Photo/IllutrationIzumi no Hiroba (Fountain square) is a popular meeting place in the underground malls in Osaka's Umeda district. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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OSAKA--Having a hard time finding your way in the underground malls around Osaka Station? A railway operator here is hoping to make it as easy as holding up your smartphone.

West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) is introducing a multilingual app that uses augmented reality (AR) to help visitors navigate through the notoriously maze-like malls in the Umeda district sprawling out from the station.

When a smartphone's camera is started, the app displays arrows on the screen to show which direction to go in, guiding users to destinations through crowds and up and down stairs.

The Osaka Umeda AR Navigation app, developed by Panasonic Corp., will show visitors how to reach 33 facilities around JR Osaka Station, including the Hanshin Department Store and Umeda Sky Building.

The service will be available in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean in mid-March at the earliest.

The AR technology will allow users of the app to see digital illustrations and characters mapped onto the real landscape through their mobile devices.

The app uses Panasonic's Light ID (LinkRay) technology, which allows smartphones to receive information based on flashing light and its brightness.

The technology is ideal in underground facilities, as global positioning system (GPS) radio waves are difficult to receive, and wireless devices sometimes have difficulty working properly in crowded areas.

JR West will set up electronic signboards for the service at nine locations on the grounds of Osaka Station so passengers can receive guidance information by reading the boards with their smartphones.

By comparing the actual surroundings captured by the camera with the images sent from the boards, the app will help passengers reach their destinations.

According to JR West, an influx of tourists from overseas has resulted in numerous requests for directions to station staff members.

The railway operator, which has a limited pool of employees who can converse in languages other than Japanese, is considering introducing the service at Kyoto and Shin-Osaka stations, as well as others busy with overseas visitors.