Top 13 Things to Do Alone in Japan | Solo Female Travel
Japan is a fascinating, alluring, appealing, and charming country like no other. From historic shrines and temples to modern and futuristic cities, Japan provides everything on a platter. Adding cherry to the cream, Japan is also one of the safest countries in the world for a female solo traveller.
I had put a pin on Japan for a while because I was apprehensive. I had no clue about the language, or the culture, or the dos and don’ts. But once I travelled to the beautiful country, I realised how silly and unfounded my fears were.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and let’s jump into this adventure of a lifetime. But before that, let me take you through what you absolutely cannot miss in the Land of the Rising Sun.
1. Get a Japan Rail Pass and buckle your seats
One of the first thing I did when I reached the country was getting a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). This is very cost-effective for long-distance train travel in the country. Also, what better way of going from place to place than a high-speed bullet train? The pass is only available for tourists, and it offers unlimited rides! Relax and sip a coffee or gorge on bento boxes that you get at stations while you see the country swoosh right past you.
2. Eat at Ichiran Ramen shop
As a solo female traveller, haven’t we all faced those stares? “Is anyone joining you?” the servers ask. “No. It’s just me.” Immediately you are met with glares and pity stares. So if you have been in the same turmoil as me, then Ichiran is the perfect spot for you because you are forced to dine alone at this restaurant. Yes, Japan is as weirdly interesting as it sounds!
At Ichiran, in the capital city of Tokyo, you can enjoy a bowl of ramen in delicious tonkatsu (pork-based) broth without having to compromise on your privacy. You enter the restaurant and lead to your booth or, as they call it, ‘the flavour concentration booth’ where a divider isolates you on both sides. Once seated, the server hands you the menu through a screen, and you see just their hands. You choose your order, and a steaming hot bowl of ramen appears before you, and you don’t even need to communicate with anyone! Woah!
3. Go out on a food tour
When in Japan, eat as the Japanese do, duh. But Japan is so much more than just sushi, sashimi and ramen. A food tour is available in every major city. It is the best way to unearth those hidden gastronomical treasures.
I was also lucky enough to befriend a local who told me that I should not miss the ‘Izakaya’ experience. Izakaya is a type of bar where you get small plates of inexpensive food to accompany your alcohol. It is a lot like the concept of ‘tapas’ that you get in Spain. The food portions are tiny, I admit. But this is the best way you mingle and make friends in a foreign country.
4. Japanese cooking classes
Don’t you all want to roll out the perfect sushi? Or show your creative side by assembling a cute bento box? Learning how to cook cuisine is the best way to delve into one’s culture. I had signed up to learn how to make a bento box because I find them extraordinarily intriguing, but in the end, I just realised that my creativity when it came to food is at a very nascent stage. Nevertheless, it remains to be one of the trip’s highlights, and I cannot recommend it enough. And don’t forget to carry a cute apron to Japan to look good in the Instagram posts. Also, you might miss out on travel essentials if you skip my blog on 10 important things to carry on your first solo trip.
5. Spend a night at a capsule hotel
I will not lie. The idea of sleeping in a confined space was not appealing initially, but I am glad that I changed my mind. Capsule hotels are a rage in Japan right now, and rightly so. It is incredibly affordable and thus saves a lot on your travel expense. The capsules look futuristic, and I kid you not, I was waiting for an alien to pop its head out when I was walking towards my assigned pod.
When you enter the hotel, you have to remove your shoes and keep them in a locker. Next, you lock up your belongings before heading towards the pod. The one I chose was mid-range, but I was surprised to see that the tiny pod had a TV! There was a single bed, comfortable blankets, pyjamas, an eye patch, a water bottle, and charging points for various devices. The only con is that the walls are pretty thin, and you can hear your neighbours snore at night!
6. Take a walk in Ueno park
In the age of social media, we all love good Instagram moments, and Ueno Park is where you can click to your heart’s content. If you are coming to Japan, try to plan it during spring and get enthralled by the beautiful hues of cherry blossoms or sakura in this public park. Away from the hustle and bustle, spend some time with yourself amidst the serene and tranquil flora.
The park also has temples, shrines, museums, schools, and the country’s oldest zoo. If you are like me who enjoys calm in life, take a book and a mat, sit under the cherry blossoms, and read. Oh, there’s also food that you can buy off cardboard carts there.
Oh, and if you happen to go before sunset, you will also witness something magical. Once dusk dawns, thousands of lanterns are lit around the park. The lanterns in the park make for one ethereal experience.
7. Surreal experience at the Borderless museum
You should not leave the country without spending a few hours of multi-sensory digital art experience at teamLab Borderless. Why Borderless, you might ask. It’s because the digital artwork is not restricted to a room or enclosed space, but rather it can move about and intermingle with visitors and even other artwork. I was astounded to know that 520 computers and 470 projectors power the whole art installation. Did anyone say cutting-edge technology?
You start your experience at the Forest of flowers and people with all the walls being interactive. Next, you step into a world of crystals, a dazzling infinity room full of LEDs and mirrors, and it makes for one magical experience. One tip from a girl to another: This place has mirrors everywhere, so avoid wearing skirts if you can.
My favourite picks
The most well-known room here, however, is The Forest of Lamps. The queue outside this can be very long, so it might be better if you can visit before noon on a weekday. Only 20 people are allowed to enter this room for 2 mins so make sure you click those pictures fast. The lamps’ color scheme changes quickly from intense red to a striking blue to a torrid yellow, and it is a sight to behold. Remember that scene from the movie Tangled where several lamps are seen floating in the sky? This room reminds you of that.
