What I Wish I Knew Before Taking a Solo Trip to Japan

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Japan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Most people dream of going to Japan, but there are a few important things you need to know before planning a solo trip to Japan.

Compared to lots of other Asian countries, Japan is super easy to travel in and great for people who are new to travelling alone.

Don’t get too confident yet though because there are tons and tons and tons of mistakes I made when I was in Japan solo, and I’ve been travelling alone since 2015.

Japan is unique. Things that typically hold true for travel in other parts of the world don’t always hold true in Japan. Even things that work in Japan’s neighbour South Korea don’t necessarily work in Japan.

So, I’m going to share everything I learned on my solo trip to Japan with you to hopefully save you some mistakes.

Actually, at this point, I’ve been to Japan three times and feel like I definitely know what mistakes not to make. I’ve made nearly every mistake you can.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of solo travel in Japan! Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll feel confident and prepared and be able to travel in Japan solo like a pro.

Stay Near the Main Train Station

The biggest mistake I made on my first solo trip to Japan was not staying near a major train station.

I know when you travel to most countries around the world, you don’t really have to stay near a major train station. As long as you’re near some sort of public transportation, you’re good to go.

That isn’t the case in Japan.

If there is only one thing you take away from this post, it is that you need to stay near a major train station. Ideally, about a ten minute walk away. That way you’ll be super close to the train station but far enough away that it’s quiet.

Most Japanese cities have one major train station. It’ll typically be the name of the city followed by the word station. Like Osaka Station or Kyoto Station of Fukushima Station. You get the point.

Tokyo is a huge city. Huge doesn’t even describe it. Since it’s so large, there are many major train stations.

The two I recommend staying near are either Tokyo Station or Shinjuku Station. They’re pretty central and have access to lots of different metro and JR lines.

Osaka Castle

Why is it Important to Stay Near a Major Train Station?

There are two main reasons it’s important to stay near a major train station:

  • Access to lots of different metro and JR lines so getting around is quick and easy
  • Lugging luggage around on Japanese metros is a hassle. Even if you only have a carryon bag, the trains are often crowded and have lots of stairs. Staying near a major train station means you can just leave the train station and easily walk to your hotel or Aibnb and avoid having to transfer to the metro, JR, or bus to get to your hotel.

Trust me. It’s 100% worth it to stay near a major train station even if it means you have to pay a little bit more for your accommodation.

It is the one tip I give everybody when they’re planning a trip to Japan. Whether it’s a solo trip to Japan or a group trip to Japan.

My Favourite Hotels Near Train Stations

Get Outside Tokyo and Kyoto

On my first solo trip to Japan, I only went to Tokyo, and that was a big mistake. Tokyo is nothing like anywhere else in Japan. It’s extremely busy, hectic, and overwhelming.

Kyoto is the next most popular city in Japan for tourists, and I honestly found it a big overrated. Please don’t crucify me for that!

I think that one of the best things you can do when in Japan solo is get outside these two major tourists hubs and see a little bit more of what Japan has to offer.

Osaka is super close to Kyoto, and it has a totally different vibe to Tokyo and Kyoto. It is way more relaxed and laid back and has a lot of interesting tourist attractions. Including Universal Studios Japan!

The food in Osaka is also top notch, and it’s known as the foodie capital of Japan.

If you visiting Kyoto is your dream because it looks beautiful and full of ancient temples and things to do, I recommend visiting Kanazawa.

It’s everything I thought Kyoto would be and more. Kanazawa is my favourite city in Japan and one I wish more tourists visited. Plus it’s way more affordable than Kyoto, which is a huge plus for solo travellers on a budget.

I don’t really care where you go, but I do highly encourage you to get outside of Tokyo and Kyoto and see a little bit more of Japan.

You won’t regret it. There are so many interesting things to do in Japan that most tourists don’t know about because most people only go to Tokyo.

And trust me when I say that I don’t know a single traveller who says Tokyo is their favourite city in Japan.

Kyoto

Install an Esim on Your Phone

Having access to the internet with data on your phone is an essential part of your solo trip to Japan. It’ll make your life so much easier.

