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After weighing up the pros and cons of travelling to Japan alone, Shayna set off for a solo adventure from Boston to Tokyo to spend three weeks in Japan. She lets us in on what it’s really like as a female solo traveller in Japan.
First-time Japan – why solo?
Japan had been my dream trip since I was a teenager. I loved anime and manga as a teen, and then went on to minor in Japanese in college and fell in love with the language and culture. I had finally decided to go but couldn’t find a travel partner that would be able to take the amount of time out of work that I was looking for. I was disappointed and initially thought that was that.
When I first started thinking about going by myself, I only thought of all the negatives: How would I find my way? What if I get lost? Will I feel safe? How could I possibly plan this by myself? Will I be lonely? But when I addressed these questions head on, I realized these were just fears of the unknown, and there was no reason NOT to go.
My biggest worry was finding my way on my own, but my Inside Japan itinerary was so detailed that I had nothing to worry about. I arranged an international Wi-Fi plan, so I always had access to Google Maps and the ability to chat with my family and friends whenever I wanted. Even though I knew some Japanese, I was a little worried about the language barrier, but most signs included Roman letters, menus had photos (or plastic models!), and a fair amount of people spoke English. And the BEST part? I was completely free to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted to.
Safety in Japan
Safety is always a concern when travelling anywhere, especially alone. While I took all the necessary safety precautions, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world and I did not feel unsafe once during my travels. In fact, so many people were incredibly helpful – like the time I was waiting for a bus in the rain and a woman wrapped a plastic bag around my souvenirs so they wouldn’t get wet!
Top tips for solo travellers in Japan
My biggest advice for visiting Japan is to download Google Maps. Every extra penny I spent on my international plan was worth it to find my way around. I used it constantly and don’t know what I would have done without it. That said: bring spare portable chargers!
If you don’t speak any Japanese, I recommend learning some key phrases before you go, especially ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’. When in doubt, sumimasen is your friend.
If you’re on the fence about travelling solo, just do it. Whatever you’re worrying about, you’ll figure it out – there’s an answer to every ‘what if’. You just might end up having the greatest adventure of your life, but you’ll never know if you never do it.
Where to go as a solo traveller in Japan?
My overall favourite experience was strolling through Japanese gardens and stopping at the teahouses for some matcha. The weather was so pleasant while I was there, and I would just sip my tea and look at the beautiful fall foliage outside of the tea house sliding doors. Isuien in Nara was a particularly special garden.
The best meal I had while away was the shojin ryori at Fudo-in temple at Koya-san. I’m not the most adventurous eater, so it was nice to have a meal without wondering what might be on my plate! And it was so beautifully presented. Of course, I also loved ordering ramen from a vending machine at my favourite ramen chain, Ichiran, and sitting in my own personal booth to enjoy it.
Japan highlights: A few of my favourite places
It’s impossible to choose a favourite place, so here are some of my favourites from each place…
Tokyo: The big city bustle and catching a view of the entire city (and Fuji-san) at sunset from the top of the Tokyo Skytree
Hakone: The relaxing onsen and ryokan splurge, and eating black eggs at the top of Owakudani
Kyoto: The stunning Golden Pavilion
Mount Koya: The peace and strolling through the beautiful Okunoin cemetery
Osaka: The amazing food scene
Himeji: Visiting Himeji Castle in kimono
Hiroshima: The emotional Peace Park and the floating torii at Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima
Kanazawa: Visiting the Golden Tea Room in the Kaikaro Geisha Teahouse
Shirakawago: Touring the historical Gassho houses
Takayama: Taking a cycling trip through the countryside and ending the day with a hot bowl of homemade soba
Nikko: Taking in the beautiful Kegon falls and Toshogu Shrine
…and feeding the deer cookies in Nara!
Ready to set off on your own solo adventure to Japan? Check out our Japan Solo Self-Guided Adventure, join one of our Small Group Tours, or contact our team of Japan travel experts for more tailormade options.
All photos belong to Shayna Silva.