Top 10 Japan Travel Apps and Websites
By Skywing Knights // November 30, 2023
Traveling to a foreign country, heck, any place you’ve never been to before can be intimidating. It can be even more overwhelming if you don’t know the language or where anything is. When I first went to Japan, internet access via phones was limited and apps were still a little jenky. That said, I survived, but I also had several years of Japanese language and cultural classes under my belt at the time.
The good news though is that apps have become far superior to what they once were. And being a frequent traveler to Japan, there are actually a number of these resources that I still use, despite my understanding and experience of the country that I love to traverse.
So if this is your first time, or even your 10th time going to Japan, be sure to check out these Japan Travel Apps and tools that will help you while you’re in “the Land of the Rising Sun”:
Yep, it’s actually pretty solid. While it doesn’t excel in translating paragraphs of high level text, it does do a GREAT job when it comes to translating simple phrases that are key for a foreigner. IE. “Where is the bathroom?” “I’m allergic to…” “How much is this?” etc. But the thing I love the most about this app is by far its capability of reading words from photographs or even just scanning items through your camera in a live view. While it might not be always 100% accurate, it typically gives you a great starting point. And you can copy the characters it picks up and paste them into different translation services to ‘double check’ on their translations. Pretty awesome stuff, even if it’s not specifically a “Japan Travel app”. 😉
Website: Google Translate
Yep, we’re sticking on the theme of translations here. Apple Translate is pretty on par with Google Translate, but I do find that I like it’s ‘conversation’ mode more than Google’s. It’s nice because you can have a two way conversation with someone without typing in what you want to say each time and handing your phone back and forth. Instead, you simply hit the mic button, speak, and then it’s translated into the language you specify. Even better, it translates facing the other user and they have their own mic button as well. Super useful for live conversations!
Website: Apple Translate
This one’s getting into the nitty gritty of Japanese language translations. Just like English, Japanese has a number of words that mean the same thing, but have different underlying connotations. This service (primarily as an app) is great at explaining the underlying connotations of words as well as helping you find the right word in Japanese to use to get your point across. For example, “Ittekimasu” and “Ja” can both be translated as “Goodbye”, but “Ittekimasu” more literally means “I’m off and I’ll be back”. Another example would be how “Ootera” literally translates to “Temple”, but it is specifically for Buddhist Temples. You wouldn’t use it when describing a Christian or Jewish Temple.
Imiwa lays these sorts of distinctions out, showing examples of the words’ uses, and even what they translate to in languages other than English. And this makes it stand out from other Japan Travel Apps that do translations. Additionally, it also recognizes the language, regardless of if you’re writing in the latin alphabet, in Kana, or Kanji. It rocks!!
This website takes you all the way back to the basics. Lke Imiwa, this website acts a great translation dictionary. It also allows you to draw the kanji or kana if you prefer to (though I find it to be a little bit of amixed bag in terms of results on this one). The advantage of it in comparison to Imiwa is that Imiwa can be a bit overwhelming and better suited for those with at least a basic understanding of Japanese, where as Jisho.org typically gives a great overview quickly of words, with the most likely words you’re looking for being within the top 5 or 3 results. The downside is that there’s no app. But it can be accessed via your internet browser on your phone.
Hear me out, yes, this app is vital for more than just drivers. While most users of Google Maps in the US use it as a GPS, in Japan, it’s an awesome app for train users and even those going through shopping centers.
For train users, this app will give you multiple options for routes to take via train and/or bus, the times they leave, the cost of each route, and even the optimal car number of the train to get into so that you can make your transfers even faster. I love it because it makes it easy for you to adjust your route instantly should you miss your first train choice.
Meanwhile, in the busiest shopping centers, it can also guide users through various levels in order to get to stores or exit at the doors that will take the least amount of time to get to their next location from.
The other reason Google Maps is so useful is because you can create your own map and plot out where you want to go while in Japan. This is helpful because you can plan to go to things each day based on how close they are to one another, which helps eliminate a lot of train rides and transfers. You might as well knock out everything that’s nearby if you can. Honestly, as much as I hate to admit it, this is one of my favorites out of all of the Japan Travel Apps out there… even if again it’s not specific to Japan. So be sure to map out places you definitely want to go to before you go!
