25 Tips For A Perfect Solo Trip To Japan
Japan, known as the Land of the Rising Sun, is a friendly and beautiful country that’s really worth visiting. It’ll be nice to plan a trip to Japan with your family or friends, but exploring this welcoming country on your own is also interesting. If this is the first time of you to be a solo traveller, you’d better check out this blog right now for useful tips on traveling to Japan alone.
- 1 25 Tips For Your Best Experience In Solo Traveling To Japan Alone
- 1.1 1. Prepare For The Culture Shock
- 1.2 2. Take Note Of Important Japanese Taboos
- 1.3 3. Learn Some Japanese Words And Terms Beforehand
- 1.4 4. Check Seasonal Forecasts When Planning Your Itinerary
- 1.5 5. Have Proof Of Departure And Accommodation Details With You
- 1.6 6. Always Carry Sufficient Cash
- 1.7 7. Be Punctual When Using Japanese Public Transportation
- 1.8 8. Learn How To Ride Japanese Buses
- 1.9 9. Utilizing Coin Lockers For Temporary Storage
- 1.10 10. Consider Using Delivery Services For Your Luggage
- 1.11 11. Get Food, Drinks And Other Things Quickly From Konbini And Vending Machines
- 1.12 12. Make Tax-Exempt Purchases
- 1.13 13. Find Affordable Dinner
- 1.14 14. Don’t Tip In Japan
- 1.15 15. Smoke In Designated Places
- 1.16 16. Be Prepared For Hotel Curfews
- 1.17 17. Visit Shinto Shrines With Proper Etiquette
- 1.18 18. Don’t Be Offended If An Establishment Rejects You
- 1.19 19. Visit Theme Parks Strategically
- 1.20 20. Learn Japanese Shoe Removal Etiquette
- 1.21 21. Wear Comfortable Clothing And Shoes When Visiting Japanese Castles
- 1.22 22. Avoid Common Scams And Threats In Japan
- 1.23 23. Do Research Beforehand Or Risk Boredom
- 1.24 24. Enjoy Japanese Bento And Ekiben
- 1.25 25. Know Where To Go During Bad Weather Days
- 2 Conclusion
25 Tips For Your Best Experience In Solo Traveling To Japan Alone
1. Prepare For The Culture Shock
When travelling to Japan or any country in the world, you should prepare yourself for the culture shock. Japan has a distinct culture that can easily makes you overwhelmed, so bear in mind that when in Japan, do as the Japanese do. As long as you observe and respect major taboos, you won’t be harshly judged for being weird or not behaving like locals. To have the best trip when traveling to Japan alone, it is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with common aspects of Japanese culture to avoid as much culture shock-related discomfort as possible.
2. Take Note Of Important Japanese Taboos
Japan prides itself on being an orderly and socially conscious country. Therefore, it is really important to follow the golden rules of Japanese public conduct. In Japan, you should avoid distasteful behavior that annoys others and respect Japanese social practices. Besides, you should also avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself no matter what the Japanese do. This is especially essential to keep in mind when you go to Japan alone.
3. Learn Some Japanese Words And Terms Beforehand
Although English is taught in many public and private schools in Japan, not a large number of Japanese people can fully master it. Therefore, try to speak slowly and clearly if you need to talk with a Japanese person in English.
The pronunciation system of Japanese language is different from that of English, so a word like “ticket” becomes “chiketo”. Other terms like “department stores” and “toilet” become “departo” and “toire” respectively. Therefore, you can make the conversations easier by learning some common Japanese words and travel phrases before going to Japan. Otherwise, every conversation may fail and it requires you a lot of patience. This can bring stress and travelling can become a struggle. In short, knowing several Japanese words may help you a lot during your solo trip to Japan.
4. Check Seasonal Forecasts When Planning Your Itinerary
The Sakura Forecast and the Autumn Leaves Forecast are the two most important forecasts that you need to check for your trip to Japan. Beside showing seasonal colors in Japan, those forecasts also let you know peak travel periods and trends clearly. Therefore, checking the forecasts before you plan your journey will help you avoid Japan’s high seasons.
In addition, during Golden Week and the Obon festival, Japanese domestic travel is at its most intense. Thus, avoiding travelling on those days is the best. Lastly, during the final days of school breaks, it’s a good idea to avoid major attractions if you cannot stand up with long queuing.
5. Have Proof Of Departure And Accommodation Details With You
When entering Japan, you will need to declare how long you intend to stay on the disembarkation card and write down one address in Japan as well as a telephone number.
