Traveling Japan Alone: The Complete Guide
In many ways, Japan is the ideal destination for solo travelers. There are accommodations, dining, and activity options designed expressly for single people.
Still, a solo trip to a new destination - welcoming as it may be to single travelers - can be intimidating. Concerns about safety, budgeting, and planning can get in the way of the pre-travel buzz you hope to feel.
That’s why we’ve compiled everything you need to know about traveling to Japan alone - so you don’t have to stress!
- Is It Safe to Travel Japan Alone?
- Best Safety Practices for Travelers
- Traveling Japan on a Budget
- Where to Travel Alone in Japan
- Final Tips for Traveling Japan Alone
Japan has a reputation for being one of the safest destinations in the world, which is one reason it’s such a great destination for solo travelers. That reputation is backed by its consistently high rankings in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index (GPI).
The 2018 GPI, which considers societal safety, conflict, and militarization, named Japan the 9th most peaceful nation in the world.
Within the Asia Pacific region, it ranked as high as 3rd, falling just behind New Zealand and Singapore.
Reassuring as that may be, it doesn’t mean the country is without its hazards. Before committing to a solo trip to Japan, there are certain safety factors you should consider:
Japan’s weather can create extreme situations. Heavy rains during the monsoon season (June-July) can trigger flash floods as well as landslides. In the scorching summer, the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature soars high enough to give unwary travelers heat stroke.
Due to its precarious location at the junction of tectonic plates, Japan is also prone to earthquakes. Though most are hardly felt, they can be large enough to trigger volcanic activity and tsunamis.
One notable result of such natural disasters is the nuclear contamination of Fukushima. Since a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck the area in 2011, it has been under continuous monitoring. Follow the guidance of the Nuclear Regulation Authority and steer clear of affected areas to ensure your safety.
While it’s unlikely you’ll encounter violent crime in Japan, criminal activity does still exist, especially in cities. Always be aware of your belongings and be on the lookout for pickpockets. Theft and credit card fraud are among the most reported crimes in Japan.
Exercise caution when going out in populous cities like Tokyo. As in most cities, drink spiking can occur, and men are just as likely as women to be targeted. Popular nightlife areas like Ikebukuro and Roppongi, Kabukicho are especially susceptible to this sort of crime. Always keep your drink close and take note of suspicious behavior.
Best Safety Practices for Travelers
Japan is a rather safe country. Nonetheless, there are a few measures you can take to enhance your security.
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers
- Arrive during the day. It can take some time to get your bearings in a new place. Arrive during the day to find your accommodation easier. Pay attention to landmarks and street names that will help you get around during your stay.
- Meet other travelers. Traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Websites like Couchsurfing and Meetup regularly organize events for travelers and locals to get together. This could mean taking a class, joining a walking tour, or doing a language exchange.
- Protect your phone. Your phone is your best friend, your savior, and your lifeline to the world when traveling on your own. Invest in a life-proof case, download a Find My Phone app, and purchase a mobile protection plan that covers you if you lose or break your phone abroad.
- Keep track of your belongings. Secure your backpack or suitcase with a travel lock. Make sure you always have your identification and valuables on hand and close to your body. Wearing a money belt is the classic way to prevent pickpockets, or you could invest in a theft-proof bag. Sticking a Tile on your essentials is a good backup plan in case of theft or loss.
- Get a credit card. Unexpected expenses are an inevitability. If you find yourself needing medical attention, making an unexpected detour, replacing your cell phone, or making any number of other emergency purchases, having a credit card will help you cover the cost upfront.
- Stay sober. Or drink responsibly. Becoming too intoxicated makes you vulnerable to scammers and criminals waiting to take advantage of tourists. It can also make it harder to find your way home.
Safety Tips for All Travelers
- Alert your country’s embassy or consulate of your trip. In case of emergency, your government will be able to account for your wellbeing. For Americans, this means enrolling in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
- Get travel medical insurance. Many domestic health plans don’t cover international travel. Before you leave your home country, purchase travel medical insurance to ensure access to quality medical care and reduce the impact of covered medical expenses.
