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Photo: yama-warau.jp

Solo travel in Tokyo: what to do, where to eat, where to stay

Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world, making it perfect for travellers who like to go at it alone. By Darren Gore and Time Out Tokyo editors

By Time Out Tokyo Editors
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Japan’s vast number of long-term singletons regularly makes global headlines. But as politicians fret about the resulting decline in birth rate, Tokyoites are out enjoying a host of eateries, bars and leisure facilities created especially for lone customers, while lifestyle magazines encourage them with buzzwords such as soro-katsu (solo activity).

While it's true that much of Tokyo's cafés and restaurants are perfect for solo diners, what with their cramped spaces and single-file counter seats, certain food-types such as yakiniku (DIY grilled meat) and shabu-shabu (hot pot) are more of a group activity – until recently. So whether you’re an independent traveller, or just wish to break away from friends or family for a bit of me-time, here are some of our favourite places in Tokyo for singletons.

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Your solo guide to Tokyo

Yamawarau

Restaurants Harajuku

Shabu-shabu is traditionally one of the most social of Japanese cuisines. Part of its attraction is the shared experience of keeping an eye on the simmering hotpot and bringing its paper-thin slices of meat to just the right level of tenderness. Yamawarau turns this model on its head completely. Having debuted here in Omotesando and now with branches in Ginza and Shibuya, the restaurant is tailored to make solo shabu-shabu a comfortable experience (groups are welcome too).

Yamawarau actually goes beyond mere comfort. The sleek interior design features seating around a spot-lit oval counter made from natural wood, on which you'll find single-serving, artisan-crafted nabe pots. Equal care goes into the sourcing of meats and vegetables (the black sirloin is a highlight), with both lunch and dinner courses on offer (from ¥1,450 and ¥2,900 respectively), plus à la carte options in the evening.

Shabu Shabu Let Us
Shabu Shabu Let Us
Photo: fb.com/277151892787509

Shabu Shabu Let Us

Restaurants Nakameguro

Shabu Shabu Let Us is a modern take on the hot pot dish. For starters, the interior looks cool and inviting, with an eye-catching vegetable bar presiding over the counter seats and tables. But what it really excels at is taking shabu shabu and all-you-can-eat dining, both commonly only available to groups (well, at least two persons), and making it enjoyable even to solo diners.

Here, each diner gets their own pot – whether you’re alone at the counter or sitting together at the table. And the best part is, Shabu Shabu Let Us is all about variety. The soup stock choices go beyond the standard dashi to include a wide range of flavours from mild (creamy soy milk, Takumi’s kelp and green tea, etc) to spicy (Sichuan-style mala hot pot, spicy Korean, etc). The sauce and condiment bar gets an upgrade too, with unconventional dips such as sriracha sauce, truffle oil and mala sauce featuring alongside the standard sesame, miso and ponzu sauces.

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Aka to Shimo

Restaurants Sangenjaya

Yakiniku – cuts of assorted meats (predominantly beef) which diners themselves grill over charcoal – is another cuisine that’s usually a group activity. Recently though a crop of hitori-yakiniku (one-person yakiniku) joints have sprung up, with customers eating either tachigui-style (stood up) or sat at a counter.

Sangenjaya’s newly relocated Aka to Shimo is of the latter kind, and has become a favourite for its offering of renowned wagyu beef varieties (Matsusaka; occasionally Tamura-gyu) at knock-down prices (from ¥180 per slice). Diners are each set up with a dinky one-person gas-fired brazier, and Aka to Shimo reports that around 70 percent of visitors come alone.

Uogashi Nihon-ichi Shibuya Dogenzaka

Restaurants Sushi Shibuya

Conveyor-belt sushi restaurants are perfect for solo diners who are looking to just eat and dash – but what if you're looking for a sushi meal that's more refined? Enter Uogashi Nihon-Ichi, one of the best standing sushi bars around, where you can order the omakase set or piece by piece.

The best part about visiting this joint is watching the sushi chefs up close as they whip up your order at lightning speed. There’s an English menu – or you can just point to the seafood you recognise at the counter. Apart from Dogenzaka, there are branches all over town, including in Kyobashi, Akihabara, Kojimachi, Kichijoji, Asakusabashi and Akasaka.

For more budget sushi options, check our list here.

