Going It Alone – Female Solo Travel in Japan

Lily Crossley-Baxter

Solo tr vel can be daunting, especially if you’re female. From the risks, to having no one to share the experience with, to the fear of looking like a loser—all are valid concerns. But still no reason to miss out on an amazing experience.

Female Solo Travel in Japan

Without getting all rambly about how “you’ll grow” and “see your inner strength,” etc., traveling alone can be a great way to realize that: 1)  actually, you’re super capable and 2) while other people are great, you can have adventures on your own too (without having to compromise and merge mismatched interests). So, if you’re keen to venture out alone, Japan is a brilliant place to start as it’s already a pretty solo world. Thanks to hectic work schedules and small families, doing things by yourself is often the norm, to the point where things are often designed to accommodate singles over groups. Everything from the standard counter seats to capsule hotels mean it’s super easy and not so awkward. Being female does bring a different set of practical issues and concerns though, so here’s a rundown of the stuff you might be worried about and how not to be!

Warm-up activities for solo newcomers

If you’re not used to being on your own and feel like you’ll stick out like a sore thumb, here are some popular things to do in Japan which are done alone anyway! You can ease your way in, and develop the confidence to do the more social stuff later!


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Ichiran Ramen
Photo by Guilhelm Vellut used under CC

Eating out: Ramen especially. Totally normal to do alone here. As mentioned, it’s so common that counter seats are the norm, especially in small restaurants. It’s actually much easier to be seated, and no judgement!

Relaxing: Onsen. Since these are divided by gender, even when couples go they split up, so you won’t feel out of place. They’re also all about relaxing, so most people are quiet and keep to themselves anyway.

Art Galleries, Museums, Kabuki shows: Take in the culture and enjoy the quiet and traditionally solitary activities that require silence and ideally an audience! See our guide to museums and art galleries and our post on getting cheap Kabuki tickets.

Japanese cinemas: Discount tickets, butter popcorn and a drama—who even needs other people?

Sleeping: Stay in a capsule hotel—literally couldn’t have another person if you tried, so they’re full of single travelers—you stick out more in a group! (See more on accommodation below.)

Meeting people

Solo travel gets lonely sometimes, and there are certainly enough people around, but how do you meet them? If you’re not one of those amazing social-butterfly-I-have-8000-friends people, or if you’ve spent so long talking to yourself you’ve forgotten how to talk to other people, there are some easy ways to find others who want to do similar things to you.



Hanami
Photo by Ari Helminen

IRL hostels are brilliant, as mentioned before, but another option is going on group tours—either walking ones or factory/distillery ones, etc.

Ether-wise, I found that going on Tinder and opting to see both girls and guys is great if you’re not keen on groups. I often see profiles like “wanting to climb Fuji – anyone else want to join?” etc. (and no, I’m not a total idiot, I know some people aren’t being honest, but some are). There is also a new “social” feature to see people who are going out that day/night, so you can swipe if you want to join!  Obviously, normal rules apply—don’t go meeting in dark places alone, etc. and get proof of who you’re meeting (Facebook accounts should be checked, catfish style).

If you want more of a group option or a particular activity, MeetUp is crazy-popular here, and covers everything from morning runs in Yoyogi park to vegan dinners to bar crawls—all of which attract a variety of locals, travelers and wanderers. This is definitely the best way to meet a variety of people in a safer setting, and there’s definitely a group for everything. With a predetermined interest it’s certainly a lot easier to start a conversation than trying to rustle up a witty opener about the 27th cup ramen you’ve just eaten.

Language exchange groups are very popular, but can just be a way for the gaijin-hunters to hit on foreigners. If you’re not looking for that, there are some female-only ones like this one in Tokyo. What better than to brush up on your Japanese and meet people?



Sneaky shout out to our own TokyoCheapo Downtown Drinks, held once a month in our favorite Tokyo venues! We have a great mix of our team, readers and friends, so it’s a nice way to meet people—and you are officially invited, so it can’t be awkward! Check our Twitter/Facebook/events page for our next one.

Safety

So, Japan is safe right? You’ve heard this over and over and over. And while it definitely is safer compared to a lot of places, it’s not a magical crime-free fairyland.

koban
Photo by Victor Lee used under CC

While you might be able to leave your phone as a seat holder in Starbucks, the levels of creeper crimes (as I like to call them) are high, and not to be taken lightly. There’s a reason you can’t turn off shutter sounds on cameras without apps, and why there are those female-only carriages—so keep your wits about you. Watch out for the gropers, stalkers, up-skirt photographers and flashers. While being “foreign” means you might be avoided by most creepers (as foreign girls are considered more likely to make a scene than schoolgirls), sometimes it will make you a target. Don’t go arming yourself with an AK47 and pepper spray just yet, but don’t forget the rules you’ve had ingrained for years either.

