My first ever solo travel adventure began in Tokyo, one of the safest cities in the world. Was I scared… Of course! It was my first time ever traveling by myself for an extended amount of time, and I chose a country half way around the world. I also didn’t know one lick of Japanese. But I was also incredibly excited. Japan had been on my list of dream travel destinations for a long time, and I couldn’t believe I was boarding a plane to see the beautiful country.
In this article, I am going to run through a few things you need to know (where to stay, eat, sleep, travel time, customs & traditions) and a few places to visit if you decide to solo travel through Tokyo as well. I will also add in a few of my favorite memories from my trip, and what I would do differently next time.
A Few Stats To Begin
- A nonstop flight from LAX to Tokyo is roughly 12 hours.
- The two main airports in Tokyo are Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. Haneda Airport is closest to downtown Tokyo, while Narita is about 50 miles away. Both are accessable by public transportation.
- Their currency is Yen, and cash is King! Most places do not accept credit card. My favorite converter calculator is here.
- There are nearly 35 million people who dwell in Tokyo.
- Sakura season in Tokyo is from early April to the end of the month.
Customs and Traditions Common in Tokyo:
The moment I landed in Tokyo, I went to the restroom. It was at that moment I noticed several changes from American culture. First the bathrooms were split between western and eastern toilets. Secondly, their toilets are incredibly tech savvy, including a water noise for privacy, bidet, seat warmers,and of course flush. Not only that but the stalls where more or less rooms for incredible privacy. The last thing I noticed was when I approached the basin to wash my hands I received my first bow from a flight attendant. Bowing is a very traditional way of greeting one another in Japan. Here are a few more things to note about Japanese culture:
- Tipping is not expected and most of the time not accepted
- In Tokyo, you drive, bike, and walk on the left side of the street, and everyone waits patiently for the walk signs before crossing.
- Dining alone in Tokyo is very common and many restaurants offer counter seating for solo diners.
- Never stick your chopsticks vertically in your rice or food.
- Remove your shoes before entering a home, they will always offer slippers for you instead.
- Most are still very conscious about having quiet conversations, and never speak on their phones on trains or in shops.
- There are very few if any trash bins. Most carry their trash with them until they get home to discard. Recycling is very important and systematic as well, divided into what’s burnable and what is not.
- Some restaurants you cannot sit to eat unless you order a beverage.
Travel Tips Before & After You Land
My biggest concern when I landed was if I will be able to withdraw money and will I find my way to my business hotel on public transportation. Turned out, it was much easier than I had expected, but that’s because I really prepared before I landed.
I called my bank a week before leaving and told them exactly what cities I will be visiting and at what dates. That way, I was able to preform international cash withdraws without having my card shut down.
Secondly, I mapped out the exact route from the airport to the hotel on Google Maps while I still had the airport wifi available. Something you may not know is that Google Maps will still work once off wifi and no data as long as you have the app open. It will mark exactly where you are along the route. Nonetheless, I studied the maps and screenshot it just in case. Google maps told me the exact train fare to pay and I was off! I never got lost.
Here are a few other ways to prepare for your trip:
- Pocket wifi’s are available to rent. You can either have them shipped to your hotels/hostel/airbnb or to the airport. You must book in advance though to take advantage of this offer. I personally didn’t rent a pocket wifi, but definitely would in the future as I found out public wifi wasn’t readily available or sometimes didn’t work
- JR rail passes may save you money depending on where you are traveling. JR is one of the three companies that owns the railroads in Japan. I honestly only road on JR trains during my time in Tokyo. Again, this option must be booked in advance and picked up at the airport you land in. There are pros and cons, the pros are you don’t have to worry about paying each trip and it may save you money in the long run. The con is it doesn’t include the fastest bullet train in the world from Tokyo to Kyoto which you may want to experience. I personally didn’t get the pass, and probably wouldn’t buy it next trip either.
