25 Tips for your First Solo Trip to Japan | Solo Female Travel
As a female solo traveller, we are always looking for peace of mind, individuality, tranquility, knowledge, and relationship with ourselves. And to check every one of them off your checklist, the country you absolutely must visit is Japan!
This country is one of the safest destinations for women and provides so much on its platter too. In Japan, there is a surprise waiting for you at every nook and corner of the country. So don’t be surprised if you are lost in history to witness the future and crazy technology. Learn about the culture and soak yourself in it. Gorge on the delicious Japanese cuisine and see everything that Japan has to offer.
But before you embark on your first female solo trip to Japan, you need to keep a few things in mind so that your first female solo trip in Japan is without any glitches.
1. Purchase a JR Pass before travelling to Japan
The one thing you absolutely cannot dare forget before travelling to Japan is the Japan Rail Pass. It is extremely cost-effective for cross country travel, and it offers unlimited rides for a period of one, two, or three weeks at a price the residents of the country can’t even fathom.
The passes cannot be bought in Japan, and you have to book them in advance and collect them once you land in the country. The pass is offered only for visitors, and you can access the trains by showing your pass to the station master at the gate.
Read about my blog on tips for taking the train alone in Japan.
2. Buy an IC card
An IC card is a rechargeable smart card and can be used to pay at many different places. While you can cover your trip without one, but it would make a hell of a difference if you do get one. You can pay for local trains, buses, subways, convenience stores, and small restaurants near the station, some vending machines, station lockers, and so on.
The IC card works a lot like a mall “food-court” card. When you purchase the card, they take a token amount for the card, redeemed when you return it minus a small fee. Always remember to register it to your name so that it can be traced if it goes missing. To know about the IC card, you can read this.
3. Plan your itinerary wisely
Japan has a lot to offer, and there are so many experiences to be a part of and sights to behold. Due to this problem of plenty, you will often find that you miss out on a lot because you try and fit in everything. Make peace because not everything is possible for you to see in a stipulated time, and plan your trip accordingly.
During my first solo trip to Japan, I ended up travelling to and from and not enjoying as much as I should have. The second time around, I changed my tactic, and I will share my secret with you now. Always prepare an itinerary before you step out of your house. Lookup a map, take a city, then a neighbourhood, and then see what you can see there. If you only pick tourist spots in a city, you will miss out on a great adventure while tiring yourself out with travelling.
Read my blog on 20 Non-touristy things to do in Tokyo.
4. Choose cheaper accommodations
Japan is quite an expensive country to travel to, and as a female solo traveller, the biggest expense is mostly hotels. So, to keep your expenditure in check while on your first solo trip to Japan, my advice would be to go off the beaten path when it comes to accommodation.
I will forever recommend staying in a capsule hotel. On the one hand, this is quite reasonable and, on the other, an experience unto itself. The pods look like you have been transported into the future. Use your imagination and think that you are spending the night in an alien spaceship. It also feels like you’re a part of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ movie. How cool is that? You have to keep your shoes and luggage locked away in a capsule before entering your designated pod. The pod’s amenities depend on how much you are spending, but it will still be cheaper than your average hotel or even a hostel.
5. Be aware of your surrounding
As we already know, Japan is probably one of the safest countries for solo female travellers. But better safe than sorry, right?
You cannot put your guard down just because Japan has the reputation of being safe. Avoid using dimly-lit alleyways after dark, and be very aware of your surroundings. Carry a pepper spray in your bag in just case and have the local police station numbers at hand.
6. Be punctual
Well, this is definitely not a tip when you are travelling to most countries, but when in Japan, it is a must. Everything in this country runs on time, like clockwork, get it? So, in Japan, you cannot afford to be late for anything, especially when you are boarding any public transport. If you have to take a train, reach the station well in advance not to go through the arduous task of cancelling and re-booking anything if you miss a bus or train.
7. Learn a few Japanese words
Things always get easier for you if you know the foreign land language. But I am aware mastering Japanese in a few days is not something achievable. But you can always learn a few keywords before setting sail.
