5 reasons to travel solo in Japan

Whether you’re running a finger over a map searching for your next solo holiday destination, or you’re daydreaming about travelling alone for the very first time, there’s a cluster of islands with rich culture and history, delicious food and kindly people. A country perfect for every kind of solo traveller.

Japanese lady in Kyoto

Japan, a place with diametric opposites: geisha perform traditional dance, trains travel up to 200 miles per hour, robots replace receptionists, ski slopes provide world-class conditions, and snow monkeys sink into hot spring baths. It’s a country where something new and surprising lurks around every corner.

Here are five reasons to take a solo holiday here.

1. Dining alone

Forget heading to the 7-11 to munch cheap eats in your hotel room, or awkwardly taking a table for one to crouch for a couple of hours behind a menu. In Japan dining alone is the norm; there are even restaurants where you can slip into a booth and order by button, skipping any kind of interaction.

Street food stall in Osaka, Japan

If that sounds a little too lonely, you can take a seat at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant to pick and choose a selection of dishes, perch on the counter of a stand-up ramen café to slurp with the locals, or potter around street food stalls to try a bit of everything. Stay in the thick of it and watch the world go by, you’ll blend in with the crowd in no time at all.

2. Join a group tour or experience

Joining other people… the opposite of solo travel? Not so. Booking the right group tour (with space in the itinerary), or spending a few hours taking part in a one-off experience can be a good way to meet new people. All with the flexibility of travelling alone.

Taiko drumming class in Japan

Japan has so many master classes and workshops: learn how to wield a samurai sword, take a print making class, discover ikebana (flower arranging), take holiday snaps on a street photography workshop, try the local food on a cookery course… the opportunities are endless and you’re bound to meet interesting people.

3. Japan is the safest place in the world

Japan consistently ranks as one of the safest, if not the safest, country in the world. Even in a huge city like Tokyo, levels of petty crime are low. Fear for personal safety can be one of the most nerve-wracking things about travelling alone, but it doesn’t take long for your shoulders to relax as you get into the swing of holidaying here.

Zen garden in Japan

Even if it isn’t on the agenda, self-reflection and self-discovery are a foregone conclusion on a solo holiday, but it’s a lot easier to relax in the Zen garden when you’re not worried about your purse.

4. Japanese people are happy to help

Japan can seem intimidating to the Western traveller – the squiggles of that beautiful alphabet are so unfamiliar. But it is in the Japanese nature to be polite and helpful, so language should never be a barrier to finding your way around (or catching the right bullet train).

Kimono-wearing Japanese ladies chatting

Unlike most other countries or tourist-heavy cities, you won’t be ignored or pushed past when turning a map 90 degrees at a time squinting closely at tiny street names, or walking backwards and forwards shaking your phone vigorously while the map app correct itself. Looking quizzically at a sign will most likely result in someone stopping to help; even if it’s to partake in enthusiastic sign language and lots of smiling as they point you in the right direction.

There are even specialist staff employed at international airports to look out for lost tourists and help them on their way.

5. Affordable accommodation

Solo supplements can make travelling alone expensive, but Japan’s capsule hotels provide a middle ground between hostels and hotels. They are bijou, but provide a comfortable, affordable and safe place to stay. There are also female-only options and larger cabin-like versions in addition to the traditional type.

Capsule hotel in Osaka

There’s no better place to give solo travel a go than in the Land of the Rising Sun; pack a map, download a translate app, learn a couple of friendly phrases, and pack your sense of adventure.

Alastair Donnelly is Director at InsideAsia Tours.

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