Getting around, making yourself understood, finding that special hole-in-the-wall spot for dinner, keeping all your travel documents together, figuring out what you need to do in an emergency, there's an app for all of that. Here are the essentials that you should take away with you.
Of course, these apps aren't super useful if you can't get online. And that's not something you want to sort out when you're on the ground. Make sure you have a plan for when you arrive. Common options are using roaming with your provider, buying a SIM, or renting a pocket WiFi. That's our option of choice because it's reliable, you can get local help if anything goes wrong, and you can use multiple devices (we're usually travelling with at least two phones, a laptop and an iPad in tow).
Download these apps before you leave
When it comes to the best app for route planning, travellers tend to split into two camps- Google Maps or Hyperdia. I'm a user of both because I like to be able to cross-check, but I find Google Maps slightly more helpful on the whole. The Hyperdia app operates largely by voice, so if you prefer searching that way, it might be the app for you.
Google Maps is great for planning and research and will also help you to cost your trip, and can be useful to figure out whether a rail pass will save you money. We use it to get around constantly, sometimes reverting to the haptic Apple Watch option, to look a little less like lost tourists.
Japan is a surprisingly analogue country- some of the admin systems you're encounter are very far from the neon wonderland you'll be expecting. With that in mind, it's safest to keep a paper copy of the things you need. It's also good to have a PDF stash. This is why I love Travefy.
It's not only a great itinerary creator and very handy in the planning stages, but because you can upload documents to it, it's the perfect way to keep all your important booking confirmations together. You can also share your itinerary with the people you're travelling with, so everyone has the vital docs.
Currency conversion in Japan seems like it's going to be pretty straightforward. My rough conversation is just to whack off the last two numbers then round up a bit. This is not a good system. XE.com is a good system and I use it to convert currency properly all the time.
It's pretty amazing that you can point your phone's camera at a sign and have it tell you what it says. A few amusing mistranslations aside, this is an excellent tool and one that you'll definitely use, probably as we do, to decode the exact conditions of tabehoudai, or 'all you can eat' offers.
Safety Tips: Earthquake and Tsunami Early Warning
Natural disasters are something to be aware of when you're headed to Japan, because earthquakes are common. Consequently, the whole country is pretty well prepared, including an incredible early warning system. The Safety Tips app is designed for tourists and visitors, is in English, and includes info on what to do, as well as special 'cards' designed to help you communicate in an emergency or evacuation situation.
It's not always obvious where the dining hotspots are, and sites like Trip Advisor are a bit unwieldly to use on-the-go. Enter Gurunavi, which quickly locates the good food options in the area that you're in, and seems to be largely unspoiled by the frankly not-great takes from tourists that you'll see elsewhere online.