The koban (police box) is your best bet for getting help for most things. You can ask for help if you’re being followed, report lost or stolen items, ask to use the phone, get directions and much more (they’ll even lend up to 1,000 yen to get home if you’re stuck in dire straits).

Some tips:

  • Rent portable wifi if you can—it reduces your reliance on the not-so-common wifi spots and means you can always look up trains, maps and information when needed. Do your googling in well lit areas, ideally inside.
  • ALWAYS have cash on you. Cards are not widely accepted in businesses and only some ATMs accept foreign cards. Japan is a cash-based society and being stranded without money is not a good place to be. Pick-pocketing isn’t really a thing here, so don’t worry about having money on you, it’s very, very normal.
  • Personal alarms can be bought at Don Quijote.
  • Know your route to your hostel ahead of time, especially if arriving late, and screen shot maps, however easy it seems.
  • Busy trains, any time of day are prime groping time—especially late at night. If there’s a wandering hand, grab it and yell “CHIKAN” at the top of your voice, and hold on. Train guards will be called.
  • To report that someone tried to molest you or anything similar say “Chikan ni aimashita”.
  • If you think you’re being followed at any point, go into the nearest koban (police box) or convenience store—don’t hope they’ll just go away, they can be very persistent.
  • If you have lost your wallet/passport, etc., go to a koban and say: “(passport) o otoshite shimaimashita.” If it has been stolen, say “(passport) o nusumare mashita.”
  • Call 110 for emergencies. “Tasukete kudasai” means “Please help me.”
  • 9110  is a number set up if you need to speak to someone about other crimes such as stalking or domestic abuse—it’s called a consultation line and you can say “Stoker no soudan ga arimasu” (“This is a consultation about a stalker.”)

The essentials

So not even a once-in-a-lifetime trip gives you a break from periods, and you don’t want to spend your trip traipsing round a pharmacy looking for tampons.

tampons
Photo by Timothy Takemoto used under CC

Pads are easy to find, (aisles and aisles worth) but knowing which to get can be more challenging. One of the most popular brands is Whisper, which is Always. You can buy all the types you need, wings, no-wings, with guards, light, wide, slim—and some shops even have examples lined up so you can be sure! Here are some key words you might want to look out for:

軽い日用 – light day          ふつう用 – regular day           多い日用 – heavy day           長時間 – long lasting

夜用 – night use       熟睡 / ぐっすり – sound sleep        吸収 – Super absorption       吸収力 – absorption strength

ライナー – liner             ガード – guard           羽つき – wing           羽なし – no wing           スリム – slim

Tampons are available, but are pretty limited. They’re actually pretty much only made by one company (Charm) and the majority have plastic applicators. The quality is considered to be lower by some, and they are more expensive, but generally they’re fine. Here are some key-words to look out for:

タンポン – tampon           ライト – light                 レギュラー – regular                    スーパー – super

スーパープラス – super plus                              ソフト – soft                            コンパクト – compact

If your traveling hasn’t been quite so solo, you might find yourself in need of the Plan B/morning after pill (but please, please use condoms here, there is a ridiculously high rate of STIs thanks to a lack of sexual health classes and general denial/adultery). These are available but are expensive (also not covered by the health insurance, so even if you live here, still very pricey) ranging from 3,000 to 20,000 yen depending on which type you get (Planovar or NorLevo respectively, Ella is also available). If you’re in Tokyo, this is one clinic that offers the pill and this site has a great page explaining the Japan Family Planning Association’s site listing all available services across Japan.

緊急避妊法 – Emergency Contraceptive     モーニングアフターピル – Morning after pill       アフターピル – After pill

Pregnancy tests are easy to find at pharmacies on the regular shelves and you might even recognize some familiar brands, so that’s easy!

Nights out

Being a girl has its perks, and that includes getting into clubs waaaay cheaper than guys in Japan, and usually with some drinks tickets as well. While big clubs range from about 2,000 to 5,000 yen, most offer reduced prices or free entry for girls, especially with early entry. And some clubs have regular nights (like AgeHa below), but most vary their ladies nights so check up on websites before you go.

ageha
Photo by Ageha

Ele is my top recommendation for girls in Tokyo. With a classier tone and a dress code, this place has way more Japanese customers, and fewer drunk, rowdy foreigners. Lesser known and featuring great djs, it’s generally just much nicer. If you want a night of proper dancing and entirely golden bathrooms, this is for you, and best of all, ladies are always free!

