Basics

Top must-have apps in Japan

Moving to Japan? From learning the language to checking the weather, these must-have Japanese apps will help make your transition smoother.

Japan apps
writer

Updated 15-5-2024

Japan (日本, Nihon/Nippon) is an incredibly plugged-in country. Smartphones are used for cashless payments, making dinner reservations, learning Japanese, and navigating public transport, among other things.

Downloading Japan’s top apps (アプリ, apuri) will do wonders if you’re settling into your new lifestyle.

However, it’s worth noting that not all Japanese apps have English support yet. Here are the top suggestions and must-haves:

Airbnb

Looking for a home away from home in Japan? Airbnb is a global online community offering accommodation and experiences. They have a selection of over 6 million unique properties available through their secure booking service. So, whether you're moving to Tokyo, Kyoto, or elsewhere, Airbnb has the right short-term let for you.

Getting around Japan with public transport apps

Getting around Japan as a newcomer can be challenging, especially when navigating the country’s largest train stations. To help you get from A to B, download these reliable transport (交通, kotsu) apps to plan your journey.

Train car packed with passengers pulls up to station in Tokyo, Japan, passengers checking travel apps
Shinjuku (新宿), Tokyo (Photo: Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Google Maps

It’s hard to look past Google Maps. With up-to-date train times (時刻, jikoku), routes (経路, keiro), and information on delays (遅延, chien) – rare as they may be in Japan – it is one of the most convenient transport apps in the country. Google Maps also provides a last train (終電, shuden) option, which is handy in large cities like Tokyo (東京), where most public transport (公共交通機関, kokyo kotsu kikan) ceases around midnight.

Norikae Annai (乗換案内) – Japan Transit

Norikae Annai-Japan Transit (only available on Google Play) is a multilingual app with information on the best rail and aviation routes for travel in Japan. It works nationwide, provides travel fares (運賃, unchin), and calculates your total travel time. With over 10 million downloads, it’s among the country’s most popular free transport apps.

Japan Travel – Route, Map, Guide

Japan Travel – Route, Map, Guide (available both on the Play Store and the App Store) does exactly what its name implies: offers route, map (地図, chizu), and guide information for transport in Japan. The free-to-use app has an interactive railway map, essential travel information, and optimized routes for travelers using the Japan Rail Pass (available only to temporary visitors to Japan).

Wallet apps

Google Wallet and Apple Wallet are also helpful apps for getting around by public transport in Japan. You can add IC (integrated circuit) cards (ICカード, IC kado) – rechargeable travel passes – to your virtual wallet and use your phone or smartwatch to pass through the ticket barriers (改札, kaisatsu) in transit stations.

Check the weather in Japan with these apps

Japan’s weather (天気, tenki) changes drastically across the seasons. The country is also prone to extreme weather events and natural disasters (自然災害, shizen saigai), so it’s wise to have apps with the latest information.

WeatherJapan

WeatherJapan, powered by the Japan Weather Association (日本気象協会, Nihon Kisho Kyokai), is a free app providing accurate information on the current climate conditions in any given region of the country. This includes temperature (気温, kion), rainfall (降水量, kosui ryo), cloud cover, and time of sunrise and sunset. Hourly forecasts (予報, yoho) are available up to 48 hours in advance, and the app can be customized to your preferences, such as swapping Celsius for Fahrenheit.

Yurekuru Call (ゆれくるコール, Yurekuru Koru)

The Yurekuru Call (Android/iOS) app notifies users of major inbound earthquakes (地震, jishin). It gives follow-up information on the earthquake’s intensity in different neighborhoods and potential tsunami (津波) warnings. You can also confirm your safety following an earthquake in the free version. The premium subscription (roughly ¥120 per month) has high-speed warnings and GPS and voice navigation features.

Apps in Japan for finding a healthcare provider

Many healthcare apps in Japan still lack adequate English-language functionality. However, some have been developed to help internationals seeking healthcare (医療, iryo) in Japan.  

Japan Hospital Guide

The free Japan Hospital Guide (ジャパン ホスピタル ガイド, Japan Horupitaru Gaido) app (Android/iOS) was developed specifically to help English speakers find medical facilities. Using GPS, the map indicates the nearest healthcare center, alongside information on what services are available and what languages the staff speak.

Man looking at a Japanese app on phone while holding coffee cup in Tokyo
Photo: visual guide/Getty Images

Nippon AED Map

The Nippon AED Map (only on Google Play) is designed to help users in emergencies by indicating the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED). These are used on someone undergoing cardiac arrest. These defibrillators aren’t confined to medical facilities in Japan; sometimes, they’re found in convenience stores (コンビニ, konbini) and other public buildings.

