As an expat, there are many reasons you might choose to take a solo adventure in Japan. Maybe your new friends don’t have the same days off work as you. Maybe you’ve been living in Japan for years and have grown tired doing the same things with the same people. Or maybe traveling alone just fits your personality.
When I moved to Japan, my English-teaching job placed me in Fukui, notorious for being the least-visited prefecture by international tourists. So once I’d settled in and a week-long fall break from work came around, I was eager to escape my prefecture’s cold, rainy days and explore the southern islands of Okinawa. My friends didn’t have the same days off work as me, so I booked a flight on a bit of a whim and set off on my first solo trip in Japan. It was a nerve-racking experience and lonely at times (and surprisingly took a lot of courage just to bring myself to eat at a restaurant alone), but 100 percent worth it.
… solo female travel in Japan is incredible and the trials and tribulations of traveling alone as a woman shouldn’t deter you…
Considered one of the world’s safest countries, Japan has been in the top 10 countries of the Global Peace Index for the last 10 years. No matter the reason, solo female travel in Japan is incredible and the trials and tribulations of traveling alone as a woman shouldn’t deter you from the adventure ahead. Here are five things to keep in mind before departing on a solo trip in Japan.
1. Choose your accommodation wisely
Generally, I look for a place that’s closest to the city center. This way, I can avoid walking in low-lit, low-traffic areas when possible. There are many platforms for cheap accommodation in Japan that make it easy for women to find private or women-only rooms, especially when on a budget.
- HostelWorld makes it incredibly easy to find the cheapest accomodation in English, so I use it almost exclusively in Japan. You’ll find there’s almost always a women-only dorm option, which I prefer because there tends to be far fewer snorers keeping me awake. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, it’s an experience worth trying. I find they’re particularly fun for solo travel in Japan because many of the people crashing there are alone, looking to make friends and have interesting tales of what led them to come to Japan. Because of the nature of the job, hostel staff often speak English, are happy to recommend local restaurants and genuinely want you to enjoy the country they live in as much as they do. If sharing a dorm isn’t your cup of tea, many hostels also have private rooms for a bit higher price.
- The Couchsurfing app is for exactly what it sounds like — crashing on a local’s couch for free. The more you couch surf, the more you can build up your profile as a trusted, polite and easy guest. But the platform has evolved into more than just finding a place to sleep. On the app, you can find a number of events and “hangouts” around Japan. For example, one user organizes a Pink Bar Crawl in a Shinjuku LGBT area for free every Saturday and another is promoting a hanami (cherry blossom celebration) meet-up at a Tokyo park in April.
- Airbnb. If you’re looking for a more home-like stay in Japan, look no further than Airbnb. While a recent Minpaku Law has capped Airbnb use in Japan at 180 days, most registered listings are now reliable. As with other accommodation, check that your Airbnb of choice is in a well-lit central area, is private and has high security. You can also view the owners’ profile before you book, should you prefer a female host.
- Women-only accommodation. If you’re not into shared spaces, there are a number of women-only hostels, capsule hotels and guesthouses across Japan, seemingly more so than in other parts of the world. A quick Google search of “female/women only hotels,” paired with your destination city tends to have a wide range of results — especially in Tokyo.
2. Utilize Facebook groups
Despite the plethora of information available online now, travel agents and group tours are still thriving in Japan. This makes it even easier to do some solo travel at times of your choosing. There are a number of Facebook groups designed specifically to connect women travelers with one another to share tips, advice and support.
- Girls Love Travel — With more than 600,000 members, hundreds of updates are posted in this international forum each day from women around the world. From finding book recommendations about a place you’re interested in to general recommendations for a travel itinerary anywhere in the world, there’s no question too broad or obscure for this group.
- Futon Party! A Love/Dating Discussion Group for Expat Women in Japan — With nearly 2,000 members, this group is primarily for women to discuss dating life in Japan. If you’re planning on swiping into some Tinder dates on your Japan solo trip and want advice, this is a really straight forward group that doesn’t shy away from talking about dating and sex.
