tourist scam in Japan

Watch Out for These 15 Tourist Scams on Your Solo Trip to Japan

Japan is on every female traveller’s list of places they want to visit. And why not? Where else would you get everything you wish for on a plate? Japan is a place where the old meets the new and lives in harmony. In this country, well-preserved historical structures like palaces, temples, and shrines stand tall amidst modern skyscrapers. 

The other reason why Japan is a favourite among solo female travellers is that it is a safe haven. As a country that is quite safe for women, Japan stays at the top of the priority list for travel. The people in Japan are also polite and extremely welcoming. So why would you not want to book your tickets immediately and explore the beauty of Japan?

But as they say, not everything is perfect, and neither is this country. Among the glitzy and glamorous bright lights lie some darkness. There are, unfortunately, some scams that, as a first-time solo traveller, you may fall for. If that happens, your entire trip may be ruined. In order to ensure that you enjoy Japan in its entirety without any hiccups, let me warn you about some tourist scams in Japan so that you can keep your eyes and ears open. If you get an inkling that something is amiss, you will be prepared. So, without wasting any more time, let’s begin. 

1. Fake money

This is a scam in Japan a lot of visitors face, and it is not an easy one to understand. The reason why this scam is widespread in Japan is that the country is a largely cash-based economy. When you pay for food, places of accommodation, or even some souvenirs that you plan to carry back home, and you are prone to this tourist scam in Japan. If you do not tender exact change, the person gives you back the money, and it can so happen that it is not authentic money, but unfortunately, you have no way of knowing. 

2. Changing notes when not looking

This is another scam in Japan that a lot of first-time visitors fall prey to. When you are paying anywhere, the change that the person returns is always given on a tray. That is a part of Japanese culture. But often, when the person is giving you back the change, he may drop a few coins on the ground to distract you. When you are not looking, he will change the denominations of the coins on the tray. To avoid this, always check the change just before you put it in your purse. 

3. Prank calls

When you are in a foreign country, you are completely out of your comfort zone. And as a solo female traveller, you are more vulnerable. This is a prank I have suffered in Japan, and so I am making you aware of the reality. Let me tell you what happened. I was just back in Tokyo after the entire trip and had a few hours to spare before my flight. So, I decided to keep my luggage at a coin locker at the station and stroll around. After half an hour I got a call on my phone. I heard someone speaking in broken English that my luggage has been stolen. I panicked and hurried back only to realise that I have been pranked. It was pure coincidence that it was the same day I had kept my luggage.   

4. Bars rip you off

This is a tourist trap that is prevalent in the upscale areas of Japan like Shinjuku, where you have the famous Piss Alley. This is where you get some of the best alcohols in the city, and so it is a no-brainer that it should be on your must-visit list. But often time it happens that you might have a drink or two, but when the bill comes to you, it is an exorbitant amount. If you complain, the server will tell you that it is indeed the price of the drinks you have had. As a solo female traveller, you often time don’t protest and instead just pay to avoid any altercations.  

5. Spiked drink

As a solo female traveller, this is one tourist trap you are always afraid of. Unfortunately, in Japan, too, this isn’t far from reality. A woman drinking alone always raises eyebrows, and Japan is no different. So be sure that you see when your drink is being made to avoid this tourist trap in Japan. Be extra vigilant.

6. Beware of pickpockets

Although the crime rate in Japan is quite low, pickpockets are not that uncommon. This is rampant in busier shopping districts like Nishiki Market in Kyoto or Dotonbori in Osaka. Imagine you are walking down the road and something catches your eye. You go and check it out, and you are caught unaware. This will be the ideal time for someone to pick your pocket. In order to avoid this tourist trap in Japan, always keep your passport and other valuables in the inner-most compartment of the bag and never leave it unzipped. Or keep the original passport at your hotel locker and carry a photocopy in your bag to be safe. 

7. Temple vendor scam

This is, unfortunately, another tourist trap in Japan that I fell prey to and later came to know that it was quite common. In the beautiful Kinkaku-Ji temple in Kyoto, I had bought some snacks from a vendor. When I handed him a big note, he gave me back a smaller change than I was supposed to get back. When I pointed it out, the vendor told me that I actually paid with a smaller note. Well, in a foreign country where language is a huge problem, instances like these make you feel pretty helpless. 