Website: Google Maps
Hyperdia is a navigation app primarily used by those using the trains in Japan. What Hyperdia does better than Google Maps is that it gives you the option to negate certain train lines (particularly on the Shinkansen) from your results. Most of the time on Google Maps, the option to get these slower/cheaper options doesn’t even appear unless you do some heavy finagling of the settings that you’d have to change for each search. As such, this is particularly useful in the event that you don’t want to take a faster train for reasons of either cost or if your train pass doesn’t permit you to do so without paying a premium (and yes, I’m talking about all those using the JR pass). Definitely one of the more awesome Japan Travel Apps to have!
Gurunavi (short for Gourmet Navigation) is a website dedicated to helping individuals find all restaurants of all sorts through out Japan. You can search by cuisine type, area of country, and even if you can make reservations there. There is an app for Gurunavi, however at this time, it’s primarily in Japanese, so if you’re not familiar with the language, I would stick to using the website. That said, the website is plenty helpful.
You can find information including hours of operation, whether or not there are English speaking staff, accepted forms of payment, accessibility details, parking information, and the average prices of items on the menu. Often, they will provide a link to the restaurant’s website as well. Not to mention, depending on the restaurant, you can book a reservation without even making a phone call. It doesn’t include EVERY restaurant out there, but there are enough to satisfy any cravings you might be having. So what are you waiting for? Check it out! 😉
This is a great app and website not just for those traveling to Japan, but to those wanting to go anywhere in the world on vacation. There is the option to upgrade your account to a paid version, but frankly, I don’t think you need it.
Any information you put into it is accessible via the web or on your phone app and you can invite others to help collaborate on planning for your trip. You can input your flight details, hotel information, any other reservations, and where you want to go each day of your trip. Often times, you can also enter this information via email confirmations too if there are reservations associated with your info. Additionally, popular tourist locations will auto-populate too and information such as the location’s website, hours, and prices will fill in for you as well. It’s a great way to keep all of your information together and share your itinerary with others.
There are a plethora of websites dedicated to traveling in Japan, but Japan-Guide by far takes the cake when it comes to laying out many primary and sub-primary key locations of interest for those visiting Japan. While other websites may have a lot of articles about new things or fleeting things available to do in Japan, Japan-Guide focuses on laying out tried and true, long standing locations of interest for travelers. It also lays it out by location and keeps everything up to date in regards to hours of each location as well as admission costs. This is always my first stop when plotting out my next trip to Japan as I’m able to get key locations accounted for first and then I’m able to traverse other areas of the internet for more fleeting or newer experiences.
This website is all in Japanese, but hear me out, it’s still a goldmine of information. And that’s particularly true for those interested in limited time events being hosted in Japan linked to popular anime and manga series, movies, and TV Shows. Japan is well known for having themed cafes. But these days it’s also popular for cafes to host ‘collaborations’ for a limited time with various brands and series. The problem is that most of the time, these announcements come out of nowhere and are sold out before news of them gets out.
That’s where Collabo Cafe comes in. Admins here collect all of that information, announcing it all on the website often before the reservations go live. While everything across the country appears on the homepage at some point, you can also choose regions of Japan to filter your results.
For those not familiar with Japanese, plug this website into Google Chrome and let it translate the results for you. Often, you’ll get pretty decent results, with the important things, like dates and times, being translated correctly. You never know! Your favorite anime might be doing a collab while you’re in town, so keep checking because things pop up all of the time and you never know when a gem will come up for you to snatch!
Website: Collabo Cafe
Now Go Use Them! =D
‘Cause there you have it! Those are a collection of my favorite Japan Travel apps and websites for helping me while planning my trip to and traveling through out Japan. I even used a number of these Japan Travel apps and websites during my last trip. And during that time, I went to a number of places, such as the Graves of the 47 Ronin and TeamLab Planets! Hopefully it’s been helpful! Let me know if you use these and what your experience has been or if you have any other apps or tools that you find useful. How have they helped you or how will they help you? I’d love to know!
Until next time, best of luck in your Japan Traveling Adventures!