- JET Ladies + — Originally designed for ALTs within the JET Programme in Japan, this group welcomes all female-identifying expats in Japan. If you’ve never been in the JET Programme before and you can explain a compelling reason why you’d like to join, according to the about page, the admins will consider your request. Topics of conversations in this group include everything from volunteer traveling to the best spots to go for this year’s extended Golden Week. Further, this network of expat women lives in both big cities and more inaka (countryside) towns, so it’s a great place to find potential travel mates and less touristy destinations.
3. Know where you’re going before you go
One of the most daunting parts of going anywhere alone is the fear of getting lost. Directions have never been my strong suit. Family and friends teased me that they couldn’t believe I’d survived so much travel with the internal compass of a hamster. I’ve always replied that navigation skills may not come to me naturally, but I know how to use my resources. My secrets to not getting lost come in the form of free smartphone apps.
Further, many women know the trick: when walking alone, always appear confident — even if you’re not. For that reason, you may have more piece of mind if you understand the train systems beforehand and know where you’re headed.
- HyperDia is the best English platform for finding a variety of long-distance train routes ahead of time. And if you’ve pre-loading money onto a Suica or Pasmo smart card, you can waltz straight to your train and not have to fuss with finding train times in a crowded station. Additionally, bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka have women-only cars on the the trains, which prohibit men from entering them at rush hours.
- Apple Maps. While Google Maps is praised by many for being the best navigation system — and I agree it’s good for driving directions — it’s not so great with bus routes. When traveling to the countryside of Japan, bus routes are often the only form of public transit. The Maps app on the iPhone is my go-to when traveling short distances in small towns where taxis are pricey. Just punch in wherever you’re going, click “Transit,” and you’ll find a bus route and its cost. By pressing “Leaving Soon,” you can change the time and see the routes for a future date so you can plan ahead. CityMapper and TripAdvisor are also exceptional apps not only for search, but also for navigating destination areas in Japan.
- Maps.Me. This app, which is great for walking directions, allows you to download a map of nearly any city in the world and use it without Wi-Fi. This way, you can follow your location so you’ll know immediately if you take a wrong turn or if you’re going in the right direction. Just download the city before you go when you’re on Wi-Fi, pin your accommodation and you’ll always have a way to navigate to your place.
4. Think about why you’re taking the trip
Perhaps one of the biggest deterrents to traveling alone is loneliness. This often comes with not knowing what to do once you arrive in a place and feeling awkward about going to restaurants or entertainment venues alone. This is a common part of solo travel, so to combat it, assess your goals before you depart.
On my most recent solo trip to Okinawa, for example, I knew that no matter how my trip went or how I felt, my three goals were:
- Go snorkeling
- Go to at least three craft breweries
- Practice speaking Japanese
Maybe your goals are to visit a certain temple or shrine, try a particular city’s food specialty and finish reading a book on a long train ride. I had days and times when I didn’t want to leave my hostel. On these days, I referred back to my list to make my goals happen. When in doubt, remind yourself why you came and repeat to yourself the things you’d wanted to do.
5. Always, always, always listen to your instincts
Japan is heralded as one of the safest countries in the world, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t always be aware of your surroundings. If you have an iPhone, share your location “indefinitely” on FindMyFriends with a trusted family member or friend or if you’re an Android user, try out Trusted Contacts. If you’re ever in a situation that feels “off,” shoot them a message so they can track you in case anything bad were to happen.
When possible, turn to employees for help. In many cases, the information desks at many train stations have English-speaking support. Unless you’re visiting somewhere super inaka (rural), you’re never too far from a 24-hour konbini (convenience store) like 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart or Mini Stop in Japan. The employees there can make calls for you, too, if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation.
I came back from Okinawa feeling braver for having tackled a solo trip in a country so different than my own, more confident in my Japanese language abilities and eager to plan my next trip to do it all again.
I came back from Okinawa feeling braver for having tackled a solo trip in a country so different than my own…
When traveling in Japan, take your precautions but don’t feel pressured to over-plan. There are risks with any solo travel, but by finding your bearings, choosing your accommodation wisely and reminding yourself why you’re taking this solo trip, you’ll gain confidence to take on many solo adventures to come.
Do you travel solo in Japan? What are some recommended resources, apps or travel tips you can share with other women thinking of venturing off by themselves on Japanese trip? Let us know in the comments!