With its glorious tapestry of remote mountain temples and thriving cityscapes, Japan hits the sweet spot on many a bucket list.
From rich cultural traditions to dazzling cuisine (give us a fiery miso ramen any day), this is a country that was made to surprise and delight at every turn.
Even the travel-weary can’t fail to be charmed by Japan’s beguiling fusion of achingly beautiful landscapes and hi-tech hubs that pulsate with colour and energy.
Happily for us, the folks over at Japan Info – a tourist destination site offering “genuine information about Japan by the Japanese” – have put together a list of reasons why their country is particularly suited to solo travellers.
Here are four of our favourite nuggets from their list that show exactly why Japan is a country to savour – entirely by yourself. Scroll down further for Flash Pack’s tips on Japan solo travel.
Japan is very safe
Solo travel in Japan is all the more enticing thanks to its excellent safety record.
“Safety is a top concern of all solo travellers and they are in luck with Japan, because the crime rate is pretty low and you can sense the overall safety of the place,” says Japan Info. “Even if you lose something, it is very likely that you will be able to get it back.”
This is supported by police data, which shows crime rates in Japan have been falling steadily for the past 13 years. The murder rate of 0.3 per 100,000 people is among the lowest in the world (and compares to 2.1 per 100,000 people in Europe).
Advice from the UK’s Foreign Office also states that crime levels in Japan are relatively low. “It is generally safe to walk about at night and to travel on public transport, but you should maintain the same level of vigilance as you would at home and take sensible precautions,” the FCO says.
Being alone is celebrated
“In some countries, you may feel out of place if you go out to eat or drink alone, but definitely not in Japan,” says Japan Info. “Japanese society is fairly individual… being alone is absolutely normal here.”
Over 30 percent of households in Japan are single occupancy. Being alone is so common, in fact, that Japan has incorporated the concept into its language.
“Ohitorisama” refers to people living and doing things alone, often reverently so.
Being alone is absolutely normal here
So-called “herbivore men” – those who have no interest in marrying or finding a partner – are on the rise, while Japanese women are revelling in their new-found capacity for solitude. The Japan Times notes that, while at one time women in Japan were expected to “stick together like vines”, a spirit of independence is now being embraced.
“Women on their own are everywhere,” it says. “From hotels and cafes to women-only apartment blocks and urban spas, the sight of a ohitorisama getting a little respite from the business of living has become common enough that no one gives her a second glance.
“Behind the phenomenon is the low, low marriage rate. More women are opting out of long-term commitments that would almost certainly cramp their style.”
There's food for every budget
One of the biggest bugbears of solo travel is being hit by the “solo tax” of single room rates and non-shared meals. Often, restaurants are geared to deals for tables of two. But, just as you won’t be conspicuous by dining solo in Japan, nor will you feel the knock-on effect on your budget.
“Not only is eating alone very normal in Japan, but there is also an abundance of food options to suit every wallet!” says Japan Info. “Japanese cuisine is world famous and you can try all types of food in individual portions, which is very convenient when you are alone.”
While many travellers enjoy the time-honoured art of people-watching while dining out, in Japan you can take this concept to the opposite extreme and cut off virtually all contact with others as you eat.
“Flavor-concentration booths” founded by the country’s Ichiran chain of restaurants have been specifically created to allow single people to indulge in “low-interaction dining”.
“Founded in Fukuoka in 1960, Ichiran believes isolation eating helps people focus on their food,” explains Timeline.com. “It eliminates the need for exchanging saccharine pleasantries with servers or companions. Most importantly, it helps fight the stigma of dining alone.”
If this sounds a little intense, there are countless other casual restaurant chains in Japan that are filled with solo diners. Serving up cheap and tasty dishes that range from sashimi to tempura and beef rice, they’re ideal for eating out alone.
Japan is soup for the soul
The ability to regain a little head space is the crowning jewel of solo travel. Japan, with its vast array of spiritual sites and serene nature trails, is the perfect place to re-group and reflect.
“In general, wherever you go in Japan you will find that you can always find places to relax, clear your mind and experience tranquillity,” says Japan Info.
In almost every city, you will find traditional landscaped gardens once used by Japan’s lords and leaders as a prime location for dwelling and dreaming.
Away from the hubbub, make a beeline for remote temples shrouded within forest-lined mountains, or islands peppered with picturesque rivers and castles. Ethereal waterfalls, vast flower-filled parks and striking alpine routes are also yours to marvel at.
And of course, Japan has a long tradition of onsen hot spring bathing that is very definition of solitude. Onsens are often connected to a classic Japanese inn, known as a ryokan, which makes for the perfect solo getaway.
