Monday, November 28, 2011

Cheap Car Navi/GPS Units in Japan

Looking for GPS? Been put off by stories of paying 70,000+? Well, we have the cheaper options covered, just for you.

The answer is, of course! Although you can find some cheaper units in big department, garages or electronics stores like Yamada Denki, the price will still be significantly more than 20,000. On Amazon you can find the real budget options, and better deals on what you see in the shops.

You can see the most popular Navi units here. I actually recently purchased what is currently number two. It isn't the absolute cheapest (which is this little fella at about 6,500yen), but in terms of size and positive reviews, it seemed like the best option:
This is a great unit. All the documentation is in English and the price is great at about 14,000yen.
  • The difference between the expensive Navis and these is that this type is designed to sit on your dashboard, while the expensive ones are really a souped-up entertainment system which is installed into the dash of your car (like this beast for 93,000yen), featuring Bluetooth, CD/MD/DVD capabilities, TV etc etc.
  • One problem you may come across is that map data and options are almost universally Japanese. If you have something to refer to and can read hiragana and katakana, this shouldn't be too much of a problem. Map data IS available in English, and you may get lucky with your unit - check the manufacturers website for details.
  • A good feature of the newer portable GPS units is that the map data is read from an SD card, so you can update it very, very easily. Some of the in-car units require, if not a specialist, the purchase of a new data CD (very expensive).
  • Other very cheap units come from manufacturer Space Machine


  1. Using a car-navi system. IME you'll need some kanji. But if you have the address details in romaji (and don't know the kanji) you can use your mobile telephone to figure out the right kanji by entering the place name in a message and cycle through the kanji options (there shouldn't be many for towns and cities, but districts and divisions might be more difficult). A post/zip code will get you to a city fine but bear in mind that unlike the UK - where a single postcode covers about 8 houses - a 'yubin bango' could cover many hundreds of households. My own sub-division has 295 houses. So to get to the exact address you'll need to enter the full address and house number 'banchi'. Even then, most Japanese navi systems won't take you right to the door. The voice directions will get you nearby and then pretty much give up. The display should indicate the house and you'll have to figure out the rest using your finely tuned sense of direction!

    For finding businesses try entering the telephone number first. Airports can be tricky unless you enter the exact full name "Narita Kokusai Kūkō" should work, but then you need the right terminal. I've navigated to Narita many times by selecting the name of a coffee shop operating inside the terminal one building!

    I always program a navi to indicate gas stands and convenience stores. You can pretty much navigate the whole of Japan using such markers. If you're on an old system remember that 'Nisseki' stands are now 'Eneos'.

  2. There is a good solution in English here:

  3. The ユピテル (YUPITERU or Jupiter) YPL502si which you linked to is still available (currently about 13,000yen rather than the 6,500yen you got), but there are several newer models too. Unfortunately I can't find any confirmation on the manufactures' website that they have an English mode. Any suggestions?