Additionally, the immigration officer may also ask you to provide proof of intended departure like a return air ticket. If you can’t supply the information, of course Japan isn’t going to imprison you. However, the immigration officer might request a “special” interview which can last for one hour to make sure nothing suspicious happens. This can be a really upsetting experience when you travel to Japan alone.
6. Always Carry Sufficient Cash
Although nowadays many establishments accept international credit cards, Japan is still a predominantly cash-based society. The truth is even worse as many Japanese ATMs still do not accept foreign bank cards. Thus, to avoid the panic and hassle of desperately hunting for an ATM that does welcome your cards, always carry sufficient cash with you when traveling in Japan. Needless to say, you should also include a buffer for unexpected situations.
7. Be Punctual When Using Japanese Public Transportation
The departure time of Japanese public transportation is so exact that you can use it to set your watch. This is not an exaggeration, really! Turning up half a minute late at the train station or bus stop can even make you miss your train or bus. Therefore, remember that don’t ever, ever be late when using public transportation in Japan.
8. Learn How To Ride Japanese Buses
In Japan, a lot of buses use a ticketing system, which is modern but can be confusing for foreigners. Therefore, learning how to ride Japanese buses is really important when you first arrive in the country. The correct ticketing procedure is as follows:
- Firstly, board from the middle. Then, collect a small slip of paper with a number from the dispenser next to the entrance. This slip is your ticket.
- There is a large electronic board with ever-changing numbers at the front of the bus, diagonally above the driver. Before alighting, refer to the electronic board. The fare to pay is the amount displayed under the number printed on your ticket.
- Before getting off, deposit the fee and the ticket into the collection box next to the driver. Many Japanese people would also thank the driver.
- If you’re short on change, you could break your bills using the same collection machine beside the driver.
9. Utilizing Coin Lockers For Temporary Storage
At major Japanese bus and train stations, there are plenty of coin lockers. However, the risk of lockers running out always occurs. In many stations, large-size lockers that are capable of storing 30-inch suitcases are also limited.
In case you run into a locker crisis and there is no luggage service nearby, the best solution is to head to a large department store as it offers luggage storage services. Alternatively, you can try your luck at whichever attraction you visit. Temples and shrine staff members typically aren’t willing to store luggage, but ticketing offices of theme parks and museums might be willing to hold your luggage for a short while. Note that you should not depend on these options and you should travel light in Japan.
10. Consider Using Delivery Services For Your Luggage
If you travel to Japan alone with large suitcases, you should consider using delivery services (or takuhaibin in Japanese). With these services, you don’t have to worry how to carry all of your big bags from one place to another. You will have your luggage collected from you or deposited at a konbini (a convenience store), and delivered to your subsequent destination the next day for a small fee. This is also a great solution for locker crisis mentioned above or for long distance travelling by train with big-sized baggage.
11. Get Food, Drinks And Other Things Quickly From Konbini And Vending Machines
Ninety percent of vending machines in Japan only sell canned drinks and the rest sell snacks, small souvenirs, magazines, etc. Therefore, if you want to get a quick drink while you are wandering around Japan, head to vending machines.
Besides, Japanese convenience shops (konbini) are also a good choice for you to get a variety of goods such as meal boxes, hot snacks, tickets, passes. You can even have a feast simply with food purchased from a konbini. Note that the food doesn’t have to be eaten cold. You can ask the cashiers to warm it up for you by simply pointing at the microwave ovens behind them.
12. Make Tax-Exempt Purchases
Many Japanese retail chains such as Don Quijote chain offer tax exemption for foreign visitors. However, in order to qualify such exemptions, you must meet several conditions. The first requirement is your purchases must add up to a certain amount before taxation. Secondly, your passport is also necessary to get tax exemptions. Thirdly, the minimum amount you are supposed to spend is five thousand yen. To make sure that you can make tax-exempt purchases, check the websites of the stores you intend to visit before going.
13. Find Affordable Dinner
If you travel to Japan alone with a strict food budget, there is no need to starve yourself because large department stores like Seibu and Isetan offer affordable cooked food sections. Many stalls even heavily discount food items that cannot be kept overnight near closing hour. In addition, you can also buy many affordable and tasty dinner options in konbini.
14. Don’t Tip In Japan
It’s not common to tip in Japan and tipping may even be considered offensive. Japanese hospitality and service staff do not expect you to give extra, but a sincere “arigatou” (meaning “thank you”) is always appreciated.
15. Smoke In Designated Places
This is a tip that smokers should take note. In some parts of Japan, there are designated smoking points. If you smoke outside these points, you can be fined. Thus, it’s a good idea to search for designated smoking spots before going to Japan.