8. Begging monks

Is your trip to Japan even complete if you haven’t given alms to a fake monk? I think not. Often you find people dressed as a Buddhist monk begging for some money. They might even ask for donations to some religious organisation. To make matters credible, they may also show you a book with a list of names of people who have donated. Be aware that the whole operation is fake, and gangs like these have even been busted by Japanese police. So, don’t give any kind of donations when in Japan. Clarify your doubts on the begging monks here. 

9. Disaster relief scam

As we all know, Japan is prone to natural disasters. In busy streets or outside temples and shrines, you may meet these pretty-well-dressed people who will ask for donations on the pretext of recovering from a natural disaster. They speak perfect English and even carry pamphlets to prove their cause. They seem harmless and extremely polite. But in all probability, this is nothing but another tourist scam in Japan. So, stay away from such people.

10. Donate for an orphan scam

Another example of the same type is well-dressed people asking for money on the pretext of helping orphan children in Japan. Hey, don’t get me wrong. Helping those who are less fortunate than you are is always a good thing. But you always have to check for their authenticity. The Thai orphan scam mainly occurs in Tokyo’s Harajuku area, where these polite people come up to you and show you different pamphlets asking for a donation for Thai orphans. Well, you are warned so don’t fall for this scam. 

11. Scouting for models

As a solo travel female traveller, this tourist scam in Japan targets you the most. In some hip and happening part of town, some people might approach you with a camera in hand, compliment you on your looks and ask if they click a photo or two. After this, they will introduce themselves as model scouts, take your details, telling you that they will contact you soon. Granted that Japan is one of the leaders in the fashion world, but it’s highly unlikely that some random stranger will come up to you and just ask you to walk the runway. So, do not give out your details to anyone no matter what.

12. Restaurant scam

Food is an integral part of Japanese culture. And it is literally a treat to one’s palette to try out many unique delicacies in the country. While it is usually one of the best experiences that you can enjoy in Japan, there are plenty of ways you get scammed in a restaurant. 

A waiter ushers you into the restaurant and asks if you can speak Japanese. If you don’t, you are immediately an easy target. You will be served expensive sparkling water instead of regular water which you have asked for. Then a different set of menus is brought out. It is the tourist menu where prices are usually higher than normal.

In a different kind of tourist scam in restaurants in Japan, when you order something, the server might bring out a snack. Any visitor, including me, may think that it is complimentary like a free bread basket in restaurants. If you have thought the same, you are in for a rude shock. When you call for a cheque, you realise that you have charged a hefty sum for the food you thought was free. 

13. Sexual harassment in trains

Japan is mostly a safe country for solo female travellers, but unfortunately, there have been known cases of groping in overcrowded trains. Taking trains from one point to another is the easiest and cheapest way to travel, especially in a city like Tokyo. If you are already planning for a solo trip to Japan, don’t forget read my blog on 10-day solo travel itinerary for Japan

But during peak hours, the trains are filled to their capacity, and that is when the problem arises. There have been plenty of reports where men have taken advantage of the enclosed space and groped women. Apparently, if, unfortunately, you are faced with such an unfortunate incident, shout ‘chikan,’ which is Japanese for a pervert. In most cases, the action is immediately taken. Though this is technically not a tourist trap in Japan, as a solo female traveller, this is something you must be aware of.

14. Fake police

In any country you travel to, the police are supposed to keep you safe. But what if you encounter fake police? What then? 

As much as it seems unlikely in a safe haven like Japan, it is unfortunately very much present. People dressed in police gear may approach you and ask to see your passport. They may even inform you that you are being arrested for something. This is all a big setup to rob you or even worse. Remember, it is highly unlikely that a policeman would want to see your passport and accuse you of a crime you didn’t commit. So never hand over your passport to a stranger no matter what. This tourist scam in Japan is so rampant that many news agencies have covered it. 

15. Free passes or passes at a reduced rate

It is undisputed that Japan is a beautiful country that has a lot to offer. But unfortunately, at times, it is expensive. In order to make things easier for the visitors who are on a budget, you have a lot of passes to various places that help you enjoy at a reduced price. But remember to always buy such passes from an official website. 

There will be loads of people here and there offering you these passes at a discounted rate, and because these sights are too beautiful to behold, you will be tempted to buy them. But when you reach the said attraction, you realise that such a pass is not valid at all and you have been duped. So, my advice to you would be to always avail them from official websites.

Even though there are some scams that may ruin your trip to Japan, don’t be afraid. The pros of visiting this majestic country clearly outweigh the cons. I loved Japan for so many reasons, and its amazing hospitality is something that will always keep me wanting to go back to Japan. So, don’t you wait and instead pack your bags and set sail for an experience of a lifetime.  


An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.

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