Friday, March 5, 2010

Free Android apps useful in Japan

Here is a short list of free apps, in no particular order, that are useful for life in Japan.

Google Maps with PC-based "my maps" is still in "beta," a term I put in quotes because many of google's products seem to be in a perpetual beta state.  Often, multiple searches are required, which is a bit of a pain to do from a handset.  So, whenever possible, I prefer to search from a computer and save locations.  These can be loaded onto your phone from layers > more layers > my maps (see photo).

Google recently introduced walking direction for Japan, but if maps is in beta, these directions are in alpha, though they are essentially correct.  Just don't try and cross six lanes of traffic on foot outside of a crossing.

When it comes to Android in Japan, one of the most common complaints is the lack of infrared for transmitting contact information.  Bump provides an option, as long as the other person is using an iPhone, iPod Touch, or Android phone with Bump installed.  Unfortunately, the Android port does not include all the features of the latest iPhone version.

One of the things I don't like about infrared is that you cannot choose which of your personal information to share, but with Bump, you can.  However, Bump won't work unless you have an internet connection.  Bump encrypts your data and routes it through their servers to the other person's device, so if you are uneasy with a third party handling your personal information, then perhaps you would prefer a different option.

QR我風 (QR gafu???)
I'm not exactly sure how to read this, but it is another option for transmitting contact information without an infrared port.  The app displays a QR code on your screen that the other person can simply scan.  Your profile is not chosen from your contacts list, but rather manually entered.  You can register two different profiles, each with a separate name, phone number, email, and website address.

This app has the advantage over Bump in that it does not require an internet connection and can be used to transfer data to a standard Japanese cell phone.  If the other phone is capable of displaying a QR code, this app can also read in contact information.

There are a several free apps for getting train directions.  Most of them are a simple front end for accessing either google or goo.  Jorudan offers the only free self-contained app, which also has more features than the others.  While it doesn't give you the option to save a list of frequently used stations, it does save a long history, making recalling stations fairly simple.  It also allows you to specify connecting stations and is the only free app to provide schedules for individual stations.  Schedules can be displayed in multiple formats, including departure and arrival time.

While the app provides train delay information, the live feature is a real time feed regarding what other users are reporting (see photo).  It often happens that a train will be delayed but no official notice is published.

Traffic Status(渋滞状況)
If you get around by car more than by train, this app provides realtime expressway traffic information from the Japan Road Traffic Information Center.

World Weather Clock(世界天気時計)
This is a nifty widget that sits on your home screen and displays weather information for any city you choose.  There is an option for a large widget that takes up two spots on the home screen, as well as a small widget that only takes up one.  In the large widget, additional information can be displayed, such as the local time.  Clicking the widget will pop up a five day forecast.

The coolest feature of this app is that you can set a widget that displays information for your current location based on GPS.  You can manually update your location by clicking the widget and choosing update location.

Japan Weather Radar(日本のお天気レーダー)
This app displays current radar (as well as 3 hours previous) from the Japan Meteorological Agency, part of the Ministry of Land Infrastructure Transport and Tourism.

This is an alternative to the iWinn IME that comes with Docomo's HT-03a (HTC Magic/Sapphire MyTouch 3G).  I find it to be more responsive than the default IME.  However, it does not have as extensive a dictionary.  It was originally developed to give Android users a means for inputing Japanese before the first Android phone with a native Japanese IME was released.  At the time, it used a social IME to convert phonetically input characters to Kanji.  Now, Simeji uses OpenWnn for character conversion.  It also retains the social IME function, which can be accessed by pressing the mushroom button in the list of suggestioned conversions.  The main reason Simeji is popular with Japanese people is because it contains "flick" or "hanabi" style input for Japanese.  When flick is set as the input method, pressing a kana character on a keyboard pops up all the additional characters in the group (if that makes sense - pressing あ will pop up い う え and お in a shape reminiscent of fireworks).

Simeji also contains a launcher that allows you to quick launch preset apps by pressing the trackpad and flipping the phone up down right or left (see photo).

