- Japan Travel Tips From A Solo male Traveler In Japan
- #1) See if you can get involved in a special interest in japan
- #2) Find a contact in Japan
- Try putting the word out on social media to see if anyone knows anyone in Japan
- Meet people on English conversation exchange sites
- Etiquette when reaching out to contacts in Japan
- #3) Stay at hostels or “minshuku” where there are communal spaces
- #4) Talk to people!
- Look for things they are holding, or looking at, or taking an interest in in anyway, and ask them a question
- Offer someone some food or drink.
- Don’t be afraid to speak to both people that you think are Japanese or from other countries
- Be aware of the gender dynamic
- #5) Plan ahead for alone time!
- Top recommended destinations and things to do for a solo male traveller in Japan
- #1) Get into the country
- #2) Go to karaoke
- #3) Go to a small bar
- #4) Go to a hot spring (onsen) or a public bath (sento)
- #5) Go to a Capsule Hotel
- How to Pack for Single Male Travelling in Japan
- A suitcase or a bag (Choose the right one…)
- A mobile phone that is connected to a mobile network.
- A small hand towel for using in public baths
- Mobile device charger
- A Japanese powerpoint double adapter
- A physical map and key words written down in Japanese (like the hotel’s address).
- Layers to adapt to the different climates in Japan.
- Bring casual and more formal wear.
- Casual and more formal wear
- Clothes with wide collars to keep the sun off of your neck
- Sweater or jacket for cool evenings in Tokyo.
- Transportation in Japan and How You Can Get Around
- Japanese Etiquette and Customs That You Need To Know Before Your Visit
- Solo male in Japan Q&A
I’ve travelled through Japan close to twenty times in my life, many of these as a solo male traveller. So I should have picked up a few things along the way.
I wanted to share some of my insight with you.
Japan Travel Tips From A Solo male Traveler In Japan
There are many cultural differences between Japan and the West that I wasn’t expecting when I first went as a teenager; but most of these differences are not that hard to adapt to.
The hardest thing, of course, with going to a non English speaking country is the language. Now, I speak Japanese pretty well, so it’s not such an issue. But I remember how much of an issue it was at first.
Tokyo is definitely a city with a lot of hustle and bustle. There’s also a huge range of people in Tokyo, so it’s not hard to find someone that speaks English.
It’s always interesting to keep a bit of a journal as you are traveling around. Luckily, Japan is known for having really nice stationary, so you might want to visit one of these shops in Tokyo to get yourself some nice pens & paper.
#1) See if you can get involved in a special interest in japan
In my experience, traveling when you have something to do other than just being a tourist is soooo much more fun.
In my own experience, I play music so I’ve been able to hook up with other musicians in Japan, play in bars and meet people that play in bands. These experiences have hands down been some of the best ones of my life.
It doesn’t really matter so much what it is that you use as your thing for finding something to do in Japan. It could be:
Can you find a tournament/race/training camp to take part in? I have running friends that go to Japan regularly to take part in fun runs and marathons.
A great place to start is the Japan Sport Association
There are many residencies in Japan, one really great one I know of is AIRY in Yamanashi prefecture.
If you play in a band, you can look up the tour schedules of other bands that have toured Japan then reach out to either the venues they played at, the bands they played with, or the band themselves to see who might be able to help out.
There are a range of opportunities for shorter or longer term volunteering in Japan such as with United Planet and others. Volunteering gives you a great way to meet the locals and see the country in a very different way to how you would as a tourist.
I still regularly visit the host family that I first met 20 years ago in Japan when I was a teenager. Staying with a host family really does give you an insight into everyday Japanese life that you can’t get any other way. One option may be to go WWOOFing in Japan, which is where someone puts you up at the house in exchange for you doing chores around the place.
These are just a few options for getting involved in Japanese culture in a more meaningful way than you usually do as a tourist. But really, it often just takes a little lateral thinking on your part to come up with ideas that will work in your particular circumstances. Think about your own special skills, interests, passions. The world is a much smaller place with the internet. It can’t hurt to reach out to people and find out what is possible.
As a solo traveller, often the hardest thing is finding ways to connect with local people. Getting actively involved in doing something, I think, is the best way to overcome this.
