Japan is a great country to travel with friends and family, however it's one of the best locations in the world for travelling solo.
Sure Beyonce wasn't singing about all the single travellers, but it's about time there was some information on travelling solo in Japan.
When deciding to travel solo, there are a few aspects people think about that can cause hesitation or resistance to travelling alone. Typically, these are along the lines of:
- Lost in Translation
Looking at accommodation can usually be a first stumbling point for most when considering travelling alone. Most hotels in the world only have rooms for a minimum of two people, and are priced with that in mind. You may think that it might be easier getting a friend to come along, just to help bring down the costs of accommodation, as you'll be paying the same amount whether it's just you or another friend of two. Another thought may be you will be subjected to staying in some youth hostel in a room with a bunch of drunk 18 year olds. That thought may be enough to get you to coerce your worst enemy to go halvsies in a hotel room and spend your vacay with them!
This is where Japan comes to the rescue!
Japan is unique in this respect, as it's one of the few countries that are inundated with hotels catering to the single traveller. All non-western chain hotels have single room options, for considerably cheaper than a twin or king room. Many hotels in Japan still fit single rooms with a double bed, so you don't have to worry about cramping up on that single bed.
So it's a great way to keep single travelling costs down while not having to resort to hostels.
Another options is ryokans: This traditional Japanese accommodation style has rooms for single travellers as well, and will give you a much more authentic stay. Do keep in mind however, that most ryokans have shared bathing facilities, so if this is an issue for you, be sure to be 100% certain that your ryokan room comes with a private bathroom, or stick with a single hotel room.
Yes, it's not just an awesome movie (tip: this is also a great one to watch to get you in the mood for a Japan trip)!
One of the biggest fears many have when travelling to Japan is the complete lack of use of the English language. Well, this is one we can reassure you on.
Japan has come a long way in adopting the English language in their surrounds and as a second language. All signs in the major cities have English translations printed on them, so you never have to fear getting on the wrong train, or missing your stop. Japanese students learn English in school, so if you need assistance, try to find a younger Japanese guy or girl, and they are almost always happy to help, and even grateful to get a chance to practice their English skills.
You will notice quickly that the Japanese are pro's at hand gestures, so you will still get the general idea on what they may be asking you or saying to you.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Japanese are some of the nicest and most helpful people in the world. They will do their best to help you, and often will go out of their way to assist you with anything you need.
Eating out or ordering food is simple, as most places will either have an English menu you can point to, or, for smaller, local eateries, 99% of them have plastic models of their dishes in the window. Not sure what the item you want is called? Try taking a photo of the model, and showing the pic to your waiter when ordering on your camera or phone!
If you have any allergies, or food concerns, it's best to have that translated and and printed / laminated before you leave, so you can show this to your waiter.
Try and get a few words and phrases under your belt for your trip. Like most countries, you will find that after showing the people that you run into that you're trying with a few local words, that the level of help in return is usually 100% greater.
The last big factor when considering travelling solo would be the safety aspect. Many countries in the world travelling alone is not a possibility, especially for women.
This is another aspect that makes Japan an attractive local for travelling alone. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, with the lowest rate of victims of crime out of all the G20 countries. Japan's biggest crime is the theft of push bikes, and the police still manage to recover around 50% of stolen bikes! When a countries' highest crime is theft of push bikes, it's a pretty good sign that you will be safe alone.
We have had many experiences, first hand, of seeing just how safe Japan is. Many times walking around late at night in Shinjuku, we have seen the odd salary man passed out from too much drinking on the side walk, with his laptop next to him. Sure enough, later that night, when heading back to the hotel, that salary man was still there, "sleeping" with his laptop un-touched! Can you see this happening in your home country?
Japan's major cities all have a large police presence, and many small police sub stations on many of the street intersections, so finding help is always near by (even if you're just asking for directions!)
For solo women travellers, there has been an issue in the past of men groping women travellers on busy peak hour trains. However the rail groups combated the quickly, and now all trains have one or two carriages that are marked women-only. This has minimised the groping crimes, and is another aspect to keep female solo travellers safer.
For many people travelling alone does bring up the question of "will i get lonely?" or "will i get bored from not speaking to anyone?"
These are definitely concerns each person needs to think about, and decide for themselves. However some ideas to combat these fears while travelling in Japan are:
- Take a free guided tour from a group like Tokyo Free Guide. These tours are free and run by locals who speak your language! A great way to get to see more of Tokyo and chat to a local, perhaps make some friends too!
- Join an organised tour group. A great idea is to do some day trips, which will have a few more English speaking tourists on them, and will give you some company, and, on top of this, you'll get to see some great sites!
- Find some of the local expat bars. All the major cities in Japan have areas with a large amount of foreigners living, hanging out and letting loose! Check out Roppongi in Tokyo for many English bars and clubs.
- Skype is your friend. The thought of loneliness shouldn't stop you from experiencing an amazing country like Japan. Take a laptop or smart phone with you, and rent a wifi hotspot when you land in Japan. Skype with home and keep in touch. It will help fight the loneliness, and you'll still get to experience all that Japan has to offer.
Travelling on your own is one of the best experiences you can have. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without worrying about what anyone else wants to do. It's the ulitmate "Treat. Your. Self." experience.
It's a great way to get out of your comfort zone and experience foreign places, and you many find out a lot about yourself that you didn't know.
Many of the team at Japlanning have made solo trips over the years. Japan is a great place for travelling alone, with great single accommodations and the helpful nature of the locals you're sure to have a blast.
Have you done a solo trip to Japan? Tell us about your experiences below!