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Traveling solo in Japan is a fascinating, warm, and unforgettable experience. Most people have an idea in their head of what Japan will be like, but it’s impossible to understand until you’re there yourself.
Japan is immaculate temples brimming with lanterns. Japan is steaming bowls of ramen on a cold night. Japan is shy geishas rushing to their appointments in platform sandals, bullet trains carving through the countryside, bubbling hot springs set in the mountains. And so much more.
At the time of writing, I’ve traveled to more than 80 countries, most of them solo, and Japan has consistently ranked as one of my favorites. I love this country deeply and fiercely, and I want you to love it as much as I do.
Frequently Asked Questions About Solo Travel in Japan
Japan is a phenomenally safe country to travel — one of the safest countries in the world, including for solo female travelers. Most travelers who watch their belongings and use common sense have zero safety issues in Japan.
I highly recommend Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka for first-time visitors to Japan. If you want to get off the beaten path, I love Hokkaido in winter.
I recommend traveling to Japan in the spring or fall. Winter can be very cold and I don’t recommend it unless you’re used to very cold weather or looking to ski. I urge you to avoid visiting in summer, when it’s stiflingly hot and humid.
My favorite thing to do on a solo trip to Japan is to visit an onsen, a traditional Japanese spa! Be sure to read up on onsen etiquette before you go.
Why Travel to Japan Solo?
Japanese culture is fascinating. Everything from the layout of the cities to the fashion to what they sell in shops to how everything is as efficient as possible.
Japanese society has awe-inspiring contrasts. You can ride sleek bullet trains from one end of the country to the other, then go to pristine ancient temples.
Japanese food is universally excellent. Japanese people take such good care in preparing their food. Even the fast food is immaculate.
Japan has incredible natural beauty. Japan’s rural areas don’t get as much attention as its cities, but if you venture into the countryside, you’ll be rewarded handsomely.
Japan is extremely safe. If you’re a solo traveler, you don’t have to worry about pickpocketing or walking alone at night as much as you would in other countries. More on that below.
What’s it Really Like to Travel Japan?
Is Japan Safe?
Japan is quite safe — one of the safer countries on the planet. Japan is the kind of place where you can leave your purse on a park bench, come back an hour later, and it will be in the same place. (Don’t test that theory out, though.)
Japan is a country that prides itself on its safety and order, and Japanese culture emphasizes conformity for the common good. As a result, the violent crime rate is low. Children ride the subway on their own. People leave their keys in the ignition and their doors unlocked. You can walk alone at night without having to look over your shoulder every few moments.
For women, traveling in Japan is nice because there’s virtually no catcalling. In a world where you get catcalled almost everywhere, for no reason, it’s nice that you can walk down the street in Japan without men yelling things at you.
There is only one point where women should be vigilant: subways during rush hour. You sometimes hear reports of men rubbing themselves against women in the subway (they call it chikan), and for that reason, there are designated women-only subway cars to be used during rush hour. The entrances to these cars are marked on the platform in pink. (Personally, I’ve traveled in regular subway cars during rush hour and never had any negative experiences, so it’s not like they’re nonstop hotbeds of assault. Use your personal judgment.)
The important thing is not to be complacent. While Japan has a very low crime rate, I urge you to follow the safety guidelines you would elsewhere. Especially be vigilant about watching your belongings, watch how much you drink, and stay in touch with someone from home who knows your itinerary.
Know before you go:
Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
Solo Female Travel in Japan
But if it’s safe, isn’t it perfect for solo female travelers? Not exactly. So many people assume that solo female travel is about one aspect alone — SAFETY. And while safety is obviously a huge factor in women’s travel, it’s not the only one.
Japan is a developed country, but it’s very difficult to navigate, and it can be overwhelming. The signage is in a different language and writing. Everything is different: the vending machines, how you order food, the crazy toilets. Hell, even the trash cans are different.
Japanese culture is very different from Western culture, too. People tend to keep to themselves. People will give you wrong directions rather than admit they don’t know where you want to go. On top of that, there’s a significant language barrier, especially among older people and in less touristy areas. Of course, if you’re in trouble, Japanese people will fall over themselves to help you, but if everything’s okay, they’ll politely ignore you.
