21 Tips for Taking the Train Alone in Japan | Solo Female Travel
Japan is a beautiful country that welcomes you with open arms. It is a safe country for solo female travellers and is unlike any country you have visited. If you are travelling across the beautiful island country, you will most likely make extensive journeys on the railway network. Known for being reliable, convenient, and extremely punctual, travelling by train is an integral part of your journey in Japan.
I was quite surprised to learn that despite being 61st globally in land mass and 11th in the world population size, Japan holds the top spot worldwide for the number of passengers carried by trains each year. Railways are spread far and wide in Japan, and even the most rural area can be reached by train.
But before you board your first train on your solo travel, here are 21 tips for taking the train alone in Japan. I have included both cross country and local trains in the list below. So, let’s not waste any more time and see how we can make our journey easier, prompter, and hassle-free in the land of the rising Sun.
1. JR Pass
Even before you set foot in Japan, the first thing you ought to do is get a Japan Railway Pass or a JR Pass. Getting a JR pass is not just a tip but rather a necessity. It is extremely cost-effective for long-distance travel, and the best part is that only visitors can avail of this pass. It offers unlimited rides for one, two, or three weeks for Japan’s price that its residents can only dream of!
If you have a JR pass, show it to the station master at the ticket gate, and you will be lead through. If not, you will find an automatic ticket gate to insert the railway pass for access. Do not forget to pick it up after passing through the gate. Book your passes before you travel to Japan.
As a female solo traveller, a JR Pass reduces your stress of cross country travel. Also, JR pass holders get a discount at JR affiliated hotels. So, a total win-win situation, you see.
If you are in Japan, whooshing past the country on a bullet train is a no-brainer. But if you are availing of a Japan Rail pass, keep in mind that Japan’s fastest trains are not covered. However, you can buy a ticket if you want to experience the speed.
The trains in Japan are both reserved and unreserved, and there are separate coaches for them. While you can travel in an unreserved seat, my advice would be to reserve it because if you have the JR pass, it won’t cost you anything extra. Trains don’t usually get booked out, but why take the chance?
A tip for all you fellow female solo travellers: If you are travelling from one city to another and have your luggage with you, always reserve the seat at the end of the car. It will be helpful because you can then keep your luggage behind the seat.
You can always upgrade your travel by taking the Green car, something like the business class. All seats are reserved here, and it costs extra.
3. Always reach the station early
This is a tip that one must always follow. In a country where everything is foreign to you, it is best not to take any chances. Reach the station well before your scheduled departure to not miss your train by any chance. They take punctuality too seriously in Japan. So NO, the train won’t be a second late, take it from someone who has suffered!
4. Check platform number and train boarding
After you reach the station, the first thing you absolutely must do is check the platform from where your train will be leaving. The name of the trains, time, and platform numbers are displayed in both English and Japanese, so the language will not be a problem. The idea of navigating in a foreign country may be frightening, but I assure you it won’t be the case here.
Even if you need any directions, ask the station attendant. The tip is to state the name of the train and platform. You will be immediately guided even if through gestures.
5. Check to see if you are boarding the correct train
While JR pass allows you to board many a train in Japan, you will be penalised if you are on the wrong train. So do check what train you are boarding before time. As the language is unknown to you, the words and names of places might sound confusing, so be sure before boarding the train alone.
6. Stand in a queue
Discipline and punctuality in Japan are not unknown to anyone. While visiting this country, it is expected that you follow the same. The country runs like a well-oiled machine, and it is an honour to be a part of it.
When boarding any train, don’t go near the platform’s edge, and please stand behind the designated yellow line. If you see people already waiting, then be sure to stand in a queue. When boarding the train, move aside in a line so that people can first deboard.
7. Carry cash
As a female solo traveller, it is not advisable to carry cash around in a world that has become mostly cashless. But when travelling in a country as safe as Japan, do take some cash just in case because your card might not be accepted everywhere.
8. Priority seating
In a cross country bullet train, you will have the option to reserve your seat before your journey. But if you are taking the intra-city local train or even the subway, you will have to keep in mind that Japan follows the system of priority seating. It means that older adults or pregnant women get a priority. It is a humanity issue, but in Japan, this is an absolute must.
9. Take care of your luggage
As I have mentioned before, when travelling on a long-distance train, keep your luggage behind the last seat in the car. But what happens when you are not carrying heavy luggage with you? Well, in that case, keep all your bags in the overhead bin. Never place it on the seat next to you if it is empty. First, the trains usually fill up pretty soon, and if not, you will be asked to remove it, which will indeed be embarrassing for you. So, to avoid that, follow this tip.
10. Luggage in a crowded local train
Well, you might be travelling on a train where you have been unable to be seated. What do you do with your bags then? If you are carrying a backpack, wear it the other way around to avoid hitting someone with it. Or you may also keep the bags in between your legs where you are standing so that you don’t cause anyone any trouble.
11. Getting off the train
Like every aspect of life in Japan, getting off the train also has some rules. You do not see that the train has reached your destination and bolt out of the door. Always get up after the train has left the preceding station and make a beeline for the gate and stand in a queue.
