An app with new features uses the cloud and AI to deliver a new style of independent travel for foreigners in Japan
Since its launch last year, the JAPAN Trip Navigator smartphone app has become a great way for independent foreign visitors to explore the country. Now the app has been updated with some new features that use the computational power of Microsoft Azure and artificial intelligence.
This combination delivers comprehensive tourist information fast – in English as well as traditional and simplified Chinese.
The app, with its user-friendly chatbot Miko, can access detailed sightseeing and tourist information from the Japan Travel Board as well as NAVITIME Japan’s route search data for all forms of transportation. You can also use the app to access a wide range of other services such as making restaurant reservations, finding a taxi, and booking accommodation.
In essence, the app replaces the need to carry around bulky guide books and maps. Everything you need can be accessed via your smartphone in immediate and flexible ways that can transform the vacation experiences of non-Japanese-speaking travelers.
One new feature means a user can take a smartphone image of Japanese-language sign, advertisement, or menu and receive a direct translation.
Here, Microsoft Japan’s Kumiko Tezuka outlines a scenario of how the app and Miko the chatbot can work:
My friend Jeff has just had his first vacation in Japan. As a local, I wanted him to enjoy the charm of my country as much as possible. So, before he arrived, I asked him if he needed help on where to go and what to do.
He came back with an answer that surprised me: “Don’t worry. I’m chatting with Miko about my trip. So I’ll be okay working out my travel plans.”
Miko is an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot on the JAPAN Trip Navigator travel app. Jeff installed it on his smartphone and used it to plan his itinerary before he flew into Tokyo. And, he found it really useful as a guide throughout his holiday.
After checking into his hotel, he wanted to spend his first day seeing the sights of the capital.
So he opened the app, typed in his location in the district of “Shibuya” and then added where he wanted to go, which was “Tokyo Tower.” Miko responded immediately with directions on how to get there by train.
With Miko’s help, Jeff found the right station and boarded the right train. Inside the carriage, he noticed an advertisement that showed traditional houses in a beautiful mountainous setting.
The ad caught his eye, but he couldn’t understand what it was about as it was written in Japanese.
Again, Jeff used Miko. He took a picture of the ad with his phone and sent it to the app. Miko replied that the image was of “Shirakawa-go,” a village that is a World Heritage site in Gifu Prefecture.
Jeff was intrigued and used the app to add Shirakawa to his itinerary. It came back with tourist information and a plan on how to get there and where to stay.
It was all done in a few minutes before he arrived at Tokyo Tower.
Later in the day, Jeff found himself in the Asakusa district looking for late lunch. He wanted something light. He opened the app and scrolled through a list of restaurant options in the immediate area. He picked a nearby sushi bar and made a reservation with Miko’s help.
After more sightseeing in the afternoon, it was time for dinner with a Japanese friend, who had suggested eating on a traditional houseboat on Tokyo Bay.
At this time of year, the city is often hit by thunderstorms. So Jeff checked the weather forecast via the app. No rain was predicted, so he set off.
To get to a meeting place that his friend had suggested, Jeff needed a taxi. Again, he used the JAPAN Trip Navigator app. He typed in his destination and the app to work with the Japan Taxi app.
A message came back that taxi would arrive within 10 minutes.Jeff’s friend Rita from Hong Kong is coming to Tokyo for the Olympics next year.
She’s been to Japan before. But Jeff thinks she can use the app’s traditional Chinese features to help her get around – including to Hida Takayama, another World Heritage location that has long been on her bucket list.