I haven’t had the chance to write up a post about our entire trip to Japan and all of the wonderful things we experienced, but I did want to take a quick moment to chat about some of the best Japan apps for your trip! And then at some point I’ll get a full Japan post out and one for my long weekend in Lisbon in January and another more general one about my time in Ghana in February (since my company booked most of that through a travel agency and I don’t know how helpful I would be for anyone looking to travel to West Africa).
But before I play an insane game of catch up, I thought it would be beneficial to go ahead and put together a list of the must-have apps for traveling to this beautiful island in the Pacific. For one thing, it’d be great to be able to delete them from my phone since some are pretty Japan-specific, but I also don’t want to forget which ones were truly helpful between now and whenever I get that “Week in Japan” post up.
If you plan on using the Japanese train system (I fell in love with the Shinkansen bullet trains!), this free-for-30-days app is worth the download. And before you ask, I am definitely pro-Japan Rail Pass, especially if you plan to see a few places by train in a week or so of time in the country. In my big Japan post, I’ll break down exactly how much time and money that we saved by purchasing these passes in advance, but for now just trust me. It was worth it.
There are two things that are great about this app. 1. It’s super simple to use. Put in your departure station and where you want to go, and it’ll give you up to five routes to get there at close to whichever time you designate. It even includes an option to search by Japan Rail Pass eligible trains and routes. 2. You can pretty much set your watch by the train times in Japan. Things run like clockwork over there, which means we could search for the best train times in the morning when we had reliable wifi, screenshot our options, and be set for the rest of the day!
This app also has an always-free, completely English website with the same functionality, which is ideal for pre-planning the different days of your trip.
I wish I’d downloaded this app before we arrived in Japan because it very likely could’ve saved me a lot of headache on our first day in Tokyo. But that’s a story for another day! Basically the wifi scene in Japan is not fantastic. It’s difficult to find, even worse to get logged into, and the connections are spotty at best. The Japanese must have the best data plans available around the world. One thing that the country has done to try to mitigate the wifi problem is by setting up free wifi connections in cities across the island, but you really need this app to be able to access them.
When you find a FREEWIFI connection, open up the app, and it’ll automatically connect you. No putting in email addresses without being able to then check those inboxes for confirmation emails… There were these free wifi connections in every single city that we visited, so it was definitely worthwhile to have the app on my phone.
This app isn’t specific to Japan, and you’d better believe I’ll use it on my future trips. When you open up the app, you can search for a specific city around the world, and once you’ve found it, you can download it. To your phone. As in you will always have a map of the entire city you’re visiting downloaded to your phone that you can look up without a wifi connection or GPS signal. You can also look up different categories like hotels, food, sights, and wifi (but if you read #2 you’ll remember that Japan has no reliable wifi).
My dad joined us for the Tokyo portion of our trip (because his flight priority is so much better than ours, so he graciously agreed to fly over with us and we ended up in FIRST CLASS #UnitedPolaris). His favorite thing to do was watch me use the Google Translate app, and to be fair, it is super insane to watch. We are living in the twenty-first century, guys, because this app will translate in real time. As in Japanese characters will become English right before your eyes (and the text will take up the same amount of space in the same color and font, which isn’t totally necessary but is all kinds of impressive).
Just be sure you’ve downloaded whichever language you’ll be translating to/from, so you can use all the features without a wifi connection, and you’ll be able to translate in real time and also do more normal things like type out sentences in English and have them spoken out loud to you in Japanese. Very very useful when you’re walking up and down the same street and need help finding your Airbnb.
This suggestion is one of those “do what I say, not what I did” kind of situations. Japan is very much a cash country; you’ll want to exchange as much money as you think you’ll use and spend your yen wisely. One thing that we should’ve done was be a little better about tracking the money that we had leftover. For instance, at two days left in our trip, we had about 3,000 yen to live on. Super fun!
An app like Trail Wallet would’ve been perfect because you can let ’em know how much money you have and track everything that you spend. Pro tip: Don’t scoff at those little coins that you get back when you use your bills. A handful of change could easily amount to thousands of yen.
And here’s an extra app to download a few weeks before you go…
I love love love this app! It’s fun and simple, and it’s making my Spanish less and less rusty with each day. Our decision to travel to Japan was a bit spur-of-the-moment (at least it felt like it for this travel overplanner — in reality, we had about two and a half weeks between deciding to go and hopping on a plane). If I’d known about our plans earlier, I would have spent weeks learning as much Japanese as I could; with the time that I did have, I learned the basics of the Japanese characters and the Kanji through Duolingo’s games and repetitive lessons… and while it was nice to know, I wasn’t really able to use it at all. So do yourself a favor and start learning a new language today and then decide to go visit a place that speaks it!
Have you used any of these apps on your international travels? Which Japan apps did we miss out on during our trip?