Well, Summer 2013 arrived and so did I. As I close in on one year here, there are so many things I like about being here that I didn't even know existed last time. South of base did not exist in my world and now I live here, an easy 2 mile bike commute to base (no hills!). There's the seawall to run on, nearby restaurants and the cool town of Kurihama.
I've also got to appreciate the seasonality of Japan. For sure, the most obvious is the weather but there are smaller things like the fruits and vegetables in the store, festival schedule and traditional attire. I'm so excited for persimmon and fig season coming up this Fall. They are so delicious!
What's also very different is the use of smartphones. In 2007, I had a flip phone with very laborious "texting" capabilities. Now, I have my iPhone5 and while I sometimes go into fits of wanting to be "unplugged," the iPhone has made so many things easier which enriches the experience. While I like challenge in travel, if there's too much struggle, it's hard to break past wrestling with the logistics and seeing the places I've actually made an effort to get to.
|CW from top left: Hyperdia (although I use the free website), imiwa?, Naritra, Facebook, Google|
Translate, Google search, AccuWeather (debatable), Google Maps
So, in 2014 spirit, here's a list of websites and apps I frequently use in my local travels.
Hyperdia: A super-accurate website with train times and fares. Every once in a while, the directions within Tokyo aren't the most direct but it's usually pretty spot-on.
Imiwa?: An awesome electronic dictionary that consistently delivers the most accurate word I'm looking for. The context sentences are really helpful for knowing the word's nuanced meaning.
NariTra: A good voice-to-voice, English-to-Japanese-to-English app. The voice recognition isn't perfect, especially since I tend to use it in situations where I'm feeling stressed so probably not speaking very clearly anyway!
Google Maps: An old stand-by. A unique-to-Japan (vs the US) tip- use Google search to obtain the Kanji for the place you're going, especially if it's a smaller place or tucked away. When we went to Hakone, this trick is what got us to our ryokan after getting fairly lost.
Facebook: I definitely have a love-hate relationship with this one. I think the company has shady privacy policies, but since some of my friends communicate only through the messenger, especially to groups, I feel a little stuck. Plus, there are good local pages like "Let's Explore Japan" for Yokosuka and "Outside the Gate" up in Misawa.
Weather: Kanto plain weather seems difficult to predict. AccuWeather seems to be more accurate than the phone app, but that's not really saying much especially in the Summer. Winter is a little better for accuracy.
Google: The best search engine. Google translate is a great way to translate websites and online menus as long as they're not embedded photos, which is common.