by Jodie Condick and Jason Walters
If you have an iPhone in Japan, it’s probably made your life easier at some point or other. I know that I rely on it a lot. This is a list of apps that I use, and perhaps they will help you too. If you have any favorite apps, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.
The Japanese era calendar system can be confusing to convert to western years, especially if you’re in a hurry to complete paperwork. Gengou free is a tool that quickly converts one into the other.
NHK World TV (Live) streams TV programs live in English. It is overdubbed, which can be a little annoying if watching for pleasure. However I thought this app was invaluable just after 3/11. Not being able to understand news reports in Japanese was frustrating, and this really helped me understand what was going on.
With Dragon dictation, record a voice (in English or Japanese), and the words will appear on the screen. You then have the ability to edit the text, or cut and paste it into a message or dictionary.
Currency (by Jeffrey Grossman) is a simple app that converts several currencies at once. I imagine XE Currency would also be a good choice.
Skype is so well-known that it’s become a verb. But maybe you didn’t know there’s an app. Use it to make free calls worldwide. I’ve heard that Viber allows you to make free calls and send messages to other iPhone users who have it installed.
Apps for learning Japanese
Kotoba! Dictionary is easy to use, and includes examples and bookmarks. It has kanji lists for JLPT study (although for the old 4-level test rather than the newer 5-level test). You can also see what kanji is taught within each grade at school, and learn about kanji radicals, stroke order and composition.
Kanjibox is a smart, intuitive tool for studying kanji, increasing vocabulary and improving reading skills. It can also be used for studying kana. You can start at any JLPT level and work your way up. The app learns when you know something or if you need more practice, and produces personal statistics. If you also use Kanjibox on your home computer, you can sync your scores.
Katsuyo is a Japanese verb conjugator. This is not so much a tool for studying conjugation, but rather a helping hand when you need to conjugate a verb in a hurry. Handy if you get stuck writing a message in Japanese.
For beginners, Tae Kim’s Guide To Learning Japanese is great. Tae Kim recognizes that “Japanese is different [to English] in just about every way down to the fundamental ways of thinking,” and has created what he calls “a Japanese guide to learning Japanese grammar.” For example, it teaches the plain form before the polite, kanji is introduced immediately, and it encourages us not to force our English expressions into Japanese. Worth a look, especially since it’s free.
Tae Kim also has an app called Kana Kanji Funtime, which can be bought for a small fee. It’s also for beginners who want to learn kana and some basic kanji. Although I haven’t used it, it could be helpful.
SoundCloud identifies songs playing around you. Your phone will listen, and then tell you the name of the song and artist. Alternatively, sing to it and see if it can guess your tune!
Next time you’re in a sushi shop, try out Sushipedia. Search by name, ingredients or what’s in season now. There’s a detailed description and picture of many kinds of sushi.
The game Reversi is quite popular in Japan. Use the screen as a board to play with a partner, or play the computer.
Mr AahH! I heard this was something of a craze in Japan for a while. A simple, tactile game in which you have to get the character to jump onto poles of differing sizes.
I like Tonkatsu Camera. Take a picture of someone, and their head will appear in the middle of a piece of fried pork.
Apps may or may not be available depending on which country’s iTunes store you use.
Before I extol the virtues of mobile apps for ALTs, I will take my lumps- yes, I’ve only covered iOS applications for Apple devices, for no other reason than that I’ve only ever used iOS applications for Apple devices. I’ve no doubt that Android and its ilk have no end of high-quality solutions for streamlining your life in Japan, but my ignorance demands that someone else write that article.
For now, here are my “big picks” for useful, enjoyable, and ridiculous mobile applications for iPhone and iPad that can give you a leg up in your life as a Gifu JET.
Hands-down, this is the best combination dictionary/kanji reference/stroke order teacher/JLPT study app out there. It allows input in romaji, kana, and kanji (via touchscreen handwriting or by individual components), cross-references characters in kanji compounds, provides hundreds of usage examples in Japanese and English, and the interface is completely polished. It also provides animated stroke order demonstrations for nearly every kanji you’re likely to come across. You can make your own study lists with this bad boy, it provides quizzes to keep track of your progress, and JLPT vocabulary lists are built-in.
