What is solo travel in Japan like?
Some may be apprehensive of the idea of travelling alone, more accustomed to group travel as a part of a celebration, get-together with friends, or a family vacation to bond and grow closer to the people you are familiar with. However others may feel extremely liberated by the prospect of travelling alone, seeing it as an opportunity to get familiar with someone who you are in contact with every day but perhaps never take the time to check in with; yourself.
Buddhism, one of Japan’s main religions, emphasizes self-reflection. When we are confronted with ourselves, it is important to understand the difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is a feeling of abandonment, a negative state of isolation, whereas solitude is a positive and constructive feeling that helps you get to know yourself. For Buddhist monks, solitude is a way of connecting with the other world. By removing all other elements from your space, you are allowing Buddha to travel with you.
Meanwhile, Japan’s indigenous Shinto religion uses the polytheistic concept of kami (or god) to describe the holiness and spiritual aspects of every object and living thing around you. A tree, rock or place can contain a kami, and so can you – this principle is seen in Shinto shrines where the main object of worship is a mirror, the reflection of all that is you.
By choosing your destination you are effectively taking control of your journey. Not being tied to another person’s choice will open up many of your own. After all, you are free to go where you want and most importantly, create connections. People are social and we will always seek out company. You are never the only solo traveller and this longing to connect will push you to utilise your communication skills; tricky when you don’t know the country’s language. Locals are always interested to know why someone is travelling alone. See your trip not as a journey by yourself, but as a chance to connect with new people and make new friendships that may last a lifetime.
Japan is a country that is very friendly towards solo travellers. Historically, people walked trails by themselves as wandering merchants, ronin (‘masterless samurai’) or religious pilgrims. These wanderers were welcomed at small roadside inns and given food and boarding in exchange for coin, or work if times were tough. Today, an inn will not request labour in return for a bed, but the openness to welcome strangers remains.
If you are wondering whether Japan is safe for solo travel, you will be delighted to know that the country has a trustworthy network of public transportation and there is a great amount of English signage, facilitating your journey. The locals have an amazing sixth sense for noticing people who are lost and will immediately try to help if you look even the slightest bit perplexed. And don’t forget, the kami that inhabit every roadside shrine will be protecting you on your travels. Walking one of Japan's ancient trails with Oku Japan provides an additional layer of security as well - we have local branch offices on both the Kumano Kodo and Nakasendo Trails, maintaining local connections and serving as bridge for you during your visit.
A family trip creates precious memories but a journey of self-discovery is equally priceless. Neither is better than the other, but their purposes do differ. If you ever feel like there is a roadblock in front of you, a solo-trip might just be what you need to move past it. Japan is such a unique and diverse country to discover and experiences are absorbed differently when there is no one there to immediately share them with.
The many intricate secrets and historical facts about a location will be etched better into your memory when you prepare to share your story down the line. As for the moment, the experience is there only for you, and you will remember the whole journey so much better because it was you, and just you, who had the courage to seek new places and explore the world.
So, now that you have perhaps bolstered your confidence to undertake solo travel, be sure to carry it with you as your own precious kami.