Traveling anywhere in the world solo at any age can be an exciting, liberating, and eye-opening life experience, but Japan certainly is one of the best places for solo travel. While the prospect can seem daunting if you’re planning a solo trip, when you bite the bullet, traveling solo can be one of the most rewarding types of travel there is. Personally, I just love traveling solo in Japan; it's still one of my favorite places in the world and my go-to country for traveling alone. When you break it down, inside Japan there are so many great prefectures and cities that make great solo travel destinations for just a party of one. It’s really safe to travel solo in Japan, which is an added bonus for female travelers. There are certainly pros and cons overall, so let’s take a look at some of my top solo travel tips for Japan.
Is Japan good for solo travel?
Yes, Japan really is a dream destination for solo travelers. Japan sits amongst some of the best solo travel destinations for its endless natural beauty and tranquility, well-connected public transport routes, high level of safety, and lots of delicious Japanese food that can be enjoyed alone. In other countries, you may feel out of place eating or drinking by yourself, however, the notion of “aloneness” is actually embraced in Japanese culture. Japan’s society is fairly individual, with about a third of households only having one occupant in Japan. Ultimately, there’s a lower stigma of being alone, and it's not uncommon to see Japanese people dining solo. You can even hire out a karaoke room for yourself to sing your heart out, with no spectators, no judgment.
Filled with spiritual insight, dotted throughout Japan are thousands of beautiful places for self-reflection, so you can really embrace the tranquility of Japan and the mindset of traveling alone and reflecting on your experience. Even in Japan’s big cities, you can take time for yourself by visiting Japanese gardens. In small towns, you can challenge yourself by trying to make friends with locals in bars, or make an effort to explore a lesser-known path.
How do I plan a trip to Japan alone?
When it comes to planning a solo trip to Japan, personally I’d argue: don’t. Meaning, don’t plan out your trip in every detail, but have a loose itinerary in place. Japan’s public transport is well-connected with regular departures, so you can be flexible about where and when you want to go (of course, within reason). Who knows the people you might meet en route, or something unexpected you may discover that you can easily pursue if you don’t have all your destinations set in stone. Even if you’re on a tight schedule, I’d recommend trying to leave some wiggle room in your itinerary to get lost and feed your soul with whatever it is that interests you.
Keep in mind that depending on your stamina, and also what you’d like to get out of your trip, when you’re traveling solo in Japan you can generally fit more into one day. You don’t have to waste time liaising with your travel companion about where to go or what to do next (or waiting for them to use the bathroom), you can just wing it or stick to your own plans.
For those who are sticking to a tight schedule, consider the following tips on how to plan a trip to Japan alone:
Japan is famous for its low crime rate, and it’s not uncommon for locals to be wholeheartedly welcoming and helpful. While Japanese people are known for being kind and courteous, it’s generally safe to walk at night and travel on public transport, but you should keep your wits about you. I’ve had my lost passport handed back to me by a good samaritan, and experienced having it stolen and never recovered on a different occasion. This was an unusual circumstance by Japan’s standards, but ensure you take the right precautions as you would if you were in your home country.
Japan is well-known for being one of the most conveniently connected countries in the world with its extensive rail network. A Japan Rail pass might be a good option to give you flexibility during your travels. Be sure to plan on buying an IC card (Pasmo or Suica card) to load money onto for local transport and small purchases when you’re on the ground in Japan. Some useful tips to remember are that in rural towns, things can tend to shut fairly early. Make sure you don’t get caught out on your own. Taxis are expensive in Japan and are not recommended if you can avoid it, especially if you’re just paying for one person.
Japan also has long-distance buses which can be convenient and much cheaper, if you’re happy to take the time (and often save money on accommodation if you don't mind riding Japan’s extensive network of night buses). Night buses are a cheap and convenient way to get around the country as well. You can get great deals on some Japanese websites, but you can also book via English websites such as Willer Bus. While one benefit of traveling solo is the lesser cost and flexibility, sometimes waiting around for the cheap transfer option gets monotonous when you’re doing it alone. Be sure to consider your time vs. budget and weigh up what’s important to you, money or maximizing your solo adventure.
