7 Apps That’ll Most Definitely Help You Out with Japanese (They’ve Saved My Hide, Anyway)

1. JED for Android
JED is my first go-to as a Japanese/English dictionary, and honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without it. While it barely takes up any space on my phone (about 5MB), it is also offline, meaning it doesn’t need any internet access for use (other than updates) and its lookup speed is super quick. Which already makes it top Weblio in my book.

Another feature that really makes this app stand out, in my opinion, is its ever-convenient tag feature, which lets me create decks of vocabulary words that I save and look up for later reference. I’ve got decks for JLPT, for questions I plan on asking my fiance when he’s awake (US/Japan time difference is a bi*ch), and for the words I’d like to review and make into flashcards for word memorization.

Unfortunately for you Apple people, I haven’t been able to find this app for Apple devices, but I’m sure you Apple people will be able to find something similar. Or maybe it’s already released a separate version by now, I’m not sure.

2. Weblio
Weblio is more popular for Japanese-speakers looking up English, I notice, but one thing Weblio does better than JED is its ability to look up phrases like slang, idioms, or proverbs that aren’t typically found in a traditional Japanese/English dictionary. It does require internet access for use (or at least, I haven’t found a roundabout way for this), so if you’re looking for a word mid-conversation, there may be a bit of awkward waiting for that word to load for you.

3. Google Translate
I can’t deny the power of Google Translate. My most common uses for this app are probably three-fold:

For taking pictures of kanji I don’t know.
For getting the furigana and romanji of kanji I don’t know.
For writing in the kanji I don’t know.

…Yeeeeeah, I don’t know a lot of kanji.

First of all, it has this pretty great Camera Mode that lets the user take pictures of Japanese text and then translates it on the spot. Naturally, this can be a bit buggy, but if you’ve got a whole block of text from a page of a book in front of you that you just don’t feel like translating yourself, this feature can give you a great start.

Second, a quick tip I learned is that if you translate into the Japanese language (say, even Japanese to Japanese), then not only does it show the native, written language itself, but it also shows you the romanji, so that you can easily read and look up those words you stumbled over.

Third, it’s Writing Mode, predictably, is great for hand-writing unknown kanji to look up. When it comes to unknown kanji (depending on how many there are), this Writing feature is usually my go-to, since all I need to do is just write in in Google then copy-paste that sucker into JED to figure out what it means.

4. Kanji Study
So like most Japanese studyers, kanji is a major weakness of mine, and has cost me many retakes of the JLPT, admittedly. I just started using this app the last time I was in Osaka, because I really wanted to level up my kanji reading skills. I will say that the full version of this app is $10, but I would say that – for those serious about kanji, and for those who are disciplined enough to utilize it to its full potential – it is a price worth paying.

I love how this app is organized by school grade, meaning that we work in the official, standardized Japanese system, and that we work from easy to harder. For each grade, there is a flashcard study, a multiple choice quiz, and writing challenges for the masochistic. Outside the school-grade decks, however, there is a lot of customization that can be done, too, with the paid version; such as making your own decks for those pesky kanji you always seems to get wrong but you just want to move onto the next grade so it sticks around and you can keep practicing it untilyoueventuallymasterthehelloutofitorforgetaboutitamonthlater (inhale). We all have those kanji, I’m sure.

5. NHK Easy Japanese News
I was almost hesitant to write about this app, because for whatever reason, lately my luck with getting this app to load has been not-so-successful. Some days it just crashes, some days it takes a while to load, but on the days it works fine, it works FINE.

This is really a great resource, as you can imagine for a number of reasons. One, because the stuff you’re reading here is really beneficial if you want some legit reading practice. Especially for that next JLPT or to get your feet wet practicing reading actual Japanese newspaper-leveled material (bless you). Since I’m not quite at the newspaper level yet, I like going through this app, picking out articles that I’m not very familiar with that’s filled with a bunch of new technical terms for me to learn.

It’s an excellent source, but if you have trouble getting the mobile app working, I would still recommend the official NHK Easy Japanese News website.

6. Study Droid
I add this one to my list with a heavy heart. My main squeeze for flashcards and route memory learning is kind of majorly an abandoned app, and it’s no longer offered on Google Play. I will start by saying it has a couple of awkward bugs about it (if you still decide to try it out), like after you’ve deleted a card, it still shows up on the Search screen… I’ve emailed them about it before, but never got a response or update… Sad days.

However! Sentiments aside, I know that a lot of schools and teachers recommend Quizlet (which I also do, but for different reasons), but let me list thy ways in which a more simple, searchable flashcard app like this can work better.

First, no internet needed. It’s completely offline, which means no data/wifi being used, no battery life being drained, and no slow-moving search time. This app has been my best friend when I’m sitting/standing on the train and need some brainless repetition to keep my Japanese fresh.

Second, have I mentioned the Search option? IT HAS. A SEARCH OPTION. I’m not sure why Quizlet hasn’t thought of this yet, but to be able to search through decks of 1,000+ flashcards for a word that’s on the tip of your tongue or you KNOW you’ve learned before, but just can’t remember what it is… Well, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to reunite with it again.

7. Quizlet
Ladies and Gents, you knew this was coming. This one is good for those words that you don’t necessarily need on-hand, but still want to get some study time in for that next test coming up, for example. There are a few other things that Quizlet really does well, such as…

Number One. Detecting dupes of cards. Reeeeeally nice if you’ve got a deck for JLPT N2 that has 1,000+ cards.