As Rita Golden Gelman writes in Tales of a Female Nomad, “My spirit gets nourished in faraway places… I learn best and most happily by doing, touching, sharing, tasting. When I’m somewhere I’ve never been before, learning goes on all day, every day.”
Japan is a never-ending source of revival and growth, just as Gelman describes.
And more than the food, the solo culture or the safety, it’s this element of freedom that makes the Land of the Rising Sun most alluring to those travelling alone.
Top solo travel tips for Japan
Get prepped for your solo trip to Japan with our top tips and FAQ’s.
Is Japan good for solo travel?
Yes, solo travel in Japan is great – as mentioned, it’s very safe, and it’s easy to get around thanks to the country’s excellent transport links. If you’re planning to travel for a month or so by yourself, it’s a good idea to purchase a Japan Rail Pass (also known as the JR Pass). These are exclusively available to foreign tourists, and offer great discounts on long-distance JR train journeys for one, two or three-week periods. Meanwhile, the Japan National Tourism Organization operates a 24-hour English-speaking helpline, on 050-3816-2787, that is particularly helpful for solo travellers: use it for both tourism information and emergency help.
Want to ease yourself into the experience? Take a look at Flash Pack’s Japan trip for solo travellers, offering two weeks of epic adventure in the company of a small group of like-minded people. This is a great way of getting to know the country, and many travellers then extend their holiday for some extra time alone afterwards.
What should I pack for solo travel in Japan?
Pack light: Japan’s infrastructure is geared to compact, convenient urban living. Its hotel rooms are small and you’ll likely be travelling by train a lot; you don’t want to be lugging around a huge suitcase with you. For clothing, layers are good: cotton tees, long-sleeved tops, light jackets and thin jumpers will all help you adapt to the varied climate.
Japan is still a cash-based economy in some places, so it’s good to have some Japanese yen handy, along with an extra credit card (stored in a separate place to your wallet) in case of loss. A prepaid Japan SIM card will let you your phone on the move; you can either order ahead to your home country, or arrange to have it delivered to an airport kiosk, post office or hotel in Japan. Japan also uses contactless smart cards such as Suica or Pasmo which you can buy once you’re there: they mean you don’t have to carry lots of cash, and are oh-so convenient. Find more on Japan packing here.
What are hotels like for Japan solo travel?
Japan has a huge range of hotels for solo travellers to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a boutique city retreat, a futuristic skyscraper or a rustic countryside guesthouse: this is a place that has it all. As a solo traveller, you’ll have more flexibility than most, but it’s still worth booking well in advance. Japanese hotels book up fast, especially in the cities and during peak season times.
What should I do on a solo trip to Japan?
Great food has to be top of your hit list: head to one of Japan’s tachinomi (standing bars) to try out kushikatsu (bamboo skewers of deep-fried meat and vegetables), along with delicious edamame and draft beer or sake. Other great street food to try includes okonomiyaki (pancakes filled with grilled squid or pork) and takoyaki (fried octopus-stuffed dumplings). You’re likely to eat your body weight in kitsune udon, Japan’s beloved noodle broth, but for something a little different, try a kappo restaurant – for high-end dining without the formality.
While we wouldn’t blame you if you spent your entire holiday eating, it’s worth doing some shopping, too. From state-of-the-art malls to kooky boutiques and tech outlets brimming with all the latest gadgets, Japan’s retail landscape is hard to beat. Department stores such as Tokyu Hands offer up a playground of treasures, from intricate stationery to over 300 types of kitchen knife. It’s an experience all to itself.
Outdoor pursuits, such as hiking along the Old Hakone Highway, or forest bathing in the bamboo trails of Arashiyama, allow a chance to unwind and appreciate Japan’s spectacular natural landscapes. Onsen hot springs, especially those that are found in remote mountain settings, are a true delight. On the other end of the scale, you have hip and happening cities: who could resist the neon lights of Osaka by night, or the cafes and ateliers of Tokyo’s arty Nakameguro district?
Finally, Japan is steeped in culture, and its ancient sights are not to be missed: make a beeline for the Great Torii floating shrine on the scenic island of Miyajima, along with the iconic red gates of Fushimi Inari shrine. Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital, is a treasure trove of photogenic temples and lantern-lit streets. Dive in and enjoy.
Fancy two epic weeks exploring Japan? Whet your appetite with a look at our Japan adventure.
Images: Shutterstock, Eutah Mizushima, Clay Banks and Michael Sum on Unsplash