Things to Do
There are plenty of things to do as a solo traveler in Japan; you won’t get bored that’s for sure. A pro is that you can decide whatever you want to do in Japan, with limited hold-ups! The con is that you don’t have a buddy to share beautiful moments or exciting discoveries with (“did you see that cat in a backpack?!”)
Alone in Japan, you can still immerse yourself in history or culture at one of Japan’s many national or niche museums. There are thousands of temples, shrines, and other sightseeing monuments around Japan you can easily visit alone. If you like getting outdoors, there are plenty of hiking opportunities that are suitable for solo walkers. Love to shop? Japan has great contemporary goods and fashion, as well as traditional wares and souvenirs you’ll love to keep for yourself. There’s also eating and drinking at local bars and restaurants, where you can visit a standing bar and meet salarymen or chat to the bartenders in a local drinking hole.
One negative about solo travel is paying for single room rates and not being able to share the cost of a meal (sometimes called the “solo traveler tax.”) If you’re into traveling cheaply, and you might be if you’re traveling solo, staying at hostels makes for a great opportunity to meet like-minded travelers. You can get to know the host or join in on events and activities within the venue. Overall, aim to book shared accommodation or options with communal spaces or events to encourage travelers to meet one another. Spending time with others during a solo trip can bring fresh perspectives and fun experiences you might not have had on your own.
It’s a good idea to vary your types of accommodation, including options for a range of budgets such as hostels, a ryokan traditional hotel, business hotels, capsule hotels, Airbnbs, or even a temple stay. You could also try CouchSurfing or organizing a homestay with a local family. As a female solo traveler, you can usually book women-only dorms in hostels. Most hostels will have a mixed-gender or a female-only bathroom option too. Capsule hostels or overnight onsens (see more below) are usually separated by gender as well, sometimes with a shared common space. If you would rather have a more budget kind of solo stay that isn’t a hostel, capsule hotels are one of the best great solutions. You get your own private capsule, but share the common areas with others, so you’re not limited to the confines of a hotel room.
Eating and Drinking
Thankfully for solo travelers, dining alone in Japan is considered very normal. There are limitless delicious Japanese food options for every budget. Other than group-style meals like steaming nabe hotpots or yakiniku Japanese barbeque and other shared dishes, meals at most Japanese restaurants are easily ordered and served in individual portions. You can get set meals to be able to taste different bits and pieces. Alternatively, you can order your own bowl of ramen or udon or whatever and simply hunker down and enjoy, uninterrupted. With the rise of vending machines and counter seating for individuals, many fast food places and local restaurants cater for dining that requires low interaction levels with others.
Other unconventional ways of eating as a solo traveler in Japan, you can munch away on street food stall snacks like sizzling yakisoba (grilled soba noodles), fresh okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes), or tentacle-filled takoyaki (octopus balls). 7 Eleven and other convenience stores stock high-quality meals and snacks that you can easily eat solo. Paying a visit to the decadent underground depachika (food halls) in the futuristic mall department store complexes such as Isetan also makes for a great meal for one (visit different booths and taste various food samples!)
If you’re not that keen on dining alone in Japan, you can try and meet new people to invite along to dinner at your hostel or accommodation. For the brazen, you can try to make friends with locals at bars or drink alongside salarymen at a tachinomi (standing bar) and strike up a conversation with a stranger. If you need a hand, another way of getting out of dining alone is to join a food tour or a cooking class. Guided by a local with plenty of insights to venues, ingredients, dishes and different aspects of Japanese life, you can meet other people with similar interests during a food tour. Alternatively, by joining a cooking class in Japan, you can be part of a bigger group learning how to make Japanese cuisine in a home studio or a professional kitchen. You can meet new people as you cook and learn as you go, then eat the fruits of your labor together.
Consider the bare minimum you will need depending on the seasons in Japan and pack light. Japan is a compact country, and it can be difficult to lug around heavy suitcases between locations, so avoid them if you can and pack as light as possible. You might as well make the most of it as a solo traveler and be as agile as possible by packing a light backpack if you’re traveling alone. Note that winter is snowy in many parts of Japan, but summer is hot and humid with monsoons passing through the region.
