Travelling Solo in Tokyo

I have ALL of the good things to say about Tokyo, but I wanted to summarise some of the best tips I received and add some of my own in one place to encourage you to go!

Are you thinking of travelling solo in Tokyo, but have all of the worries and concerns? Me too. But here’s the truth. My first time in Japan, my first time travelling outside of Europe on my own, I speak no Japanese and I was BLOODY petrified. Now…. I want everyone to go and I loved, LOVED. LOVED it.

I had lots of friends reassure me before I went to Tokyo and I owe them a lot. Laureen, Adam, Emma and Cathy who lots of these recommendations come from.

Solo in Tokyo - Eating

Solo in Tokyo: Before you fly

I’m always a planner, I can’t pitch up in a country and hope for the best. Long Haul holidays are a case where I urge you to do the same. The biggest tip I can give you is to preorder a wifi dongle and collect it at the airport, so you have internet all the time. Honestly, this makes everything easier, more relaxed and you can feel comfortable and confident. Google maps will tell you how to get anywhere and Google Translate comes in very handy when you friend is bed bound from chafing wounds and baby bum cream in sign language isn’t working.

If you are foodie (high chance if you read my blog) then get this book: Two food writers devour Tokyo. Amidst all the shit that happened before my trip this finally got me excited.

Download podcasts for the flight, its a long way. And take snacks, unless you really like pot noodle. Matthew Amster-Burton, author of above book records the excellent podcast Spilled Milk, this episode would be particularly apt.

Money – I am normally a ‘pre-order from the post office’ girl, but I recently got a Halifax Clarity card. You get the best rate on the day. Simply nip to a cash machine in the airport on arrival get cash out and then go on your online banking app within 24 hours and transfer the money back to yourself and you pay zero fees. Unlike Europe, where I just use contactless everywhere. You must get cash out, get it at the airport because you can’t really get cash out anywhere, but there are  free to use cash machines in every 7-11.  Everything is cash, cards aren’t widely used at all.

solo in tokyo transport

Solo in Tokyo: Transport

You have many options, if you are rolling in yen, you can Uber everywhere .

I was not rolling in Yen. I only took one taxi the whole trip. The Subway is a bit confusing to start but you’ll get there, the first thing to remember is that (unlike London) it’s privatised so sometimes it looks like it will be a platform change but if it’s two different companies there can sometimes be two stations next to each other. Use this as an opportunity to explore.
I was only in Tokyo so I got a Pasemo (oyster card) for all my travel at the airport, super easy to top up and use, for travelling around the country you’ll need a JR railpass. You can also pick this up at the same counter at the airport, they speak great english, just tell them where you want to go and they will advise. They look quite expensive but single rail journeys would work out lots more if you are planning on doing lots of travelling around. This means you can travel on pretty much any train in Japan (including the very fast bullet trains) for no more cost than the pass, and you’ll save tons.
Some of the subways don’t use English and not all are signposted in English everywhere, but they’ve created a short hand for every station. A letter for the line and a number for the station, so even if the map/station/announcements are in Japanese only you can work it out. e.g. Green Line  = C and Akebonobashi = 7 so my station was C7, so easy to listen for/see.
solo in tokyo accomodation

Solo in Tokyo: Accommodation

This was my airbnb it was fab and on a street with a 24 supermarket. If you want to book it, tell Shino I sent you!
Tokyo is the safest and cleanest city I’ve ever been to, I walked home on my own for 4km (got a bit lost) at 1am, and felt safe the whole way.
I stayed two stops from Shinjuku in central Tokyo and is easily accessible from the airports. I found it easy to get everywhere/anywhere on the metro. I was glad to be out of the main tourist areas, my street was semi-pedestrian and I never saw another Westerner, it was full of convenience stores, a pharmacy and even a Wendy’s for my post race hot chocolate fix.
It’s not as expensive as it’s made out to be.  It’s not a cheap place but you don’t have to spend lots and lots if you don’t want to.  Hotels are reasonable if you do some research and there are lots of air bnbs.   You could eat from a 7-11 for every meal if you want to save money too!

 solo in tokyo - what to do

Solo in Tokyo: Etiquette

  • Never do anything with your chopsticks apart from hold them or lay them flat on the table.
  • Bow all the time.
  • Take money/cards/anything really with two hands and give with two hands. It’s respectful.
  • Don’t eat on the go – it’s seen as really rude! –  apart from on Shinkensens (bullet trains)
These things show the locals you are really trying and make them want to help you more 🙂

Solo in Tokyo: Language

Konichiwa: Hello
Aragoto: Thank You
Sayonara: Bye
Sumimasen: Sorry/excuse me i.e. to get a waiters attention or if you stand on someones foot on the subway.
Learn these and the locals will warm to you immediately and sign language will get you the rest of the way.  solo in tokyo bakery    

Solo in Tokyo: What to do

Cathy stayed in Shibuya – it’s very busy and but full of clubs, places to eat, shops, weird stuff… it’s ace.

I’m keen not to tell you too much, but do these…

  • The fish market, have the 100 yen omelette thing, just trust me.
  • Hibuya
  • Sake Tasting
  • Tea Ceremony

solo female in tokyo

Solo in Tokyo: Beyond Tokyo

In terms of other places to go, Kyoto is definitely worth a visit, and you could easily spend a couple of days there, especially if you like temples.  It’s a bit of a tourist trap, so go early to avoid the crowds and their cameras.  We went to Hiroshima, and it was really interesting and well worth going. We also based ourselves in Osaka for a few days as Kyoto and Hiroshima are more accessible from there.  Mark (my other half) went to Chiba whilst I was working, which is the seaside area not far from Tokyo.  He loved it. We also went to Fuji, and although it was out of season (April), it was still ace and definitely worth a trip. This section is thanks to Cathy as I didn’t get out of Tokyo!

More Information:

Solo in Tokyo: Tips and tricks

  • Download the Tokyo subway app. City mapper is in Beta but I found this app and Google Maps better.
  • Eat from sushi go-rounds
  • Visit Yoyogi park
  • Use the Tokyo Metropolitan Gym if you want a workout – it’s got a big pool too.
  • Ask if you get stuck! People are really friendly and helpful
  • The convenience stores are brilliant
  • Take something waterproof
My best meal involved pointing at what other people where having/the kitchen haha. Don’t be afraid to smile, laugh and wing it!

Solo in Tokyo: You can do it!

In the end traveling solo in Tokyo was no different to visiting any big city for the first time on your own. Metro maps are always  confusing no matter the language. I get lost on the London Underground sometimes.
Any questions? I’d love to hear them.


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