- Download helpful apps. Apps like NHK World and Safety Tips will send you “J-Alerts” in English. The Japanese government issues these phone alerts in case of a natural disaster or emergency. The Safety Tips app also includes helpful language cards for emergency communication.
- Buy portable Wi-Fi and a portable charger for your smartphone. Japan is behind the times when it comes to free Wi-Fi hotspots. Having portable Wi-Fi on hand ensures you’re always connected.
- Save the emergency numbers in your phone. Dial 119 for the fire department and 110 for the police. If you want to file a police report, do so before you leave Japan, as they will not take foreign reports. You should also alert your embassy.
- Carry your ID. This is a safety measure as much as a legal requirement. Everyone must always carry their official ID in Japan. For tourists, this means keeping your passport with you.
Safety Tips for Women Traveling Alone
Although not many people report sexual assault in Japan, sexual harassment in the form of ogling and groping sometimes occurs. Foreign women tend to attract attention for standing out, making women traveling to Japan alone easy targets.
If you are accosted, firmly express your disinterest and loudly tell the perpetrator to stop. Occurrences like these are rare, though, and women should feel safe getting around on their own.
Traveling Japan on a Budget
Many people put off a trip to Japan because they’ve heard how expensive it can be. When you add up the price of the flight, hotels, and activities, it can come out to a lot - but it doesn’t have to.
There are far more options for cheap dining, accommodation, and travel in Japan when you travel solo.
Choose Public Transit
Japan has many affordable public transportation options, such as buses, metros, and an extensive rail network that connects nearly every town in Japan. Fares vary from city to city, but a one-way ticket for a bus or JR (Japan Rail) train typically costs between ¥100 and ¥250 (about $0.91 to $2.27), depending on the distance you go.
The JR Rail Pass
The JR Rail Pass is an all-access pass to the JR public transit service. This includes all Japan Rail national trains (including Shinkansen bullet trains), JR buses, ferries, and airport transfers. The pass is intended for short-stay tourists to Japan and can be purchased in 1-to-3-week-long increments. A 7-day pass costs ¥33,610 ($305.79), and a 21-day pass costs ¥66,200 ($602.29).
You can save a lot if you’re planning to use public transport frequently, or if you plan on traveling to multiple destinations. It is crucial to book your JR Rail Pass in advance. Once you enter Japan, there are few locations where you can purchase one, and the prices will be higher.
Most cities also offer day passes. A day pass is a great option if you plan on taking public transport many times throughout the day. In Tokyo, a day pass covering the various metro lines will cost you ¥1,590 ($14.47). That might sound steep, but in a city so large, you may find yourself needing the metro often. Other cities, like Kyoto, offer day passes for only ¥500 ($4.55).
Affordable Places to Stay
Solo travelers have the pick of the lot when it comes to affordable accommodation in Japan.
- Hostels. Hostel beds start at about ¥2,700 per night ($24.56) in Tokyo and ¥1,500 ($13.65) outside the city. Some will even offer you a free bed if you’re willing to work for a few hours. This is a great way for people traveling to Japan alone to meet other travelers.
- Capsule Hotels. Staying in one of these person-sized bunks is a uniquely Japanese experience. One night starts at about ¥2,700. But be careful when booking, as many capsule hotels are reserved just for men. Make sure to note such stipulations before confirming your reservation.
- Manga Café. For a quirky night’s stay, consider reserving a stall at a manga café. These 24-hour establishments are essentially libraries of manga (Japanese comics/graphic novels) and DVDs. There aren’t any beds, but if you’re in a pinch, you can reserve a small stall for ¥1,600 to ¥3,000 ($14.56 to $27.29) per night.
- Ryokan (Japanese Inn). A stay in one of these traditional guesthouses is a great way to experience Japanese culture. Dress in a comfortable yukata (casual summer kimono), soak in an onsen (public bath or hot spring), and have a traditional meal served to your room. More affordable ryokan start at ¥5,000 per night ($45.49).
