The art of traveling is not about mastering a skill or crossing off achievements, but searching for experiences and interactions that enrich the soul. But for many women, there are natural concerns about which of the world’s great cities are best suited to host their adventures, especially if they are traveling alone. Safety was a primary consideration even before the pandemic, but it is now a more vital matter than ever before. No matter how you qualify a destination as safe these days, from low crime to the enforcement of strict health precautions, Tokyo couldn’t be a better fit for a ladies trip or a solo adventure. Japan’s capital hits all the marks, not just because it’s one of the safest cities in the world (with an excellent ongoing response to the coronavirus), but because of all there is to see and do.
Why Women Travelers Should Choose Tokyo For Their Next Great Getaway
If someone set out to design a travel destination especially for women, there’s no doubt they’d come up with something resembling Tokyo. In Japan’s notoriously crime-free capital, safety is felt all around, from the bustling streets to the city’s many restaurants and even the single-person karaoke boxes. There are also plenty of exciting destinations where one can shop and get pampered, as well as easily-accessible green spaces. Be it groups or solo travelers, Tokyo welcomes women!
As co-founder and CEO of architecture firm Suppose Design Office, Ai Yoshida has spent the last five years leading an expansive portfolio of commercial and residential projects around Tokyo. If you can’t find Yoshida at her desk or on a site visit, chances are she’s ambling along the narrow backstreets and alleyways of the capital, admiring old neighborhoods that have been untouched by property developers for decades. It’s a simple, but soul-swelling respite for an architect always on the go. “In Tokyo, every neighborhood has a different feel to it,” she says. “I especially love the old parts of the city, and imagining why a building looks a certain way or how a neighborhood became the way it is.” It was on one of her walks through Asakusabashi, an old rice-warehouse district, that Yoshida would stumble upon one of her most memorable off-the-beaten-path finds.
Hakujitsu is an antique store tucked inside a former kura, a depot that once stored dry goods. Its clandestine location behind an unassuming stone façade is just part of the charm. The real showstopper is the impeccable curation of handmade Japanese household fixtures, ceramics, and sculpted objects stocked in moody nooks around the shop. “It was completely by chance [that I found Hakujitsu],” she recalls. “Going inside felt like I had permission to snoop around someone’s amazing personal collection of stuff.” Questing for intimate shopping experiences surprisingly doesn’t require a ton of effort, despite the mega-malls and colossal department stores of Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ginza being among the most popular spots for retail therapy. As in Yoshida’s case, casually meandering through lesser-known neighborhoods is all you need to unearth the city’s hidden gems. And Tokyo is exceptionally safe to do just that, even if you’re strolling solo as a woman.
There’s a lot more about Tokyo that defies the usual trappings of urban living on this scale. Its streets are shockingly clean, shopkeepers are polite, crime is super low, and the public transportation is efficient. These characteristics are anything but insignificant to female travelers who are recommended to always be vigilant on their ventures abroad. But even in an unfamiliar part of Tokyo, women can feel at ease navigating the city alone. The city is so safe, that it’s even common to see young children in their school uniforms commuting to class without adult chaperones hovering nearby. “I’ve never felt unsafe in Tokyo, even at night,” says Yoshida. Many other cities around the world do not afford the same luxury.
That’s hardly the only luxury you’ll find in Tokyo. On the 46th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo sits one of the most sumptuous spas in the city. In this sky-high sanctuary, pampering is elevated to an art form with the skyline as the backdrop. Expert attendants draw on a full range of therapeutic body scrubs, deep-muscle massages, facials, foot baths, and hot-stone treatments to rejuvenate the skin and revitalize the mind.
For some, belting out songs like a pop star in a hi-fi karaoke room can produce the same calming effect as a spa treatment. While it might be tempting to think of it as a cliché nighttime activity, karaoke remains a veritable Japanese pastime to this day. In America, it usually takes the form of stage performances in front of a roomful of people, but in Japan karaoke is usually a private, small-room affair. Tokyo-based chain 1Kara amplifies the concept of privacy—a much safer approach to enjoy karaoke given the pandemic—by offering rooms for just one person with access to studio-quality microphones, sound-mixing controllers, and over-the-ear headphones.
Just like sifting through a massive library of songs for your next karaoke performance, settling on your next meal in Tokyo can oftentimes leave travelers paralyzed by indecision. With nearly 150,000 restaurants and 30,000 bars, there’s something for every taste bud and budget. Yoshida’s outings in Tokyo with friends always revolve around food and drink. She’ll head to Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience for its serene setting as a modern tearoom that serves an extraordinary variety of freshly-roasted tea blends, sake, and wagashi sweets. For a more spirited evening out, she’ll gravitate to Toranomon Yokocho, a new food hall that recreates the festive ambience of Tokyo’s back-alley pubs inside a Toranomon Hills office building. Yoshida’s firm designed the sleek space, which opened in 2020 with over two dozen bars and eateries as well as the city’s first craft gin distillery. “Coziness is a big part of the experience of dining in Tokyo’s old alleyways,” she says. “[For Toranomon Yokocho] I wanted that liveliness in a more refined setting, similar to Spain’s San Sebastian.”
When it comes to relaxation, Yoshida taps into the shinrinyoku (“forest bathing”) benefits of Yoyogi Park, the former site of the 1964 Olympic Village. With enormous shade trees, sprawling lawns, a running and cycling loop, and a bird sanctuary, it’s the perfect retreat from the concrete jungle (though architect Kenzo Tange’s striking Olympic arenas across the street are certainly worth a gander). Yoyogi Park is close enough to Yoshida’s office that it has become a regular escape during the workday. “I stop by the Little Nap Coffee stand and 365 Jours bakery and head to the park to daydream,” she describes. “It’s like having a picnic in my own garden.” Just southwest of the park is Tomigaya, a district home to an eclectic mix of old-school stalwarts and businesses introduced by an influx of hipsters. It’s clear that this emerging indie enclave continues to evolve, with traditional fishmongers, butchers, and tatami-mat shops giving way to trendy coffee stands, cute bistros, natural wine bars, and bonsai nurseries. “Tomigaya is the first neighborhood I got to know in Tokyo and I’m still very fond of it,” says Yoshida.
In a place as vast as Tokyo, getting advice from a local is always the best way to get your start. Still, even locals feel like they’re barely scratching the surface of all their city has to offer. With hidden boutiques, buzzy restaurants, luxurious spas, and so much more, why wouldn’t you choose Tokyo for your next great getaway?
For more insider secrets and on-the-ground tips for the ultimate Tokyo experience click HERE.
Given the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hours and accessibility of many places are subject to change, so make sure to contact them before your visit. Learn more about Tokyo's safety measures here.