AgeHa is Tokyo’s biggest club with multiple areas, a pool and food area, so it’s great when you need to avoid people. The first Friday of every month is Girls Night where entry is free, but you have to pay 500 yen for a drink ticket usually. Best of all there’s a special girls-only area with hairdressers, glitter tattoos and allsorts, all for free! And yeah, stereotypical girl stuff, but having your hair done for free is great after weeks in hostels. Although this night obviously attracts a lot of guys, it’s easy enough to avoid people and staff are rollerskating around if you really need help.

Club Maharaja in Roppongi is a great way to pre-drink and meet people as it’s an international nomihodai (all you can drink) and completely free for girls if you register beforehand online. However, prepare to be surrounded by guys—there’s everything from creepers, to future-mates to people making us watch 24-minute wrestling videos (which turned out to not even be them!), so it’s a mixed bag. I would suggest pairing up with some girls early on before the barrage begins.

The staring

You’re foreign, and in Japan—even now—that means you stick out. Not so much in Shinjuku and Roppongi maybe, but stray further out and you will be stared at hard. Tokyo is far better than most places, and having lived there and in an extremely rural area of Japan, I can vouch for the difference. It’s not entirely gone though; I had my worst random experience in a Tokyo post office as an old woman lectured me for being a slut, all at 2pm while wearing jeans and a t-shirt…so it’s not off the cards completely.

trainstares
Photo by Chase Elliott Clark used under CC

Stares: firstly, decide if it’s a creeper stare or an inquisitive stare. While the latter can still be pretty rude (especially when it lasts an entire 20-minute train journey) it’s not seen as such here and you’ll notice girls staring a lot too (“look at that nose!” is actually usually a compliment, if you hear it, by the way). However, if you feel uncomfortable or think they’re creeping you can stare them out with an increasingly ‘what are you looking at’ expression, which usually works. If it doesn’t, and they’re really getting to you, I tend to take out my phone and quite obviously look like I’m taking a picture of them—this usually ends it. (Avoid if they look aggressive/unstable though obviously). The moving or ignoring options are also cool, you just might get sick of it, that’s all.

  • Guys openly reading porn on trains isn’t unusual, and they don’t care. Just so you know.
  • When you get off the train after being stared at, make sure you aren’t followed. If you are, head straight to the ticket office or nearest shop/convenience store (helpful phrases above).
  • Wearing low-cut tops and having your shoulders out will garner more stares than legs, (which seem totally acceptable) so it’s up to you if you want to cover up. (Welcome to the eternal battle of I-shouldn’t-have-to-but…)

Basically, you will be stared at, and people might hassle you more, approach you, etc. You can change the way you dress, but nothing is more effective than a hard-ass don’t-mess-with-me look and a confident stride. Works wonders.

Accommodation

So staying in hostels is a great way to meet people, but you might not fancy sharing a room with a visiting rugby team (but then again…) Along with avoiding snoring, some people are just more comfortable in separate dorm rooms, and it can be a great way to meet girls in similar travel situations to you.

chairs
Photo by Huang Teh Yi used under CC

Deciding to travel alone doesn’t mean condemning yourself to  a solitary experience, and having a chat with someone in the same position can be a great way to find out the tips and tricks you might have missed. Luckily, it’s now becoming really normal for hostels to have girl-only rooms, and sometimes even women-only hostels, like Grape House in Koenji, which even offers morning yoga classes for free! Traditionally, capsule hotels were men-only zones, but now more and more are providing women-only floors like the Note most capsule hotels are men-only, but the number of women-only floors/hotels are increasing. Try Capsule Inn, Green Plaza Shinjuku, or Asakusa Riverside Capsule Hotel.

Travel

Women on carriages tokyo
Photo by Lulu used under CC

You might have heard of the women-only carriages on busy trains, and they are actually great since less groping (yay) and more space in general. More usefully though, are similar ideas on long-haul transport like night buses. They now offer women-only sections or entire buses, so you don’t have to worry about wandering hands or worse in the night. Willer Busses are the main site for this and you’ll see the options listed clearly in any search (pink logo of course)!

Traveling solo in Japan as a girl has its good points and bad, just like anywhere, but it definitely has it’s own take on things. Take the plunge, grab your phrasebook and book your flights—it will be worth it. 


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2 Responses to “Going It Alone – Female Solo Travel in Japan”

  1. I just wantto say thank you. I’m going to Tokyo for the first time next week my touring Broadway show. although I’m with a lot of people I prefer to venture out on my own meet locals. Your post is very helpful. Thanx! Can’t wait!

  2. very well done, many thanks! done solo travel in Tokyo before and your recommendations are very useful, I can say.


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