#2) Find a contact in Japan
In these days of online-connectedness, most people will be able to find a friend of a friend of a friend in Japan. Having a contact in the country you are visiting literally makes a world of difference when visiting a place, and Japan is no different.
Try putting the word out on social media to see if anyone knows anyone in Japan
Or check with your contacts. Tell them you are thinking of going to Japan and does anyone know anyone friendly over there they could put you in contact with.
Often the Japanese people that are already friends with people outside of Japan are keen to get to know more people from foreign countries. They are more likely to take an interest in and be able to speak some English.
Once you get an introduction, you can ask them for advice of where/when to visit and what to do. Who knows, they may end up offering to put you up at their house or take you on a trip somewhere.
Meet people on English conversation exchange sites
People that are looking to learning a language are often using language exchange sites such as iTalki, Conversation Exchange, or The Mixxer
It’s actually pretty easy to develop a more ongoing friendship on many of these platforms. Some give you the option of texting each other, or you can exchange contact details for your favorite messaging app.
Etiquette when reaching out to contacts in Japan
The main thing to remember in any of these discussions is to remember that the person at the other end has their own life and it is you that has to make the effort to fit in. This means that, ideally, you make contact before your schedule is completely finalised so that you can be flexible about what works for them. It’s no use trying to meet up with them for a day trip when on a day when they are busy working or have important family commitments to attend to.
Remember, too, that Japan is a big gift-giving country so you will want to make sure you have some souvenirs from your own country to take along.
Oh, and if someone has helped you get in contact with another person, make sure you circle back to the person that helped connect you in the first place so they know how things have gotten on.
#3) Stay at hostels or “minshuku” where there are communal spaces
Okay, so I get it. You’re travelling by yourself and you’re a bit shy. So you think, “I’ll book a proper hotel where I will have my privacy and don’t have to worry about anything.”
This is a bad approach as a solo traveller.
My experience is that when travelling by yourself, you want to give yourself every opportunity to connect with other people. THE best way to do that is to find accommodation that has communal spaces where you can strike up a conversation.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to sleep in dorms or shared rooms with bunk beds, although that will certainly be the cheapest option with the most opportunities for speaking with others.
In my experience, people don’t actually talk to people they don’t know that much in dorms. The best opportunities for striking up a conversation are around FOOD.
So you want to find places to stay with shared kitchen, dining and lounge areas.
The best accommodation to find these kind of shared facilities are
Minshuku are small, often family operated, bed and breakfast kind of arrangements. They are like the AirBNB that have existed in Japan for centuries.
Minshuku are often located in places that tourists go, or near hot springs, snow fields etc.
Many of the minshuku I have stayed in have been quite traditional houses. Sometimes they are large communal tatami mat rooms or zashiki.
You can find listings for minshuku on booking.com
This leads on to my second biggest tip for travelling Japan as a solo man.
#4) Talk to people!
It can be scary to reach out to someone you don’t know and start a conversation.
In my experience, this is about the most rewarding thing you can do as a solo traveller.
You can usually “manufacture” a good “in” if you think about it a little. Here’s three tips to get you started.
Look for things they are holding, or looking at, or taking an interest in in anyway, and ask them a question
I remember sitting in a hostel in Kobe once and seeing an Asian man at the table next to me looking at some kind of a map. I asked him what he was looking at. It turned out he was a Japanese man from Tokyo who was in the city to run in a marathon for the LGBTQ+ community. What an interesting conversation!
Often these conversations lead to you getting interesting bits of information. Events that are happening, an interesting place to eat. Stuff that often isn’t in guidebooks or brochures.
Offer someone some food or drink.
If you’ve bought a pack of donuts, offer them to whoever is sitting next to you. Buy a carton of juice, which often costs not much more than US$1 from the convenience store, and offer it to others. After all, you probably won’t be able to drink it all yourself anyway.
Don’t be afraid to speak to both people that you think are Japanese or from other countries
Many Japanese are actually very keen to practice their English, so you shouldn’t be too worried about trying to speak to them. Perhaps you are trying to learn some Japanese also and want a chance to practice? It is polite to try a few words of Japanese at first, including “konichiwa” for hello or “sumimasen” for excuse me. They will soon let you know if they are not wanting to engage, it can’t hurt to try.
