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Life in Japan

Life in Japan | Five Phone Apps to Keep You Updated

Here are some apps to help facilitate your transition to life in Japan, covering everything from natural disaster updates, mobile payment, to transportation and news.



Starting a new life in any country can be quite stressful. Having the tools to handle daily tasks at your fingertips can alleviate that stress and enhance your overall experience. Here are five apps you should consider installing on your phone while in Japan. Each of these apps supports English and may also offer additional language options.

1. Communication: LINE

LINE is a communication app that provides private chat, group chat, and video call functions. While people around the world might use Whatsapp or Messenger, more than 80% percent of Japanese use this app (Mobile Society Research Institute, 2021).

One key characteristic of LINE is that friends can be added using QR codes. LINE also provides cashless payments, music subscriptions, digital manga apps, and other functions. Many municipalities use this app for public relations and administrative procedures. In short, LINE is more than just a communication app — it is becoming a form of digital infrastructure.

2. Navigating Trains: Japan Transit Planner

© Jorudan Co.、 Ltd.

While many people rely on Google Maps for navigation, Japan Transit Planner (Norikae Annai) is particularly useful for train routes. This specialized app provides detailed train information and often suggests more practical routes compared to Google Maps. Combining both apps offers the best navigation experience.

When traveling on the Shinkansen towards northern Japan, Google Maps may be more beneficial than Japan Transit Planner. JR East allows customers to make reservations for JR East Shinkansen bound for the northern regions of Tohoku, Yamagata, and Akita directly through Google Maps. Access to all features of Japan Transit Planner requires in-app purchases at a maximum of ¥2,900 JPY (around $19.16 USD).

3. Getting Around by Bicycle: BICYCLE NAVITIME


Just as Norikae Annai specializes in train routes, this app specializes in bicycle routes. If the bicycle feature of Google Maps is unavailable in your area, or if you find the navigation inaccurate or impractical, we recommend using this app instead. It also provides voice guidance, allowing you to navigate without needing to glance at your phone while riding. However, accessing all features requires a subscription, priced at ¥600 (approximately $3.96) per month or ¥6,000 (around $39.64) per year.

4. News and Disaster Information: NERV Disaster Prevention

© Gehirn Inc., Khara

If you enjoy watching anime, you may already be familiar with the design of this app. NERV Disaster Prevention was inspired by a secret organization from one of the most famous anime franchises, Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, don't let this premise deceive you. This app could save your life.


NERV Disaster Prevention is one of the quickest, most accurate, and most useful disaster and emergency information apps in Japan. It offers earthquake alerts, weather forecasts, flood information, and more.

This app specializes in providing location-specific information to its users. By simply opening the app, users can instantly access real-time updates in their area, eliminating the need to swipe through multiple screens.

© Gehirn Inc., Khara (Retrieved from https://nerv.app/en/)

5. News and Disaster Information: NHK WORLD-JAPAN

©NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation)

NHK World-Japan is the official app of NHK, Japan's national public broadcast network. It offers high-quality news and programs as well as earthquake and tsunami notifications. The app also offers multilingual video and audio programs on demand. According to its website, the app is available in 19 languages. The app is compatible with multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, Fire TV, Roku, and Apple TV.

Other Apps

If you're looking to explore further, here are some other useful and enjoyable apps. While not all of them are multilingual, they are easy to use.

1. PayPay

PayPay, a popular cashless payment app in Japan, allows you to leave your wallet behind. Simply scan a QR code at stores or present a barcode to the cashier for payments. You can easily add funds from your bank account or credit/debit card and even earn cashback or points through frequent promotions.

Additionally, you can use the app to pay bills, send and receive money from friends, and even get insurance — making it your convenient digital wallet in Japan with added perks.

2. Tenki.jp (Japanese only) 

The app specializes in weather forecasting by the Japan Weather Association. It offers highly accurate, detailed, and advanced weather forecasts, including predictions for hay fever, windstorms carrying yellow sand, and, of course, cherry blossoms.

3. Aikasa (Japanese only)

Aikasa is an umbrella-sharing service, in case you forget your umbrella at home on a rainy day. This service is primarily available near train and subway stations in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.

Use the app to locate one of their umbrella stands at a station near you. Umbrella rentals cost just ¥140 (about $0.9) for 24 hours and can be paid for through a simple registration on your phone and in-app payment.


4. TabeLog (Japanese only) 

This app functions as a standard restaurant, cafe, and bar review platform, much like TripAdvisor. It provides ratings for various dining establishments, such as restaurants and cafes. Users can search for eateries based on reviews, cuisine, budget, or location, and often book reservations directly through the app. An English website is available.

For a monthly fee of ¥400 (around $2.64), a Tabelog Premium Subscription elevates your restaurant search with:

  • Advanced search & filtering: Find exactly what you crave with options to sort and filter by your preferences.
  • Discount coupons: Save money while you dine with exclusive deals offering 20% off or more at participating restaurants.
  • Detailed rankings: See rankings broken down by age and gender to discover popular picks for different demographics.
  • Ad-free experience: Enjoy a cleaner, distraction-free browsing experience on the Tabelog mobile app.

This is an update of an article published on June 14, 2022.


Author: Simon Kagaya