Independent Travel In Japan For Females

Payton Letko
April 29, 2018

A few weeks ago I wanted to take a trip to Kyoto the city famous for cherry blossoms, but my regular travel buddy was unable to walk long distances because of pain in her foot. My other friends weren’t keen on the idea of getting up at 4:30AM to try to beat some of the crowds and see as much as possible in a day. I was torn between rescheduling my trip for my friends, which meant missing the cherry blossoms or going on my own. Of course, I was hesitant. Before leaving for study abroad I had many people, my mother especially, telling me about the dangers of traveling alone. They spoke of mugging and assault to try and persuade me never to travel alone during my time abroad. However, I found traveling alone to be a refreshing and empowering experience. There were times when I found myself paranoid because of what I had been told, so what I think female study abroaders need is advice on what to do and how to handle themselves if they do choose to take a trip by themselves.

**Japan is usually recognized as one of the safest countries for backpackers and independent travelers, however, it’s important to remember this doesn’t mean incidents never happen here. No matter where you are in the world, you should always be aware of your surroundings.**

Confidence is Key

When you stand tall and act like you know where you’re going-- even if you are using Google maps-- you will come across as someone who is comfortable with the area. Even if you do get mixed up a bit when following your maps, don’t sweat it. Your body language is going to tell people around you how they can treat you, whether someone’s trying to sell you something, or target you in some way or other. If you get lost or confused then, you’re going to need enough confidence to ask someone for directions, no matter what level your language skills may be. You’ll need confidence to do all kinds of things by yourself like eating alone public. For some reason in America, we are quick to assume people eating by themselves are lonely and have no good relationships, which is a state of mind that I quickly discovered I was in when I first began living in Tokyo for an internship. I had no problem exploring by myself, but the first time I wanted to try a new restaurant while out exploring on my own I had this huge dilemma and found myself quite uncomfortable eating alone at this restaurant, to the point where I felt like I needed to scarf down my food and get the heck out of there. Eventually, I had the epiphany that it doesn’t matter and I can enjoy my own company in public spaces, I just needed to find the confidence to do so. In cases like that, I had just had to fake it until I actually reached that level.

Traveling Safely and Your Comfort Zone

Part of traveling and experiencing a new culture is to go outside of your comfort zone, but your safety is a priority and you do need to be comfortable traveling alone to actually enjoy the experience. This may mean choosing proper luggage, such as a backpack that straps to your waist, or a bag you can easily wear on the front or back of your body. When it comes to your accommodations it may mean searching for a women’s only hostel or spending a little more for a private room. When I stay at a hostel it always makes me feel better when I can lock all of my belongings in a locker. While traveling around Kyoto I decided to rent a bike for more of a local experience, but I realized that I felt a lot safer exploring alone on a bike than I did walking around by myself, especially at night. For some, it will be taking public transportation like the bus or train.

What To Do If You Feel Threatened

As stated before, Japan is one of the safer countries to travel, but that doesn’t mean things don’t happen or have the potential to happen. In America when my family was sending me off to college, the women in my life were concerned for my safety and trying to prepare me for the “just in case” situations. I was given advice like if you’re walking alone at night somewhere call a friend until you arrive home. In Japan, you may not have the resources to always make calls on your cell phone, in that case, fake it. If you feel threatened, hold your phone to your ear and act like your talking on the phone with someone. No, it’s not silly if it makes you feel safe. Before going to college back home I was also given pepper spray to attach to my keys. In Japan carrying pepper spray is illegal and considered a weapon, so something you use for safety in your own country may not be allowed where you’re studying-- so make sure to check these kinds of things beforehand. An alternative is to take a self-defense class before you leave for your study abroad experience. However, keep in mind that sometimes the situation won’t be that extreme and it can be as simple as being vocal and standing tall.

Of course, every person is different and will need to figure out what works for them.

Payton Letko

<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:9.65pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt"><span style="line-height:115%">I grew up in a small farm town but was bitten by the travel-bug shortly after leaving for undergrad. I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas, and can often be found searching for the best treats life has to offer.</span></p>

2018 Spring
Home University:
Illinois Wesleyan University
Toulon, Illinois
International Studies
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