The best news apps in Japan

A great way to learn more about Japan is to keep up with the local news (ニュース, nyusu). However, if you haven’t mastered the Japanese language yet, you can keep up to date with current affairs through these English-language news apps.

The Japan Times

The Japan Times is the country’s oldest source of English-language news, running a daily paper since 1897. It offers round-the-clock breaking news, long-form features, and in-depth analyses on everything from politics and current affairs to culture and the environment.

The Japan Times app is free, but much of the content remains behind a paywall. The monthly digital subscription is ¥3,000 per month (roughly ¥2,009).

NHK World-Japan (NHKワールド JAPAN, NHK Warudo Japan)

NHK World-Japan, run by the nation’s public broadcaster, is one of the most popular news apps in the country. It covers written, audio, and video news formats in Japan and Asia. The free-to-use app is available in 18 languages and also sends users push notifications for natural disasters.

Podcasts

Japan has some great news podcasts (ポッドキャスト, poddo kyasuto) for English speakers and beginner-intermediate Japanese-language learners. These are available on most popular podcast library apps:

  • Bilingual News: A conversational news podcast in English and Japanese
  • Deep Dive: A biweekly feature podcast run by The Japan Times
  • Disrupting Japan: Podcast on Japan’s startup ecosystem and interviews with innovators in English
  • NHK World Radio Japan (NHKワールド ラジオ日本, NHK Warudo Rajio Japan): A source of English news updates

Japanese apps for handling your finances

Fintech and cashless payment systems (キャッシュレス決済, kyasshu-resu kessai) are part of a growing sector in Japan. Whether you’re looking to open a Japanese bank account (銀行口座, ginko koza) or simply handle your finances (お金, okane) from the comfort of your phone, the following apps are paving the way forward.

PayPay (ペイペイ, Pei Pei)

PayPay is a one-stop app for cashless payments with 55 million registered users. It allows you to pay for items from a virtual wallet and is compatible with self-service machines in shops across the country. It also allows you to select from various alternative payment methods, including your personal bank account.

Woman using phone in bed holding credit with dog on her lap
Photo: Maki Nakamura/Getty Images

Wise

For international money transfers, check out Wise. You can transfer money across 175 countries quickly and efficiently via their app – no subscriptions needed.

CurrencyFair

CurrencyFair is a world-leading peer-to-peer international money transfer service. If you need to transfer funds to or from Austria, it’s worth trying out their app, which is available for Android and iOS. They offer secure transfers at competitive rates, meaning you’ll save money and have peace of mind.

Learn the lingo with these Japanese language apps

With an ever-growing number of internationals moving to Japan, the demand for learning Japanese (日本語, Nihon go) has increased in recent years. As a result, the number and quality of apps for learning Japanese are constantly growing.

From grammar to vocabulary, kanji (漢字) to hiragana (ひらがな), these are some of the best.  

Duolingo

Duolingo is the world’s most popular education app, with 300 million-plus users. Its Japanese language course focuses on short, game-like lessons for users of various levels of language ability. Duolingo Japanese is free; however, there’s an optional premium subscription if you want to take your practice more seriously.

Japanese Kanji Study

Kanji (漢字) – Chinese script used in Japanese writing – is vital to learning Japanese. With the Japanese Kanji Study app (only on Google Play), you’ll learn to read, interpret, and draw kanji in the correct stroke order through flashcards and quizzes.

Beginner kanji lessons are free, but you’ll need a one-time upgrade to access more advanced levels.

Buusu

Busuu is an app for keen language learners. It offers monthly and yearly subscription options to learn Japanese through 10-minute lessons that cover writing, grammar, and conversation (会話, kaiwa) skills. You can also connect with native speakers who will give feedback on your work.

HelloTalk

HelloTalk is a conversation app for practicing Japanese with native speakers. The free-to-use app has translation (翻訳, hon-yaku) and caption features and Voicerooms for real-time chatting with your connections.

Use these apps to find your dream home in Japan

The real estate (不動産, fudosan) sector is still dominated by Japanese-only services, but there some international-friendly options are available. Whether you’re looking to rent or buy a home in Japan, download these apps to get your move started.

Airbnb

One of the most well-known accommodation apps, Airbnb will help you find rentals (賃貸, chintai) across Japan. Free to use, all you need to do is fill out your preferences and dates and see what options are available in your area of choice.

Each listing usually has plenty of reviews, keeping most bad surprises at bay.

Woman practicing yoga in her home with sunlight coming through open doors
Photo: Trevor Williams/Getty Images

Oakhouse (オークハウス, Okuhausu)

The Oakhouse app (Play Store/Apple Store) is for internationals searching for rooms in shared accommodation (シェアハウス, shiea hausu). Though the database features private apartments (アパート, apato), the focus is on large social residences. The app is free, easy to use, and has full English-language support.