Having to live day-in, day-out, in a culture where you’re struggling to understand and be understood can take a lot out of you. It’s unquestionably easier when you’re traveling with someone else and can have the “So what does this actually mean?” conversations. If you’ve seen Lost in Translation, it’s spot on.
Let me put it this way — on my second trip, just after arriving, it took me a good 30 minutes to find an ATM at the airport and get cash out successfully. I nearly cried. And this was as someone who had already spent a few weeks in Japan!
For this reason, traveling in Japan can make you feel isolated. And that’s not a feeling that everyone enjoys. Some people, like me, are okay with that feeling in small doses. Other people struggle with that.
Is Japan Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?
In most cases, Japan would not necessarily be my first choice for a woman traveling solo for the first time ever. Starting your first solo travels ever in Japan is like baptism by fire. It’s like learning how to travel for the first time.
When you travel to Japan, you will have many moments when you feel completely alone, like no one else in the world understands you. And that can be tough to deal with when it’s your first solo trip ever.
Personally, I’m an introvert, and I thrive on solitude. I think that makes it easier for me to enjoy traveling solo in a place like Japan. If you’re naturally extraverted, I would try to arrange some meetups — ask on social media if your friends have any friends in Japan, check the Couchsurfing groups in different Japanese cities, book some group tours, stay in an Airbnb or Couchsurf with a host or family.
Another option? Join a group tour in Japan as a solo traveler!
G Adventures has more than a dozen different tours available to Japan. I have traveled with G before and recommend them, as they employ local guides, focus on sustainability, and keep their tour sizes small. Here are some of their Japan tours:
- Discover Japan (14 days, Tokyo to Tokyo)
- Sapporo Snow Festival and Japan Winter Highlights (13 days, Tokyo to Sapporo)
- Back Roads of Japan (11 days, Tokyo to Kyoto)
- Japan on a Shoestring: Kyoto to Osaka (6 days, Kyoto to Osaka)
- See more Japan tours here.
There is an exception — if you’re really into anime or Japanese culture, or you speak Japanese, Japan could be the ideal first-time solo travel destination for you! Every traveler is different, and you should do what’s best for you.
If you want your first solo trip ever to be in Asia, though, my top recommendation would be Thailand. Hong Kong would be a great choice, too.
Solo Female Travel in Thailand
Is Japan Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?
Absolutely! I wholeheartedly recommend Japan for experienced solo female travelers. If you’re looking for something “easy” after traveling in India or West Africa, Japan will feel like a modern paradise to you. If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging after sticking to solo travel in Europe, Japan will scratch your itch in all the right ways.
And if you’re a very experienced solo traveler, you can probably handle anything. So go for whatever turns your crank — go hiking in Shikoku, get into art on Naoshima, head to remote Tohoku, or ensconce yourself in Tokyo, one of the greatest cities in the world.
Best Solo Travel Experiences in Japan
Spend a day soaking in an onsen. These Japanese hot springs are found throughout the country and are a popular tradition. Soaking in the hot water is not only a fun pastime, they consider it good for your health.
There is very strict etiquette around using an onsen — read up on it here before you go — among other things, public onsens are sex-segregated and fully nude, you must shower thoroughly beforehand, and tattoos are not allowed. (I have a tiny back tattoo and nobody noticed or cared. You can also cover your tats with band-aids.)
Get cocktails on top of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. This is where Lost in Translation took place — and where all those bar scenes took place! And if you can afford it (check rates here), staying at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is an unparalleled experience. It’s one of my favorite hotels in the world.
Hike the Kumano Kodo on the island of Shikoku. This spiritual pilgrimage is becoming a draw for tourists, not unlike the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and it’s a way to explore close to the ground and experience a side of Japan most tourists don’t see.
Take part in a Japanese tea ceremony. A traditional tea ceremony is a beautiful cultural experience to witness, and you’ll learn more about the traditions that ancient Japan has taken forward.
Wander the bamboo forest of Arashiyama in Kyoto. This endless forest of bright green stalks is a popular Instagram backdrop (go early if you want to be the only one in your shot) — and it’s also a magical place to take a walk.