Dining for Less
With so many unique dishes to try, you may be concerned about excessive spending on dining. As a solo traveler, however, you don’t have to worry about pleasing other people’s preferences. Here are some affordable dining options:
- Konbini (Japanese Convenience Stores). Konbini like Family Mart, 7-11, and Lawson’s offer pre-packaged meals made daily. Unlike the convenience stores back home, konbini meals are rather good quality and can fill you up for cheap.
- Vending Machines. Japan has mastered the vending machine. Drinks and food, both hot and cold, are just buttons away.
- Food Courts. You’ll find food courts with rows of dining options on the top floor of department stores like Isetan and Takashiyama. These food courts offer all kinds of dishes for less than you would spend at a regular restaurant.
- Conveyor Belt Sushi. Sushi is one of the more expensive food options in Japan. At conveyor belt sushi restaurants, however, you can choose small plates of sushi and other small dishes for ¥100 to ¥500 ($0.91 to $4.55) each.
Looking for more budget travel tips? Read How to Cheaply Travel Japan.
One of Japan's strengths as a tourist destination is its natural and cultural diversity.
The northern prefectures play host to cold winters while Japan’s southern prefectures experience a subtropical climate. Bustling cities and serene mountains lie everywhere in between. Each region has a unique topography with cultures and cuisines all their own.
Consider these destinations when planning your solo trip to Japan:
This extensive metropolis is the most popular destination for tourists. It’s commonplace for people to do things on their own in Tokyo, so you don’t have to worry about standing out as a solo traveler.
Tokyo is the best Japanese city for pop culture enthusiasts. The neighborhood of Akihabara is the center for all things otaku (Japanese geek culture). You’ll find electronics stores, bookstores full of manga, loud and strobing arcades, and the cult-favorite maid cafes, where waitresses dressed as maids worship customers and serve dishes that seem too adorable to be real.
Sports fans in Tokyo can catch a baseball game or see a traditional sumo match. There are only 45 days per year that you can catch a sumo match in Tokyo, so plan your visit and book tickets in advance.
Here are some solo activities to consider when visiting the capital:
- Pick up a pre-packaged meal from a konbini (Japanese convenience store) and head to one of Tokyo’s many parks and gardens for lunch and people watching. Yoyogi Park and Shinjuku Gyoen are both sprawling western-style parks that are especially popular during the sakura (cherry blossom) season in early spring. Otherwise, a walk around the Imperial Gardens is a pleasant way to experience a traditional Japanese garden and marvel at the Edo-era architecture.
- Visiting temples and shrines alone allows you to appreciate centuries-old Japanese traditions at your own pace. Senso-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo. Stop in for a prayer or have your fortune told by the omikuji, then wander the stalls of vendors that lead to the temple.
- Cat cafes are a quirky way to experience both Japan’s renowned coffee culture and its love of cats. ¥1,000 ($9.10) will get you an hour in most cat cafes, which are equipped with cat toys and even outfits you can attempt to put on the resident felines.
- See Tokyo from above at one of the several observation decks in the city. At Tokyo Skytree, you’ll get a better understanding of the city’s massive size by viewing it from 2,000 feet in the air. You might even catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji on a clear day!
- Renting a karaoke room by yourself might sound weird at first, but in Japan, this is totally normal behavior. It even has a name – hitokara.
For regular updates of free and affordable things to do in Tokyo, follow TokyoCheapo.
Plan your visit to Tokyo with our Tokyo City Guide. Discover things to do, where to stay, and how to get around.
Nature lovers will want to explore Japan’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido.
Visit Hokkaido in February to catch the Sapporo Snow Festival, when the entire city turns into a winter wonderland, or take a trip to the region in July to experience the lavender fields of Furano in bloom. The largest fields are at Farm Tomita, which has been producing lavender since 1903.
Plan your visit to Sapporo with our Sapporo City Guide. Discover things to do, where to stay, and how to get around.
Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps
The trails of Mt. Fuji are open to visitors from July 1 to September 14.