Human Japanese by Brak Software
This is a multi-module textbook and online course that can be followed, in its entirety, on your phone, and is perfect for new learners of Japanese. It does a great job of approaching Japanese grammar in a way that makes it seem entirely logical and intuitive. Its general approach to language is something like “many people feel that the x is difficult to understand, but here’s a way we do the very same thing in English.” By taking away the mystique, it makes basic Japanese grammar and pronunciation totally sensible. The guy’s writing style is probably the best I’ve ever seen in foreign language education. Even if you’ve already been here a couple years, this natural approach can provide good memory tools and help with retention.
KanjiBox by Unknown Genius Software
This is a straightforward offline Japanese study tool. Use it to practice kanji or kana through quizzes, flashcards, drills, tests, and track your progress with the extensive scoring tools. You can use the touchscreen as well to practice your writing, and can get a sense of how legible your kanji really is. Works great for JLPT practice, with built-in vocab lists, and can be synced up with your Facebook account in order to compare progress with other friends using the app. Note: this one isn’t a dictionary
JAPOW! by CocoLounge
A limited but entertaining app that helps you get a handle on any number of inappropriate, odd, or slang Japanese expressions. It’s also got a nice selection of Japanese onomatopoeia (sound symbolism words like ペラペラ or フワフワ), and the accompanying illustrations are glorious. Fun to pass around at an enkai.
Google Maps vs. Apple Maps
This is a tough one. I use both. They’re both really good at one thing while dropping the ball on the other. If you’re looking for a location and don’t have a clue where it is, Google Maps is the way to go. Its database has just about every location you could need in every corner of Japan, from onsens to 100-yen shops to small family-owned izakayas. Where it sometimes loses steam is its turn-by-turn directions. It often has a difficult time understanding whether you’re on a highway or a nearby frontage road, and is still really bad about its traffic predictions, which can lead to some rerouting issues. Apple Maps, however, has great turn-by-turn directions, can usually get you from A to B effortlessly and has pretty solid subway/bus/train information, but unfortunately seems to have lost 80% of its Japanese location names in the iOS6 update. If you’ve got a pin to your location, I’d recommend Apple Maps to get there quickly. If you’re trying to find a spot by name alone, go with Google. Thankfully, both are free.
温泉さがし by ArtisanForce
This one’s all in Japanese, but if you’re hooked on hot spring baths like myself, it will help you track down nearly every last on in every prefecture. The interface isn’t so user-friendly, but it’s thorough, and will keep you in cozy onsens no matter where you find yourself.
An honorable mention here for the Hyperdia app, because it sucks out loud. If you need to puzzle out a train schedule, use the very-accessible mobile site on your phone’s browser. The app is a subscription-based, stupid incoherent mess. Not worth your time.
TeacherKit by TeacherKit
This one’s usefulness to you will depend on how much input you have over your teaching and grading. If you’re a high school teacher, this might come in handy- I used it for two straight years to keep track of 800 students in 18 different classes, and it was a pleasure to use. This thing is a gradebook (which allows for weighted assignments and tests), class roster, behavior and attendance log. You can also import photos in order to practice matching faces with names. You can input your seating charts, export gradesheets to Excel or Numbers, and sync data with your own computer in-app using Dropbox. If you find yourself in charge of your own curriculum, assignments, and giving your tests, then you’ll get some good use out of this.
Keynote by Apple
A remarkably complete app for creating multimedia presentations ala PowerPoint, but arguably more user-friendly than whatever you’ve got on your office computer. The iPad app has a quicker learning curve than the iPhone version, but both are completely intuitive and thorough. If you’ve got an iPhone and Keynote, all you need is a simple adapter (Yamada or K’s Denki for about 1200 yen) to hook up to any projector or screen. Do it all on your phone, start to finish. No kidding.
Camera + by taptaptap.com
With everything from hipstery filters to absolutely essential level adjustments, exposure options, and truly professional-looking effects, this is the app that all your friends use instead of the built-in Apple Camera app. It’s simply a better camera. You might call it a Camera, plus. Get it, and the lamest sidestreets of the inaka become an Instagram-bound window into your east Asian paradise for friends and family back home to gush about. いいな。
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Because it’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and you can play it on your motherloving phone.
No better way to spend a long train ride than getting inspired, informed, or your horizons broadened by the first-class speakers featured at TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. The loadtimes are usually great, even on 3G, and the archive of talks is extensive. This one’s free, and it’s a must-have.