There are announcements on the train, but it might not be easy to understand the accent. But fret not because there are digital signs on the train in English. So, keep an eye on that so that you don’t miss your stop.
12. Download HyperDia and Japan official travel app
If you’re a first time female solo traveller on a Japanese train, do download HyperDia and Japan official travel app on your phone. The Japan official travel app has many features; one of them is ‘routes,’ which helps you determine the best way to reach your destination. The app also allows you to be updated with train schedules, so you don’t have to worry about not understanding what’s written on electric boards at the station.
13. Learn some Japanese words
As a female solo traveller myself, I would always ask you to learn a few words from the country you are visiting, and Japan is no different! I understand that you can’t master Japanese in a week or two, and nobody asks you to do that. But learn words that will help you ask for directions when you feel lost and even the GPS isn’t helping you out.
Japanese people are extremely polite and one of the most helpful people on the planet. So after they have helped you, always remember to say Domo Arigatou which is Thank You in Japanese.
14. No talking loudly on a train
As I keep saying, Japan is a stickler for discipline, and it is respectful that while in Japan, you follow their social norms. So even if you want to talk to someone on the train while travelling, it is better you whisper because loud conversations are usually frowned upon in Japan. Also, don’t gesture with your hand at anyone. If you want someone’s attention on a train or anywhere for that matter in Japan, go up to them and talk. No shouting across the train or room and no hand gestures.
15. Do not answer your phone while on the train
Continuing with social norms that you must follow in Japan, you cannot take a call while on the train. It is seen as something extremely disrespectful, especially while travelling by a local train.
I was amazed to see that even crowded trains are so quiet in Japan, and almost everyone follows this train etiquette in this country! Pro tip: While travelling by train in Japan, always carry a book or a magazine.
16. No wi-fi on trains
Unlike trains in most parts of the world, Japanese trains don’t provide you with wi-fi. Not even on bullet trains. But you can find free wi-fi at all stations and waiting areas. The good news is that very soon; free wi-fi will be accessible on all trains in the Shinkansen lines (the Japanese bullet trains). My tip to you will be to carry a portable wi-fi in your pocket for all that surfing and working you can do on the trains. Know what to else to carry on your first trip to Japan.
17. Use station lockers for day travel
During your trip to Japan, there may be instances where you might want to explore the city for a few hours and take a train again to somewhere else. In cases like these, always opt for the ‘coin lockers’ available at most stations.
As the name suggests, you use coins to operate these lockers, which can be used to store your suitcases and backpacks. They are pretty easy to use, and the instructions are provided in English too. While there are other payment modes like a recharge card called IC Card, my tip would be to use coins as it is easier than other options.
18. Eating on a train
If you are a foodie like me, you dream about food all day long. When I am giving you tips about your first journey on a Japanese train, how can I forget about food? While you cannot eat or drink while traveling by a local train, you can gorge on your favourite food while on a bullet train across the country.
You have plenty of options to satisfy those hunger pangs. You can either buy things off the cart on a train or buy great and cute bento boxes from the station. I would recommend you to do the latter because bento boxes are a treasure of Japan we don’t speak much about! Imagine opening a box and seeing your food cutely stacked in it. It is usually a bed of rice or sushi rolls, sandwiches, sandwiches, etc. The best thing about bento boxes is they are easy to carry and easy to eat. All you need is a pair of chopsticks. You can also check out my blog about 10 must-have food on your solo trip to Japan.
19. Enjoy Japan on a train
The trains in Japan are not just the best transportation mode but can easily be an experience of a lifetime. Why sit in a train when you can bring the whole party to it. The East Japan Railway Company is pushing its limits with quirky and creative train rides, and my tip to you will be to try it out.
There are a variety of options you can choose from here. It can be a Pokémon-themed train with a burst of yellow everywhere or go back in time in the SL Ginga, which gives you the feel of Japan in the 1920s. You think it and Japan has it for you. There is also a train which provides you with the feel of an art museum. Can you believe it? Please read my blog about other non-touristy things to do in Japan.
20. Scenic train rides
As we have already seen, trains are an integral part of Japan. So, if there’s an option to go from one place to another while having the time of your life, then why not?
The one that is an absolute must for you is boarding the Tokaido Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Kyoto, and you can take a good look at the mighty snowcapped Mount Fuji from your seat itself. My tip for you: learn which side Mount Fuji appears and reserve your seat accordingly.
If you visit Japan during the spring, I would highly recommend taking a train on the Hanwa Line that runs from Osaka to Wakayama as it is ideal for viewing sakura. The beautiful cherry blossom flowers sway outside the windows, and it is a beautiful sight to behold!
21. Be safe
Japan is one of the safest countries for a female solo traveller. But better safe than sorry. So, carry a pepper spray with you when you board the train and always keep an eye out for anything wayward. Also, always keep your GPS on at all times and keep important numbers on speed dial.
Travelling by train in Japan is an experience like no other. There is even a Japanese word for people who love to travel by train- Densha otaku, which translates to train nerd.
Just follow these 21 tips for taking the train alone in Japan. I am sure your journey in Japan will be as beautiful as your destination.
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.