Check out a sumo match. While sumo matches only take place at certain times of year (check the schedule here), if you’re going to be there during a tournament, get tickets! Sumo is often treated as a joke in Western countries, but here you’ll get to see how much it’s appreciated.
Come to Sapporo for the Snow Festival. Each February, Sapporo puts on a festival with ice carvings, mogul contests, musical performances, and lots of delicious seafood. If you’re looking to experience winter in Japan, make it the island of Hokkaido — it gets the most intense snow!
Watch the amazing logistics of Shibuya Crossing. This Tokyo crossing is purportedly the biggest intersection in the world, and you’ll have an easy time believing that when seeing hundreds of people cross the streets simultaneously. The surrounding stores have good views of the crossing.
Visit when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. When the cherry blossoms bloom in Japan, everything turns into a party. Parks are filled with beer-drinking, karaoke-singing locals taking endless selfies underneath the pink flowers. This is highly weather-dependent and varies from year to year, but generally it happens around early April in Tokyo. If you’re too early, head to Okinawa; if you’re too late, head to Hokkaido!
Enjoy all the vending machine drinks. Japanese vending machines are CRAZY — in the best way. They have a varied selection of both hot and cold drinks, from coffees, green teas, and aloe juices to the bizarrely named Pocari Sweat (just go with it). On a cold morning, there’s nothing better than a Boss Cafe au Lait straight out of the vending machine!
Eating Alone in Japan
One advantage of solo travel in Japan is that dining alone couldn’t be easier! So many restaurants have a bar. It’s customary for people dining solo to eat at the bar. Sushi restaurants have bars. Tempura restaurants have bars. And ramen joints definitely have bars!
While in some Asian countries I often get asked, “Why you no have boyfriend?” when I eat alone, that doesn’t happen in Japan. You order, you eat, and if you’re in a touristy area, the staff might give you a primer on how to eat the food. (This saved me in a tempura spot!)
There are way too many experiences in Japan to list them all here — some of my favorite experiences were getting high-end tonkatsu (pork cutlet) in Kyoto Station, getting conveyor belt sushi, asking a seafood chef for an omakase (tasting menu) for a certain price and getting so many weird things, having Michelin-starred yakitori (meat on a stick) on Valentine’s Day, and eating more onigiri (rice balls) from convenience stores than one would deem possible.
Oh, and I was OBSESSED with custard-flavored mochi stuffed with strawberries, so if you see them, EAT ALL OF THEM FOR ME.
Japanese Food Guide is a great resource for learning about what to eat in Japan. And a bonus — the site is staffed entirely by women!
Where to Go in Japan: Best Destinations for a Solo Trip
Most trips start in Tokyo, and it’s such a dazzling city, you’ll never want to leave! You could spend weeks or months in Tokyo and still only scrape the surface. Don’t miss shopping at crazy department stores in Ginza, gawking in the tech neighborhood of Akihabara, or checking out all things kawaii in Harajuku.
Where to Stay in Tokyo: The Best Neighborhoods
Kyoto is on almost every traveler’s itinerary, and for good reason: the city is filled with beautiful temples! If you’re curious about wearing a kimono, there are lots of places in Kyoto where you can rent them and wear them to temples for perfect photos. Kyoto is also your best chance for spotting a geisha, as a few dozen geisha and maiko (apprentices) still work in the Kyoto neighborhood of Gion today.
I love the city of Osaka. It’s not as sophisticated as Tokyo and has a casual, down-home feeling while still being very Japanese. Go to the Dotonbori neighborhood at sunset and you’ll be dazzled with neon in every direction. Don’t miss the takoyaki (octopus balls) and fugu (pufferfish)!
Hiroshima is a poignant city to visit, especially if you’re American. Learning about how Hiroshima recovered from its bombing in 1945 is a story about resilience. Hiroshima also has easy access to beautiful Miyajima Island, filled with beautiful forests.
Off the beaten path is the island of Hokkaido. This far northern island has a wild landscape, delicious food, amazing skiing, indigenous culture, and unique wildlife. I loved my winter visit to Hokkaido; some people love to visit in summer for the lavender fields.
