Updated: Nov 3, 2019
For a large amount of people, travelling in a foreign land can be a daunting idea, even more so when doing it solo. From our own experiences, we've chosen the must useful tips to help anyone who is unsure about travelling around Japan. It's a big place, but here's how you can make it as fun and easy as possible! Go forth, gaijin (the Japanese's name for us - foreigners - which translates as "alien"!), and prosper.
Once you have arrived in Japan, provided you know where you are travelling to, you can send your heavy luggage via courier services. The easiest one to use is known as TA-Q-BIN (pronounced ‘tack-queue-bin’). This service makes travelling alone in Japan far easier, as you don’t have to carry heavy bags while you navigate the trains and buses. Particularly if you are flying into Tokyo and want to get to Niseko, but are spending a few days in Tokyo before or even after your Hokkaido trip. It might take 48 hours or so to send your snowboards/skis/heavy suitcases to your next destination, but it can often be cheaper than booking it onto your flight. Just go to your closest 7-11, or there will be a counter in the airport with the logo of a black cat and kitten.
It’s a good idea to ensure you carry cash with you, as in Japan cash is king.
Make sure you have a map of the area, and a map of the trains/metro with you all the time. It can be very confusing, especially in the bigger cities when it comes too getting from A-to-B. But once you get used to the metro and trains system, they make it infinitely easier to navigate yourself around Tokyo and the larger cities. Quick side note - some of the larger stations can be a bit of a maze, but you can always rely on Japanese trains being on time.
Learn some basic Japanese to make it easier when using transport or ordering food and drinks in a restaurant. You may find yourself where tourists don’t go and the locals don’t speak English! YouTube will be your saviour for proper pronunciation.
Staying in hostels around Japan is a great way to practice the language and meet people who are also travelling alone in Japan. Be sure to put some research into your hostels to make sure it offers everything you need. And don’t forget ear plugs and a face mask for the loud snorer on the bunk below you!
Make friends from around the world, who like the same stuff as you. Join with like minded people who are also travelling solo in Japan, in group tours and activities. If you do your research, you'll find loads of discounts for solo travellers, in all sorts of areas, from museum tours to backcountry ski trips (**hint hint….**). You can some good suggestions on AirBnb’s Experience pages, and on travel forums.
Look into Japanese etiquette and social rules, as some traditions are worth knowing. You don’t want to spend your time accidentally being rude everywhere you go! Are you aware of the etiquette for removing shoes when indoors, or which way your shoes should point? Do you know the formalities for visiting a shrine or onsen?
Unless you are planning on using the bullet train or plan on travelling long distances each day, you don’t need a JR pass to get around Japan!
Japan is a very safe place to travel. But if you are going out for the day and don’t want to lug around your travel guide or all your newly-purchased souvenirs, there are handy storage lockers at almost every train station. They are reasonably priced and mean you can travel light for the day.
Planning a day strolling the streets of town, and fancy eating on the move? You won’t find any rubbish bins on the streets. It is common courtesy to not eat whilst walking around or eat smelly food whilst on public transport. You don’t want to be knocking into anyone and spilling it on them - thinking about it, it is a perfectly logical reason. You’ll see the locals frequenting ramen shops (where you can be as slurpy as you want) and sushi trains (where you should eat each piece in one mouthful), which have a quick turn-around, and the food comes quickly there too. If you are travelling solo in Japan, you might not be bothered for a sit-down meal, bento box shops and even convenience stores will have a little area to sit and eat what you’ve bought there, usually with a microwave and kettle for noodle pots and soups.
¥100 stores, Daiso shops and second-hand sales are amazing for cute souvenirs, and countless across Japan. Pick up a few pairs of toe-socks, a couple of sets of chopsticks, and some pretty pottery for less than $5.
Make the most of all the settings on the toilet. With built-in bidets, to benefit both the male and female sex, waterfall sounds or chirruping birds to mask the sound of you poop, and a nice blow-dry afterwards, it is an experience not to be missed.
Learn to use chopsticks.
Have no fear: it is true the stereotype that Japanese people are gracious, generous and humble in their hospitality. This is the quintessentially Japanese concept of ‘Omotenashi’. Japan is one of the safest places on the Earth. A rare, rich, experience, and one you won’t forget.