It’s also a good idea to learn some Japanese or key Japanese phrases if possible to help you get by. When it comes to solo travel in Japan, some Japanese language skills may help you make an effort to talk to locals or get you out of trouble. You can pack the basics in your mind and learn Japanese before you arrive, or download a translation app to your phone for when you’re on the road (you can buy a portable wifi machine or a sim card with data if needed).
Best Places in Japan to Travel Alone
So here are the good things about for anyone who will travel to Japan solo: Safety? Tick. Things to do? Tick. Logistics (we’re talking transport and accommodation here)? Also, tick. You can really immerse yourself in both the traditional culture of Japan and the modern aspects in its full glory when you experience it as a single person (believe me, I’ve lived it and I keep coming back for more!) Japan is definitely a great option for solo travelers for its bounty of spiritual sites, scenic nature trails, exciting shopping opportunities, and more. Here are 5 top places to go in Japan if you’re traveling solo.
- Izu Peninsula
No matter what piques your interest, there’s something for every solo traveler in Tokyo. Filled with districts and transport that makes it easy to get around (if a bit long) and there are food options for every solo budget. Even if you’re doing a female solo travel trip, Tokyo is one of the safest cities. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, so even after hours, you can feel safe walking around in a big city like Tokyo. Having said that, always be wary and don’t be quick to let your guard down. Japan is safe, but it’s not perfect.
There are so many activities to do in Tokyo for solo travelers. Depending on whether you’re after some more traditional activities or modern adventures, take your pick from one of Tokyo’s many diverse districts. Be it shopping till you drop in Ginza, visiting museums and galleries in Ueno and Asakusa, or checking out local pop culture in Harajuku, or partying it up in Shibuya, there’s access to every niche you could imagine. It’s impossible for solo travelers to get bored in Tokyo; just prepare yourself for waves of people everywhere! Tokyo is a great base point to do shorter day trips as well, if you like hiking or want to visit the ocean.
Brimming with beautiful Shinto shrines and towering temples amongst stunning Japanese gardens, Kyoto is both beautiful and accessible for solo travelers. As Japan’s cultural capital, it’s a particularly good location for solo travelers who need a moment of peace with an added dose of traditional Japanese culture. If you’ve had enough of exploring Kiyomizudera Temple, Heian Shrine, the Golden Temple and Kyoto’s many museums and gardens, you’ve got the food and drinking culture to look forward to as well. There are so many wonderful galleries, aesthetic cafes, traditional restaurants and homely bars you can cozy up in and watch the world go by. I love walking through the side streets of Kyoto and seeing what I stumble upon, such as family-run restaurants and niche shop fronts (preferably selling traditional Japanese sweets or morsels of street food!)
Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture is one of my favorite places to travel solo in Japan. Easily accessed via train services or an overnight bus, Kanazawa is a sweet port town on the western side of Japan in Ishikawa Prefecture. It’s a compact city, like a mini cultural hub similar to Kyoto, but much smaller, meaning that most tourist destinations can be reached on foot. I’ve enjoyed wandering through the Kanazawa Castle grounds and the bustling Omicho Market with plenty of colorful sights and ingredients to see for just one pair of eyes. I sat in line for a sushi train inside the market, and enjoyed a perfect sushi feast for one, made from some of the freshest fish I’ve ever eaten!
Just a short train ride south of Tokyo, Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture juts out of the eastern side of Japan. It’s a stunning lesser-traversed tourist spot, a picturesque coastal region and one of my favorite locations for a solo trip in Japan. You can take the local train to the south of Tokyo for a leisurely sojourn to the seaside, eat deliciously fresh fishy cuisine and check out some of the local attractions by bus. From my experience visiting the Izu Peninsula, there are several beaches along the route, plus a stunning coastal walk and access to 360-degree views from Mount Omuro (great views of Fuji-san on a clear day!) Izu is the biggest town in the region, and I had a relaxing stay at a bathhouse restored into a ryokan run by K’s Guesthouse Hostel. I booked a futon in the dormitory option, ideal for solo travelers but be sure to book ahead.
