GPS PDA for Japan trip
February 24, 2008 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Japan in April, and would like to find an appropriate PDA with built-in GPS to help with navigation, mapping and language translation, but it's proving difficult to find the right device.

I've been scouring the internet to find a device that has GPS, and the appropriate mapping software for cities such as Tokyo (in English), also it would be ideal if it had wi-fi, and could support an English to Japanese dictionary application. The Nokia N810 looks like the ideal device, except it only has European and North American mapping. Can anyone suggest a device like the N810 but one that provides Japanese maps? Has anyone used GPS navigation in Tokyo successfully?
posted by vaxtv to Travel & Transportation around Japan (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know I've seen taxis with gps systems in Tokyo, but every time I've had to give the driver the address to where I'm headed (unless it's a big landmark) they've always done the "head scratch, inhale through teeth, tilt head in confusion" thing.

I've been told that even the postal service has problems because the streets are so confusing. They don't build in neat city blocks as I'm accustomed to in the states. With the exception of main roads, and extremely scaled maps, I've never seen a detailed map like you can find in gas stations in the US.

What exactly do your travel plans require in terms of navigation?
posted by loquat at 1:56 PM on February 24, 2008

I'll be travelling around on foot in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki as part of a tour. We'll have time to explore each city independantly, and given that I won't be able to read signage, and the difficulties of the Japanese addressing system, I'm hoping GPS will allow me to navigate to a specific location (most probably after using the subway/taxi to get 90% of the way to where I want to go). At worst I should be able to get myself back to my hotel if/when I get lost.
posted by vaxtv at 2:53 PM on February 24, 2008

This isn't really answering your question, but because of my experience with GPSes in Japan I feel compelled to comment.

I think you'd be better off either using a map with numbered blocks (which is what most Japanese people do) or renting a phone in Japan with an English GPS. The problem with what you want to do is that the software may be prohibitively expensive, only in English, or both -- plus the PDA itself will cost you a chunk of change.

Most people recommend Kodansha's Tokyo City Atlas: A Bilingual Guide for Tokyo; I'm certain there are similar options for other cities. Also, every koban (police box) in every part of japan has a very detailed map of the surrounding area that you can make use of with their assistance.

Alternatively, you could get by with Google Maps on your mobile and try to get your bearings without GPS.
posted by armage at 4:29 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about English PDAs and GPSs but I do know about being a tourist in Japan...

Most mobile phones here have GPS built in, but of course everything is in Japanese.

However, if you're only going to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and are spending part of the time with a tour group, I wouldn't worry too much about a pda. Those cities are all very tourist friendly, with free English maps available from most hotels and tourist information places, and buses and trains do announcements in English as well as Japanese. Major signposts are in English too. And the main sights you'll want to go to will be clearly marked.

Also, if there's a particular shop or restaurant that you want to go to, if you know the phone number, you can ask a taxi with gps to take you there, and the driver will use the phone number to find the place.

Japanese people tend to want to help, too. If they see you looking lost, most likely someone will come up to you and try and get you to where you're going (with the ulterior motive of practicing their English, but still...).
posted by Sar at 5:22 PM on February 24, 2008

Post-Japan update (just in case anyone google's this). I ended up buying a Nokia n800 internet tablet and a bluetooth GPS unit to accompany it. I love the n800 as it can take my cameras SD cards and allowed me to upload pictures to flickr whilst I was travelling, in addition I could use skype and get my email. As in most cities around the world there is wifi everywhere, but make sure you sign up with a provider before setting off - I used boingo, but it would be worth looking at using DoCoMo in Japan as they seemed to be everywhere (including wifi on the Tokyo subway). As for the GPS, this worked well, I used maemo mapper, and downloaded the google street maps of the places I wanted to visit. However, as mentioned above it was indeed very easy to get around all the cities I visited, the people were very helpful, and the transportation was very good, and almost always had english signage and announcements as well as the japanese. If you did get lost, provided you had a card with the address of your hotel, you could show it to a taxi driver and be sure of getting back. I mainly used the GPS to compensate for my lack of direction, on several occasions it corrected my when I had wandered off in the opposite direction after exiting the subway, stepping off the bus etc, and was useful for keeping a record of where I had been. In summary you don't need GPS to get around, for the most part the tourist maps are fine, or a copy of the lonely planet guide or similar.
posted by vaxtv at 6:11 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Although 12 months post your visit, I seem drawn to your comments. My family (2A 3C) are travelling to Japan late March/April for 3 weeks. I have been planning our trip for some time now and have arrived at a cross roads decision. Whether to take all of my paperwork regarding where we are going, what trains to catch, timetables, what we are seeing etc, etc......I'm sure you know what I'm talking about or whether to obtain a PDA/GPS/Language piece of technology, that Im hoping would be more beneficial and weigh alot less than a whole lot of paper.

With 3 kids in tow, all under 10, we need to keep weight to a minimum and ALL hands free, so backpacks are the go, so space is limited. We are also travelling to one or two areas where the temps are going to be less than 5 deg C, so this is compounding our/my issues.

I would be extremely interested in your trip history / thoughts.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Our destinations are (in order) : Tokyo, Hakone, Shirakawa (Takayama), Nara, Koya-san, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Himeji & Tokyo.

We are from a tropical climate (Cairns Qld Aust), so we have no need for cold clothing.....ever. Most it ever gets down to is 13 deg C.....and that's freezing!!!!!! So Japan at this time will be between -1 min and 19 max dec C the whole trip, hence my concern over our luggage issue and weight.

As I noted above, would very much like to hear your thoughts on your trip and your use of the PDA/GPS system.
posted by Timbo1966 at 3:45 AM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

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