Alone in Kyoto

Confession time: I have never been overseas alone.

Can tourists dress up as well? Should I dress up like a confused Westerner?

I am a little worried about my upcoming trip to Japan. Not only am I going it alone, I am not joining a tour, meeting a friend or doing anything that has been planned for me. I  am just showing up.

I have booked my first night of accommodation at the airport hotel and then I am planning to head into Tokyo to … look around?

On my birthday, I am going to Harajuku to get all googly-eyed around the people playing dress-ups.

After that, I am catching the Shinkansen to Mt Fuij, Kyoto and Osaka but I have no idea where to stay or what to do when I get there.

Do you have any suggestions? I am at a complete loss. I don’t speak Japanese and I don’t know anyone that lives in Japan. All I know is that I want to stay at a ryokan in Kyoto, soak in an onsen, look at cherry blossoms, see some geishas, eat some sushi and generally absorb all the crafty arty beautifulness that is Japanese culture. I wouldn’t mind going for a bushwalk, if that’s what you even call it in Japan.

I do not, however, wish to sleep under a bridge, no matter how ancient or pretty it is.

Can anyone help? Has anyone been to these areas? Got any cheap suggestions?





9 comments on “Alone in Kyoto

  1. Oh my god Em you crack me up. I lived in Japan and didn’t know a soul or speak the language before my arrival – and to this day I can still only string a few Japanese phrases together. I survived without the need to sleep under any bridges and that was 10 years ago. They generally had very good English skills back then and I assume they have probably improved since I was there. The train ticket machines and even ATMs have a button you can press so things show up in English. There are information booths at most big stations from memory, and I just used an old Lonely planet guide for tips on accommodation when I was there, but I hear this amazing thing called the Internet can be useful for that sort of thing now.
    If you want any tips just give me call. but I hope you have fun on your first solo adventure.

  2. Dress up day in Harajuku is Sunday, so you’ll see the most colourful characters then. They congregate on the bridge near Harajuku station on the Yamanote train line. There are also lots of rockerbilly dudes dancing in yoyogi park nearby, and through the park you can get to Meiji Jingu temple which is worth a look.

    Other cool things to do in Tokyo inclue to fish market at Tsukiji, Kappabashi-Dorii (kitchen town), and Akihabara (electronics area – lots of maid cafes and otaku (nerd fan boys). You will probably also see at least 1 or 2 “idols” performing or having their photos taken, very cute but weird).

    Osaka is all about the food – eat all the takoyakis and okonomiyakis. The Osaka Aquarium is amazing, recommend this. Edo Town is quite cheesey but interesting. Other touristy things – Osaka Castle, science museum, river cruise…

    In Kyoto get a bus pass and hit up all the temples. You can easily spend a few hours at Inari shrine (the one with all the red torii gates, features in memoirs of a geisha). There is also an excellent bike tour company, highly recommended!! http://www.kctp.net/en/ guide Keiko is excellent 🙂

    Have fun!!

  3. Hey baby, I lived there for three years and speak Japanese. The first thing you should try to do is learn some basic phrases. You can also have a translator on your iPhone, an app that takes what you say and translates it. You should get in touch with the Japanese TOurism organisation and since you have worked for HTO and are in tourism, ask their advice. There is a book called Japan Think American Think that explains a lot of the mores, taboos, rituals, manners and do/don’t stuff. That’s a start.

  4. I have no tips for Japan as have never been but travelling on your own with no set plans is exciting and when the best adventures happen!

  5. You’ll be FIIIINE!! As Rachel and Phil said, there are plenty of resources at your disposal to plan your trip before you go. And if you’re staying at an airport hotel on your first night, they should have English-speaking concierges/tour organisers (or whatever they’re called!) to help you.

    I went to Tokyo on a biz trip 5 years ago, and I managed okay on my own. Although I did have a panic attack at one of the train stations because I couldn’t decipher the destinations map and no one I asked spoke English or could help me. I think I ended up just choosing a train line, hopping on a train and hoping for the best.

    Otherwise, I LOVE solo travel. It’s my preferred way to travel – more freedom and scope for discovery!

    Have fun! xx

  6. Number 1 tip is to stay in hostels. You don’t have to do the dreaded dorm experience; many have private bedrooms for rent.

    I’ve travelled a lot on my own and have found hotels are not a great place to meet people.

    In hostels most people staying there will be flying solo and more open to meet and chat with fellow travellers. In good hostels there are cosy communal areas where you can curl up with a beer and a good book after a hard day pounding the street and you never know who you’ll meet and what your learn.


  7. OMG – you guys are THE BEST! Thank you so much. This info is great and I already feel less freaked out about the whole thing. Rach, Gemma, Phil, Aims, Helen, Virginia – huge thank you for these insights.

  8. Em, love the Air reference in the title.

    Travelling on your own is the bee’s knees. In fact it is the ONLY way to travel. This is going to be a whole new world for you.

    Don’t really know Japan though. I say really. I mean I don’t know it at all.

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