This is the second post in this month’s Iconic Cities series. Guest writer Abigail swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. A writer and photographer, she explores unusual journeys around the world on her award-winning blog Inside the Travel Lab.
Tokyo gets a bad name when it comes to independent travel. First there’s the language barrier, then there’s the women-only subway carriages designed to thwart persistent gropers, and finally there’s Scarlett Johansson herself: pouting her way around the gorgeous Park Hyatt Hotel in Lost in Translation, but barely managing to venture out alone.
Stuff and nonsense, I was pleased to learn. I love Japan, I love unusual journeys and let me tell you that Tokyo is a great place to visit on your own.
Tokyo is full of quick stop eateries where everyone dines alone, either standing at the counter or sitting on communal wooden
benches. Order your food by pointing at the plastic replica or by pressing the button on the vending machine. Moments later, a waiter will deliver one of the best meals you’ve ever had, piping hot in front of you. No questions about whether someone will be joining you. No sideways glances from other customers.
Okay, avoid the subway at rush hour. But other than that, the polite and reserved behaviour you’ll find in Japan makes it one of the easiest countries to travel through. No hassle, no heckling, no crushes in the crowds.
Want to try this Japanese custom but you’re traveling on your own? Never fear. While most karaoke takes place in cubicles hired out by groups, you can also board a karaoke cruise, or yakatabune. There you’ll find plenty of people raring for a drunken sing-song. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
The TokyoTower, the Meiji Shrine, the Sensoji Temple and the Edo-Tokyo Museum can all be easily explored on your own. So, too, can the funky electrical shops of Akihabara, the teen paradise of Harajuku and the shopping haven of Shinjuku.
Of course, you still need to pay some extra attention as a solo traveler. In line with the other advice on this site, take care at night, don’t get drunk and make sure you’ve arranged a place to stay in advance.
As far as Tokyo specifics go, most capsule hotels (where you can rent a coffin-sized space to tide you over until dawn) don’t accept women.