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Ohshika

Bars and pubs Shibuya

Located in Shibuya’s Dogenzaka neighbourhood, Ohshika is another spot that limits entry exclusively to unaccompanied drinkers. This bijou, chandelier-lit bar has a cosy air that makes it feel like a safe space for lone females, and Ohshika is also non-smoking throughout.

Drinks wise,  the focus is on cocktails, with the house original (¥1,200) made with calvados and apple pie syrup topped with candy floss and vanilla ice cream; snacks and pasta dishes are also served. The best part is, there’s no cover charge at Ohshika.

The SG Club

Nightlife Shibuya

Named after its legendary bartender, Shingo Gokan, The SG Club takes its cocktails extremely seriously. Shingo Gokan won international bartender of the year back in 2017 and is now churning out his exemplary creations at The SG Club in Shibuya.

The club is spread out over two floors. The ground floor is named Guzzle – a more casual watering hole – while the basement is called Sip, with the vibes of a speakeasy. Solo drinkers will feel at ease at the ground floor space. The vibe is relaxed, there are counter seats to watch the bartender shaking it, and there's no table charge.

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1Kara Sotokanda

Things to do Akihabara

There’s never been any real taboo about checking into a karaoke box alone, but this chain with branches in Akihabara and elsewhere caters exclusively to solitary singers. Futuristically styled along the lines of a spaceship, 1Kara’s solo-sized booths are kitted out with recording studio-style equipment such as stand-mounted mikes – enabling a hands-free session complete with dance routine, if that’s your vibe.

Unlike regular karaoke, performance is relayed back over headphones rather than a sound system. Note that membership (¥300) is required, so be sure to take along some form of ID in order to register. Rental starts at ¥250 per 30 mins, dependent on time of day, excluding headphone hire from ¥300 – alternatively you can plug in your own.

Mominoki House Dogenzaka

Health and beauty Shibuya

Due to its convenient location in central Shibuya and the fact it is open until 5am, footbath café Mominoki House is perfect for lone visitors looking for respite after a long day of sightseeing. The ashiyu (foot bath) is installed under the seats along a large window which offers views of the bustling area below. ¥1,080 brings you a 45-minute foot bath, an Ayurveda herbal tea and a quick shoulder massage. For an additional ¥500, you can also get a piece of pound cake or coconut banana pudding to munch on. Who says Tokyo is expensive?

For more footbath cafés, check our list here.

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Spa LaQua

Health and beauty Spas Suidobashi

In many ways, LaQua feels more like a 'super sento' than an onsen. This sprawling bathhouse inside the Tokyo Dome City complex uses sodium-chloride-enriched hot spring water drawn from 1,700m underground, which is said to help circulation and relieve muscle ache, neuralgia and arthritis.

In addition to an open-air rotenburo and foaming massage bath, the complex has three types of sauna, including an unusual rock salt one that's supposed to be good for improving metabolism. Once you're done bathing, you can go take a rest at the relaxation lounge, where the reclining seats each offers a privacy screen, individual TV and charging points.

Manga Art Hotel

Hotels Takebashi

The ultimate in space-efficient accommodation, capsule hotels have become emblematic of high-density Tokyo life since first proliferating in the 1980s. Recently a succession of boutique-style versions have appeared across the city, elevating these sleep pods above something associated with salarymen who’ve missed their last train home.

One of the very latest, opened in February 2019, is the Manga Art Hotel. Fittingly located in Tokyo’s literary hub Kanda-Jinbocho, its minimalist, curtained-off ‘single rooms’ are complemented by a massive library of over 5,000 manga titles, including English-language editions.

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Artless Craft Tea & Coffee

Restaurants Coffeeshops Nakameguro

Artist and interior designer Shun Kawakami of Artless Inc takes his minimalist game into the brew business with this coffee and tea stand under train tracks at Nakameguro. Decorated with tea utensils and tableware from the designer's own collection, the shop also serves as Kawakami's office and a community space.

The single-origin beans come courtesy of coffee authority Kentaro Maruyama himself, the organic tea is supplied by small-scale farmers, and the edibles are the work of the owner's wife. While most cafés are lively and social, this space is more Zen, suited for solo drinkers looking for some peace and quiet, and perhaps even some introspection.

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