Looking for something tropical? Head to Okinawa! These tropical islands far south of mainland Japan have a similar landscape to Hawaii, with beaches and cliffs, along with some of the longest-living people in the world.
There are SO many more destinations in Japan — those are just scraping the surface.
Japan Travel Tips
Spring and fall are the best times to visit Japan. Summers can be incredibly hot and humid; winters can hamper your outdoor exploration (and for some reason parts of Japanese train stations are unheated in winter, which I learned the hard way in Sapporo). That said, I’ve visited in summer and winter and had a great time; you just need to plan!
Bring a Japan guidebook PDF for your phone. It’s much easier than lugging a book around. I always use Lonely Planet Japan in PDF form. You can buy the whole book or individual chapters.
Get a Japan Rail Pass before you leave. Japanese trains are amazing, and buying a pass will almost always save you a lot of money over buying individual tickets. Keep in mind these must be purchased outside Japan, so get them as early as possible. They sell 7-day passes, 14-day passes and even 21-day passes.
Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to Japan. I find that Skyscanner always has the lowest rates, and you can also search a whole month at once for the best rates.
Take your shoes off. Japan is famous for being a shoes-off country, but it might hit you where you don’t expect — like dressing rooms at shops, or immediately when you walk into a spa or onsen, before even going into a dressing room. Generally, keep them on in shops or restaurants but remove them at homes or restaurants with traditional seating.
Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, and you’ll also be taking them on and off, so slip-on shoes are best. The Walking Company is my go-to for comfortable shoes that are cute; I strongly recommend black ABEO flats, which have fantastic arch support. Winter boots are essential if you’re visiting Hokkaido in winter; it snows so much that the sidewalks are rarely clear.
If you need an ATM, head to a 7-11 or post office. ATMs in Japan can otherwise be difficult to find, and Japan is a surprisingly cash-happy society, so be sure to keep some yen on you at all times.
Don’t close the door of your taxi. It’s customary for drivers to do it and you’re considered rude if you do so yourself.
Get an extra debit card. You should have two debit cards to two different bank accounts. If you only have one, I recommend you get a debit card from Transferwise. Keep a few hundred dollars in your account, hide the card deep in your luggage, and use it if your primary debit card is stolen.
Consider bringing a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf. These beautiful scarves are designed and sewed by my friend have a hidden passport pocket in them. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!) and they are so good at keeping your valuables hidden — they’re the perfect place to store your Japan Rail Pass.
Fly into Haneda Airport if you can. On my last trip I flew with ANA (who sponsored my trip) and they flew me into Haneda, which is SO much closer to Tokyo than Narita Airport, and it saved me an hour each way. Haneda is primarily for domestic flights but they’re starting to offer more international options, including to New York/JFK.
Don’t walk with beverages. If a Japanese person gets a drink from a vending machine, he or she drinks it while standing there, then saves the bottle or can to throw away at home. Really. This explains the absence of trash cans in an otherwise very clean country.
Read Japanese literature while in Japan. It’s such a pleasure to ride a bullet train while taking in the delicate nuances of Japanese literature! On my last trip to Japan I read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, which I very much enjoyed.
Travel Insurance for Japan
One last note — it’s absolutely vital to have travel insurance before traveling to Japan. If you get sick or injured on your trip, or even have to be flown home, travel insurance will protect you from financial ruin. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Japan.
Do note that medical care is excellent in Japan, and in the case of illness or injury, you’ll be in good hands.
If you’re a woman, you’ll be welcome in Japan.
Before I visited Japan, I assumed that the highlight would be being immersed in a completely different culture. And while I did enjoyed that, my greatest surprise was being accepted and welcomed everywhere I went. If you ever have any problems, Japanese people will do literally everything they can to help you. Even if they don’t speak a word of English.
Japan is one of my favorite countries in the world, and I’m excited for you to experience Japan for yourself. I hope you have a fantastic time!
Where to Stay in Tokyo: The Best Neighborhoods
Have you traveled solo in Japan? What tips would you add? Share away!