The other room you should check out is called ‘Universe of Rock particles where people gather.’ It is one of the most visually appealing rooms in the museum, and it gives you a sneak peek into a futuristic world (that is, if we dont obliterate nature with global warming first). If you slap the walls hard enough here, flowers and birds appear.
Enjoy the museum at your leisure but don’t you dare miss it!
8. Visit a robot-themed restaurant
While we are still on the subject of cutting-edge technology in Japan, you must visit the Robot Restaurant. It’s one such place where food doesn’t take precedence, and it’s literally like stepping into a giant toy store where every toy comes to life. The shiniest-ever elevator takes you into the restaurant, and you are welcomed with a burst of rich colours. There are 3-4 shows every day throughout the week with about 140 dancers. The show I happened to see had gigantic robots, dancers in shiny clothes, lasers, drums, music, and lights. How much cooler can it be? And I kept laughing for the entire 90 mins of the show. Go in early and see if you can grab a front-row seat but remember not to put your hands out because that’s dangerous.
9. Visit other themed-restaurants
While Robot restaurant is an experience in itself, do check out the other themed-restaurants around the country. I visited a kawaii themed restaurant, as I have always wanted to explore Japan’s kawaii culture. Those who don’t know, Kawaii roughly translate to ‘cute,’ so expect all things rainbow and adorable.
I visited the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku in Shibuya, and boy, it does not disappoint. Who said travelling solo was lonely when you have all your favourite characters keeping you company while you enjoy a meal? As you enter the cafe, they tell you that you are entering the stomach of a monster, and it is hands down the most colourful place you will ever see. Not just the decor, even the food is bright, and I had a multicoloured pasta! The food looks much better than it tastes, but this experience is a must if you love colours and cute things.
Not just the food, Harajuku neighborhood is the place to enjoy Kawaii culture, and you will meet women dressed as life-sized dolls everywhere. You are transported back to your childhood days when you wished all your cute dolls could interact with you and become your friend. Check out these best themed restaurants in Tokyo before booking your flight tickets though!
10. Get the authentic Japanese experience in Kyoto
Filled with ancient temples, imperial palaces, and castles, the former capital of Japan, it gives a glimpse into the traditional and old Japan in our minds. One of Japan’s most famous shrines, Fushimi-Inari Taisha, is a must-visit for all. If you have watched the movie ‘Memoirs of a geisha,’ you will remember the movie’s bright orange gates? That’s the infamous gates of this shrine. Getting a photo under the gates is an absolute must. You will see a crowd at the entrance eager to click pictures, but my advice to you is that keep walking because the crowds thin out eventually. If you want to experience the tranquility of the place alone, visit the shrine early in the morning at 7, when it will be empty.
Talking about geishas, Kyoto is also the best place for a geisha experience. Japan and geisha are synonymous, and though today only a handful of them remain, it makes the experience all the more special. You can either pay for a performance or take a stroll along the Pontocho Alley area at dusk on a weekend or a holiday, and you might be lucky to spot one in their traditional silk kimonos and freshly painted face.
If you are like me and want to dress up like one and get transported back in time, you should visit MAICA in the city where you can dress up like a geiko (a fully-fledged geisha) or a maiko (an apprentice). Opt for the Gion evening walk package where they take you around and have photographers click a few pictures for you. No better way to live your inner geisha dream.
11. Take a dip in an Onsen
After tirelessly exploring the country, we all look forward to some rest, don’t we? And there’s not a better way to put your feet up and take a breather than an onsen. Onsens are Japanese volcanic hot springs, and you can choose from cheap local bathhouses to an expensive private ryokan.
There are separate onsens from men and women, so there’s no problem with security. It might feel a wee bit weird as you have to step in an onsen without any clothes. But trust me, once you shed those inhibitions, it’s so freeing! Don’t worry about cleanliness, as everyone has to adhere to a set of rules. And you have to wash thoroughly before stepping in. You will meet more solo female travellers in the onsens, so chat away while the hot water relaxes those muscles.
If you happen to opt for a luxury experience, you can spend a night at a traditional ryokan to soak up the Japanese experience. It is a traditional Japanese inn with Tatami floor mats, low tables and chairs, and private onsens. Read 10 reasons why you should travel solo to know it’s benefits.
12. Learn a bit of history in Hiroshima
If you love history, then visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum should be on your list. The artifacts at the museum give an insight into the after-affects of the tragedy that had befallen Hiroshima during World War II. You can see things like shredded clothing of the ones who died in the bombing, and that does bring a tear to one’s eye. While this may seem like a rich experience, it is essential to flip through history pages.
13. Driving a Mario Kart
In Japan, you get a chance to be a real-life Mario Kart character, and you do not leave the country without experiencing it. Where else can you dress up as your favourite character and hop into the world of Nintendo 64 but Japan?
Keep in mind to get an international driver’s license, and you are good to go. At first, I thought I would be racing in a karting arena, but I was surprised (and I little mortified at first) when I wore my costume (Princess Peach, of course) and stepped in behind the wheel and took the streets of Tokyo! Yes, you read that right.
The best thing about visiting Japan is that it has something for every season. You can plan your visit throughout the year! Read the do’s and don’ts carefully at various tourist destinations as the Japanese are a stickler for rules and keep everything clean.
As a female solo traveller, my only advice is to carefully plan your itinerary because you may suffer from plenty and might miss out on a lot and will definitely regret that later. Also, check out my blog on 21 safety tips for solo female travellers if you are already planning for your first solo trip to Japan. So as you pack your bags, it’s sayonara from me.
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.