A simple please, sorry, and thank you is an absolute must. Also, learn words you can use to ask for directions if you get lost in a city. The Japanese people are some of the most wonderful and polite people in the world, and if they see that you have taken the pain to learn a few words of their language, their joy will know no bounds.
8. Carry the accommodation address card in your purse
In the age of GPS (always keep it on), it is pretty difficult to get lost. But when technology fails, we are immediately plunged into the dark ages. How do we return to the hotel then? So, always carry the card of the accommodation you have put up for the night in your purse. In case you need directions, you can show the card to the people around you and ask for help. I have had to learn to do this the hard way, so always keep this valuable tip in mind.
9. Remove shoes where you see the sign
Shoes in Japan are a tricky thing. You have to follow a whole shoe etiquette when you are in the country. If you enter someone’s private home, you have to always remove your shoes. Why would you visit a private home on your first solo trip to Japan, you ask? If you are in Osaka, you have to sign up for authentic cooking classes in private homes. It’s an experience you absolutely should not miss. To know more, read my blog on 20 non-touristy things to do in Osaka.
You are also required to take off your shoes in capsule hotels and traditional ryokans. You are either provided with slippers and if they don’t, my advice would always be to wear a pair of socks so that you never have to walk barefoot.
10. Carry cash
Though Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, one thing that caught me off guard was how much it is still a cash-based economy. So, once you land in Japan, go and withdraw money or change it to yen.
Even quite well-known restaurants in Japan only take cash and even some places of accommodation. Some ATMs may not accept foreign cards. So, this is a tip you absolutely must follow.
11. Buy a portable WIFi
This is the other thing that took me by surprise, how a country that is miles ahead of others when it comes to technology is still lagging when it comes to providing internet everywhere. So, buy a portable Wifi, preferably from the airport when you land. You can see the shops lining the airport. In case you don’t want to invest in a portable Wifi, you can always rent one. You will find ones to rent in the same shops in the airport. All you have to do is recharge it, and you are all set.
12. Buy travel insurance
This is a tip I think is not just for Japan alone but should be followed no matter where you are going. Even if you are always careful, you never know when something befalls you. In such a case, having travelling insurance is helpful because otherwise, as a visitor, a trip to the hospital will burn a hole in your pocket.
13. Carry an umbrella or a cute raincoat
Japan and rain is the most unpredictable couple. You never know when they are going to meet and when they aren’t. In a country that is prone to tornados and tsunamis, always carry umbrellas and a raincoat. Make it cute so that you don’t look like Old Mother Hubbard in your pictures. Also, carry boots which helps you easily walk on slushy roads.
14. Best time to visit Japan
Well, truth be told, there’s nothing called a bad time to visit Japan. The country looks beautiful throughout the year. But there is something in Japan that you will never find elsewhere, and that is blooming cherry blossoms everywhere. During spring, cherry blossoms or sakura bloom, and the whole country turns a shade of pink. It is a beautiful sight and one that you will find nowhere in the world. For this reason alone, I think it’s best that you plan your trip to Japan during cherry blossom and indulge in some hanami. Also, read my blog on my ultimate solo travel guide to Japan’s cherry blossom.
15. Follow proper etiquette when visiting temples and shrines
Remember, there are specific rituals you are required to follow when visiting a temple in Japan. For starters, wear ‘conservative’ clothes. In plain words, don’t wear clothes that reveal your shoulders as it is deemed disrespectful.
When you arrive at the shrine or temple, you must wash your hands before entering a trough. This is meant to ‘cleanse’ you. Keep your eyes open and see if there is a female line that is separate. If so, stand in a queue there. Also, you will have to get inside without your shoes. A pro tip? Do not forget your socks because the insides of an old temple are unusually cold for your feet.
16. Wear comfortable shoes
When you travel to Japan, you have to be ready to walk a lot. The country is best seen on foot. Go hiking up small hills with sakura everywhere or even explore the castles and go back in time. If you are not ready to walk, you will leave the country without even getting Japan’s true essence. In general, too, you will hardly find anyone walking leisurely on Japanese streets. It seems like everyone is always in a hurry.
Thus, it is a no brainer that you pack your most comfortable shoes, and your feet will thank you after the trip.
