I recently came across a travel article featuring the top destinations for solo female travelers. As an occasional solo female traveler, I usually will skim through these kinds of articles to get travel inspiration. Most cycle through the same countries in Central America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. However, one place that never seems to make the cut is Japan. But from personal experience, I think all traveling women should consider Japan for a solo female trip.
Perhaps it is because I took my first solo trip here that I have a bias, but Japan encompasses everything that puts the other, more typical countries on these lists. Japan offers city vibes, hiking and nature, hot springs, amazing food, tons of culture, history, beautiful shrines and temples, beaches, and endless things to do. You can have an Eat, Pray, Love experience and never leave Japan (although arguably you can find love in any country, just saying). If you’re wondering why you should consider Japan for your next solo female trip, read on.
1) TEMPLES AND SHRINES
My absolute favorite moments in Japan involved spending as long as I wanted just sitting inside some of the quieter shrines and temples. No one is going to bother you while you’re meditating (or pretending to meditate). Shrines are ubiquitous in Japan, especially in Kyoto.
Of course, there are the crowded ones, Fushimi Inari-Taisha (tip: the higher you hike, the fewer people you’ll find) and Kinkaku-ji (known in English as the Golden Temple), that are still worth seeing. But I want to focus on the less popular ones where you can have a moment of contemplation (perhaps reflecting on life, or just deciding where to eat your next bowl of ramen) without getting hit in the face with a selfie stick.
- Daitoku-ji: This is a cozy little complex of temples, relatively free of tourists. It is near the Golden Temple so work it around your visit there (depending on if you need to get yourself ready for the masses or unwind from them).
- Ryoan-ji: Here you will find Japan’s most famous rock garden. I don’t know what it is about staring at these rocks that just chills you out.
- Tofuku-ji: Next to Fushimi Inari, but feels worlds away as no one seems to go here.
- Kennin-ji: The oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. There are beautiful gardens to stroll through as well as an abundance of nooks in which to post up with a book.
2) THE FOOD
I don’t even know where to start when it comes to the food in Japan. The sushi, the ramen, the soba, the candy, the tempura, a giant ice cold Sapporo . . . I’m drooling just thinking about it. You can also find almost anything in a market, such as Nikishi Market in Kyoto or the expansive foot court in the basement of Isetean department store in Tokyo. Or if you’re in a hurry, you can even find delicious hot meals out of a vending machine (why don’t we have ramen vending machines in the United States?).
Eating alone in Japan is also so normal. You can sit at the bar or at a communal table and not feel awkward or alone. I guarantee there will be other people, including women, also dining solo. Some hole in the wall restaurants are so small that it will be in your favor to be alone. And, if you want to try some of the more famous restaurants, you’ll have an easier time getting a reservation for one.
- Ippudo: Yes, you might have been to Ippudo for “the best ramen ever” in NYC, but the one in Kyoto is way better (and is much more authentic and relaxed). However, you can’t really go wrong with any ramen you decide to eat in Japan, even it’s from a vending machine or at a train station.
- Shinjuku Tsunahachi Sohonten: This is a 100-year-old tempura restaurant in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo. Go here and sit at the bar and watch the chef fry up whatever it is he’s frying up (it’s an “advanced” Japanese spot where you might not know what exactly you’re eating). I got the fish set and most of what I ate was delicious. There were some delicacies, like the heads of shrimp, that I just couldn’t stomach, but the chef was nice about it and laughed at me. Still, I recommend this place for an unforgettable experience and a top-notch travel story.
- Tsukiji Market: Tsukiji is the famous fish market in Tokyo. If you can get up at 5 AM, go here for some of the best, freshest sushi you will ever have. Who says you can’t eat sushi for breakfast?Don’t let the fishy smell ruin your appetite. There are a few different spots around the market and there will probably be long lines. Being solo once again helps when it comes to getting seated more quickly.
- Soba Yoshimura: This is one of my favorite soba restaurants in Kyoto. I love noodles, and soba noodles are made of buckwheat which means they’re gluten free which means they’re obviously healthy. I think.