Number Two. Its online compatibility. Because editing massive decks on mobile is very time-consuming and frustrating, all I need to do is just get on my Mozilla Firefox on my PC and start editing away,

Number Three. Its ability to be shared and viewed by other people, too. For group studying, this is nice. Or again, wanting to get some extra study time in on a different device without the pesky, distracting cell phone.

These have been my seven suggestions that hopefully can help you out, too. Good luck with your language acquisition and happy learning!

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How to Make Reservations at Ikebukuro’s Swallowtail Butler Cafe

Ikebukuro is my bae of Japan, seriously. Ladies of the interwebs that are interested in being treated like a lady, trying out some delicious teas, or just want to ogle the boys (let’s be real), then this is my recommendation for you.

One thing that really stood out for me with Swallowtail is its relaxed, very comfortable environment. Bit of back story. When my sisters came to visit me in Japan, I wanted to take them someplace where they could experience luxury and calm (in the busy city of Tokyo) and that would give them the culture shock of a lifetime (an experience that they – even today – can recall in STRONG deets).

Back then, I knew that host clubs are typically more accessible, but I also know that they are sometimes dangerous, expensive, and filled with pushy salesman that make you buy lots of alcohol. Just a heads-up for those staying in Tokyo, red-light district Kabukicho Shinjuku, in particular, is notorious for these sort of host club establishments. Avoid, (or visit, if you’re about that kinda life) at your own risk.

To avoid the pushy salesmen and sketch neighborhoods (though Ikebukuro does have its share; it’s a metropolitan city, after all), I decided to give Swallowtail a shot by myself, and if I was happy with the experience, I’d take my sisters with. Which I’m glad I did. And now, I’m encouraging you adventurous ladies to do the same.

For me (especially back when my Japanese was not at the level it is now), making reservations was a little tricky. When making up this tutorial for y’all, I noticed that their website has changed a bit (even an English Guidance page has been added since then!), but the reservation process hasn’t changed. I’m here to walk you step-by-step to get you through those doors and into a comfortable seat, where a butler can then tend to your tea and cakey needs.

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Unlike the infamous maid cafes of Akihabara, you can’t usually just walk into a butler cafe like Swallowtail without a reservation. Well, you can, if the time schedule has a vacancy. Which you can check near their front door, where they have a schedule of their business hours, open, and reserved slots.

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The Reservation Process

1. Check out their HP (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/) Reservations are only made online, not through phone.

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2. Click 予約 (reserve) on the top-right corner (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/reserve/)

3. Click on 予約フォームへ進む (continue to reservation form)

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4. Choose your preferred time and date. For this example, I chose 09/04 10:55, 3-4 名様(customers, people attending)

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5. Enter your Email address, Number of people, and Hit the 確認 (confirm) button

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6. Check your inbox for an email from this address “webmaster@butlers-cafe.jp”. Luckily, for non-Japanese readers, they’ve added English instructions to their emails. Do as the instructions indicate and follow the link to get to part 2 of registration.

7. Aaaaand back to Japanese-only stuff. Confirm your email address here.

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8. Fill out your information:

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  • A. Name (must be typed in Japanese characters, katakana or hiragana is okay)
  • B. Furigana (name again in hiragana)
  • C. What you would like to be called by your butler. Options for women: お嬢様 ojou-sama (lady, younger), 奥様 okusama (lady, older), options for men: 旦那様 danna-sama (sir, older), お坊ちゃま obocchama (young sir)
  • D. When it’s time to leave, what kind of send-off phrase do you want your butler to say to you (Options: おまかせ Omakase (Leave it to them.) お出掛けのお時間でございます。(It’s time to go out now.) ご出発のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your departure.) 乗馬のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your horse riding.)
  • E. Phone number. You can use your own number, it doesn’t have to be Japanese.
  • F. This section is if you have a members card. If you do (I do, they’re free, use like a point card, and make for a cute souvenir), you may enter your card number here, not including the front zeros. If no card, leave this whole section blank.
  • G. Are you ordering an anniversary cake or need a cooler bag for the cake? Choose なし (no) or あり (yes)

9. When done, hit 送信 (send).

10. When you get to this screen, check your inbox again to receive your final confirmation email.

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Aaaand you done, girl! Just show up on time, be somewhat nicely dressed, and enjoy your time there.

This blog post is really just meant to show you how to reserve a time slot, but I figured I’d also give you a heads-up about what to expect while you’re there, since the staff does not speak English there, and they do have a process and a couple house rules.

  • Once you arrive, you may be asked to sit and wait on a bench. First, an older gentleman (the owner) will greet you, take your coat and purse for you, if you’d like, and then your butler will introduce himself and show you to your table.
  • Your butler will take his time with you to introduce you to the items on the menu (if you don’t understand Japanese, you guessed it; just smile and nod). Afterwards, he’ll walk away.
  • When you want his attention, ring the bell. You will be asked to ring the bell for two other occasions, too: when you want him to fill up your water or tea (you don’t do this yourself, he’ll do everything for you), and when you want to go to the bathroom.
  • You don’t leave the table by yourself. You ring the bell, he escorts you to the bathroom, waits until you’re done with your business (or if he is busy and can’t, another butler may wait instead) and then escort you back to your table.
  • When it’s time to leave, your butler will lead you back down the hall, collect your things, and the owner may also send you off with a farewell greeting, too.
  • Another predictable house rule, no picture-taking allowed inside.
  • Also, quick tip! If you’re interested in purchasing some of the teas or sweets or some cute souvenirs from across the street, you can do that at the Swallowtail gift shop, where the cashier is also one of Swallowtail’s own butlers! Very nice marketing touch.