Thanks to some severely poor planning, my trip to Japan last week ended up being one more day than I had expected. And so my friend and I found \n\nourselves stranded in Nagoya, a city in the center of Japan, without a hotel or our Japanese-speaking travel companions. Neither of us can speak a lick of Japanese.Finding a hotel is the least of our worries. We also have to navigate a complex subway system to get to the airport the next morning. So we work out \n\na plan: First, lock down a cheap room at a business hotel near the train station, find someone to walk us through the particulars of getting on the right bus \n\nand then grab a bowl of delicious ramen noodles. We find a nearby hotel, walk up to the reception desk, and my friend whips out his Droid and fires up Google Translate, which doesn't work. He \n\nlaunches iTranslator for Android without success. Both Droid apps require a data connection, which we were too cheap to buy. The three receptionists struggle to communicate with us in English. That's when I decide to test the voice-to-voice translation app for the iPhone, \n\nJibbigo, which doesn't require an Internet connection. The makers of the Jibbigo app, Mobile Technologies, have delivered arguably the smartest apps in the App Store: voice-to-voice translation apps for \n\nSpanish, Chinese, Japanese, and an Iraqi dialect of Arabic, with more languages on the way. Just speak into the iPhone in either English or another \n\nlanguage, and in a few seconds the app translates your words into voice and text. The apps aren't cheap, ranging around $30 each. \n\nLanguage Translation App: Jibbigo Goes to WarNot Bilingual? $25 iPhone App for That Translates Spoken EnglishJibbigo app for Japanese has been a hot seller since it became available in January, according to Mobile Technologies. It becaome the top grossing \n\napp in Japan in only two weeks.Braving the Hotel Reception DeskStill at the reception desk, I speak into the iPhone, asking if there are rooms available tonight and at what rate. The app takes some 10 seconds to \n\ntranslate, leaving all of us uncomfortably staring at each other. Apparently, my English isn't very good, because the app translates my words into \n\ngobbledygook. Before the translation enters the final phase into a voice speaking Japanese, I quickly shake the iPhone to delete the translation. \nThe hotel receptionists look at me oddly.Finally, I get the right words into the app, and Jibbigo translates to perfection. Everyone (including myself) is amazed. The receptionists nod that they \n\nindeed have a room at a reasonable price. Then I ask them via the app about the cost of a taxi to the airport since we're worried we'll get lost taking the \n\nsubway and miss our flight. The app is working well on these complex sentences, and I'm feeling pretty good about myself. The receptionists are \n\nimpressed, even a bit giddy.Yet when I point the iPhone toward one of the women to record her answers in Japanese, she starts, stops, and then blushes. As I find out later, \n\nthat's one of three reactions (two of which are bad) to the app. The other receptionists laugh and refuse to speak into the app, too, although we get the \n\nidea that a taxi would be very expensive.Nevertheless, mission accomplished: We have a room for the night.We head to the train station \u2014 a maze of subways and trains, including one that goes well over 100 mph \u2014 to find out where we need \n\nto be the next day. My iPhone is charged up, the Jibbigo app ready to go. I walk up to a train manager to see if he speaks English. He doesn't. No problem, I think, and so I ask a question via the Jibbigo app and point the iPhone toward him. He ignores the iPhone completely and the tone in \n\nhis voice gets sharper. Hence, the second reaction to the app. We scurry away.Amazingly, we run into a waiter we'd met previously, an English and Japanese speaker who promptly walks us through the train process, showing \n\nwhere we need to go and what we need to do. No app needed.Needed: A Sign TranslatorWith our problems solved, we decide to grab some ramen. A nearby shop looks perfect. There's even a person outside calling for us to come in. \n\nWhen we get inside, though, she points us to a machine where we need to buy food tickets. There are many buttons with foreign writing and only a \n\ncouple of pictures.Too bad Jibbigo can't translate written words \u2014 at least not yet. Mobile Technologies founder Alex Waibel, a professor of computer science \n\nand language technologies at Carnegie Mellon University, says his team is working on such a feature for Jibbigo whereby you'd use the iPhone camera to \n\ntake pictures of written words that would be translated."We had developed a road sign translator earlier, but it's not ready for distribution yet and we don't have a release date," Waibel says. Back at the hotel, we meet the manager who speaks very limited English. He heard about the app and wants to have a discussion. I point the iPhone \n\ntoward him and he gladly speaks into it in Japanese. The English translation doesn't make sense except for one word: sightseeing. Yet this launches us into a discussion about what I've seen in Japan and what he's seen when he recently visited San Francisco. Whenever we get \n\nstuck on a word, we use the app to translate and continue our conversation. As our discussion comes to a close, the manager looks at the iPhone and says, "Sugoi!"Translation: Great! Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom \n\non Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at email@example.com.