To easily travel around Japan, you need access to the internet. To get around, to figure out what train to take, find tourist attractions, and make sure you pick the perfect place to eat.

Luckily, there is an easy solution on how you can have data on your phone everywhere in Japan.

That’s by installing an esim on your phone. An esim allows you to purchase local data for whatever country you’re visiting. In this case, Japan. You buy an esim, and you can use your phone’s data just like you do at home but without any high roaming fees.

All you have to do is purchase an esim either online or through the app, install it on your phone, and make your esim your main source of data. The entire process takes less than five minutes and is very intuitive and easy. You can even install an esim on your phone before you arrive in Japan, and it’ll automatically activate when you turn on your data in Japan, and you phone connects to a Japanese network.

I like to purchase my esim online because it gives you a QR code. You just scan the QR code on your phone, and your esim is set up in a few easy clicks.

Esims allow you easy access to phone data without having to rent a wifi egg, purchase a local sim card, or incur high roaming fees with your local carrier.

I recommend esims to all my friends and family when they travel, and they all love it as much as I do.

top tip

Install an esim on your phone to make getting around Japan easier and stress free.

My Favourite Esim

Since esims are a relatively new technology, there aren’t a lot of reliable companies offering them yet. And you do not want to purchase an esim from an unreliable company and be stuck stranded without phone data.

I love Airalo. It’s my go-to esim provider, and I purchase all my esims through them.

They have the most esims available for the most countries compared to competitors. They also offer incredibly good prices and always have reliable data. You purchase a certain amount of data up front. If you’re close to running out of data, you can purchase more data to be added to your esim with one quick click in the app.

Another option you can look into is Drimsim. Unlike Airalo, Drimsim charges you per MB used rather than charging you for a certain amount of data up front.

If you don’t plan on using much data, Drimsim may be the better option. I highly recommend if you choose Drimsim to turn off your data whenever you’re not using it. This will prevent data accidentally being used in the background and running up your bill.

I tend to use a fair amount of data when I travel between Google Maps, texting, and scrolling social media while eating alone, so Airalo is my esim of choice.

I’m normally in a country for three to four weeks at a time and purchase the 5GB plan. I’ve never gone over before, but there have been a few times when I’ve been close. If you’re only in Japan for a week or two, you should be fine purchasing a 1GB or 3GB plan.

The 3GB plan is probably your best choice. It’s only a dollar or two more than the 1GB plan and gives you the peace of mind that you won’t accidentally run out of data while out and about exploring one day.

Plus it’s likely more expensive to purchase a 1GB top up if you run out of your pre-purchased 1GB data than it is to purchase a 3GB plan.

Anyways, whatever amount of data you choose to purchase is up to you. The important thing is that you install an esim on your phone, so you can easily access the internet when out exploring. This is especially important as a solo traveller!

Nara

Google Maps is Your Best Friend

You’re probably already acquainted with Google Maps, but it’s going to become your best friend when you’re travelling Japan solo.

Google Maps in Japan has some of the most comprehensive information of any country I’ve visited.

Especially when it comes to public transportation, which some people find overwhelming and confusing the first time they come to Japan.

Here is some of the information Google Maps tells you when riding the metro in Japan:

  • What entrance to take to get to the metro
  • What exit to take when leaving the metro. This is very important information. Please don’t ignore it!
  • The exact train car number you should get on for the quickest transfer or exit
  • What platform your train is departing from. This is very helpful in major train stations where there can be over 20 platforms
  • How busy the train is, is the train has AC or not, and whether or not there are delays on the route

Google Maps can also navigate indoors in Japan. This is super useful when trying to find a store in a massive shopping mall. It’ll guide you to the nearest escalator to the store you’re looking for and take you right to the entrance.

It’s fabulous. Google Maps may be your most used app while on your solo trip to Japan!

Major Train Stations are Difficult to Manage

Major train stations are extremely difficult to manage. You 100% need to use Google Maps if you’re trying to find what exit to use or something inside a train station.