GTN

GTN is a free living-in-Japan helpline app (Android/iOS) with support in seven different languages. The chat feature on the app connects users to GTN staff members who can help with real estate inquiries or serve as rent guarantors (保証人, hosho nin).

Japanese apps for second-hand gear

Japan has a thriving collectors culture, which has spawned a fantastic second-hand goods (中古品, chuko hin) market. To see what the country has to offer, download these apps to shop from the comfort of your home.

Mercari (メルカリ, Merukari)

Mercari is a flea market app that connects users with sellers across Japan. Search for used goods in your local neighborhood, and the seller will post your order once purchased. The app is free, reliable, and used across Japan.

Jimoty (ジモティー, Jimotei)

Jimoty is another buy-and-sell app, with users often giving away unwanted items – especially appliances and furniture – for free. It’s free to use, and no fees or commissions are involved. For now, however, the app is only available in Japanese.

Delve into the local culinary scene in Japan with these apps

Japanese cuisine (和食, washoku) is among the world’s most celebrated. Whether you want to try out the sushi in your neighborhood or have your favorite comfort food delivered to your door, these apps will help you experience the best that Japan has to offer.

Tabelog (食べログ, Taberogu)

Tabelog is Japan’s most popular app for finding restaurants (レストラン, resutoran) and making reservations (予約, yoyaku), available on Android and iOS. It features 800,000 establishments across the country and over 50 million restaurant reviews. The app is free to use, with a ¥400 per month premium service that allows users to search for restaurants through a rankings table.

Steaming plate of ramen on table in front of person holding chopsticks
Photo: toeytoey2530/Getty Images

Gurunavi (ぐるなび, Gurunabi)

The Gurunavi app (also known as Gourmet Navigator) is in Japanese only, but it does have a free interactive map with over 50,000 restaurants. it also offers information on locations, opening hours (営業時間, eigyo jikan), and reservation information. If you’re struggling with the language barrier, the Gurunavi website caters better to non-Japanese speakers. The app is available on Android and iOS.

Tabete

Tabete (Android/iOS), meaning “eat” in Japanese, connects users to restaurants and cafes trying to get rid of leftover food (食べ残し, tabe-nokoshi). There are currently 1,700 registered stores, mainly in the Tokyo area, from which you can rescue full meals or snacks. No monthly subscription is required.

Entertainment apps for Japan

Moving to another country can be overwhelming, so it’s important to relax. Mainstream entertainment apps, like Amazon Prime and Netflix, are available in Japan and have exclusive content libraries.

But there are a few others that will appeal to internationals.

DAZN

DAZN is one of Japan’s best apps for watching live sports and does not require a VPN. The free app streams boxing, soccer, cricket, Formula 1, and wrestling broadcasts. Subscriptions are required: ¥‎3,700 per month or ¥‎30,000 for one year.

Crunchyroll (クランチロール, Kuranchi roru)

Crunchyroll is an app for dedicated Japanese pop culture fans with the world’s largest online library of anime (アニメ). Across its 1,000-plus titles, you’ll find classics like One Piece, Attack on Titan, and Demon Slayer. Subscriptions start from only €6.99 (roughly ¥1,023.90) per month.

U-Next (ユーネクスト, Yu-Nekusuto)

U-Next (available on Android and iOS) is one of Japan’s premier streaming services. It features classic Japanese movies (映画, eiga), popular TV shows (without English subtitles, however), and English-language titles. It also has a library of e-books and manga (マンガ) (comics) for practicing your Japanese reading skills. There’s a one-month free trial and a ¥2,189 payment each month thereafter.

Date and make friends in Japan with these social apps

Popular international dating (デート, deto) apps like Tinder and Bumble exist and are widespread in Japan. But there are a few more apps you should check out if you’re looking to meet new people.

Pairs (ペアーズ, Peazu)

Pairs is a popular dating app for serious users available on the Play Store and the App Store. Each person must verify their identity, and a round-the-clock monitoring system to expel unauthorized profiles. The app has 20 million registered users and matches around 13,000 couples every month, so the dating pool is varied and large.

Group of men laugh while taking selfie on football field
Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Dine

Dine (Android/iOS) was established to cut through the small talk and connect people who want to go on dates by setting up reservations for matched couples. It is free to use, but male users in Japan need to pay a fee for unlimited messaging.

LINE (ライン, rain)

LINE, available both on Android and iOS, isn’t necessarily for dating. But it’s the free messenger app of choice for most residents in Japan, and a necessary download if you want to stay in touch with friends, colleagues, and dating prospects.

Meetup

If you’re looking to make new friends with common interests, download Meetup. Simply fill out your hobbies on the app and find social groups in your area with like-minded people. It’s a great option if you want to find other international friends going through the same rites of passage as you.