The Tokoko Application Is – Even if you want to go old school, or go without in the rest of Asia, a smartphone can save you a lot in Japan. Whether it’s a surprising lack of English (or confusing examples of what that is) or finding that random hostel you booked three months ago, sometimes having a digital friend can make all the difference. Of course we’ll say it as a website, but we also promise to tell the truth. To prove it – here are the best apps and websites for traveling to Japan. Read them, try them out, have a good trip and then send us an email to say thanks (just kidding, it’s Japan – you’ll be sending a fax to our answering machine).
One thing to note: Japanese websites and apps are generally not known for great interfaces. I don’t know why they don’t really understand here, but remember that even the latest apps – if they are created by a Japanese company – can look weird, unwanted, and sometimes downright bad. We suggest you try a few and see which one works for you.
The Tokoko Application Is
From bullet trains to subways, trains are the way to travel. Finding the best route and timing can be a bit confusing, just check out the Tokyo subway map for inspiration. For this, we recommend combining the two apps (or apps and websites).
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We recommend Google Maps to find out where the nearest station is. It’s obvious, we know, but it’s great, especially when combined with our other recommendations. For true A-B transport it is also reliable in Tokyo, but less so elsewhere. If you don’t have wifi and don’t want to save space, download the area you’re watching first, then you can watch it offline!
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Available in English, Japanese and Chinese, the website is regularly updated with information about Kotsushinbunsha, so it is reliable. The only problem is that you need to know your station before you start (and that’s where Google Maps comes in). With the added option to select (or delete) not only high-speed trains, but also JR Pass-friendly ones, giving you entire train routes across the country, it becomes a must-see in no time. There are also highway bus options – check them out if bullets seem too expensive!
For a special trip to Tokyo, this app is great for getting to know the city. It navigates a detailed subway map and gives you a simple list of times, prices and transfers along with the lines you need to take and directions. You can choose to enter a station name or search for a station on the map. That’s why it’s fun to get to know the route and Tokyo.
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Note: There is a “tourist” version of this app – but we’re not entirely sure why, unless you prefer a cleaner interface that lets you navigate between lines, stations and services like Lost and Found. The app doesn’t work offline, which is weird like regular apps.
If you are already planning to use a Pasmo or Suica card, firstly, well done, and secondly, why not use it? You can use the official JR Suica app to track your balance, load and use tickets on your phone, which is very useful—but it’s currently only available in Japanese and on the iPhone. For Android users, you can connect your Suica to Google Pay. For Pasmo users you can. . . Get Suica? There is currently no official Pasmo app, but there are several unofficial options (this also applies to Suica Android users).
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With over 160,000 restaurants to choose from, and only our recommendations to help you (just kidding – not really), finding dinner after a day of sightseeing can be a bit overwhelming. While there’s a strong point to be made in any place that tickles your fancy, there’s also a good point to visiting those nice spots you’ve been looking for before.
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This is the bible of Japanese food, and even in Japanese, Google Translate/Chrome is your friend. Tabelog has photos, detailed reviews and a strict rating system. As a rule of thumb, anything above 3.5 stars is good, anything over 4, and if you get a 4.5, that’s exceptional (and rare). If you have the time and patience, you can translate reviews to find recommended dishes or simply use the home page to check stars, locations and photos.
A contender for Japan’s largest food encyclopedia, Gurunavi (short for “gourmet navigator”) presents a vast collection of food options. Available in English, it’s definitely more touristy, allowing you to select very specific categories. You can find average prices, availability of English-speaking staff, addresses, nearest stations – everything but prices. So, check out the potential locations here and then check out their reviews on the Tabelog website.
If you are a vegetarian, vegan or a foodie, then Happy Cow is your best friend. Happy Cow is the easiest way to find meat-free dishes in Tokyo (and beyond). If you pay for the full app, you can save the location offline, otherwise the free version works well, and you can also search for cities first.
If you don’t plan on renting mobile wifi or getting a SIM card while living in Japan, finding free wifi will be your new hobby. To make your life easier (and less dependent on Starbucks), you can download this app (before) and use the internet, as the cool kids say. Here’s our list of the best coffee shops for WiFi, so if you turn it on, you’ll be living the well-connected and caffeinated Riley life.
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With more than 200,000 access points across the country, this application allows you to connect automatically, eliminating eight thousand logins per day. The map feature allows you to find the nearest location and download it for offline use which is great. Where to look for Wi2 in blue (and many variants) – you’ll start seeing it everywhere and you can get a very strong connection.
Another similar app with 170,000 sites and an automatic feature to avoid constant logins. The app also has a map feature and works in 16 languages, which is really interesting.
Even if you’re only here for a few days, being able to throw out a few sentences and meet a strange character can go a long way. If you’re a gifted linguist, you probably already know this – general language apps like Memrise and Duolino are great for building basic vocabulary and grammar. Meanwhile, WaniKani, Obenkyo and Anki all offer a more immersive experience – the one below will also be great when you’re on the go.
While you may have used it here and there, Google Translate has a few features that really make it stand out. The camera function is the best – see signs, take pictures and read their contents (perfect for menus). Remember to save the Japanese option for offline use and try the typing option if your camera can’t read handwritten kanji. Plus, when you can use Chrome – it automatically translates web pages to help with research.
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If you want to learn as you go, Imiwa and Yomiwa are similar to Google Translate, but they also provide explanations of kanji and their radicals (the lines that make them up). This app is more for intermediate students and is great if you want to learn new kanji that you see around you. Imiwa has typing and reading lessons, while Yomiwa has a camera app – those with an iPhone can combine the two for a select version of Google Translate.
If language learning isn’t your thing, this app can be a quick way to learn two phonetic scripts: hiragana and katakana (not kanji, the Chinese characters, although there are variations). The application uses a mnemonic method – using visual keys to remember each corresponding sound of the symbol. Learning these two alphabets can be very useful; Hiragana can often be found written over kanji for children to read, especially useful for train station signs. Katakana is used for foreign words and is often found on menus – so if you combine the two, you’ll have a real treat without worrying about grammar. Note: Free trial only, so give it a try and if it works for you, it’s worth it.
Japan is a country that makes money, and it’s fun to have the confidence that you have (and know how much) you have. Showing your Mastercard, Visa or Amex card will be of no use in Japan unless you are in a major store or hotel. some time
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