Before you start thinking I’m dramatic and how hard could a train station possibly be, Shinjuku Station has 200 different exits.

So, yeah, complicated. You can easily get lost and spend an hour or two wandering around trying to find what you’re looking for.

Trust me. I once spent half an hour looking for a tempura restaurant in Tokyo Station and ended up giving up and leaving.

Whenever you have to exit a major train station, be sure you know what exit you want and watch the signs carefully.

Some major train stations like Kyoto Station and Kanazawa Station are easier to manage. Some like Tokyo Station and Osaka Station are more complicated.

Be prepared. Be patient. And if all else fails, find your way to an information booth, and someone will be happy to help you find what you’re looking for.

Be Prepared to Queue

I hate waiting in lines and avoid waiting in them at all costs. The Japanese don’t seem to have the same aversion to lines that I do. There are lines everywhere, and people don’t mind waiting for them.

There are lines for food (these are often the longest lines at popular restaurants). Lines for tourist attractions. Lines for no apparent reason.

It’s just something that comes with a solo trip to Japan.

Hopefully you don’t have to wait in too many lines but bring your patience just in case. If you know you’ll be waiting in a line on a particular day, consider bringing a book (or audiobook) or something to entertain yourself with.

Osaka

Avoid Golden Week at All Costs

Golden Week is a national holiday in Japan where people get an entire week off of work. Japanese people use this as an opportunity to travel, and a lot of people travel within Japan rather than going abroad.

This means three things:

  • The most popular cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are very, very, very busy
  • If you’re visiting a less popular tourist destination, things like restaurants may be closed
  • It will be difficult to find an affordable hotel even if you’re booking months in advance. I wanted to go be in Sendai durning Golden Week and couldn’t find an affordable hotel even though I was looking 5 months in advance.

I was in Japan during Golden Week in 2023 and experienced both those things. I spent the majority of Golden Week in Fukushima. Not the most popular tourist destination. A lot and I mean a lot of the restaurants were closed. Some were open until 2pm, but many were closed all day. Not great.

Then I was in Tokyo for the last two days of Golden Week. It was madness. I’ve never seen a city so busy in my entire life. I cannot imagine how busy it was during the height of Golden Week because I assume some people already went home to get ready for work in a couple of days.

Moral of the story is to avoid Japan during Golden Week at all costs. Don’t think to yourself that it won’t be too bad because it will be. Trust me.

On the flip side, going to Japan right after Golden Week is probably the best time of the entire year to be in Japan. I was at Tokyo Disney Resort the four days following the end of Golden Week, and I’ve never seen it so quiet before. It was magical.

Golden Week changes dates every year and is sometime in either April or May. Just do a quick Google search before planning your solo trip to Japan and make sure you aren’t planning it during Golden Week.

major tip

Avoid Golden Week at all costs. Ideally visit Japan right after Golden Week for the lowest crowds.

The JR Pass Probably Isn’t Worth it

You’ve probably heard a lot about the JR Pass and how it is essential when travelling in Japan. How you’ll save so much money with the JR Pass.

But, honestly, that isn’t the case for most people.

If you’re only travelling between Tokyo and Kyoto, you likely won’t get your money’s worth out of the JR Pass.

If you’re in Japan for two or three weeks and spending more than a day or two in each city, you probably won’t get much value out of the JR Pass.

You need to be using the JR a lot in a short period of time to get value out of the JR Pass. Especially now that the price is increasing by about double!

I spent 3 weeks in Japan in 2023 and took the JR or Shinkansen between each city I visited. I used JR trains to travel within each city. Even though I would have used the JR Pass a lot, it still didn’t make financial sense for me to get one.

That’s because I wasn’t using the JR enough or on expensive enough lines that purchasing a JR Pass made sense.

Be sure to do the math and use a JR fare calculator before purchasing a JR Pass to make sure you’re getting enough bang for your buck by buying the pass.

The benefit of the JR Pass is that you can pre-reserve seats on the train, which is a huge plus if you have luggage and have to reserve luggage space.