16. Be Prepared For Hotel Curfews
Small and traditional hotels in Japan tend to impose curfews, so be prepared for this! Some establishments may be willing to loan you a special key for entry after curfew, but don’t bet on that. Checking your hotel’s curfew policy before booking accommodations is recommended.
17. Visit Shinto Shrines With Proper Etiquette
In the Shinto religion there are specific worship rituals that you need to know in order to show your respect.
- There is always a trough with running water for you to “cleanse” yourself. Use the trough respectfully.
- At the trough, use the provided ladles to collect some water. Wash your left hand, then your right. Finally, pour some water into one hand and use that to rinse your mouth.
- Under no circumstance should you spit into the trough or wash your hands above it.
- At the offering hall, deposit a coin into the offertory box. Bow twice, clap your hands, bow again, and pray your respects.
18. Don’t Be Offended If An Establishment Rejects You
When you travel to Japan alone, you may find several izakaya or pubs reject you, but don’t be offended by this. Most of these establishments do so because they feel they don’t have enough cultural and language skills to handle foreign customers. Besides, some worry that their usual clients may mind the foreign presence. Whatever the reason is, just forget about it and move on.
19. Visit Theme Parks Strategically
Firstly, if you can afford a fast pass, just buy it. With the pass, you will still have to queue, but at least it can help to reduce your waiting time. Secondly, consider visiting theme parks in the evening to avoid the crowd. However, you will only have four hours to visit a theme park during “starlight” hours, so do some pre-planning beforehand to ensure that you can enjoy all the attractions you’re keen on.
20. Learn Japanese Shoe Removal Etiquette
Knowing shoe removal etiquette in Japan is really important during your solo trip. Below is a detailed guide on what to do with shoes that you should bear in mind.
- Never wear outdoor shoes into a Japanese household or traditional ryokan.
- Almost all places that require shoe removal offer indoor slippers for you to change into. Do so and leave your outdoor shoes at the entrance.
- Do not wear indoor slippers into the restroom. There will be special toilet slippers for you to change into. Obviously, you should change back into indoor slippers after using the restroom.
- Never play with slippers as it is one of the most detested taboos in Japan.
21. Wear Comfortable Clothing And Shoes When Visiting Japanese Castles
Japanese castles were originally fortresses, so it’s quite an uphill trek via meandering passages before you reach the keep, which is the most distinctive and photogenic part of them. Once within the keep, the steps are even steeper. Thus, be ready for a workout when visiting a Japanese castle.
22. Avoid Common Scams And Threats In Japan
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, which makes it a great destination for solo travellers. However, don’t assume that there is no crime in the country. Avoiding dark alleys, being mindful of pickpockets in crowded places, avoiding drunk people, not going on risky nature hikes alone, etc. are safety practices that apply everywhere in Japan.
In addition, the most likely threat for solo travellers in Japan is the nightclub scam. These scams are committed by street touts who would invite you to visit a certain host or hostess club. Once getting in, you would be spoiled rotten and showered with attention, and before you know it, you would have chalked up a few hundred thousand yen ordering drinks and snacks. Then, the friendly touts turn hostile and they even threaten you to pay the cutthroat bill.
Such touts are most common in nightlife areas such as Tokyo’s Kabukicho. The key to avoid them is to just walk away.
23. Do Research Beforehand Or Risk Boredom
In recent years, the number of international tourists has increased significantly in Japan. Nevertheless, information displayed in English is still minimal in many Japanese minor tourist attractions. It is thus beneficial to do some research before visiting these sites; otherwise, you will easily get confused and bored. The boredom is far worse when you don’t have any companion to talk with.
24. Enjoy Japanese Bento And Ekiben
When you are tired of queuing and eating alone at restaurants, or if your travel budget is running low, head to a Japanese supermarket or convenience store (Konbini) and grab a Bento.
Bento are classic Japanese takeaway meal boxes which tend to be affordable, attractive and tasty, so they can be perfect meals for you when you travel to Japan alone.
Besides, Ekiben which are train travel meal boxes sold at train stations are also a great choice for solo dining.
25. Know Where To Go During Bad Weather Days
If you are caught in a sudden downpour, head to the nearest Konbini and buy an umbrella. All Japanese convenience stores sell cheap umbrellas for a few hundred yen.
During bad weather days in Japan, if you don’t want to stay at home and still feel like doing something, you can try some indoor activities such as visiting an indoor theme park, attending a performance or going for a photo shoot, etc.
Above are 25 tips for you when you travel to Japan alone. Hopefully they are useful so that you can have a perfect solo trip. If you have any questions about travelling to Japan or things to do in Japan, please leave your comments below this blog.