Ria spent 3 years teaching English to kids in southwest Japan. She loves helping travelers make the most of their time in the country.
Traveling alone as a woman will always have its risks, but some countries are much safer than others. Additionally, some countries are simply much more enjoyable as a group. It can be easy to feel isolated in a country where everyone else travels in a group or where the locals avoid talking to tourists.
While Japan has a reputation for being polite and professional, it certainly isn't an unfriendly country, and its low crime rate means that it's incredibly safe for solo travel. Women can find lots to do here, and they generally don't have to worry about getting back to the hotel before sunset.
Female Tourists Are Respected
Make no mistake: Japan is no paradise for women in general. Most workplaces have a strong glass ceiling, especially for women who have children. Corporate cultures tend to be tolerant of casual misogyny and even sexual harassment.
That said, though, catcalling and harassment toward tourists is almost unheard of—at least from Japanese men. You may get through an entire trip where the only street interactions you have are with over-enthusiastic junior high school boys yelling "Hello!" at you. If you ever encounter any serious problems in Japan, it'll probably be at the hands of another tourist!
If you like socializing at bars, you will probably never encounter anything worse than a man who has had one too many drinks and decides to tell you midway through your conversation that he thinks you're beautiful and wants to marry you. At that point, an awkward laugh and tilt of the head are all it takes to shut down the conversation. Japanese men can typically take a hint.
There Crime Rate Is Low
Violent crime in Japan is rare, and pickpocketing and theft are almost unheard of outside of tourist areas. Walking between the train station and your hotel is generally safe, although covering large distances on foot after midnight is not recommended. (If you do have to walk home late at night due to lack of funds for a taxi, stick to main roads and don't take any shortcuts!)
Trains in Tokyo and Osaka can be packed full during rush hour, and this occasionally results in gropings and other incidents. Fortunately, dealing with a train groper can be as simple as grabbing the offender's wrist, lifting his hand, and yelling "chikan" (groper). This usually causes him to flee immediately. While it isn't always possible for the police to track down and arrest a groper, public shaming goes a long way in Japan.
Some train lines in Tokyo and Osaka offers women-only train cars during rush hour. Train groping is rarely a problem outside of rush hour or on inter-city trains, so don't lose any sleep over how to stay safe during your travels.
Friendliness Abounds . . . If You Want It
Japanese people typically mind their own business unless you act friendly. If you want to be left alone, staring at a book or smartphone is typically enough of a signal. If you make eye contact and offer a friendly "konnichiwa" at a bar, you might get asked where you're from, and the conversation can go from there.
Unfortunately, the language barrier tends to be enough to keep the conversation from getting too deep. Though English is taught in Japanese schools, most adults aren't conversational. Still, using Google Translate can go a long way if you're up for chatting! If you travel frequently, having some photos of your recent trips on your phone can be great for breaking language barriers.
Solitary Adventures Are Often the Most Memorable
Japanese culture knows the value of spending time alone. Shopping malls and arcades are rarely packed with families and groups of friends like they are in Western countries. Many restaurants are designed with the single diner in mind and have ample counter space so you don't have to stare at an empty chair while you dine. Japan's beautiful mountains and countryside are often best enjoyed alone, since you can take them at your own pace.
Plus, as a woman traveling alone, you can go to the hot springs whenever you want! Just don't be surprised if you get interrogated by some of the curious older women there. While Tokyoites will keep to themselves, other, more rural onsen don't get as many foreign guests, and curiosity may get the better of them.
Sometimes train delays muddle even the best-laid plans, or a last-minute single seat opens up at a popular show in Tokyo. In these cases, traveling alone will be what gives you the experience of a lifetime. You can jump at whatever opportunities open up—and in Japan, you don't have to spend extra energy or time worrying about the safest way to make the leap.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Ria Fritz
Liz Westwood from UK on July 22, 2019:
You give an interesting insight into travel in Japan.
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on July 22, 2019:
The safety is one of the big reasons I love japan. This is a great article packed full of useful information!