Although, when I was in Japan, I never had to reserve luggage because you only have to reserve it on the most popular and busiest routes like Tokyo to Kyoto or Tokyo to Osaka.

You don’t have to reserve luggage space on most Shinkansen trains.

And if you’re going from Osaka to Kyoto without a JR Pass, just get on the slower JR train rather than the Shinkansen. It’s a third of the price and only takes 10 or so minutes longer if you get on a super rapid train.

know before you go

JR Fare Calculator (see if the JR Pass saves you money)

Be Internet Safe

Even if you get an esim for your phone, you’ll still be relying on public wifi during your solo trip to Japan. Even if it’s only while at your hotel.

Please don’t waste your esim data and use it at the hotel rather than the complimentary hotel wifi!

And since you’re going to be using public wifi at least part of your trip, I’m going to lecture you about the importance of using public wifi safely.

Public wifi networks are just that. Public. That means anybody with the code can access the wifi. From my experience, a lot of hotels in Japan don’t have a password on their wifi. Anybody can access the wifi even if they aren’t staying at the hotel.

This means that there are countless people using the same unprotected wifi network as you. That puts you personal online information (like you’re banking information) at risk of being stolen.

All it takes is one person with bad intentions, and you’re dealing with the headache of cancelling bank cards while abroad. Trust me when I say that’s no fun.

The only way to protect yourself when using public wifi networks is by installing a VPN on your devices. A VPN essentially puts an invisible forcefield around your devices that makes it impossible for prying eyes to access your personal online information.

A VPN makes using public wifi networks just as safe as using your home wifi where you’re the only person who knows the password.

One of the most important things you should so when preparing for your Japan solo trip is install a VPN. It’s the simplest safety precaution you can take.

The cost per month for a VPN subscription on a two-year plan costs less than a latte and cake pop at Starbucks. You have no excuse not to protect your online information.

I always say that if you can afford to travel, you can afford to protect your online information with a VPN.

NordVPN

My Favourite VPN

I’ve used a lot of VPNs over my many years of travel. Most of them, frankly, suck. VPNs are notorious for slowing your devices down, and you really feel the different in internet speed when using a VPN.

That’s not the case for NordVPN. It’s consistently ranked the fasted VPN on the market and the only VPN I’ve ever consistently used. You don’t feel like your internet speed is slowed down at all when using NordVPN.

You can install a single NordVPN subscription on up to six devices. That makes it super easy to protect all your devices for one low price.

One of my favourite feature of VPNs is being able to cloak my location. That allows me to watch Netflix from different countries and watch Canadian sporting events while abroad.

There are really no downsides to installing a VPN on your devices. It’s an extremely small price to pay for the peace of mind you get by knowing your private information is safe and sound while you’re abroad.

top Pick
NordVPN

NordVPN

Get the fastest and most reliable VPN on the market for an extremely low price.

Be Quiet

One of the first things you’ll notice on your solo trip to Japan is how quiet it is. In terms of volume. Not in terms of people. There are always tons of people in Japan.

It’s a widely known rule that people are quiet and respectful while out in public. This means no talking on the metro and no loud conversations at restaurants.

And please, please never answer a phone call while on public transit. It’s considered quite rude to speak on the phone in nearly every indoor public setting in Japan. But if you talk on the phone on the metro, you will definitely be getting dirty looks.

Just be sure to be quiet, reserved, and respectful while in public in Japan. I know you’re on a solo trip to Japan, but I also know a lot of you like to make friends while travelling alone. So, if you go out with a group (or while you’re alone), please be quiet.

There is a time and place for loud conversations, and in public is not it.

Oh, and small talk isn’t really a thing in Japan. I know my American friends love starting small talk with strangers, but you’ll be getting weird looks if you try that in Japan.

Taxis are Extremely Expensive

Taxis are never the most affordable way to get around, but in a lot of places they’ve not super expensive. They’re affordable enough that you can justify taking a taxi if it’s going to be super convenient or save you a lot of time.

Japan is not one of those places.

Japan has the most expensive taxis I’ve ever seen in my life.