25 thoughts on “Solo Female Travel in Japan — Yes, it’s Safe, but Isolating”
Great advice, as usual, Kate! I was lucky enough to go to Tokyo and Kyoto last year with my daughter. She has been to Japan several times by herself–an introvert like you:) I’m a big city traveler, but I don’t think I could have found my way around without her. (She’s a travel vlogger–Cari Cakes on YT.)
I went to Seoul this year to visit my daughter. I found it very easy to get around by myself and had plenty to do and see on my own. Cleanest subways I’ve ever seen, cheap cabs, loads of English signage on the street, in the subway and in most of the museums I visited. I’ve recommended Seoul to many people as a gateway trip to Asia.
Seoul is awesome and I think South Korea is super underrated as a whole! I found it to be closer to Western culture than Japan, too, which made things a bit easier.
Such a good post! I feel like I can relate to a lot of this. My job is part time in Taiwan and part time in London and the first time I arrived in Taiwan I felt really overwhelmed. Even though I’ve done a lot of travelling, Taiwan at first felt so foreign to me, mainly because the language is so different! I still struggle with basics like ordering food and unless someone speaks English, having a casual conversation is out of the question, but I really love it here. Taiwan is also super close to Japan so I’m hoping to make a visit there soon. Your tips will definitely come in handy!
Good point about the possibility of feeling isolated. I have never been to Japan, but do recognize the sense of isolation. For instance in North Sumatra where no-one spoke English and there were only pointing at me and giggling…
Good to know so much about Japan! I’m also an experienced solo traveler, and love my own company, so I guess Japan is for me. 🙂
I traveled Japan for the first time this summer and I was there with my husband. I fall in love with the food and safety but wouldn’t prefer going there alone. The lack of trash cans was just weird and when we where lost in the middle of rice fields when sun started to set, I was pretty happy that I had my husband (and a little bit of battery in my phone) with me. I would say having the train pass and also having a wi-fi box with you are must if wanting to survive without knowing too much Japan or Japanese. We often used Google Translate and similar software to survive.
I traveled in Japan with my two daughters but there were a few days that I was on my own. And I had an incredible case of what I thought was homesickness during that time which I usually don’t get. I’m guessing now that it was loneliness and a sense of isolation instead of craving home. I loved Japan though and would love to go back.
Great article Kate! I travel solo a lot and I would love to visit Japan.
This article is very clear and helpful!
I love this post! When I visited Japan back in 2014, I spent a month working at a language center as a glorified babysitter for North American students coming over to learn Japanese. So it was an interesting opportunity because I got to learn Japanese alongside the students and live at a homestay with a Japanese family. I got a great taste for daily life while making many non-Japanese friends at the school. But I didn’t get to do enough travelling in the country. So I’m pinning this post for a future trip – I love all of your tips! And I love that you talk about how solo female travel isn’t just about safety. It is one important aspect but there’s so much more to it!
Im going to Japan for the first time later this month and cannot wait for the FOOD!!!! I LOVED Mochi in Hawaii and plan to eat it at every opportunity! Any other tips besides the strawberry ones?
Nice article, so I appreciate finding all of your tips. Sounds like you had a fantastic time! I can’t wait to hear more! Japan is a beautiful, welcoming, friendly country. It’s also quite different from any country. Japan is actually quite an easy country for travelers. People line up for things. Trains run on time. And there is just enough English on signs and in announcements to help you get by. But that doesn’t mean that navigation is easy or that what the Japanese consider to be good manners are obvious to the traveler from abroad.
I love Japan especially the cherry blossoms and the nonexistent trashcans (haha I had a hard time finding one). My first time in Japan was during winter where I experienced walking through snow-capped pine forests, slurping up piping hot soup in a cozy noodle shop and soaking in a hot outdoor bath while snowflakes melt on your eyelashes. I’d love to go back again! Reading your post makes me want to..
My friend’s going to Japan next year and I hope I can go visit her sometime – alone or not. I love your post. It definitely helps me plan my trip 😀
I absolutely loved how informative this was Kate! Your advice is perfect for new solo travelers especially for anyone who hasn’t been to Japan before. I definitely agree it can be an overwhelming place to visit with so much to do, see and eat but you’ve covered so many bases it’s great!
