There is a reason why the movie Lost in Translation is set in Japan. Not much has changed since its heyday and most Japanese people still either don’t speak English or find it extremely stressful to do so. No wonder that many of the pocket translators currently on the market were conceived in Japan. Here is the skinny on how those devices, like the PocketTalk, work and what situations they come in handy for.

How pocket translators work

A pocket translator looks a lot like a pocket wifi with a small screen for text to appear. It has its own built-in SIM that can access the internet wherever you are—so you’ll always be connected.

To use it, set the language pair you want (e.g. English to Japanese) and speak the sentence you wish to translate into the device. Then, your conversation partner can press another button to reply and the translation process will be reversed. Currently, 63 languages are available.

PocketTalk will trawl the internet for the best translation available and both put it out on screen and say it back in Japanese. Quite handy. The fact that it is not dependent on just one machine translation service has greatly improved the quality of translation compared to even a few years ago.

PocketTalk and travel: When to use it

So, should you get one? As we mentioned above, it’s more the exception than the norm to encounter Japanese people who speak fluent English. There are a number of typical travel situations where this device could be a real lifesaver—or simply make your trip more effortless.

Checking in/out of hotels

The portable translator performs really well in situations like checking in to (or out of) your hotel and requesting certain types of rooms like top floors, non-smoking or large windows.

Dining out/making dietary requirements

Another situation where you may need some assistance is ordering at a restaurant, especially if you are vegetarian/vegan or have food allergies and want to make sure the waiter understands your request.

Finding your way

While online maps help us from getting lost these days, we sometimes still have to ask for directions—especially as the subway system in Tokyo and Osaka can be confusing. Confirming that you are hoping on the right train is definitely facilitated by this little device.

Making friends

Finally, a big one: interacting with the locals! Japanese people in general are very curious about foreigners, but are often inhibited by their lack of English skills. PocketTalk can break down that wall and facilitate some fun small talk with the locals at the neighborhood bar or a club.

During an emergency

Should you ever be in an emergency, you are just a click away from making yourself understood. While smartphone internet translation is an option, it depends on wifi availability, involves more hassle to open the app and type, and is often less accurate.

What the locals in Japan think of pocket translators

Locals love the idea. The country has its reputation for embracing anything robot or AI for a reason, and folks are always keen to try out or interact with a new technology. It can be a great ice breaker and, in many cases, will put the Japanese person you are approaching at ease. A pocket translator will remove most of that uneasiness and make things easier not only for you, but also the locals you are interacting with.

How much does the PocketTalk cost?

If you want to purchase your own Pocketalk, a device costs around US $300. It may not be worth it for one trip or you might want to try it out first before deciding to buy. Fon, a Japanese pocket wifi rental company, offers the PocketTalk for rent for your trip together with a pocket wifi.

Here’s how the rental process works

Either pick it up when you land at Narita, Haneda, Kansai or Nagoya Airport or have it shipped to your hotel/accommodation. It comes fully charged and ready to go, with no set-up required, simply select your desired language pair.

Return the device in a pre-paid envelope (included in the rental fees) on the final day of your trip.

Rental for 30 days for the PocketTalk is normally 7,000 yen, but with our special Tokyo Cheapo offer, you can knock 30% off that price. Simply visit the booking page and use the discount code “FONRENTALTC” at the checkout.

Our final verdict: If you don’t speak any Japanese, but want to make your trip more effortless and are interested in interacting with the locals, give PocketTalk a go. The translation quality is great for general travel questions and small talk and has improved a whole lot over the past years. The rental option for 4,900yen/month (with our discount code) makes it a small investment and (probably) your trip a whole lot more fun.

PocketTalk rental details

PocketTalk page:
Coupon code: FONRENTALTC

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