There is no circumstance I could ever see justifying me using a taxi instead of the metro other than being physically injured and needing to get to a hostpial.

And even in that circumstance, I may still take the metro because the taxi fees are so high.

If you normally take taxis when you travel, you’ll need to get used to the idea of using public transportation or walking.

See point one about staying near a train station if you need a refresher. 😉

The good news is that Japan has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. It’s so easy to get around. You won’t even miss taking a taxi.

Most major cities have large metro systems. Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto all have metros where you can easily get around. Smaller cities in Kanazawa rely on buses. But they’re smaller cities, so it’s easy to walk everywhere if you’re staying in a central location.

Just be prepared to use public transportation and walk a lot while in Japan. Taxis are a luxury not a normal thing to use.

Kyoto

Purchase Popular Tickets Online in Advance

As we’ve talked about in this article, Japan is busy, and there are often queues. To cut down on your time waiting in line, there are two things you can/should do:

  • Get to attractions earlier in the day to avoid crowds
  • Purchase tickets online in advance if you can

These two things will save you heaps of time on your solo trip to Japan. You’ve got a lot to see and do while in Japan alone, and you don’t want to be stuck waiting in a line if you don’t have to.

There are also some things you need to pre-purchase tickets for. As in you can’t get them at the door or they’re likely to be sold out. Those two main things are Universal Studios Japan in Osaka and Tokyo Disney Resort.

This is especially true for Tokyo Disney. You have to purchase your tickets in advance. You can’t buy them at the gate. Universal recently reintroduced buying tickets at the gate, but it’s a super small park and sold out in advance more days than not.

Other Tickets You Should Consider Buying in Advance

Narita is Very Far Away from Central Tokyo

Narita is very, very far away from central Tokyo. Haneda is closer to central Tokyo, but the majority of international flights fly in and out of Narita.

This means you need to have a solid plan on how you’re getting from the airport to your hotel. Sometimes it can take up to two hours depending on where you’re staying.

You can either take the metro or a limousine bus. I prefer the bus. You’re guaranteed to get a seat, probably drops you off closer to your hotel, there is no need to transfer, and you don’t have to deal with your luggage. It just sits nicely under the bus.

Taxis aren’t an option unless you’re rich because they’re so expensive. A taxi from Narita to central Tokyo will cost you a few hundred dollars!

And the last thing you want to do on a solo trip to Japan is break the bank taking a taxi just because you didn’t plan properly!

The fact that Narita is so far away from central Tokyo also means that you need to be strategic about when you book your flight.

If you land late in the evening or depart early in the morning, you might have an issue. Maybe the buses aren’t running early or late enough or maybe you don’t want to drag your butt out of bed super early or be trying to find your hotel in the dark.

If you’re arriving late or departing early, I highly recommend staying at a hotel near the airport for a night. It’s so much more convenient. I’ve done it before for a flight departing at 11am and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Plus the hotels near Narita are surprisingly affordable. I loved my stay at the Hilton Narita. It was super nice and seemed like it should have costed more than it did.

Most airport hotels offer a bus to and from the hotel, which is super convenient. The hotels say it takes about half an hour to get to the airport. From my experience, it takes about 15, but it’s better to be early than late!

Go to Tokyo Disney on a Tuesday or Wednesday

Tokyo Disney is a must do for any theme park or Disney fan. Heck the theme parks are so well done that even people who hate Disney enjoy them.

Tokyo Disney Resort has two theme parks: Disneyland and DisneySea. DisneySea is the more unique one of the two, but they both have rides you don’t want to miss.

TDR is hugely popular. Not only with tourists but also with Japanese people. This means that it’s always busy. The most popular rides often have wait times between 90 and 180 minutes.

That’s just on a normal day. Not even during the busiest times of year.

So, you definitely need a strategy when going to Tokyo Disney. It may be your only trip, and you want to get the most out of it.

There are way too many tips and tricks about Tokyo Disney to put into this short(ish) blog post. You’ll have to do a deep dive on that on your own. TDR Explorer is a great place to start!