This is used for inputting emoji, but you need to be subscribed to

QR Code Scanner(QRコードスキャナー)
It's Japan.  Everyone needs a QR code scanner.

My Docomo Checker
Simple app for checking your cell phone usage from your phone.


  1. Thanks of the list and especially for pointing out Jorudan's live feature. I missed that somehow.

    BTW, good old Barcode Scanner ( is a good alternative for anything QR related. It can read the codes and generate QRs from your contacts, bookmarks, even installed apps.

  2. Great advice on barcode scanner - I'll give it a shot!

  3. Hey there, first off great work on this site. I just discovered it, and as a 4 year resident of Tokyo, and 1 week owner of an HT-03A, I'm SO glad to find this site.

    A couple of noob questions for anyone smart enough....
    In the screenshot of the World Weather app, what are the names of the WiFi/Sound widgets running? I have downloaded a couple, but those ones look especially tidy.

    Also, what is that bar down the very bottom? How did you get rid of the (slightly annoying) app tab that seems to live down there?

  4. EDIT: oh yeah, thanks for the compliment ;-) This site started as my personal place to whine about softbank but it has since evolved into something else. I guess after being in Japan for a while and getting a lot of help from people I've since lost track of over 10 years ago, I figured I'd put my meager understanding of Japanese and tech to use as a way to finally, I dunno, give something back.

    The widgets for wireless and sound are Wifi Toggle Widget and Ringer Toggle Widget, respectively.

    I am also currently running the home++ home screen replacement app.

    It has a much cleaner interface that has a semi-customizable launcher bar in the bottom that in the screenshot is showing shortcuts to starred contacts, search, browser (customizable to launch alternate browsers), the apps tab that you mentioned, the notification bar button, and bookmarks.

    You can also show more things in the launch bar, and it is scrollable to the right, just like scrolling to another home screen.

    For a while, it didn't get any updates from the dev, but it is free, so it is hard to complain. It is not perfect. Sometimes force quits and I am not sure on this, but I think it maybe uses more memory than the default home screen because when I click on contacts or the apps tab, it sometimes takes a long time to load - like the process had to be restarted because android memory management killed them.

    A lot of people say this is the best of the free replacements.

    If you install it, when you hit the home button, a popup will come up and ask which home screen to use the default or home++. You can make this the default option. You can also change it back in application management.

  5. Thanks for the suggestion of Home++. I just downloaded it and boy is it nice. I get the same problem with Contacts/Apps taking a little while to load. But with a couple of folders/shortcuts i'm able to put all the apps i want where they're easier/faster to get to.
    Contacts are a little bit of a pain, especially when trying to make a call, but the re-vamped and clean interface is worth it.
    Cheers again.

  6. I've just changed my mobile from a sony erricson to a HTC hero. For each contact on my usim i had more than 1 contact number but when i put the usim and transfer onto the HTC it does not register all the numbers for each person! Can someone help?

  7. Similarly, I'm in Tokyo but using an Australian Xperia X10, so I'm not connecting to the Japanese market. Could anyone upload the apk for Jorudan?

  8. Forgive my ignorance, but when I check the page for the new AU IS03 ( ), it says it runs Android 2.1 and can have "Android™ apps (in Japanese only)."

    Is the "in Japanese only" line true? How is that possible? If this phone runs on the Android operating system, shouldn't I be able to install free English Android applications too? Would AU be capable of blocking even the install of cracked English android apps (not apps purchased via a store)?

  9. Going along with the SBS theme, both the Softbank SMS/MMS app specific to the 003SH and the Android market Softbank SMS/MMS app used for different handsets seems to crash daily and restart the phone. (experienced the same behavior with both a 003SH and an Xperia Play) Can anyone reccomend a good app to replace these Softbank crap apps?

  10. @bb5bd3a55e5af66ac9c544a0a60d2590

    You can try handcent - but you will need to set the APN and user agent etc manually