Sunday, November 18, 2012

NTT Docomo's "Hanashite Honyaku" machine translation app

EDIT: this was posted in a hurry. Here's the market link to the app called はなして翻訳

We've been waiting to get our hands on this for a while. A full review will be coming later, but, suffice it to say, this machine translation app works surprisingly well. Granted, expectations were low from the start. It does fine with the easy basic stuff that you might encounter trying to give directions on the street.

The above image shows me speaking in Japanese, saying 「このアプリは私の変な日本語を理解できるのでしょうか?」。This was one of the first things I said to it, and was absolutely shocked that it got it right - That is exactly what I said in Japanese. It's definitely hit and miss though. I've had about the same results speaking to it in both Japanese and English.

So I decided to throw something a little more difficult at it: some classics from the Japanese comedy duo The Rahmens. Totally crashed and burned but certainly get an "E" for effort.

  • 寿司は下駄に載せて出されます。
    Sushi ha geta ni nosete dasaremasu.
    Sushi is served on geta.
    shujin ha jikka ni tasuke dasaremasu.
    The master is saved by the parent's house.
  • 消毒したものを使用していますので、安心して寿司を食べられます。
    shoudoku shita mono wo shiyou shitemasunode, anshin shite sushi wo taberaremasu.
    Disinfected geta are used so you can relax and enjoy the sushi.
    shoudaku shita mono wo shiyou shitemasunode, anshin shite sushi wo shiraberaremasu.
    Because I use the thing which I consented to, it is checked in place.
  • これをそのままはいて帰る人も居ます。
    kore wo sonomama haite kaeru hito mo imasu.
    Some people just wear them home.
    kore wo sonomama irekaeru hito ga imasu.
    There is the person who just replaces this.
  • 多くの日本人の足から酢の臭いがするのは、このためです。
    ooku no nihonjin no ashi kara su no nioi ga suru no ha, kono tame desu.
    ooku no nihonjin rashi kara tuneni henka shinakatta tame desu.
    This is because much Japanese rashikara did not always change.

Here's the audio transcript (no video, just audio). There's a bonus from the "ShimBASH" video at the end.

If you want to try this out, it is free for docomo subscribers who:
  1. You are a Docomo user with an active data plan.
  2. Connected with FOMA 3G or Xi LTE - NO WIFI CONNECTIONS.
I am told the app won't even appear in the market unless you have a Docomo SIM card. If wifi is turned on and connected, the app with tell you to shut off wifi before proceeding (with a "confirmation" button). So Sorry, no SBM and KDDI freeloaders! The requirement for an active mobile data connection to the online voice recognition and translation servers is a brilliant move by Docomo. If you're a Japanese person who wants to use it overseas, you have to pony up for international roaming. How's that for shrewd?


  1. So, where is this app? I'm using an SC-05D (Galaxy Note), with a docomo SIM (the 7GB monthly plan), and I've got WiFi turned off. Searching for "HanAshite" (you misspelled the name in the title, btw) shows nothing. Ditto for "honnyaku", "honyaku"... Oh, "hon'yaku" does find "Utsushite Hon'yaku" by NTT DOCOMO.

  2. those test phrases hardly seem fair...

    I wonder... if you're on Docomo, dl the app, then try to use it with an overseas WiFi connection, will it work then?

  3. Followup: NariTra is a similar app that works on non-docomo devices and off docomo's network. It functions similarly, has the same language pairs as Hanashite Honyaku, and it has a similar proficiency level. It recognizes English well and Japanese not so well. I'm thinking NariTra and Hanashite Honyaku share both the same translation database and the same speech recognition engine.

    Google Translate functions a bit differently. There are more screen taps necessary for voice playback, but it seems to work better. It does a much better job of recognizing spoken Japanese.

    I used both google translate and NariTra on my Nexus 7. I don't see much advantage to using docomo's app when compared to these other two.

  4. Of course they're not fair. It did so surprisingly well on the first test that I had to throw it a curve ball :)

    It won't work on wifi. The heavy lifting is done in the cloud and if the connection is not mobile with a DCM SIM card, the app will refuse to work. Yeah, you could probably fool the app into thinking it had a mobile connection, but for the average person, that isn't an option.

  5. should have included a link. I wasn't sure how to romanize it.

  6. Nice try docomo! We actually replied to the "testers wanted" ad in the 朝日新聞 and were involved in testing the app about 6 months ago. It didn't work very well then...seems it got a little better...barely... BTW, I've got a docomo sim card stuck in a non-docomo phone using only wifi for connectivity and it won't let me try the "fruits of our labor"...ah shucks. so yeah, it seems that you have to have a docomo sim + a docomo data plan to make this work.

  7. Trying to get it to work with bmobile, downloads ok, but whenever I try and use it I get an error.
    'please set up the access point for this service (code:0104)'
    Guessing that's their way of saying I'm not on bmobile?

  8. As Japanese speaker? Or English speaker? Curious...

  9. Wah, meant to say, ... Not on Docomo

  10. one of both.

  11. I'm on b-mobile and I managed to download it and get it working. Are you running a rooted phone and/or one with a non-docomo skin? Rooting will remove access to many of the pre-installed docomo apps (such as osaifu-keitai) unless you do it in a certain way.

    Mind you this app isn't particularly good and it probably isn't worth keeping anyway, especially considering the translations it records user information. I figured I would download this for my girlfriend (who doesn't speak any English) to use when travelling overseas but in the end I think one of the regular dictionary apps (like JED) combined with google translate works a lot better overall.

  12. I heard if you use MarketEnabler and change the Network ID to Docomo's, then the app works. But in no way I'm interested in testing though :-)

  13. Do you know, there are many other translation apps. Parlomondo supports many languages via wifi. is well known. Jibbigo doesn't require any connection - it runs completely on the device - you don't need any contract, wifi. I used it pretty well in Shanghai. Not sure which of the above is best for J input, though. Anyone?