At its best, traveling solo allows you to have complete freedom with your schedule, the chance to be spontaneous, and the opportunity to meet other travelers that you might not have interacted with had you been with a group. It is also an opportunity to do some soul-searching and discover what travel style suits you. If you are a woman who is thinking of traveling to Japan alone, take heart: It is one of the best places to do all of the above! Here are a few pieces of advice when planning your solo trip to Japan.
Going to Japan Alone: The Basics
Japan has some of the safest cities in the world (with Tokyo ranked as number one and Osaka as number three) and one of the lowest violent crime rates as well; this makes traveling to Japan alone extremely easy and safe for solo tourists in general and women in particular. However, women should still take precautions and keep in mind that they may receive some unwanted attention. Luckily in Japan there are small “koban” police stations in every neighborhood. You should get a general idea of the location of the koban in your area so if you ever feel unsafe you can walk right into one of these stations. The police are usually very friendly and you can even ask them for help if you are lost and just need directions!
Memorize the emergency numbers in Japan: 119 for fire and ambulance services and 110 for police. In addition, become friends with the people at the front desk wherever you’re staying. They often know bus and train schedules and will have an idea of where you are going just in case something happens. Finally, even if you are on a budget, keep some extra back-up money close at hand for an emergency (such as missing the last train or getting lost and needing to take a taxi). Speaking of trains, keep in mind that there are women-only cars available at certain times of day for your safety and comfort. Ask the station staff about the schedule for the Josei Senyo-sha (women-only cars) before boarding your train.
Before traveling alone in Japan, it is very important to plan your itinerary in advance and share it with someone at home. This way your family or friends know roughly where you will be each day, and if they lose contact with you for any reason (such as natural disaster) they can make inquiries on your behalf. If you know what hotels or hostels you will be staying at, make sure to share that information too.
Contrary to some of the images of Japanese women in popular media, women in Japan tend to dress conservatively. If you want to avoid unwanted attention during your solo travels because of your outfits, you should cover your shoulders (no spaghetti straps or camisoles as shirts) and avoid wear low-cut or tight-fitting clothing. In fact, in Japan it is considered somewhat erotic to bare your collarbones or wear V-shaped t-shirts, even if there isn’t cleavage being shown. And despite the heat and humidity, Japanese women often cover up their arms and necks in the summer to protect their skin from sun damage.
Style-wise, Japanese women tend to be on the dressy, feminine side. No one will be offended by t-shirts, jeans, or tennis shoes, but you may feel a little underdressed walking the streets of fashion capitals like Tokyo and Osaka. Of course, at the end of the day you are free to dress as you like. Use your own judgement on what you feel is appropriate, comfortable, and right for you.
One of the great advantages of going to Japan alone is that you have more freedom to meet new people. Hostels are a great place to do this, as most have common areas where you can sit, chat with other travelers, and maybe make plans with each other. Some hostels even organize social parties or group day tours. However, even if you stay at a hotel, there are opportunities to meet other women and single travelers. You can find events for tourists, such as cultural events or bar crawls, on sites like Facebook or Meetup.com. Or you can join a guided day tour. As always, remain aware of your surroundings, don’t accept drinks that you didn’t see get poured, and make sure you have a plan to get home safely.
It is always recommended to spend time learning the local language of the country you are visiting, but this is especially true when you are on a solo trip. Many Japanese people speak a bit of English, and most are extremely friendly and eager to help regardless of their ability. However, you still might want to learn some basic travel and emergency phrases such as “I’m lost” or “Please help me.” You might consider getting either a physical or electronic travel phrasebook. Nowadays there are great inexpensive apps for travel. Furthermore, any bit of language you do learn will come in handy when meeting local Japanese people, who are always extremely grateful for any effort you have made to learn Japanese.
As a solo tourist, Wi-Fi is an extremely valuable resource for not only convenience but also safety. If you get lost, you can easily look at your location on a GPS app and find bus and train routes (the Navitime app is great for English train routes). If you feel unsafe, you can look up the nearest koban station and get directions to it. And if you are going to be late to your hotel or hostel, you can quickly look up their number and call them (either through Skype or on a payphone) to let them know that you are running late.
Furthermore, you can use the Line smartphone app to contact people for free anywhere in the world. It is a free texting and calling app similar to WhatsApp or KakaoTalk. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection and the app. Virtually everyone in Japan with a smartphone has this app, so you can use it to keep in touch with people you meet along the way. You can also use it to stay in touch with people at home for free!
Plan a Solo Trip to Japan
Considering that it is one of the world’s safest countries, traveling to Japan alone can be a liberating experience. Nowadays Wi-Fi and Internet connections are everywhere, so you don’t have to worry about losing touch with people at home or those you meet along the way. Even if you haven’t traveled alone before, with a little preparation you can be a savvy solo tourist in Japan, ready to see its wonders for yourself.