The Hawaii of Japan, Okinawa consists of the southernmost islands of Japan with Naha as the region’s capital. Close to the equator, its climate is tropical year-round; absolutely beautiful! It’s got a history of hosting US military bases, which makes it a particularly interesting part of Japan. As a result, in many cases the locals tend to know more English than on mainland Japan. I found that the vibe of this tropical paradise is more relaxed, which is a great feeling when you’re traveling solo. The locals are friendly and the food is excellent in Okinawa, with an unusual combination of native local ingredients like bitter melon plus influence from the west like dishes that include spam or taco rice (tex mex taco ingredients over Japanese rice). You can easily go island hopping for one to the stunning islands offshore of Okinawa, or stick around Naha City to check out the local culture, markets, and busy bars. I loved checking out the history of the local pottery and tasting all the local ice cream, beers, and sweets!
Lucy’s Hot Solo Travel Tip
No matter what you're interested in, Japan is a great place to regroup and reflect on being alone. Other than Japan’s tranquil natural scenery or spiritual places of contemplation, there are also so many opportunities to unwind, relax, and reflect. When I’m traveling alone in Japan, I love staying over at an all-night onsen (hot spring). As opposed to a fancy ryokan in a hot spring town (which I do love doing, but best to do with a buddy because they tend to be expensive) there are some “super spas” in Japan that operate 24-hours, generally in bigger cities. These bathhouse complexes tend to feature a range of facilities including communal hot spring baths, saunas, restaurants and cafes, resting areas for sleeping or watching TV, plus some offer massage and facial services. Visiting a fancy onsen hot spring is often a thing that couples do together, but hey! I think a budget “self-spa” approach makes for a wonderful leg of any solo trip. I see this as an important part of my solo travel trip.
Particularly as a female solo traveler on a budget, onsens that you can stay the night are the perfect activity meets accommodation. I love using the baths at my leisure, hopping between tubs and breaking for a beer or some late-night snacks while indulging in viewing some J-drama series on late-night TV. The soap and shampoo are usually provided or you can BYO. You might receive a robe, towel, and wristband to clock up any expenses during your stay. While you can sleep in the communal resting places, note that it’s never been the best sleep of my life. But, for the price of the onsen facilities plus a safe place to sleep, it’s an experience that I love doing again and again that’s budget and solo travel friendly (especially when I need a break from socializing). I can embrace being alone but have plenty of room to roam around throughout the facilities, while cleansing myself from the tiredness accumulated from the adventures of the day. I personally like to include a trip to an onsen on any trip to Japan, solo or otherwise, but this is particularly good to do alone at first if you’re feeling shy. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but remember there’s no pressure getting your clothes off in front of strangers if you’re on your own!
Japan really is a dream destination for solo travelers. It may sound cheesy, but you do discover a lot about yourself on any solo trip. I love being pushed out of my comfort zone, and using my brain to figure out where I’m going or what to do next. No matter if you’re going to Tokyo or a rural town in the north, you’ll find a new avenue for adventure. A solo trip to Japan is always challenging, exciting and delicious! During the planning stage, consider what you want to discover during your trip, and (this is essential) what do you want to eat? In my solo travel trips, the daytime activities usually involve trying to hit “bingo” on trying all the local delicacies, doing some window shopping, and walking through the main local sights.
For anyone who plans to solo travel Japan, I’d advise that you make sure to focus your trip on things you like, since after all, this trip is all about you! This is your time to freely plan your route on the activities and sights that interest you, but also having said that, make the most of it and try as many new things as you can! Throughout your solo trip to Japan, stay safe, don’t panic, take your time, and trust your judgment. I’d recommend making time to just get lost! Whether you’re after a slow and steady ‘rest and relaxation type of trip, or a see-it-all jam-packed tourist blitz, travel your way on a solo trip to Japan. You won’t regret it!