By HANSEL KHOO
GETTING around in Japan can be difficult, especially if you don’t know the language. Signs and menus are mostly in Japanese, and don’t get us started on toilet signs (also in Japanese, like how confusing is that?)!”
But on R.AGE’s recent trip to Japan, it was so much easier to travel and here’s why: technology.
From translation to budgeting, there’s an app for everything a young, savvy traveller needs. And with the 2020 Olympics due to be held in Tokyo, these advances could not have come at a better time.
We were in Japan for the Google Adventure race, battling twelve other teams from media companies across the Asia Pacific and Europe to travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa using Google products like Google Translate (extremely helpful) and Google Maps (invaluable).
While we didn’t win (congrats, Team Australia), at number four, we were the highest-ranking Asian team. But best of all, we gained first-hand experience of how much tech helps when travelling in a foreign land, especially for young travellers on a budget.
Google Translate, for example, allows you to take a photo of text in any language and highlight the words you want to translate. That’s great for signs, but it also works for communicating with locals via text and voice input. That worked out amazingly for us in restaurants, where menus are pretty much only in Japanese.
Speaking of food, GuruNavi is the perfect companion to any foodie. It lists restaurants by proximity and can be filtered by type of food and budget. Needless to say, our craving for chicken katsu, a delicious deep-fried chicken cutlet, was well and truly fulfilled.
However, there’s a lot more to travelling than just food, and while Japan can be confusing, tech goes a long way towards making it a fuss-free experience.
First, you’re going to need data, so rent yourself a local sim card. It’ll cost about 1,500 Yen (RM58) for two weeks, but will save you lots of time looking for places with WiFi.
Once that’s done, you’re good to go! Just download a few of these apps we’re recommending, and you’ll have a much more fuss-free vacation.
First up is XE Currency. Any traveller will tell you constantly having to convert currency in your head can be a real pain. XE Currency does all the converting for you, with or without an Internet connection, leaving you free to do all the souvenir shopping your heart desires. Great for doing the math when you’re in a crowded place (basically all the tourist hotspots in Tokyo).
Getting to those hotspots in Japan, where the sheer number of train lines can boggle the mind, can be a complicated affair, though.
Case in point: Tourist haven Asakusa, where maid cafes, anime shops and gaming centres abound, along with youth hostels that go for as low as RM80 per night. There are FOUR subway and train stations there, which can be a boon and a curse, especially if you’re not very good with directions.
To deal with this, there’s good old Google Maps. On our trip, it was a godsend. Most of us in Malaysia would use it only for driving directions, but in Japan, it does so much more for travellers on public transport. Not only did it tell us how long it would take to reach our destinations, it also told us which station platforms to wait at and when to get off the train.
Thanks to this awesome bit of tech, we were able to make our way to Asakusa, where – get this – there’s a samba carnival every August! Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, so it’s only natural that some Brazilian culture has managed to cross over to Japan.
LiveTrekker is another brilliant app for young travellers. It creates a digital journal of your travels so you can look back at your trip on an interactive map. You can add pictures, videos, audio and text to the map, just like a multimedia travel journal.
The cool thing about LiveTrekker is that it tracks your route by marking a red line along a map. So if you ever get lost or pass a shop and think “I might want to come back here later” but can’t remember how, this app will really come in handy.
Last but most definitely not least, budgeting app Mint is a shopaholic’s must-have. It allows you to organise your finances by keeping an eye on your travel budget and tracking your expenses during your trip. Because it’s a ”read only” service, you can’t move funds between accounts and neither can anybody else, making it super secure. Shop away, and happy travelling!