- Tsujiri Tea House: Go for their special matcha parfait — it will be a match(a) made in heaven (sorry, this probably wasn’t funny). Just eat anything matcha flavored in Kyoto. This is a good place to start.
3) THE PEOPLE
The people in Japan are so nice. Like the kind of nice that, being a native New Yorker, made me suspicious at first. However, it’s a culture built on respect, so the people are just helpful and polite by nature. In one instance, I was at the train station trying to figure what type of ticket I needed and was standing at the machine, probably looking confused. I was approached by a man who asked me where I was going. He proceeded to get me the correct ticket and walk me to the train platform. I mean, wow, on most of my dates the guy won’t even walk me a block to the subway.
You might also notice how clean the cities are, despite the lack of garbage cans around (obviously another dramatic difference between Japan and New York City). Oddly enough, you’ll quickly realize that garbage cans are just not needed. People will literally carry their garbage around and not litter as a sign of respect for their country.
4) THE TECHNOLOGY
Rent pocket Wi-Fi (it can be picked up at the airport or at the train station). It’s basically having a mini router with you. It is insanely efficient and fast. I like the peace of mind of knowing that I am always connected and have Google Maps and Google Translate at my fingertips, just in case. I’ve rented pocket Wi-Fi in other countries and it always seems to slow down or fail at some point. This did not happen once in Japan.
Aside from the fast Wi-Fi, you’ll find advanced and intuitive technology all around Japan. It makes it easier to feel at ease when traveling solo, navigate public transportation, using credit cards, etc. The people are also technological savvy and can help you if you run into any snags.
5) EASE OF GETTING AROUND
The Japanese love trains. The subways are immaculate, on time, and efficient. There are no delays due to signal problems or police investigations. There are designated lines on the platform that align with the train doors open, and people actually queue at them, so it’s not absolute chaos when the train does arrive (New York City, you have so much to learn).
You can rely on Japan’s train systems to take you almost anywhere you need to go within Tokyo and beyond. Get a Japan rail pass and you can get from Narita Airport into the center of Tokyo in about an hour and twenty minutes. Certain subway lines are excluded in the pass, but the included ones will still take you all over Tokyo. You can get from Tokyo to Osaka, Kyoto, and other faraway towns on the bullet train, also known as the Shinkansen. The Shinkansen is fast and very, very sexy. Finally, you have a reason to use all those train emojis!
6) THE CULTURE
There are so many ways to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Do a tea ceremony with a geisha in Kyoto (I recommend Cammellia, Tomikiku, and En!). Explore the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Make friends with the animals while getting your caffeine fix in a cat café, or a dog café, or an owl café, or another café with cute creatures. Partake in kaiseki, a traditional Japanese dinner. Hike Mount Fuji. Play with Macaque (snow monkeys!) in a hot spring.
My trip was centered around Tokyo and Kyoto but there are so many other amazing looking small towns and cities that are calling my name back to Japan – and I would 100% do it solo again!
7) FEMALE-ONLY & GENERAL SAFETY
There are all sorts of female-only accommodations including budget-friendly capsule hotels, as well as female-only floors at regular hotels. There are also female-only cars on the trains and subways in case you’re worried about someone copping a feel. Although I didn’t use these cars, I never had anyone cop any feels in Japan (in NYC, I can’t say the same). If you want to hit the hot springs, known as “onsen” in Japanese, and unwind, these too are separated.
Even beyond the female-only spaces, Japan is consistently rated as one of the top ten safest countries in the world. Need I say more?
Although Japan might seem a bit intimidating to the solo female traveler, this couldn’t be farther from reality. Instead, you’ll find friendly people, easy-to-navigate public transportation, technological accessibility, top rated overall safety, and endless culinary and cultural delights that welcome solo travelers. Don’t overlook the beautiful country of Japan as the destination for your next solo female trip!
Have you ever been to Japan? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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