I count my blessings often that I have a job that has provided me with the ability to do some traveling. I had always written off Japan as being too expensive while growing up, but between student loan and rent payments, I’ve been fortunate to scrap together the money to go to Japan a few times. The times I have gone, I’ve gone alone. This is always met with looks of shock and confusion. A young girl like me, going to Japan, alone?! Unfortunately, going overseas is a big budget trip, and whenever I ask people to go with me they apologize for it being too expensive. Instead of waiting around, I’ve adopted the habit of visiting Japan alone. And guess what? There’s tons of benefits to doing so.
I’m asked often how I make a solo trip to Japan work. There are already many takes on the subject, so it all comes down to personal preference. Here are mine:
Booking and Lodging
Naturally, having to book only one seat on an airplane is far easier than having to book two and hoping they’re side by side. Booking a single seat often means you can get closer to the front of the plane and have more options for aisle or window seat. You have to hope for the best that the person next to you won’t be a nuisance, but I’ve noticed on my trips to Japan that there aren’t many screaming babies to disturb you on the plane.
When it comes to lodging, traveling solo also pays off. You can find a great hotel in an awesome part of town for under $100/night (seriously!) but the catch is it’s tiny. Like real tiny. But it fits one person! I’ve gone both the hostel route where you can share a sleeping space with fellow travelers (typically foreigners), and I’ve also gone the shoebox hotel route. I liked the shoebox more because I’m introverted and value privacy, but the hostel was a great way to get to know people and was around $50/night.
The subway was made to accommodate solo travelers. Sure, it can be a little tricky figuring out everything on your own. I’m majorly directionally challenged, and would have been lost without Google Maps. But if I can do it, you can do it. You never really need to worry about taking a taxi (and you shouldn’t, because they’re way expensive).
The wild entrance to Mandarake in Shibuya.
So, how do you get pictures of yourself on your sick trip to Japan? It does become a little more difficult to get a lot of pictures of yourself on your trip when you’re traveling on your lonesome and there’s a language barrier to consider. In my experience, any touristy thing you might want to take a picture with/in front of, there’s going to be another foreigner passing by eventually that you can try to ask. If you want to try your luck with Japanese, you can simply ask. Japanese people are nice. Don’t be scared! If anything, hold up your camera and they’ll get it. Otherwise, don’t underestimate the power of the selfie. I have lots of selfies from Japan, and I don’t really feel like I missed out on getting pictures of myself. Even the times I’ve met up with friends and had them take a picture of me next to something, the selfie version always ended up being my favorite anyway.
I’ll admit this one is a little uncomfortable. In Western culture, eating at a restaurant can appear lonely to some and worth sympathy. However, Japan does have a lot of fast casual options. If you like sushi, rotating sushi belts will be your best friend! Simply enter, sit on a stool, and enjoy. You won’t be the only solo eater there, I promise.
If you’re itching for something more luxurious, it might be helpful to know that the eating alone taboo isn’t prevalent in Japan as it is back home. People do it all the time, and it’s not an unusual thing. I can admit that eating with someone is indeed more fun, but it’s not impossible to enjoy Japanese cuisine alone. Plus, you get to eat whatever you’re craving at the time. Score!
Being a Woman
The first night I was even in Japan, I walked back to my hostel from Akihabara at midnight. A smart choice? Probably not, but hey, nothing phases you when you’re from Chicago. Japan is a remarkably safe country, to the point where people don’t lock up their bikes and they don’t have to worry about them disappearing. I felt that I could let my guard down a bit in Japan and not worry. I could walk around aimlessly at night and not be scared. It’s an incredible feeling, but as always: always pay attention to your surroundings. No matter where you are, or how safe it is, be aware. No place is perfect or safe from crime!
As a foreign woman, you can come to expect some stares. Because women don’t often feel safe traveling alone, a foreign woman alone in Japan will be a little curious. As I mentioned before, be smart about anyone who seems to be crossing a line, but otherwise don’t worry too much about it. 95% of the time the stares are going to be because you’re unique (in a good way!).
Japan is a lot of fun with friends. The times I’ve met up with friends in Japan, I had a great time exploring the city with a lot of laughs and memories. Traveling alone is another beast, and it’s not something everyone can do. Traveling alone takes confidence, a willingness to learn and fail and be vulnerable, and a real love for travel. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re by yourself and something doesn’t go well and you have nobody to console you. It gets lonely when you go days without speaking your native language and start to miss your cat. In return, you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses and become more in tune with who you really are. It sounds so pseudo-zen, but it’s true. You get to blend in a little more and live life like a local. Most alluringly, you get to do what you want on your own time and be completely selfish. It’s my favorite way to travel.
When you get back home, you’ll be able to boast proudly that you went alone and bask in the glow of your friends and family who say they could never do that. But you could, because you’re awesome and independent like that. Go you.