17. Book food tours
One of the best ways to get to know Japan in its entirety is through its food. The country boasts of their cuisine, and they take their food to an almost artistic level. So, when you plan for your first solo trip to Japan, do check out the different food tours every city has to offer. A simple Google search will give you the answers to all your queries.
A food tour will make sure that your tummy is full of local delicacies and help you understand the city even better.
18. Follow etiquette in a restaurant
Every culture takes their food seriously, so does Japan. And when you go to eat at a restaurant, there are some rules you need to keep in mind. Trust me, even as a foreigner, you are expected to follow them, and it’s not that difficult.
Firstly, do not play with your chopsticks (yes, I happened to do that on my first trip, and I will never forget the glances). Secondly, never add too much soy sauce or wasabi to any dish, especially if the cook can see you. It is seen as a sign of disrespect because it would then seem that the food isn’t properly seasoned. Thirdly, do not pour soy sauce on any food. You need to pour the sauce into a small bowl and dip your food in it, even rice. The final tip that you should keep in mind while dining in Japan is that slurping during a meal is absolutely acceptable, and it is encouraged as it means that you are enjoying your food. Weird huh?
19. Choose local joints over Michelin star restaurants
Japan is perhaps a country that holds a record number of Michelin stars. And contrary to our belief, not every one of them is expensive. But from my experience in Japan, I have realised that it is always the local food joints that serve up the authentic dishes.
Everything in Japan is hygienic, and so are these small establishments. Most of these restaurants are steeped in history and have been there for centuries, and so when you walk in, you feel that even the walls are telling you a story. Each region in Japan has specialty dishes, and be sure to try them out at local restaurants or even restaurants where the dish was probably invented.
20. Do not tip in Japan
So, let me tell you an embarrassing story. It was the day I first landed in Tokyo. I took myself out for dinner at a restaurant, and I tipped along with my bill. Then I came out of the restaurant, put my headphones in, and walked towards my hotel. After walking for almost a block, I realised that someone was calling me and I turned to see the server from the restaurant panting. It was then I realised she ran behind me to return my tip money. And that is how I learned that you don’t tip in Japan. I never repeated the same mistake, and I would implore you not to do the same.
21. Have tattoos? Cover them
While Japan is way ahead when it comes to many different aspects of life, they are also quite an old school in some. One such thing is tattoos. It is quite frowned upon, and my tip would be to cover them if you can.
Also, remember that you are usually not allowed in an onsen if you have tattoos. So, it would be best if you avoided them than going and being turned away.
22. Carry toilet paper
Japanese toilet is like an enigma for anyone not from Japan. While this is true, I was shocked to realise that most public bathrooms do not have any issues! So, my tip would be to pack some toilet papers or buy them from a convenience store but always keep some in your purse.
23. Store luggage at stations
There might be instances where you are touring a city just for a day. So now what do you do with your luggage? Accommodation just for a few hours is unnecessary and expensive. But Japan has you covered. Use the coin lockers at every major station in the country. It is safe and reliable, and all you need is some change to feed into the locker. If you are not carrying any change, then your IC card will work just fine.
24. Carry some snacks
When in Japan there’s a lot of travelling and walking around. And that means you will probably run out of energy by the end of the night and won’t feel like going out for dinner.
For those days, carry some snacks or ready-to-eat mixes like cup noodles that only require hot water. You can tuck yourself in and have dinner in bed.
25. Travel by bus when travelling within the city
At first, travelling by bus in Japan might seem like a challenge but trust me, it’s no rocket science. Get up on the bus and take your ticket from a dispenser that you find next to the entrance. Then take your seat and keep an eye on the electronic board above the driver’s head. Here the next stop will flash in both Japanese and English.
Before you get down, check the number on your ticket. How much you need to pay will flash on the board. Put your fare and ticket into the box next to the driver and always say a thank you. Does this sound confusing? If it does, I can assure you it will be easy when you see others do it, so taking the bus to a city is a wise decision.
So, there you go. 25 tips to make your first solo travel to Japan kickass. What are you waiting for? Book tickets and pack your bags.
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.