GPS to help you get to your destination. Before leaving for Japan just download the regions you will be visiting i.e. Tokyo and Kyoto and that’s it! This is also a great battery saver compared to using Google Maps, which requires a connection to the World Wide Web.
Whether it is traveling across town or traveling the country the trains in Japan are indefensibly the number one mode of transportation. But with so many trains and subway rails to take advantage of, it seems like juggling transfers and waiting times is something only a Japanese native knows how to maneuver. Well, thankfully the NAVITIME app provides an easy to follow system to get you from point A to point B. For train times it does require an Internet connection but once you decided on your destination, combine the train information with the maps.me maps and you can travel easily. The combination might give you that “deja vu” feeling when walking down the hundreds of back alleys in Japan.
In the information age, it is truly easy to travel: you can book a flight, hotel room, and a seat at a five-star sushi restaurant with just a few swipes. Even though Japan is very tourist friendly, with English guidebooks, menus, and English-speaking tour guides, there are still many extraordinary places that are rich in history and culture, which don’t have the foreign friendly makeovers they deserve. These applications are great tools for world travelers and Japanese enthusiasts to get out and explore the countryside. So while you’re mapping your temple trips in Tokyo, or trying to coax a koi in Kyoto, give these four a try. They’re all free, no registration required, no strings attached!
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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