This is my guide on how to travel to Japan if you’re alone – male or female.
Traveling solo is one of the best things I ever did in my life. My first solo trip was actually more than three years ago, to Okayama city in Japan. If you want to read about how my life was back then, it’s written here and in my archives. Today I hope I could inspire you on how to get ready for the adventure of your life – even more so if you don’t know a word of Japanese!
So first of all, where should you go in Japan?
If you don’t know a single word of Japanese, frankly speaking, it’s not easy to navigate your way especially if you are going to the countryside. There are direction signboards in English but it gets lesser in countryside areas. So for a start, Tokyo would be really easy for a newbie to start but the train lines are so complicated, you would get confused by it. There are a total of 9 train lines just in Tokyo alone. But lucky for you, there are train and bus announcements in English.
In big cities, it is also relatively easy to find food as convenience stores (“conbini” in Japanese) like 7-11 are at every corner in the street. You will not die at least, but instead you can still eat something quite satisfying as their convenience stores offer a wide selection – from bento to noodles to sushi to cosmetics! You can also use their free WiFi and ATM machines and restrooms if you’re stranded somewhere for a long time. The conbini will SAVE you.
Also, in big cities, you have a higher chance of meeting Japanese service staff who can speak English when asked a question. So for a start, try going to big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or any other cities of that size. Sapporo for example, is a good choice too.
Do you know that you can purchase a Japanese SIM card at Narita airport? They are sold at the vending machines at both Terminals 1 and 2.
It is also available at Haneda airport.
Alternatively, you can also purchase them at the JTB in your country if there is one available or you can purchase them online here. I found that they offer a good price for the SIM card! If you have more than one device that you wish to connect to, you might want to purchase a pocket wifi which allows you to more than one device for internet.
If you do not wish to do any of these, there are actually tons of shops, cafes and malls who offer free wifi!
Not sure if you have heard of Japan Rail Passes? They’re my favourite way of travelling all over Japan! I actually wrote an entire article on this for Hokkaido travel but you can essentially get the idea.
It really depends on how much your budget is. While I was backpacking, I normally don’t book my accommodation until the day before… but that’s because I like flexibility in my itinerary. I usually talk to people while I’m there or fellow travelers who will suggest me places to go and I slot them in last minute! But if you’re a first timer, it would be good to get it all sorted first before you head there.
Backpacker hostels are a cheaper way to travel, meet people and that was how I never really traveled alone on a solo trip. 😂 I only stayed once in a backpacker hostel in Tokyo because the rest of the time I was staying over at my friend’s house.
If you’re really down to little or no money, you can try couchsurfing which is a great way to see some expensive cities too. I personally know some friends who host people on couchsurfing and they seem to enjoy helping travellers get to know their cities.
K’s House Hostel (I’ve stayed here once – Clean, friendly staff, good location.)
Jalan.net (Japanese link)
I read up a lot on the place i’m going and I will always try to book the tours first before heading there. Some places are really hard to go and they require taking certain highway buses which require booking as well. Sometimes I would map out an entire itinerary and then show it to my friends who are living there to ask if it’s possible. There are things that Google Maps can’t tell you.
I would also check out events that are special to this period of time. For example, winter festivals in Hokkaido. There are usually some event sites in English for such festivals taking place.
Budget for tours really varies. A hiking tour in Hokkaido (depending on season) could vary from 3100 yen to 5100 yen. A full day tour would be 11000 yen or so. I always set aside more than enough for this part because I never want to regret not experiencing anything than regret experiencing something!
I’m always on the lookout for the best tours so I scour the net of Japanese travel blogs to get the most authentic experience. I always prefer the more local experience. If you’re like me and would like to know some of these tours, follow my blog and you will get the list!
I kinda work around my budget for food. I know that I love to eat but I don’t want to waste my money on food that is not the specialty of the place or not a well-known food of the area. I do a To-Eat list as well.
Budget wise, do a give-and-take. Sometimes I would save on my lunch and splurge on my dinner. For a backpacker, 3000 yen is more than enough to eat three fulfilling meals in Tokyo, if you set 1000 yen per meal. Food in Tokyo is relatively more expensive – a bowl of ramen would set you back at close to 1000 yen depending on the shop. There are usually quite a lot of local eateries that offer a one-coin lunch (meaning a lunch that can be paid in 1 coin) or lunch sets that are below 1000 yen. If not, the 7-Eleven offers you a lot of nice choices as well. When i’m on the road during lunch hour, I definitely buy an eki-ben (short for ‘eki-bento’ which means boxed lunch for the eating in the train) with a yogurt drink.
In Tokyo station, there is a shop in the station that is just selling boxed lunches for the train! I had to walk around twice to make my choice!
This bento cost 1080 yen, slightly above 1000 yen because it contains fresh seafood! Meat varieties would cost a little lower.
I just recently did a 17-day trip in Japan to Tokyo, Hokkaido, Kobe, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Nagano, Shirakawago in under 1500 USD – inclusive of everything except flights and I managed to do 2 snowshoe tours, 1 canoeing tour, many days of sightseeing and yummy food everyday!
Questions? Ask me below!