Today I continue with my breakdown of how I plan my travel needs when traveling to Japan. In my previous entries in this series, we have already covered organising flights and also managing the transport options once in Japan. You can check each of those out here and here. Today I want to tackle a topic that will save any traveller to Japan time and also prevent a lot of stress. Use of technology whilst travelling in Japan can make not only planning your trip, but also navigating your time there, more enjoyable and easy.
There are a number of options for ensuring that you have access to data, but more importnatly understanding why you need it. I remember my first day in Tokyo back in 2015 and the SIM card that I had organised for my phone just was not working at all. I was lost and incredibly frustrated because I was supposed to meet a friend somewhere in Shinjuku. You realise that Shinjuku is massive and addresses don’t work the way we are used to here in Australia. I was freaking out. Luckily I found a McDonalds and used their free wifi to get in touch with my friend who was then able to help me set up my phone. From then on everything was a breeze. Having data meant that I could get in touch with my family back home. Having data meant that I could look up google maps to find where I was and where I wanted to be.
You can rely on using free wifi places such as Starbucks and McDonalds or even your hotel. This way you can contact people, do your social media thing and update your offline maps. Alternatively, you can pick up a loan phone from a vendor at the airport once you arrive in Japan. Or a portable wifi device that you can connect multiple devices to. There are usually quite a few of these in each airport. But you do need to return the product before you leave. Personally, the last thing I want to do when I land is go looking for this option. I don’t carry any other devices that require wifi other than my phone.
I organise a SIM card weeks before I even leave for Japan. I use a company called SIM Corner. They have a great range of SIM cards to suit most modern iPhone’s and Android phones. They sell SIM cards for all over the world. Some are just data and others are data and voice but it depends on the country. For Japan they have two options depending on what you are using the SIM for. It is mailed to your address and comes with the SIM card and the tool to access the SIM on your particular phone. It will also include instructions on how to update your phones software to allow the SIM to work. I have done this a number of times and it makes no impact on your phone for normal use. So I update the software before I travel. Then whilst in the air on my way, I swap the SIM out. Once I land, I turn my phone back on and bingo – instant access to data. Check out SIM Corner here!
Now that you have access to data there are some really great apps to install before you go. These will make it easy to enjoy your travels.
I use this prior to traveling. I find that this app allows me to list all the places that I want to see whilst in Japan. It also gives you the ability to create lists based on suburbs or cities and then any places that you save in Google Maps can then be saved under that suburb or city. If you use Google email also, the app will automatically find your reservations from email and place them in the reservation folder of the app. Flights, hotels, events, tickets, etc. Creepy but effective. The app also has great information on recommended sights, food and drink, transport and even discounts available.
Google Maps is pretty straight forward and is without a doubt my most used app in Japan. And with the benefit of pre-saving places I want to visit, I can scan the map at various levels to see what’s around me. Heard of something to see that you had previously not know about? Plug the name into Google Maps and it can give you walking, driving and even accurate public transport options to get there.
This app allows you translate from pretty much any language into pretty much any other language. You type what you want to say and I will show you the text in both languages and will also allow you to hear an AI voice of the message. It is simple to set up between English and Japanese. Personally, I have never used a translator app on any of my journeys to Japan. I found that it was pretty easy to get by without it. But I suppose if there is an urgent need for translation, then this would be effective.
Hyperdia is a fantastic app that allows you to schedule your travels via the complex train network of Japan. It is all in English and it allows you to simply set your departure station and your arrival station and finally when you want to travel. It will then give you the next 5 routes including the duration and distance of the trip, the fare and the train line to catch. This works on all the different networks including subway and Shinkansen. If you are traveling long distances, it will even include flights. But at the local level, a very cool and handy app to get around a city like Tokyo.
I have only just become aware of this app. It is an app that allows you to find restaurants, bars and cafe in Japan. Sounds simple enough but this app gives you the option to select the style of meal – Curry to Izakaya. It also allows you to pick a price range for an average meal. This is great for the budget concious traveller. Another great option is that you can seek restaurants that have English menus and even English speaking staff. But stay tuned for more about food in a future blog.
Airline & Hotel Booking App
I have booked my tickets via JetStar. So I have downloaded the JetStar mobile app. Even though the flight data is in Google Trip, I can see any changes or notifications from the airline. I can check in online and also have my boarding passes on my phone ready for the flight crew to scan. No more worry about losing a boarding pass. The same for the hotels. I booked all my hotels via an app. This way I have the bookings, location, etc on my phone ready. Again, it is on Google Trip but this doesn’t hurt either.
A few other bits and pieces of advice about tech in Japan. Japan’s general power outlets are 100. In Australia, we use 230 volts. You will need to take power adaptors for Japan/Australia (or from where you are located). You can pick these up here in most chemists, camping stores, airports, and even some supermarkets. They are not that expensive but if you are taking lots of appliances – laptop, phone, iPad, cameras, etc – then you don’t want to charge one after the other so you may need a few. So they are bulky. Personally, I try to only take devices that can charge via USB. Plus I only take my phone (no iPad or computer). My cameras can both charge via USB if needed. I have found in all of the hotels I have ever stayed in Japan, they have several USB power outlets in the room.
Another consideration is to take with you a power bank that you can charge each night and have in your day bag during the day in case your gadget of choice runs out of battery. Especially if you are going to be using Google Maps heavily – this will drain your phone battery very quickly. Even a smaller one that gives you an extra hour or two of use is worthwhile. They are relatively cheap and light and you can even buy these from vending machines pre-charged.
Use the tech that is available
In the past, I used to print out all of my itineraries and tickets and information for my travels. And I carried a Lonely Planet Travel Guide plus a notebook. This meant a huge amount of weight and space in my day bag. Now, with the use of the above apps and services, I only need my phone. It carries everything I need from my boarding passes to where I may want to eat that night. Granted there is a risk of losing my phone – everyone has this risk. But, worst case I have everything stored on my Google accounts. So with access to any computer, I can gain critical documents and wing it the rest of the way with a loan phone sold in most electronics stores in big cities. Hope that this has been of value to some of you. Happy travels.