Solo Guide to Tokyo
How to travel alone in Japan’s colourful capital
There is no better travel experience than exploring somewhere new on your own. The freedom of choosing what you do and when you do it is worth its weight in gold – not having to keep everyone else happy is just the ticket for the perfect trip.
Solo travel is becoming more and more popular these days as people seek out the world and all its charms, creating unforgettable, once in a lifetime experiences. Seeing anywhere in the world by yourself is exhilarating but somewhere with a completely different culture and atmosphere to where you live is even more of an adventure. I give you Tokyo…
There’s an over-used and clichéd phrase that is often used to describe exotic or rather chaotic cities – a feast for the senses. I’ve seen it used in countless travel articles but by jove, if ever a sentence can sum up this place, it’s that. Although I’d say this is more of an outright assault on the senses rather than a feast. A myriad of sights, sounds, tastes and smells will consume you when you come face to face with Tokyo and you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore!
So, now that you’ve arrived on your dream trip somewhere over the rainbow, or rather slap bang in the Japanese capital, there are some hints and tips here that will help you get the most of from your visit and keep you safe along the way. It’s funny, safety is the one thing people often ask about for travelling solo. Sure, we don’t live in a perfect, hazard-free world and it’s certainly not Munchkinland but crime rates in Japan are pretty low and the people of this fascinating country are some of the most polite and courteous folk on the planet. Trust me, they are big on manners and decorum here. That said, Tokyo, like any big city isn’t totally without its dangers but by and large you can expect to feel safe. As with anywhere you’d visit, exercise a little caution and awareness and you can’t really go wrong.
Top Tips for Solo Travellers in Tokyo
Where to stay
Tokyo has some palatial hotels that really are the last word in luxury but if you’re travelling on a tighter budget, you can still stay in some good accommodation and watch your pennies (or yen!) Besides, solo travellers tend to be out and about more, therefore expensive digs aren’t really necessary if all you’re doing is using them as a base to shower and sleep in.
Consider trying Ryokans. These are traditional guest house type places and they’re really cool and unique. They’re also ideal if you want a more authentic experience of Japanese hospitality and culture. You’ll find tatami mats and futon beds and there’s usually tea-making kits for making a nice cuppa at the end of the day. One that has had great reviews is Mayabido Takemine which also offers room service if you feel like having a quiet night in away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You must remember to take your shoes off before you enter – leaving them on will be seen as disrespectful – I told you they were big on manners here!
If you find yourself without a room for the night – maybe you’ve missed the last train or your flight is delayed, there are little pod-like rooms available around the city. These are called capsule hotels and they are cheap, functional and convenient, albeit basic and very small.
Take a look at some of the best capsule hotels in Tokyo here
Taxis in Tokyo are readily available but they can be expensive, especially if you’re on your own without some companions to divvy up the fare. Tokyo’s rail network and underground transport system will take you anywhere you want to go in the city at a fraction of the price.
For female travellers, there are usually women only carriages on the trains if that helps.
No one will bat an eyelid if you decide to have dinner by yourself in Tokyo, in fact, it’s pretty common as people are busy on the go, stopping for a quick bite at one of the stand-up sushi bars or counter table cafes. Sushi restaurants are probably ideal for solo diners as the single file counter seats face onto the conveyor belt and the chef at work so it can double as a fun experience and there’s none of that awkward staring at the wall or playing with your phone while you eat. Tuck in!
Like anywhere you could visit where English isn’t the first language, it’s a really nice gesture if you’re able to say a few words in the native lingo. Even the most basic phrases will go a long way and often diffuse a tense situation so go on; brush up on a few bits of Japanese – it’ll be worth it. Don’t panic if you’re not fluent by the time you get off the plane. You will find English spoken in many hotels, transport offices, bars and restaurants but just don’t assume that it will be. At the very least, learn to say please and thank you!
As I said before, Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world with relatively low crime rates but there will always be hidden dangers. As with any big city it pays to stay aware of your surroundings and exercise a little caution. Just keep your wits about you and don’t leave yourself vulnerable by wandering into lesser known parts of the city after dark.
A key tip for being out and about on your own in Tokyo is to always have a portable charger for your mobile phone and invest in a pocket Wi-Fi.
Sure, getting lost can sometimes be fun and adventurous but at the end of the day, you’re on your tod and you need to find your way back so don’t get caught without charge on your devices. You’ll be amazed at how often you’ll need Google Maps or Google Translate on your trip – these will be your trusty travelling companions!
Not that you expect any trouble but if you do find yourself in real difficulty, head to a koban – little police cabins dotted around the city. Make your way to one of these mini police stations and you’ll be fine.
You may find that you fancy a little company and conversation at some point and good way of getting this and an expert insight into the city is to hire a local tour guide. You can find them via the Tokyo Tourist Information Centres
Make sure you book in advance to guarantee an English-speaking guide – or whatever language is your preference.
Specialist Tours for Singles
Okay, chances are if you’re happy enough to travel to Japan by yourself, you’re pretty savvy and want to explore on your own but if you want the best of both worlds, you can always join a small group tour that caters for solo travellers. This way you get to take in lots of sightseeing but there’s other like-minded travellers alongside you. You never know, you might make some nice new friends…or you might not. You might be content with the comfort and security of an organised tour but prefer to keep yourself to yourself. The choice is yours.
Look at this trip from Tourradar It’s a four-day tour which starts and ends in Tokyo and includes an expert guide, meals and transport. It might be an idea to do this then add a few days on at the end for yourself. By that time, you’ll be into the swing of things and accustomed to life in Tokyo. You’ll be more confident and comfortable to then spend a few days exploring by yourself. Just a suggestion if you’re still apprehensive about a trip like this on your own.
Good luck and happy travels!
I love travel. I’ve been fascinated by other countries and cultures since my first foreign trip in 1985 and I’ve had serious wanderlust ever since.I also love to write about where I’ve been and tripsology lets me indulge that passion. I’m thrilled to be a regular contributor and editor. When I’m not writing I also run my own PR and publicity company.