I recently visited Japan – it was my first real international travel – your description of the country being isolating and overwhelming is spot on. Even though I traveled with Japanese friends – it was a truly humbling experience being an American in Japan. I sensed an artificial dutiful politeness with flight attendants and service people – as if they were merely tolerating my presence. Thanks for sharing
I just came back from my 2nd visit to japan. I returned because it is a really beautiful country too much to see and and so much things to do. I am a solo female traveler btw but i am not completely happy that is why i google if i am the only one who feel this way. Then i see this blog. Yes i feel isolated too compare to other countries in asia i visited easy to talk to anyone have small chat with the locals. I made a lot of friends. But In Japan its like you will ask they will answer that’s it.I am not sure if they are shy with foreigners. But it is a different culture i understand.
I’m currently travelling solo in Japan. I’ve done solo travel through parts of Europe.
I understand the isolating feeling Japan brings. But I quite like it. I am an introvert who works in an industry where I have to talk to others all day, and it gets tiring. Japan is definitely a place to get away from all that and just do my own thing.
Everything is orderly. Kind of reminds me of Germany, in this way. I initially found it almost odd at how quiet it was on the metro, but I realise that I’m barely awake when I commute to work, and not at all talkative. Haha.
I’m about midway through my trip. It’s been good so far! The cherry blossoms have been lovely!
I am going for a whole month by myself at the end of the year. I’ve been to Japan twice before, but never alone. I’m wondering how long you’ve gone for? I am very nervous I’ll get lost without having someone to help me out! Especially when changing from Tokyo to Kyoto or any inter-bound travel.
I’ll be traveling in mid-September and this will be my first trip to Japan so I wish if you could accompany me, as you have been there for a couple of times before.
Hi! I’m thinking about traveling there in Sept too but not sure what dates. Would you be down to meet up? I’m from NY
I’m wrapping up three weeks in Japan and am absolutely loving it! Thanks for all the advice, especially on Tokyo. I wanted to share that I’m not finding it as isolating as I expected. I am an experienced solo traveler, and certainly the first few hours of trying to get myself sorted and get from the airport were a little overwhelming, but since then I’ve found it pretty easy to get around.
I believe they’re installing more English signage in preparation for the Olympics, and I’m finding English signage pretty much everywhere I need it. Every JR office I’ve gone into has had an English speaking employee. I would say the level of English spoken overall is less than anywhere I’ve been outside Latin America, but more than I expected and enough to get by. I rented a car for a few days around Hakone and found that even the toll collectors and gas station attendants spoke the few words of English they needed. When I got off the subway in Kyoto there was a group of young people holding up signs that they are volunteers offering help to tourists. In a lot of countries that would be a scam, but not here.
A few things that have helped me: 1) A phone with data! I would have never been able to navigate the Tokyo subway without it. Some people rent a pocket wifi device, but I didn’t plan ahead and just bought a SIM card when I arrived at Narita, which has worked great. 2) I’ve stayed at hostels mainly. I understand people who have no interest in hostels, but I will say these are some of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in. Clean, quiet, friendly, well equipped. I usually get hostel burnout after a few weeks (or days, depending) and I’m not feeling that here. 3) I’ve done a number of day tours. I did the Ninja food tour (thanks for the rec) and have tried Airbnb experiences for the first time.
The only complaint I have is the cost, but I think that’s well known. Otherwise I’ve been surprised by how comfortable I feel and how helpful the Japanese are. What a great country!
Jen, thank you so much for this helpful trip report! I’m glad you had such a great time, and especially that you did a Ninja food tour!
Hi, just returned from Japan going North to South with 3 week Rail Pass. You CAN now buy it in country at JR info centers. Definitely could at Sapporo airport. It is about 10% more expensive.
Also maps.me is a great map app to use because it works without data or wifi.
And I am sure you mentioned HyperDia for Japan Rail. What a great helpful app to find your rail connections!
Thanks for all this information! Ive been to japan on a group travel but now I want to return there solo. Im planning on going there at the end of september.
Only thing im nervous about is travelling between city’s and taking care that i get the right trains and busses. Is there anything you can share in that? Thx
In 2020 I am going to Japan. This will be my first trip, very worried. Thanks for the information and your experience.)