Where To Stay
As a solo traveler through Tokyo, I wanted the majority of my stay to be in capsule hotels where I can meet other travelers. However, the first night I did book a business hotel in Minato. Business hotels are often cheaper than regular hotels and include the very basics for what you need for your stay. The rooms are often small, but includes your own personal bathroom. I loved my stay at Hotel Villa Fontaine Tokyo-Hamamatsucho, it was close to the Haneda airport and walking distance to Tokyo Tower. Plus they offered free breakfast in the morning. The entire staff was so pleasant and kind.
I then stayed at 9 Hour Capsule Hotel in Shinjuku, you can read the full review here. As well as The Millennials Capsule Hotel in Shibuya. Both of these locations were ideal for a solo traveler and right where I wanted to explore. Another option I really wanted to try was staying in a Manga Cafe.
Here are a few other reputable options for your stay:
- Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo
- Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo
- Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku
- Airbnb like this one or this one
- 3 unique hostels great for solo travelers are: Grids, Book And Bed, Kaisu
What To Visit
There is so much to do and see in Tokyo. In fact I spent two weeks in Japan and the majority of the time I spent in Tokyo taking it all in. I personally gravitate towards shopping, parks, Shrines, and seeing what the locals do. My two favorite parks in Tokyo were the Yoyogi Park that has the Mei-jing Shrine, and the Shinjuku Gyo-en National Park which you have to pay a small fee but it is totally work it.
The top 3 shopping areas that I enjoyed roaming there were Harajuku, Shibuya where you’ll find the world’s busiest crossing (roughly 2,500 people cross each time the light turns green!), and Shinjuku. Shinjuku shopping mall NEWoMAN was probably my absolute favorite place to skim through new designers and grab a bite to eat. I spent a lot of time there. Plus a Shake Shack was right upstairs, which made me feel a bit homey.
I had two really incredible moments in Tokyo that I am so grateful for. One was seeing Ready Player One at Kabukichō district. It was at the theater where King Kong is climbing the building (TOHO Cinemas Shinjuku). The entire experience made me so happy because I felt like a local sharing laughs with the crowd. I highly recommend the experience as a way to relax and rest your feet. The other experience I happened upon was Earth Day. It was a three day celebration with live bands, drinks, and delicious food. One sang Prince’s Purple Rain… I had not lived until I experience that moment.
Other places to visit:
- Tokyo Tower
- Tokyo Skytree
- Tokyo Disney
- Sensō-ji Temple -Tokyo’s oldest and most traveled to Temple
- The Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba Island- an artificial island with high tech entertainment
- Ueno Park – Includes a zoo and several museums
- Tokyo Imperial Palace – the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan
- Tsukiji fish market
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – capture great views of Tokyo for free, an alternative to the Skytree tower views.
- Takeshita Street- exceptional shopping
- Shinjuku Golden Gai
Where To Eat
I am going to be absolutely honest here, as a vegetarian I found it slightly hard to find restaurants. I know, shocking! I often opted meals from 7-11, or markets. One thing that surprised me the most was how much they loved their bread and especially sweet breads. So when you are in town, definitely indulge in a few pastries.
I also found that most malls had food options on the ground floor, and after a 5pm or so they discount the bento box and meals so they can make fresh food for the next day.
Three local chains that carry cheap eats are: Yoshinoya, CoCo Ichiban, and Matsuya.
Since I really didn’t get to indulge as much as I wish in the local cuisine, I did find this article that lists out the best cheap eats in Tokyo.
Absolute Pro Tips
- Always carry a towel with you. Often restrooms do not have hand dryers or towels, so carrying your own comes in handy.
- Try to avoid packing a large suitcase as many train stations only have stairs and no elevators or escalators. You will be carrying your bag from time to time.
- Bring water or simply buy water at one of the many vending machines you’ll find on the side of the road. They also include hot beverages such as teas and coffee.
- Book directly with hostels or capsules to get the best price. In person is often even better!
I think that is everything! If you have an advice for fellow travelers, feel free to leave it in the comments below! Also, stay tuned because next week, I am sharing my favorite solo travel tips from Kyoto (seriously the most magical city I have ever visited).