Be aware of the gender dynamic
The only thing to be aware of here as a male is that if you are speaking to a female they feel like you are trying to come onto them in something more than just a friendly way. Always be aware of this dynamic and follow their cues to make sure they are comfortable.
Ultimately, you are not alone in this world – there are Japanese locals and fellow travelers all around you! Talk to them about what they do for fun, where they like to go, what their favorite restaurant is. They can make your time abroad genuinely more meaningful and memorable.
#5) Plan ahead for alone time!
One of the best things about traveling solo is the opportunity for self-reflection and getting in touch with yourself.
Stock up on Japanese entertainment to consume before, on your way to and around Japan. My recommendations for things you can watch to get a good insight into what to expect in Japan include:
Midnight Diner, Naked Director or Followers on Netflix,
The classic Lost in Translation movie,
Any of the “golden era” of Japanese films by Yasujiru Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, or Akira Kurosawa.
Films by modern directors Koreida Hirokazu (such as Shoplifters) or Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Alex Kerr writes some of the most insightful books about Japan available in the English language
Top recommended destinations and things to do for a solo male traveller in Japan
#1) Get into the country
Everyone knows people are friendlier in the country right? This is true in Japan as it is in other places.
Some of my most amazing experiences in Japan have been out in the middle of nowhere where you will find ancient little temples covered in moss, breathtaking mountains that change color with the seasons and serene rice fields nestled between foothills and rivers.
Food in the country in Japan is amazing too. Each place you visit generally has its own unique local culinary specialities. Whether it’s crab, or grapes, or a certain type of noodle dish, every region has its own thing.
As a man travelling alone, you, sadly, probably don’t have to think so much about personal safety when you are getting off the beaten path. So why not go where you can?
#2) Go to karaoke
Ok, so this one isn’t just for men, but I think everyone should go to karaoke in Japan. It’s just so much fun.
Karaoke in Japan is more of something you do in small groups at “karaoke boxes” than something you do in more public, crowded bars. So try and befriend a couple of people somewhere and suggest you hit the karaoke box. Nothing breaks down barriers than bad singing.
#3) Go to a small bar
Now this one may take a little bit of courage if you are by yourself, but venturing into one of the infinite small bars or drinking spots peppered throughout Japan can be a truly rewarding experience.
Small bars and eateries, like the one depicted in the TV show Midnight Diner, are so intimate that people inevitably start talking to each other. Being a person from the English speaking world in one of these bars is like being a walking invitation for people to say hello and find out about your story.
You can pretty much wander down many of the side streets where bars congregate in any town or city and find some interesting place to wander into.
The only thing to watch out for here is that most Japanese towns have a red-light district. You will probably get a sense of this from the advertising that you are seeing in the area, but it’s best to avoid places that have tauts stationed out the front or someone aggressively trying to enter their establishment.
You know those Yakuza movies and anime you have seen? Well, the Yakuza is a real organisation in Japan. As a single traveler, you want to avoid places that are openly “seedy” in the dark alleys, or where they look like they are really trying to get you in to spend your dollars.
#4) Go to a hot spring (onsen) or a public bath (sento)
Japan’s bathing culture is one of the wonderful things about visiting the country.
They just love to get really clean and sink into a deep, hot bath. You should embrace this culture too, and see how good it makes you feel.
There are many public baths, or hot springs spread out all over the country. You will probably stumble across them as you move around. Sometimes they are even in major stations or airports. Take the opportunity to go into one when you get the chance.
Schedule in time to visit a hot spring resort if possible too.
You do have to be aware that public baths, natural or man made, are naked spaces. No swimsuits here.
Some people have a problem with that. To them, I say, get over it. And experience the rewards.
Other things to be aware of are that you need a little hand towel to take into the bath house. These are for washing yourself before you get in the baths.
Conversely, it is considered very bad form to put your washing hand-towel into the public bath. You will find that men usually carry them around with them from bath to bath, and cover up their private parts as they do. When they reach the public bath, they either put the towel on their head, so it doesn’t go in the bath, or next to the bath somewhere.
