Top Three Tech Tips for Travelling in Japan

If you've noticed my absence around here and Facebook you may have been wondering what I've been up to, or if you've been over at my Instagram you'll know that I've just spent the last 2 and a bit weeks cramming in as much of stunning Japan as possible.

When cheap flights came up last year we decided that it was an opportunity not to be missed, and even though we travelled as lightly and on a fairly lean budget we came home with brains full of inspiration and a lot of tips that might make your Japan trip easier.

So let's begin getting all that information from my scrambled travel-lagged brain to you with my ...

Top three tech tips for travelling in Japan

1. Hire portable Wifi

Free Wifi in shops, hotels and other places is incredibly uncommon in Japan (at least in the areas we travelled to); but what is common and pretty awesome are these tiny little portable Wifi boxes that you can take everywhere with you to connect your phones and other devices to the internet.

We opted to pay for ours ahead of time by ordering them from eConnect Japan and collecting them from the post office at Narita Airport Terminal 1. You don't actually need to order a device ahead of time as there are a ton of Wifi (and phone) hire outlets within the Narita Airport complex, we simply went with eConnect because friends had previously used them and that was reassuring for me.  I also didn't have to worry about any language barriers that I may have experienced ordering once we arrived.

The Wifi came with a small cover inside a slightly bigger cover that also contained the charging cord and wall plug and a back up battery for when you're out on a long day and need to recharge on the go.  You can also order a data SIM for your phone which is probably the way to go if you only have one device you want to connect while you're away.

I would advise that if like us you order your device online and are flying in to Terminal 3 it could be worth considering having the device shipped to your first hotel to save you the long trek between terminals.  That being said it did help to have the device at the beginning of our trip to help navigate to the hotel.

Why Wifi?

If your phone isn't 4g it simply won't work on the Japanese networks, my phone appeared to be capable of functioning in Japan but the roaming rates are pretty high and with no real need to make phone calls the Wifi was the more affordable and practical option.

How do you return it?

At the end of our trip we popped the Wifi device and it's supplied accessories into the addressed envelope that was in the package we received from the post office and popped it into the mailbox at Terminal 2 Narita Airport (there are a few post boxes dotted around the complex but this one was right near the door that we got dropped at by the hotel courtesy bus). 

Super easy and stress free.

Were there any problems?

Like all mobile phone and internet connections we did run in to the occasional blackspot. These were mostly inside huge shopping complexes like Daimaru in Osaka, going through tunnels on the Shinkansen and in the Subway complexes. Which really is pretty understandable. If you're going to need information when you're in these places it is better to pull them up on the internet before you get there and screenshot the info so you don't get lost or have translation issues!

2. Google translate apps photo scanning feature

Sadly I had no idea about this feature until we were two thirds of the way through your trip.  While I can bumble my way through the hiragana and sound some words out I can't read Japanese any more than my four year old can!   

While written and even spoken Japanese is not essential for travelling there (although I will be giving some tips on preparing for the basics before you go) if you're wanting to check ingredients on food packages or like me make sure you're buying black and not brown mascara this feature is invaluable. 

Were there any problems?

Sure as with all generated translations the english is a little off, but it gives you the essential information that you're after and helps making those beauty buys a little more targeted and less stressful.

How does it work?

All you need to do is have the Google Translate app installed and open, your WiFi connected and select the camera icon and snap a photo of the text you need to translate.

Google Translate Photo

1. Open app and set languages, click camera icon

2. Photograph text to translate

3. Highlight section of text you want translated

4. Use blue arrow to expand and read translation

Like I said not perfect, but a million times better than my Japanese reading abilities!

3. Hyperdia

Japan is a vast and densely populated country, yet even if you're opting to stick to one city there it is easy to find yourself in one of the insanely busy train stations searching signs and feeling a little overwhelmed.  Almost every sign has both English and Japanese on it which goes a long way to helping but it can still be a bit tricky knowing which connection you need, which platform the train leaves from; which is essential if you want to weave your ways through the dense crowds and make it to your train on time (and believe me these trains wait for no man).

Hyperdia, will tell you not only which trains you need to get on and transfer to to reach your destination, it also tells you which company the train (or bus) belongs to  and which platform it leaves from.

How does it work?

Simply open the app, type in your departure station and destination station and departure times and HyperDia will bring up all the info you need. 

Were there any problems?

While there are a couple of things that I would change to make it more user friendly, like being able to choose the route based on arrival rather than departure time only, and that knowing which train station you need isn't intuitive in some cases, the flaws are not really anything that outweighs how useful this app is.

The fact that the app worked almost all the time (like the Wifi it can be a bit hard to connect at times and I would recommend planning and screen-shotting your trip before heading out for the day), was free for 30 days and made it easy for us to know when we would need to purchase a ticket or when our JR Rail Passes had us covered made what could have been a stressful and scary way to get around Japan mostly easy and fast.

Do you have any tech type travelling tips you could share in the comments?