Solo in Tokyo, Honto? #2
<*honto?= really in Japanese?!*>
I am Amel, 22 years old French Master student in International Public Management, focused on Global Risks and the East Asian region. I was born and raised in Paris but had the chance to travel by myself a lot in Europe, the United-States and Morocco. I have a strong interest in Asian countries especially for their language, landscapes, FOOD, and cosmetics industry. I have started learning Chinese 8 years ago and Japanese by myself last year, when I had the opportunity to move to Japan for 6 months. This, was my first solo travel experience. The following travel diary will tell you more about it and maybe inspire you to do the same if you are still hesitating. Besides my studies, I enjoy running, outdoor activities, rap music and dogs.
Tokyo is a safe city for a solo female traveller. The risks of you getting your phone or bag stolen are low, but you still have to be careful. Some places such as Kabukicho in Shinjuku are more risky for its bars and clubs. You might also beware of swindles and daylight robbery in some touristic places of Roppongi, that remains a mainstream place to go out at night.
Police stations are called Koban (交番). You can find them near metro stations and central spots in the city, police officers will always manage to offer help.
The train is usually safe at night, you might still share it with drunk salarymen and early birds.
Medical care and assistance
As a student, I had to subscribe to Japanese medical insurance. As a traveller, you are not covered by national insurance but make sure that you have strong medical insurance in your home country. In Tokyo, there are several private medical centres, an American Hospital and other private facilities. In 6 months, I only one time got to see a doctor, but the language barrier was a problem. You can usually check on websites for a doctor that speaks English.
I sincerely hope that you will not need that advice, but recommend you to bring your own medicine and carry clear descriptions of the treatments you follow.
Earthquakes and extreme weather conditions
Japan is also famous for its extreme weather conditions and frequent earthquakes. This singularity is due to the archipelago’s localisation, more or less risky. I have experienced two weak earthquakes in Tokyo. It is surprising at first but considering that small earthquakes occur every day, some say that Japanese people do not feel shakes anymore. If you are particularly anxious about the issue, you are free to attend simulation classes in Tokyo. Japanese people are more than ready to face natural disasters, the metro and the building are built to support it. It should in any way slow your motivation.
Moreover, Japan has rainy seasons called Tsuyu (梅雨) with mostly typhoons in October/November/June. I recommend you not to change your plans yet to carry an umbrella, waterproof clothes and shoes. This will not disturb too much Tokyo’s life that still continues. You might only be surprised by people wearing Crocs and flip-flops with a suit or a kimono.
From Tokyo to China and Hong-Kong
During your stay in Asia, I highly advise you to consider going to China from Tokyo. You can take scheduled flights with low-cost companies from Haneda airport and Narita airport. From Tokyo, it will take you 3 hours 30 minutes to reach Shanghai for instance and 5 hours to reach Hong Kong. It is better to plan your trip to mainland China a few months or weeks before since you need a Visa for any duration of stay. The Visa procedure is not too complicated but time-consuming since you must go to Visa agencies separated from China’s Embassy.
Japanese people are extremely polite, ready to help and welcoming. During your stay, you might encounter some situations when politeness controls everything from how people behave to where they walk, seat, smoke, talk. It is fair to say that as a foreigner, people will expect fewer efforts from you concerning manners and politeness. However, it is highly appreciated when travellers do not talk too loud in transports, keep their trash in their own bags (there are no bins in Tokyo), recycle, do not eat in transports or smoke outside from the special smoking areas.
This app helps you plan your trips inside Tokyo, check metro timetables and search itineraries. I recommend it because it is easy to use, available in English. You can trust this app as I never had bad experiences.
A Japanese train and domestic flight route finder application. It helps you find the nearest station by GPS, get links to map, rent-a-car and hotel reservations. Like the JR East App, the fare is indicated for each route and enables you to choose the cheapest one. It is multi-language so fully available in English.
Working without any internet connection, XE enables you to convert prices from Yen to the currency you usually use. It is a pragmatic way to control your spendings, compare prices and monitor your budget. What I particularly appreciate is that it converts money in several currencies at the same time, because sometimes it is easier to consider prices in Dollars than in Euros when you travel abroad.
With free maps, recommendations, hotel plans and rankings, this app is gold. Once you download it, you only have to look for Tokyo’s guide and you will have it forever in your phone, even without an internet connection. You can also use it to check the “must-see” spots and museums.
A weather forecast app
In Tokyo, you will realise that most of your activities depend on weather conditions. I recommend you to check it often during your stay, as it changes extremely rapidly. And, if you see all the salarymen carrying an umbrella in the train on a sunny morning and forgot yours, make sure that you have 400 Yen in your pocket to buy one at the nearest convenience store, they are never wrong!
Most of us use WeChat, Messenger or Whatsapp to chat. In Japan, everyone from 7 to 97 years old use Line. This app is a big thing in Japan. So big that it has its own store in Harajuku. Cute stickers, gifs and pictures are used to chat, and you will see the elders buy kawaii stickers on their Ipad in the train. No need to give your number, just have a Line ID and you are ready to chat with your Japanese friends or local contacts.
NomadHer is an app for solo female travellers to travel safely and meet other like-minded female travellers around the world. It will be launched in this year before summer and I cannot wait to use this application for my upcoming future travels.
Volunteering, how to be involved in a project
Whether you are in Tokyo for a few days, weeks or months, it is a great occasion to get involved in a volunteering project. It is a well-known fact that solo travel is a way to meet people, learn about a country’s situation and singularities. Hence, volunteering opens the door to a new way of thinking a city and brights up not only your day but your entire trip, enlightening you with memories.
The two following organizations offer the opportunity to get involved for an hour or for a day, it is then convenient and can fit your busy traveller schedule easily.
Hands On Tokyo
Initially created by a group of people in New York, Hands On offers one-time occasions to get involved. There is no obligation to subscribe, it is free and the staff is open to questions.
Hands On provide bilingual or English speaking volunteers opportunities to serve the needs of communities in Japan. I have done blind jogging with Hands On Tokyo in Yoyogi Park, running miles with a 50 years old blind runner. I encourage you to dedicate one hour or more of your time in Tokyo for such an experience that will bring you a lot.
Sophia Refugee Support Group
Sophia Refugee Support Club was created by Tokyo Sophia University’s students to provide help to refugees. It is indeed important to understand that Japan welcomes few refugees every year and that students take initiatives to support them. This club organizes frequent gigs, activities and meetings outside from Sophia University which you can attend to show your interest and hear life stories. As a solo traveller, it is a way to meet English natives around a drink and chat about what they are doing to make Tokyo a more welcoming city for refugees.
To me, Tokyo is an ideal destination to start your journey as a solo traveler. In a few words: safe, fascinating, on the moove, good food, welcoming people, unique.
Japan also has some negative sights like any other city that you will experience once there, but most travelers are nostalgic when they are back from the Land of the Rising Sun.