There has been a lot written about how some bath houses don’t let people with tattoos in. This may be strictly enforced in some establishments, but in my experience it hasn’t been a problem for my tattooed friends. This is more and more the case over time as tattoos become more mainstream and less exclusively associated with yakuza and organised crime culture.
#5) Go to a Capsule Hotel
Capsule hotels have small compartments for each guest to sleep in. These capsules are surprisingly comfy and homey. You will have a mattress, maybe a small shelf on the side. Sometimes a tv, usually power.
It’s like sleeping in a cubby house. They often have some communal spaces, like a manga comic library, or a room full of massage chairs.
It’s quite an experience, and doesn’t cost much, so you should do it!
How to Pack for Single Male Travelling in Japan
Here’s a list of things that I either wish I had taken to Japan, or which I have actually found most useful.
A suitcase or a bag (Choose the right one…)
This one is obvious but you should think about what you’re going to put all your stuff in. There is a tendency for young backpackers to carry, well, backpacks. That is what I did when I was travelling solo around Japan as a young man.
But one day I travelled around a little with a Japanese friend who brought along a small suitcase on wheels. They looked so comfortable wheeling around their little case while I lugged a massive bag on my back. I was a convert.
Japan is a modern, first world country. Mostly, you are travelling on concrete or paving of one kind or another. So it is pretty easy to roll a case around on.
The other thing to consider is that most people use trains to get around Japan. The train system is famously efficient, but you will find yourself constantly changing trains, making connections to get from one point to another. It can be a bit of a slog to put on and take off a big backpack every time.
That being said, a backpack does still go more places.
And I did have the experience of breaking a wheel on my case once in Japan, after a couple of weeks of hard scheduled movement around the country.
So you need to weigh it up. For me, I still prefer to wheel a little case around.
A mobile phone that is connected to a mobile network.
It is relatively easy to get a sim card in Japan, either by ordering ahead and picking up at the airport, or by just getting one once you arrive.
The other option is to get a “pocket wi-fi” device that lets you make a “hotspot” that several devices can connect to at one time.
You can also check with the provider in your home country to see if they have a “roaming” plan for Japan. Generally, it is going to be cheaper to get data from a company in Japan though.
Having data in Japan makes such a huge difference. Being able to use digital maps and know where you are makes a huge difference. You can also use tools like Google Maps to look up train timetables that will tell you where and when to get the train, where to transfer and when you will arrive.
Having mobile data also means that you can be looking up information about your next destination, or getting into contact with anyone you might be meeting at the place you are going to.
On that note it’s good to be aware that the Line app is one of the most popular ones for people in Japan to get into contact with each other. It is worth downloading the app and setting up an account to make it easier to connect with people over there.
A small hand towel for using in public baths
I think you should visit at least one public bath in Japan. You will need a hand towel. You can also buy these at most bath houses for a few dollars. These also come in handy in a range of situations bathing on the move. Bring one or get one.
Mobile device charger
Your mobile device is so vital when you are travelling that running out of battery can be a major crisis. So investing in a mobile charging device makes sense. Some trains (mainly the shinkansen bullet trains) have charging power points in Japan. But most normal trains don’t, so don’t rely on being able to charge things on the go.
A Japanese powerpoint double adapter
I always take or purchase a Japanese power double adapter when I go to Japan. That way at night I can charge my phone and my mobile power supply as a backup. You may have other devices to charge as well. If you’re worried, you can try and find one of these before you get to Japan, but they are easy enough to find at convenience stores, supermarkets and electronic stores when you are there. They are much cheaper to buy over there too, so I would just wait until you get there.
A physical map and key words written down in Japanese (like the hotel’s address).
Remember the worst can happen. You may lose charge on your device and not know where you are going. Carry a physical map and have key info like names and addresses written down. If you can get things written down in Japanese, that makes things easier. But you generally get by with things written in English or the alphabet.
Layers to adapt to the different climates in Japan.
Japan is a country that spreads out North to South vertically across the globe. So if you are travelling from one end of the country to the other, the climate can change a lot. That being said, Japan tends to have fairly predictable weather patterns for each season with summer being consistently hot, winter cold, and spring/autumn in between. It’s not like some places where every day the weather is completely different.
Bring casual and more formal wear.
