Smartphone Apps for Living in Japan

Everyone told you to get a smartphone for your Ishikawa JET tenure, but whether you’re running iOS or Android, your phone is only as useful as the apps you put on it.  Here are some recommendations to get you started or to make your life a little easier.

For Both Android and iPhone

Yurekuru Call (EN and JP, free).  An earthquake warning app. Uses your location and your phone’s notification system to give you up to a minute’s warning before an earthquake is projected to hit your area. Highly recommended–it may be the only English language warning you get.

Japan Goggles  (EN, free). This nifty app uses your smartphone camera to recognize and translate kanji words. It might take a moment for the app to recognize the right kanji compound, but it’s still incredibly helpful.

iConnect (EN, free) Published by AJET, this app is a converter, phrasebook, directory, and national event guide all in one! If you miss the JET Diary, this app is for you.

Ishikawa Travel Guide (EN, Free). Uses Google Maps to show you nearby sights throughout Ishikawa. Unfortunately, the gourmet list is lacking, but the list of sightseeing spots and activities is comprehensive. Good for exploring a new part of the prefecture!

北鉄バスビュワー Hokutetsu Bus Viewer (JP, free). Japanese language bus route-finder and schedule for buses all around the prefecture. Allows you to bookmark your favorite bus routes. It can also use your current location to find nearby bus stops.

乗換案内 by Jorudan (Free, JP). Japanese only. A nationwide train route finder and schedule. Recognizes romaji place name input.  Includes a Live feature that notes train delays. The paid version, 乗換案内プラス (norikae-annai plus), is 630 yen in both stores and allows you to save routes.

EnjoyLearning Japan Map Puzzle (Free, JP).  Want to get 上手 (jouzu) at Japanese geography and prefecture names? This drag and drop prefecture map game will help. It includes hiragana readings of the prefecture names, too.

Platform-specific apps are after the jump!

For Android Only

JED. Japanese English Dictionary (EN, free). The most popular Japanese dictionary among Android users in Japan. Not optimized for newer phones, so careful.

Jisho Japanese English Dictionary (EN, free). Japanese dictionary app that pulls from No radical-based kanji input.

WWWJDIC for Android (EN free).  Dictionary app based on the popular and extensive online Monash dictionary. Allows for handwritten kanji input and features in-app vocab review games.

Japan Trains  (EN, free).  Shows train times and fares anywhere in Japan in English/Romaji. The best free English language train directory on any platform.

Convert Pad (EN, free).  Converts units and currency. Essential for getting used to the metric system, cooking, or for checking how much your yen is worth in your home country.

PolyClock (EN, paid, 249 yen). World clock app and time converter.

For iPhone Only 

(Notes: weblinks are to the US iTunes store apps pages so you can read about them in English. Prices for these apps, however, are given in yen, iJET’s universal currency. All apps are available in iTunes Japan. Here is a guide to registering for the iTunes Japan store without a Japanese credit card. You can buy store credit at any conbini!)

Japan Transit Planner (1,200 yen in JP store, EN). The English version of Jorduan’s Norikae Annai app. Nationwide train route planning, with the option to save up to fifty routes or train schedules for offline viewing. Worth it.

Midori. (Paid, 850 yen in JP app store) Very well-edited Japanese dictionary app that allows you to search for kanji by drawing them.

Japanese (Paid, 850 yen in JP app store). Japanese dictionary app. Also allows you to search for kanji words by drawing them. Highly recommended, accessible offline.

Learning Japanese (EN, free).  Simply explained basic-intermediate grammar lessons on your phone! Based on Tae Kim’s popular online Japanese grammar guides.

Discover Kanazawa’s History (Free, EN).  A Google Maps-based guide to historical places in Kanazawa. It uses your location to suggest nearby historic spots or art galleries. A must for exploring!

JotNot (EN, free or paid for pro).  Document scanner. Great for keeping records of monthly report sheets, tax forms, business cards, you name it. Also, the app can convert documents to PDFs for easy emailing.

The World Clock or World Clock Pro (Paid, 250 yen in JP app store).  Making skype dates across the world? In addition to stylishly showing what time it is currently in multiple time zones, this app has a slider function for comparing times. It’s a quick, easy tool for finding the right time to contact friends and family.

GlobeConvert (Free with ads, EN). Converts units and currency. Allows you to mark favorite conversions.

Tabelog 食べログ (Free, JP). Tabelog is a popular restaurant ranking site in Japan. Their app will help you find popular restaurants in your area (or in whatever city you’re visiting) by cuisine and budget. It also allows you to bookmark and share favorite restaurants.

Have any other suggestions? Please leave them in the comments!

Lauren is a third-year ALT who thinks スマホ sounds like an insult. She is an editor of this blog. 

5 thoughts on “Smartphone Apps for Living in Japan

  1. Kotoba is a decent dictionary app–definitely good for its price! I’ve had some awkward moments where the words it gave me were outdated or just wrong, though. I do like the vocab lists you can make in-app, though!

    In the iPhone, you can also add traditional Chinese (hand-drawn) as an input method for kanji lookup. The overlap between traditional Hanzi and Kanji is enough for it to work about 70% of the time.

  2. Kotoba had some licensing issues, they are coming back in mid-august under the name Imiwa.

  3. Hi,
    Thanks for writing about all the great app for learning Japanese!
    VidaLingua publishes multilingual dictionaries that have been downloaded by over 10 million people. Our app, Japanese Dictionary & Translator + includes a comprehensive dictionary, phrasebook, verb conjugator, translator and flashcards. You can download if for free from from Google Play at the link below.
    Best, Marc Bolh, Founder VidaLingua

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