The shortest trail to the summit takes five hours to ascend and three hours to descend. Most people start the trek in the evening and rest overnight before descending. For climbers’ convenience, there are mountain huts available to reserve overnight, but you need to book them in advance.
Join a climbing tour to meet likeminded friends and climb Mt. Fuji with the guidance of professionals. Voyagin offers a trip for ¥21,300 (about $193.79) that includes transport to and from Tokyo, a stay in a mountain hut, and a visit to an onsen afterward.
This modern city is a poignant destination, particularly for Americans and solo travelers desiring a place for reflection. Peace Memorial Park and Museum are somber and powerful reminders of the past.
Solo travelers can connect with a group at the WoodEgg Okonomiyaki Museum and take a tour to learn about, make, and eat one of Hiroshima’s most famous dishes – okonomiyaki, a savory pancake dish.
The nearby island of Miyajima is home to ancient shrines, including the famous Itsukushima Shrine. Miyajima Walks offer three-hour walking tours that will take you to all the major Buddhist sites and teach you their histories and meanings.
The Kansai Region
As the former capital of Imperial Japan, the Kansai region is a cultural stronghold, with its deepest roots in Kyoto. It’s famous for striking temples like the golden Kinkaku-ji, the bamboo forests of Arashiyama, and the often-Instagrammed Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Japan Wonder Travel offers various tours in Kyoto that cover everything from history to food. You can even book a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and see maiko (apprentice geishas) in action.
Osaka is Kansai’s largest city, making it a great place to meet new friends. The downtown area, called Dotonburi, is full of larger-than-life neon attractions, nightclubs, cafes, and restaurants.
Go see a show at Osaka’s National Bunraku Theater. Bunraku is a traditional puppet show from Edo-era Japan. Shows at the national theater offer subtitles in English as well.
Plan your visit to Osaka with our Osaka City Guide. Discover things to do, where to stay, and how to get around.
A 30-minute train ride from Osaka is Nara, Japan’s first-ever capital, established in 710AD. Visit the 50-foot-tall Buddha statue at Todai-Ji, Japan’s most famous temple. Then visit Nara Park next door, where wild deer bow to you in exchange for crackers.
The best time to visit Nara is from March 1 to March 14, when the Omizutori events take place. Omizutori are repentance rituals involving fire and water that Japanese Buddhists have been performing for 1250 years. Showering sparks raining down from the temples is a sight you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
When to Go to Japan Alone
It’s best to avoid the summer in Japan (unless you plan to climb Mt. Fuji). The sweltering temperatures make getting around difficult.
Plan a leisurely trip for the spring or fall, or during the sakura (cherry blossom) season. Sakura takes place in early March when pink and white hues cover the city and the countryside.
Final Tips for Traveling Japan Alone
- Book things in advance. Leaving your plans open and traveling on a whim can be a wonderful experience for solo travelers but can be problematic in Japan. Last-minute bookings are more expensive, and language barriers make finding available accommodations more complicated.
- Carry your accommodation’s business card in case you need to take a taxi or ask for directions. English is not widely spoken in most of Japan, so it’s good to have a way of communicating where you’re staying.
- Download offline maps for your smartphone. Since Japan doesn’t have many Wi-Fi hotspots, you can’t rely on your smartphone’s GPS system.
- Connect with other travelers. Even when traveling alone, you’ll benefit from having people to share in your experience.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. You don’t have the luxury of leaning on a companion when you’re lost or confused as a solo traveler. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to strangers. Other travelers will be happy to have someone to talk with and locals will be impressed by and appreciative of your initiative.
- Carry cash. Japan is still a cash-based society – most restaurants won’t even take cards. You can find ATMs at most konbinis (Japanese convenience stores) and post offices.
- Take off your shoes. You should exchange your shoes for slippers in homes, ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), temples, and bathrooms. When entering new places, scan the floor and see if others are wearing shoes before stepping inside.
- Learn some helpful Japanese phrases. Konnichiwa (hello), arigato gozaimasu (thank you), and sumimasen (excuse me) are a good start. Pick up a phrasebook to help you get around.
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