Apps That Can Make Your Life Easier if You’re a Gaijin

I’ve been living in Japan for few months now and frankly my Japanese skills doesn’t grow well. Most of the Japanese doesn’t understand English let alone Indonesian, so I’m the ones that should understand them. So far, I’ve been trying to memorize Hiragana and Katakana and few weeks ago I’ve successfully memorize all of the Hiraganas but right now I think I’ve forgotten most of them. Katanaka is much harder (I think) and understanding Kanji is just a dream for me.

If you’re that kind of Gaijin like myself, then fear not. Just go to Softbank and ask for an iPhone. For this procedure you should be accompanied by someone who understand Japanese. You should also already have an alien card from your city office. I’m not kidding, that beautifully sculpted black box with those enchanting retina display is your best friend in wilderness of Japan society. Help yourself to also grab a portable battery charger because you’ll eventually need it. Oh, and also a proper case enclosure in case you stumbled or dropped your precious gadget.


First things first, the most important apps is Maps. With this apps, the chances of you getting lost in any cities in Japan is reduced to almost zero. It can create route from where you’re standing right now to pre-bookmarked position on maps, as long as you are fairly in the open for the GPS to work and you have Softbank signal for the Maps to load. Google made a strict rule to disallow any method of caching their maps, so you need that 3G signal.

Aside from the caching dilemma, this built-in app also possess another problem, you can’t import maps from your Google account, you can only manage Maps from iPhone. Fear not, install an apps called My Maps. This apps can connect to your google account and load pre-made maps that you’ve created beforehand in your wide-screen PC. It can load several maps at once and shows all of your markers, lines, or shapes. With this apps, you can create your travel itinerary like places to stay, attractions, stations, etc on PC, load it to My Maps, and you’re ready to wander everywhere in Japan.

For Gaijin who like to travel back to nature, then any maps that based on Google Maps is useless because you need an internet connection to load its maps and Softbank signal strength is usually crap outside city area. Fear not once again, just install OpenMaps apps. This apps uses maps from Openstreetmap that can be cached and saved in your beloved iPhone. If you’re a wealthy Gaijin then you can also download a download tools extension that can automatically download maps from certain areas from current zoom level until its maximum zoom resolution in a single click. If not, then just zoom in and out and it will be saved as long as you do not clear the cache.

Still about navigation, another apps that you should have is Hyperdia. This app can find the shortest and quickest train route and the exact time when the train arrive and leave the platform. You almost don’t need to understand those confusing schedule written in the stations, just find the correct platform and wait for the train. It will come. You can buy and subscribe to the dedicated apps from Hyperdia for 3 dollars per month or be clever like me, just go to from your safari browser and bookmark it to home screen (make a short cut to this page directly from app menu). You will have Hyperdia power at your disposal for free.

Next is weather-forecast apps. There are tons of apps for this, but trust me, just go for Weathernews. The language is Japanese but the menu is no brainer. On the main screen, just click on the target-like shape and it will show you the weather in your area. You can see the hourly, three hourly or daily forecast. If you’re curious about weather in another areas, just click on the maps and it will zoom-in into its respective regions and prefectures.

A new apps from Google that I’ve been fond of is Translate apps. It is basically a Google Translate on steroids. The great thing is that you don’t need to write it down, you can use your voice and this apps will magically understand it and translate it for you. Neat.

But sometimes you just stuck to a kanji written on a wall or paper and you just can’t digitized it into known words that can be translated by Translate apps. Chill out, take a deep breath and say all-iz-well. There’s an app for that. This is a web app developed by clever people from Iwate University. Just go to this page from your Safari and just like Hyperdia, bookmark it to home screen. This app takes stroke input and it will guess the closest kanji character. If you don’t get it right, maybe you don’t stroke it at correct order. You need to enter it one by one though.

There are still some apps that I found useful for my daily life as a Gaijin, and maybe you also have your own favorite apps to help you in navigating your life in Japan. Please kindly comment and share with us 😀 .



  1. gadis tropis
    Posted Februari 15, 2011 at 1:25 am | Permalink | Balas

    I see. So this is what a gaijin do to survive from a wild world named japan 😀
    Arigatou ne, I got a list of useful apps from here..

  2. mutiara
    Posted Maret 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink | Balas

    ga cuma Gaijin kok yang terbantu oleh iphone.. Perantau2 macam aku gini jg sangat terbantu..hingga akirna lumayan hafal jalanan jakarta,hehe. Sayang di Indonesia belum banyak aplikasi lokalnya 😦

  3. Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink | Balas

    baru bisa memantau saja. Belum punya iphone 🙂

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