When choosing a suitable destination to travel to as a solo female, Japan may not be the first place that springs to mind, and that isn’t for any derogatory reason, but simply because there is not enough information out there about precisely how female friendly Japan actually is.
Solo female travelers, particularly first timers or relatively inexperienced travelers may opt for places where there is a well-trodden route, where countless solo females have gone before them, and where there are plentiful resources available to help them plan their trips. Unfortunately, not all of this is in place to help a fabulous independent female plan her trip to Japan so perhaps she will wind up dismissing it as an option, and go for a ‘safer’ choice such as Europe or South East Asia instead.
However, these ladies are certainly missing out. Not only are the Japanese extremely polite and helpful by nature, there are also many measures in place in Japan designed to make solo females feel comfortable – such as women’s only accommodation and carriages on trains. Here’s why Japan is perfect for solo female travelers.
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People Will Go Out of Their Way to Help You
When traveling in Japan, you only need to so much as frown at a map or look puzzled for someone to materialize and try to help you. By help, I don’t just mean that they will vaguely gesture or point in the direction that you need to go, I mean they will actually whip out their phones and use a translator to better understand what you are saying, and then take the time out of their day to personally walk you to where you need to get to or help you further. The Japanese love interacting with foreigners, and even though not everyone speaks English, they will work hard to combat those language barriers.
The Japanese are Politeness Personified
In a crowded megalopolis like Tokyo, you would expect things to be a little chaotic, and perhaps you envisage that getting around via public transport would be unbearable. In most major cities across the globe, boarding trains or waiting in line can become a frantic, elbow-to-the-face affair! In Japan, it’s quite the opposite. There’s no pushing and shoving and any accidental collisions are followed by a horrified “Gomen ne” (I’m sorry) or Sumimasen! (Excuse me!). People form orderly queues and wait to get on public transport, even if it means that they themselves have to board the next one. There are even conductors that man the platforms to ensure order! Bowing is also a beautiful part of Japanese culture, and people will do this when they greet you and say goodbye as a sign of respect.
The Transport Network is Incredibly Efficient
Whizzing through the Japanese countryside on a Shinkansen (bullet train) and admiring the scenery while tucking into your bento box is one of those “once in a lifetime” bucket list experiences and there really is no better way to see the country. Despite being one of the world’s fastest, and most renowned railway systems, traveling the country by Shinkansen is incredibly affordable since you can purchase a Japan Rail Pass which allows you to enjoy unlimited travel across the country within a specified period of time. As an added bonus, many trains now have female only carriages! The JR rail pass is available for purchase prior to departure from your home country and is typically cheaper for internationals than it is for the Japanese.
When it comes to inner city travel, the Suica and Pasmo pre-paid cards makes using the subways a breeze, and although the subway maps of Tokyo and Osaka look like intimidating spider webs, English signs and translated maps make the experience painless.
Nobody Cares That You Are Alone
When you are new to solo travel, it’s understandable that you may feel a little nervous and self conscious, or you simply do not wish to draw attention to yourself. You may suspect that in a country with a culture that is so different to your own, you are going to be gawped at more than a rare bird in the cage but that is far from the reality of traveling solo in Japan. People see you by yourself and then they… get on with their day.
Eating Alone is Normal
With mouth-watering gyoza, flavourful okonomiyaki, and spicy curry hot pots, Japanese food extends far beyond sushi and you certainly won’t need to spend time feeling self conscious when sampling the national delicacies at restaurants in Japan. Here, dining solo is incredibly common place. Many eateries have dedicated communal tables for solo diners to come in, stuff their faces and then leave. You will never feel eyes burning into you or looks of pity because chances are, you’ll be among another 7 or 8 patrons also doing the same thing!
It’s Incredibly Safe and People Are Respectful
According to the Global Peace Index, Japan is one of the ten safest countries in the world. There is a kind of underlying respect in East Asia (specifically Japan and Korea) that simply does not exist elsewhere. Japan is incredibly safe, and that is not just with reference to the country’s crime rate statistics. As an example, if you are sitting at a coffee shop, and wander off to the bathroom or head outside to make a call, you can rest in the notion that when you come back, all of your things will still be there.
Rules that surround respect and politeness are followed in Japan, such as keeping cell phone noise to a minimum on public transport, or not dropping trash. There are very few trash cans in any public spaces in Japan but in accompaniment there is no litter. People actually carry their trash around all day until they get home because they are so respectful of their country.
Female Only Accommodation is a Thing
Sometimes it can be reassuring as a solo female traveler to stay in accommodation that caters to women only and fortunately this type of establishment is very common in Japan and there are numerous options depending on your travel style. If you are traveling on more of a budget, you can stay in a female only capsule hotel, where mid-range and luxury solo female travelers can opt for hotels that have dedicated “women only” floors. When it comes to getting some R&R and tottering down to the on-site onsen (hot spring) or spa, you will find that these are also gender-separated so you never have to feel self conscious!
This article was originally written as a contribution to Huffington Post Travel.