Japanese people are famously (notoriously?) well-dressed. It’s easy to feel like a slob in Japan. People are very particular about the seasons and the appropriate clothing to be worn. So people tend to think that someone wearing a long sleeved shirt in summer is weird. Or shorts in autumn.
The Japanese tendency to be well dressed means that if you’re going out at night, people are likely to be really dressed up. So if you don’t want to feel a bit embarrassed in Japanese society, you best bring a change of your nicer clothes.
Japan has a big gift-giving culture. It’s really embarrassing if someone gives you something and you don’t have anything to give in return. Especially when they have been helping you out!
Stock up on small, portable presents. I like to bring local tea, as it’s such a universal present, and light too!
Casual and more formal wear
Clothes with wide collars to keep the sun off of your neck
Sweater or jacket for cool evenings in Tokyo.
Bring two pairs of shoes – one for walking and one for evening wear (shoes for sale in Japan are smaller than in the West, so it may be hard to buy a pair if you need them).
Transportation in Japan and How You Can Get Around
The trains in Japan are famous for being efficient and well run.
Japan has one of the best train networks in the world, running on time and providing quick, easy connections between cities.
Whether it’s the metropolitan trains or the long-haul routes such as the Shinkansen Bullet train, it’s a great way to get around.
It can be complex though. In the major cities, the train lines are all privatised, with different routes and legs of routes run by different companies. This means that you often have to get out of one company’s station and get into another one. It can be a bit complex.
To help navigate, you can use Google Maps, or a dedicated train app, to tell you which train connects with. It’s pretty much a necessity.
It’s also worth getting some prepaid train cards once you get there so that you don’t have to fiddle around with trying to buy the little individual route tickets every time you want to ride.
Japan Rail Pass
If you are planning on moving around a lot you have to get a Japan Rail Pass. These tickets get you unlimited travel on Japan Rail lines throughout the country for a week, a fortnight, or longer.
Japan Rail was the original national railway provider before many parts of Japan’s metropolitan rail were privatised. This means that most of the country is still covered by Japan Rail, JR, in one way or another. Which means if you have a JR Pass you have an invincible ticket that will get you just about anywhere.
Japan’s ferries are often not thought about by people from overseas travelling to Japan, but they’re actually really great.
Many of them have great facilities, like restaurants, public baths and rooms to sleep. I’ve had some great overnight trips in ferries where you get on at night, have something to eat, have a bath, sleep and arrive at the destination in the morning. Sweet.
It’s also worth getting a domestic aeroplane if you are going a long way in Japan. These days, there are several budget airlines that can have insanely cheap flights. Sometimes, it can actually be cheaper to fly to some domestic Japanese destinations than to catch the train, or even the bus.
Japanese Etiquette and Customs That You Need To Know Before Your Visit
Japanese Etiquette and Customs That You Need To Know Before Your Visit
Japan is a very clean and polite country. Japanese society does have some interesting customs and etiquette that may not be so clear to foreigners. To list a few:
It is impolite to show the sole of your shoes to another person in Japan. It is also considered impolite to point your feet towards another person.
When entering a Japanese home, shoes must be removed. Failure to take one’s shoes off is considered disrespectful.
It is considered rude to put feet up on a seat or table
Solo male in Japan Q&A
Is Japan Safe for Solo Travelers?
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world to travel solo in, but you still need to be careful.
Probably the biggest thing to watch out for is seedy nightclubs that have aggressive street tauts out the front that will do everything they can to get you to come in.
Once inside, they will set you up with a host or hostess who will treat you real nice, get you to buy yourself and them a lot of expensive drinks, and then shake you down for a big ‘ol bill at the end of the night. Many of these establishments are connected to the Yakuza, so you don’t want to get yourself in a situation where you can’t pay up for what you may have unwittingly purchased.
It’s best to be cautious on public transportation at night, but you will see plenty of business people on the night trains.
Is Japan safe for gay travelers?
Japan is a country where homosexuality is still considered to be taboo. The government has taken steps to change this, but a lot of people are not too sympathetic to gay issues.
That being said, most of these attitudes remain “latent” and don’t generally translate into open, or physical hostility. So though it may not always be “comfortable” to be out in Japan, it is relatively safe.