Solo Travel to Japan: What you Need to Know

Japan is a destination that can inspire wanderlust in even those who would not claim to have caught the travel bug. Even for the seasoned traveller, Japan remains an enticing if somewhat intimidating travel option. If you’re planning on travelling on your own you may wonder if you’ve thrown yourself in at the deep end, but Japan is a very tourist-friendly country, especially for solo travellers. Here’s a rundown of some of our top tips, based on experience, to help you make the most of your time in Japan.

Transport and travel

Guest Renata from Brazil with her host Miyako in Kyoto

The first hurdle almost anyone experiences after arriving in a new country is navigating the transport system. The rush hour crush on the Tokyo subway system is the stuff of legends but don’t let such click bait articles put you off using it. Buy a JR rail pass; they're only available to tourists, and for a flat price you can travel by bus, subway, regional and high-speed bullet trains around the country. You have to buy the tickets before you arrive in Japan, but if you're planning on visiting a couple of cities, the pass will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

Within Tokyo, transport is surprisingly easy to navigate: use the app if you have the data, or failing that get one of the paper maps that are available in most main stations. All station signs and announcements also appear in Japanese and English. Public transport services close at midnight, but after that taxis are available but can be pricey.

Try not to be too intimidated

Homemade Chocolate cake cooked by host Kyoko in Tokyo

I think everyone gets a little bit intimidated when they travel to somewhere new by themselves. It’s natural, even exhilarating. Japan is pretty much the extreme of this. Everyone in the office agrees that at some point during your trip to Japan, you will feel out of your depth. The ordering and subsequent eating of food, in particular, can be a pain point. Japanese people are fantastically helpful to visitors. Most Japanese people outside of the service industry do not speak English so it helps to even have some basic words to help you get by but don’t be afraid of asking for help while you are travelling, it will make your life so much easier in the long run.

Stay in a Homestay

Hosts Yuji and Soness

If you stay in a homestay when you visit Japan, your host should be your first port of call for advice during your stay. Hosts will be able to tell you the best restaurants, particular dishes you should try and will be able to advise you on anything you should avoid if you are a bit of a picky eater. Many hosts are also happy to let their guests join them for meals if they so choose, and this can be the best way to get an insight into everyday Japanese food and life. Failing that, a walking tour of a city can be a great way to ask questions in comfort and will help you get your bearings. Read reviews of our Japanese hosts and you will see how staying in a homestay in Japan can make a real difference to your stay.

"This was my first experience of a Homestay and I hit the jackpot. I thouroughly recommend it over staying in a hotel, especially with Soness and Yujkit."  Rob, England

Do as the locals do

customers at a sushi bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Image courtesy of James Cridland.

Of course, any traveller worth their salt will have a sneaky glance at the locals they encounter to see how they do things, and Japan is the ultimate place to do this. Japanese society is extremely polite, and standards around etiquette are still strongly adhered to. Though that shouldn't intimidate you and as a foreigner, Japanese people will certainly forgive you for your ignorance and are happy to explain their culture and customs to others. Don't know how to hold your chopsticks? Ask. Not sure if you should bow or not when greeting people? Really, just ask.

Contrary to what many Westerners may think, English is not spoken by the majority of people in Japan so a knowledge of some basic words or indeed visual aids may take you a long way in your travels. English is often used for stylistic purposes so although you may see English words dotted around the place; it does not mean the language is widely spoken.

In spite of this, the Japanese, regardless of their standard of English, manage to excel in non-verbal communication and directions. Best to brush up on your knowledge of mime and hand gestures to help you get around.

Don’t Freak Out

Shibuya crossing in downtown Tokyo, Japan

My last piece of advice applies to travel in any destination, and that is simply to chill out and enjoy it. Japan is neither as frightening nor as expensive as many people think and it is a fantastic place to travel solo. Things will seem strange to you, and most likely you will painfully stand out as a foreigner, but none of that matters. Find the things you want to explore and just go for it. If you’re at a loss, ask your homestay host for help but getting used to going with the flow and only doing what you want to do is what solo travel is all about.

Learn more about travelling to Japan by reading our guests' homestay experiences or take a look at our neighbourhood guide to Tokyo to help you get your bearings in this fantastic city.

How about a solo trip to Japan?

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