10 Tips for First-Time Solo Travelers in Japan
It's only intimidating at first.
Let's admit it: Going on a solo trip sounds exciting, but it can also be pretty daunting, especially if you've never done it before. Luckily, Japan is a great choice for first-time solo travelers. Here are a few tips to help you get started!
Plan your trip accordingly.
If you're planning to visit Japan, try to avoid Golden Week. Usually held from April 29 to May 6, this is their biggest national holiday, and most locals would be out traveling. During this time, roads are also congested, theme parks are crowded, and temples with markets are full of people-not exactly conducive to your "eat, pray, love" goals. That said, there are four seasons in Japan. Check out our When to Visit page to help you plan your solo itinerary!
Since you're traveling by yourself, you need to have all your bases covered. For starters, make sure you have a portable WiFi device. This will help you navigate your way to and from locations and will be especially helpful when figuring out which train station to get out of. Most airports like Kansai International Airport or Narita International Airport have booths that offer WiFi device rental services even without a prior reservation.
Download Google Translate.
As helpful as the Japanese are, the language barrier is very real. To help you communicate with the locals, download Google Translate on your phone, so that it works even if you're offline. Learn a few helpful Japanese phrases before you leave, too!
Do as the Japanese do.
The locals are a very courteous and hospitable people, and while they don't expect foreigners to behave the same way, doing so is one way of showing your respect. Take your cue from the people around you. For example, if they bow to you in greeting, bow back. Notice that they also don't talk while in transit and that they patiently line up for everything. They don't walk around while eating, and some restaurants might require you to remove your shoes before entering. Worried about the dining etiquette? Check out our article on what you should avoid doing at Japanese restaurants.
Keep cash on you.
Bigger stores and restaurants will accept credit cards. However, most establishments, especially those in the smaller towns, might operate on a cash-only basis.
Don't be embarrassed to eat alone.
Dining solo is pretty standard in Japan. In fact, most restaurants offer communal seating. Meals can come pretty cheap, too. Hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurants have items as affordable as ¥150 and a bowl of tonkotsu ramen can go for as low as ¥450 if you know where to go. If you don't feel like dining in by yourself, Japan also has plenty of open-air food stalls and markets where you can eat as you go!
Go for cheaper accommodations.
Regular hotels can be expensive for solo travelers. The good news is that Japan offers more affordable options like hostels, bunk beds, ryokans, and capsule hotels. Need a little privacy? Some business hotels offer single room occupancy, too! On average, bunk beds and hostels will set you back by ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 or P500 to P1,500. Capsule hotels run from ¥5,000 to ¥8,000 or P2,500 to P4,000. Meanwhile, single room business hotels will cost you anywhere from ¥6,500 to ¥12,000 or P3,250 to P6,000.
Travel like a local.
Taking the train might be more intimidating for solo travelers, but Japan's subway system is pretty efficient. All you need to know is which station you are at, which station you need to get to, and the corresponding fare listed (i.e. ¥240). On the ticketing machine, click the amount that you need to pay; don't look for the destination station as it's not on the machine. Then, insert your money and wait for your ticket to come out.
Alternatively, if you get an IC card, you simply need to tap the card on the turnstile, and it will automatically deduct the fare. If you purchase a JR Pass, simply go to the rightmost gate where an attendant is available, and show the pass. When taking public transportation, avoid rush hour. Trains will be packed like sardines, and it will be challenging to get out.
Join group tours when you start feeling too alone.
Just because you're traveling alone doesn't mean that you always have to be by yourself. There are a lot of activities where you can meet people, too! Join a food tour group in Osaka, experience a traditional tea ceremony in Tokyo, or even hang out with furry friends!
Stay alert at all times.
Japan is a very safe country. In general, people can walk around with their bags open and leave things in public places, but that doesn't mean that crime is non-existent. It's still important to be careful.
Main photo courtesy of iStock.