One important tip I will give you is to visit Tokyo Disney on either a Tuesday or Wednesday.

This is when the parks will be the least busy. You’ll be able to get a lot more done on a Tuesday or Wednesday than on the weekend.

Mondays and Thursdays are normally medium busy. I’ve noticed that a lot of the times school groups are filling up the parks on Thursdays leading up to the weekend, and they’re a lot busier than Wednesdays.

Mondays have carryover from people visiting over the weekend. They’re not as busy as a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday but are still quite busy.

So, if you have flexibility in your schedule, try to arrange your trip to Tokyo Disney for the middle of the week. This will give you the best chance at having lower crowds.

Tokyo Disneyland Parade and Castle

Make Sure You Have Health Insurance

Health insurance is an essential part of travel, and you need to make sure you have health insurance that covers your solo trip to Japan.

You may have travel coverage through your work plan. If you do, you just need to make sure it covers the entire duration of your trip. Most policies only cover the first 21 or 30 days of your trip.

If you’re like me and don’t have insurance through your employer, you have two options.

First Option

The first option is perfect for people who are only going abroad for a shorter period of time. This is buying travel insurance from a major company in your home country.

You can normally get insurance through a bank, company that sells house or life insurance, your local healthcare insurer (like Blue Cross), or through a company like AAA or AMA or CAA.

All these places will let you purchase a travel health insurance policy to cover the duration of your trip.

These are normally reasonably affordable. Especially if you’re only gone for a week or two. They offer decent coverage, but they often make it a headache to make a claim.

You can also get a multi-trip policy that covers you for every trip you take abroad in a year as long as the trip is under a certain amount of days. You get to choose the amount of days when you purchase the policy, and they range anywhere from 7 to 60 days.

This is what my retired parents use, what I used when I was a student, and what most casual travellers use.

Second Option

The second option is for long-term travellers and digital nomads. That’s purchasing health insurance through a specialized company that solely provides insurance to travellers.

There are a couple of companies you can get this type of insurance through. I personally use Safety Wing and think they’re the best option you there.

They’re very affordable, have a low deductible, make it easy to make a claim, and even provide you coverage in your home country for 30 days as long as you’ve been abroad for 90 days.

I love the flexibility of Safety Wing and being able to cancel anytime I want. If I’m going to be in Canada for a few months, I can cancel my policy and then reinstate it when I start travelling again. They even let you purchase your insurance while you’re abroad and already on your trip, which is quite rare.

Again, this option is best for people travelling for a long period of time. It’s much cheaper in the long run than the first option and provides better coverage.

Safety Wing Digital Nomad Insurance

Bonus: Try the Melon Fanta (Trust Me)

This may sound like a weird thing to throw into this article but hear me out. The Melon Fanta in Japan is the best soda I’ve ever had. And I’m a soda girlie.

I know. I know. It isn’t healthy, but it just tastes so good!

Melon Fanta is incredible. It’s a bit hard to find in convenience stores, so you may have to order it at a restaurant, but it’s so worth it.

I tell all my friends who go to Japan to try it, and they all love it.

I know it sounds like an odd flavour of soda, but please trust me and try it!

My Favourite Things to do in Japan Alone

tokyo
osaka

Conclusion

This article ended up being way longer than I thought it would! I guess I just have a lot to say about taking a solo trip to Japan and being in Japan solo.

Japan is a super unique country and requires a bit more planning and understanding than a lot of other countries. It’s so easy to accidentally offend someone because you don’t know the social norms.

But I hope this article helps you better understand what a solo trip to Japan will be like and how to best prepare for being in Japan solo.

It’s an amazing country, and I have no doubt you’ll love it. Basically everybody does. That’s why it’s so popular!

What I Wish I Knew Before Taking a Solo Trip to JapanWhat I Wish I Knew Before Taking a Solo Trip to JapanWhat I Wish I Knew Before Taking a Solo Trip to JapanWhat I Wish I Knew Before Taking a Solo Trip to JapanWhat I Wish I Knew Before Taking a Solo Trip to Japan
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