Travel Hacks
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15 Apps To Explore Japan Like A Local

Japan is a gorgeous country that pulls millions of visitors a year. It’s also the country of sushi, the one thing I can eat for the rest of my life. Seriously!

My love knows no bounds when it comes to Japanese cuisine or culture. So when I started searching for the next place to explore in late 2016, it felt like an obvious choice to head to Japan.

It made sense. More so as Autumn was the right time to travel on a budget.

There’s something for everyone to discover here. Like sushi coming to you on a conveyor belt. That’s my ‘something’. Of course, there are other extraordinary places to explore. Shrines, hot springs, anime museums, bamboo forests, castles, comic shops, or maid cafes.

So for that next solo trip to Japan, use these 15 apps I lived by during my visit.

From A-Ku to B-Chome

Transport in Japan is like quadratic equations I couldn’t solve for the life of me. Bigger metropolises, including Tokyo, operate different subway lines owned by private and government organizations.

HyperDia By Voice, NAVITIME, NRT_Airport Navi, Jorudan, or good ol’ Google Maps are enough to guide you. These apps provide accurate directions, timetables, and pricing for the bus, subway metro, tram, and Shinkansen (Japan’s bullet train) networks.

They’re all free except HyperDia, which has a 30-day free trial. Jorudan is a web- and phone-based platform with station floor plans, so you don’t get lost like I did. It’s only available in Japanese as of now.

I relied heavily on HyperDia and Google Maps because I found them easy to use.

Tip: Whenever you get lost in/near a train station, approach the ticket counter or main office. The officials speak in English and can guide you well.

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Places to see

My impeccably detailed itinerary was shred to bits and pieces as I became overwhelmed and unsure of my plans after I fell sick.

There was just so much to process!

I knew I needed to stay flexible and adjust my day-to-day at the mercy of the weather, daily budget, transport, and distance.

Planetyze and Tokyo Handy Guide did a great job of helping me build a more fluid itinerary. They have extensive data on local hideouts and tourist sites.

Tabimori is another app providing hands-on information and access to everything a traveler needs to have – from speech translation, currency converter to short guides on various places and activities. Like a personal concierge!

Do you have Wi-Fi

When my phone connects to a free Wi-Fi network abroad, I feel a rush. It’s a godsend commodity for travelers.

Japan was like an internet haven for me, with its huge number of public hotspots. Many of them were introduced keeping travelers in mind.

I was in tears, figuratively. Half of my data would go on making sure I don’t buy something weird in Family Mart or 7-Eleven with Google Translate.

Japan Connected-Free Wi-Fi is a must for any traveler, with 2000 Wi-Fi access points all over the country. Travel Japan Wi-Fi is another one.

There are city-specific Wi-Fi apps as well. They all detect the available networks and connect your phone automatically.

Tip: Japan requires you to be a citizen or buy a prepaid, rental phone to have a mobile number. Otherwise, you’ve to opt for a data sim (like me) to stay connected.

Sushi life

By now you might have an idea on how much I love sushi. Until my trip to Japan, I’d only eaten sushi in the US and India. Which is like that hip cousin we all have.

The original, however, doesn’t even compare. Japanese sushi is minimalistic and simple.

I was ready to drown in my guilty pleasure and used GURUNAVI and Sushi Dictionary to satisfy my hunger.

GURUNAVI is phenomenal. It offers location-based results which you can easily filter using basic price, category, and type of food.

Sushi Dictionary was my kind of app, with a list of sushi toppings and ingredients in Japanese and English.

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Konnichiwa

Japan is not English-friendly. The citizens do understand and read English, but there isn’t much to be expected in terms of an actual conversation.

That doesn’t mean they won’t go out of their way to help you. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know were Japanese.

If you’re a believer of traveling like a local on a budget, learning the native language has to become a hobby. Even knowing basic phrases, words, and numerals can cut down your expenses by a lot.

Imiwa is an educational dictionary. Google Translate does a fabulous job as a… translator. It almost became my prince charming, rescuing me time and again.

Case in point: After falling sick in Japan, I had to explain my symptoms and medical history to local medical practitioners in Japanese.

I’d literally have conversations with nurses and doctors via Google Translate’s keypad and microphone.

Get on LINE

If you go the data sim route like I did, you’ll have to rely on LINE. It’s the widely popular messaging app that everyone uses. A WhatsApp of Japan.

It’s great for making calls as well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use LINE because I didn’t activate it before switching to my data sim. There was that little phone verification step involved. I learned about it a bit later.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a mobile or data connection. LINE is truly an excellent app to connect with locals.

. . . .

What makes traveling in Japan so easy is not just the sincerity of the general public or futuristic transportation networks.

It’s the ease with which an ancient civilization is creating a space for travelers to experience its story with open arms.

Which apps made your Japan trip a memorable one? Share with me in the comments below.

2 Comments

  1. toxin01 says

    Very helpful information for travelers going to Japan… Translation app is the most important one.
    Thanks alot for such useful information.

    Like

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