Japanese to English Live Text Translation using Google Translate

Japanese product text translation using Google Translate

In this post, I want to share my experience of shopping in Japanese supermarkets. Are some of the products in English or just Japanese, and if it’s in Japanese, what can you do to be able to know what the product is?

There is a reasonable solution for translating text from Japanese to English using Google Translate app. It can be used for translating text on products in supermarkets, restaurant menus, signs, infographics, comics, screenshots, images, creatives, scans, ads, etc.

I Felt I am Missing on Good Food

I was mainly shopping in 2 or three supermarkets in Japan. There are quite a lot of products with English notes, but there are plenty without. I was mainly shopping in MEGA Don Quijote at that time, a big shopping mall.

Anyways, the main problem is not that you can’t find some products to buy, even if there are without translation. You can still see the images on the product and get an idea. The problem is that you feel you are missing so many great foods because you don’t know what they are. You can’t read and understand Japanese.

For example, I was buying a spaghetti to make in the microwave. I saw the image on the box and I knew that it’s spaghetti that I can make in the microwave and the time to cook is also quite clear.

I like that food and eventually, I bought it many times. However, what’s the point in being in Japan and eating spaghetti LOL.

Google Translate to the Rescue

You just point the phone towards the Japapense label and it will translate the text from Japanese to your chosen language.
Wait, I know what you are thinking. You think that I am suggestion writing the words in Japanese in Google translate and getting a translation. The answer is NO.

Of course not, this would be a terrible idea. What you are going to do, install a Japanese keyboard and try to type it, absolutely not.

The amazing thing is that Google Translate app (for Android and iOS), has a built-in augmented reality translation feature.

You just point the phone towards the Japapense label and it will translate the text from Japanese to your chosen language. I am an AR enthusiast, and I was so happy to discover this functionality.

There are many apps that can translate text from images, but this is a live Japanese translation in augmented reality!

Japanese Translation Downsides

Let’s say it like that, this real-time AR translation from Japanese to English is far from being perfect. It’s actually far from being good. BUT, it is useable, and it’s better than nothing.

Even if I translate Japanese text to English using Google Translate, it’s not 100% accurate translation, far from it. In AR translation, there are several issues. The first one is that translation word-per-word can produce some meaningless words. Secondly, it’s updated in real-time, so as you move the camera, even a tiny bit, it refreshes the text.

This leads to a flickery translation experience that is sometimes very hard to follow. But as I said, it’s better than nothing.

Let me show you how it works in a video.

Yes, this is how it works. You can see that I can understand what a specific sauce is. I can understand that 0% means for no cholesterol. I can see almost a full translation of the ingredients and the title on the vegetable box.

Japanese Text Replacement Feature

You can see that what Google Translate does, is replacing the Japanese text with the English one.

This is very convenient because if not, you have to deal with reading the English text alongside the Japanese and that would be terrible. Google Translate samples the color around the text and use it as a background for the translated English text. So it looks very natural on the box.

Imagine Translation with Augmented Reality Glasses

Imagine that with Augmented Reality glasses, maybe Apple AR Glasses when they arrive. This can be amazing. You walk around the supermarket in Japan, or in any other country in that aspect. And now you can see a live translation of the products from a foreign language to your language.


So, as you can see, this is a nice solution. It doesn’t solve the issue of understanding what the Japanese product is complete, but it can help you out. It’s much better than without using it.

It is still a bit of hassle, but overall, you’ll be able to find Japanese food to try out that otherwise, you wouldn’t.

If you are staying a short time in Japan, you probably going to eat outside anyways. This is mostly for people who are staying in Japan for a long time and do their shopping to their hostel in local supermarkets in their areas.

I hope you find this useful. Tell me how it worked for you. Thanks for reading.

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