With nearly 3 billion smartphones in the world, it’s a safe bet that most of you thinking of coming to Japan already own one (if not two or more!). No matter your weapon of choice, whether it be iPhone or Android, there’s a ton of apps out there that can help with your day-to-day life in Japan, from learning the language to warning you about earthquakes.
So that’s what this article is here for: to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, so that you don’t have to. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how popular LINE is here or that Google Maps is a useful way to find your way around so I’m going to focus on some lesser known but nevertheless no less useful apps that perhaps you might not have heard about until now.
To kick things off with let’s start with my most used app in Japan so far. Takoboto is a fully featured Japanese to English and English to Japanese dictionary and a tool I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn the language, no matter your level. What really sets Takoboto apart from its competitors is that it’s completely offline, meaning that even when you’re out and about or in locations where your signal might be spotty, you can still speedily look up words on the go without worry.
The app features full Anki support (another app that probably deserves a spot on this list) allowing you to add your searches to an Anki deck to help you study and commit them to memory, as well as its own premade study lists for each level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Each word is accompanied by a number of example phrases with full English translations and furigana, helping to demonstrate how to use any new word you might be searching for.
This is another app for the studious folks out there and is perhaps best aimed at intermediate level learners. Satori Reader is an app for practicing listening and reading skills through the use of novels and dialogues. The articles come in a range of themes, from thriller stories to romance, meaning that there’s something for everyone.
Each article comes with full annotations providing translations and in-depth explanations on some of the trickier grammar points at the tap of a finger and my favourite feature of them all gives per sentence recordings, letting you practice listening at the same time as improving your reading skills. Users can also match the Kanji, kana and furigana to their own level, allowing you to adjust how much Kanji is used in each article, helping to stop you from being overwhelmed by a deluge of new Kanji.
Furthermore, this app includes a built in study tool that allows you to add any word from the articles that you read and practice them using a spaced repetition review system to revisit those words, including the context in which you originally read them to really help you drill that new vocab in.
The catch for all this is that there’s a subscription fee of 1000 yen per month but the first two chapters of each article are available for free, so you have plenty to sink your teeth into even if you don’t want to pay.
Chances are if you’re in Japan, you’ll be making use of the country’s vast network of trains on an almost daily basis. Despite the boom in tourism lately, Japan’s rail network can still be a bit baffling to navigate; maps and timetables aren’t typically translated into other languages outside of the larger stations. Even after living here for a while now, I still make the occasional mistake, going in the wrong direction or even getting on the wrong line.
Hyperdia can be invaluable for planning train journeys, providing you details of times, train fares, stations to change at and which tracks to go to. It can also provide details on walking times, car rentals, hotels and the Japan Rail pass.
The worst part about travelling? For me it has to be carrying my luggage around with me, double that annoyance if you’re going to be travelling to one of Japan’s busier cities. This is where Ecbo Cloak comes in; it allows you to find shops that have space to store such items so that you can get on with the enjoyable part of travelling.
You can reserve space ahead of time, paying through the app with a credit card for the space. While most large train stations will have coin lockers for storing your belongings, these are all occupied more often than not in my experience. In addition, Ecbo Cloak normally comes in slightly cheaper with bags costing 300 yen per day and suitcases coming in at 600 yen per day, where as the coin lockers can go up to as much as 800 yen depending on size.
Of course this list is just a drop in the ocean of all of the apps that are available so I’d encourage anyone to see what else they can find out there and to tailor your smart devices to your own needs.
Software developer working in Japan.
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