Alone In Tokyo: 5 Tips To Get Through The Solo Foreigner Blues
City Life Got You Feeling A Bit Lonely And Alienated? We Got You.
Once the initial excitement and novelty of being abroad in Tokyo wears off, work challenges, language barriers, homesickness, and even the winter season can gang up on you, making it harder to connect with others and enjoy daily life.
Japan has a reputation for being one of the loneliest countries in the world. And with many employees working overtime on a daily basis, it’s easy to understand why. The first time I lived in Japan, I got a contract playing piano and singing six nights a week at a Hakone resort. Although I continually met people who were kind and thoughtful, my work hours and then non-existent Japanese language skills made it difficult to connect with others in my day-to-day life.
[Y]ou’re not alone in feeling alone.
Loneliness is a powerful emotion. So much so that it is starting to be considered a public health problem in many countries In fact, both Australia and the UK have recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness. Here, the government has yet to implement any concrete policies to tackle the problem, but the issue of loneliness is just as potent. Take this stat for example: Around 15 percent of Japanese people have admitted that they do not have any social interaction outside of their family, according to recent OECD data.
In other words, you’re not alone in feeling alone.
The good news is that it only takes a little bit of effort to turn things around for the better. Here are my personal tips for making new friends, finding community ties, and enjoying all the amazing things Tokyo has to offer.
1. Invite your co-workers out after work
The joy of being in Tokyo is that there are endless opportunities for fun—and everything is open late. Getting the chance to get to know your co-workers outside of work is undoubtedly a great way to create, strengthen, and maintain new friendships. The good news is that in Japan, post-work drinks, or nomikai, are practically a part of the job so you shouldn’t have much trouble persuading your colleagues to join you.
If you work around the Shibuya area, check out Tsukuyomi Coffee for a post-work catch-up. It’s a small establishment serving light meals, coffee, cake, and adult coffee (yes, I’m talking coffee spiked with alcohol). Music lovers should head to Dogenzaka on a Tuesday night for Ruby Room’s famed open mic night where you’ll be entertained by a mixture of locals, ex-pats, and travelers. Given the intimate setting of the bar, it’s a golden opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone—if they don’t beat you to it! You should check out Savvy Tokyo’s Food and Drink archives for more cool places to visit after dark with your (hopefully) new friends.
2. Discover new passions through volunteering
Volunteering in Tokyo can be a great way to help the community, make friends, and highlight the things you have to be grateful for. Working alongside other volunteer staff who are passionate about changing the world for the better will not only give you all the good feels, but you’ll be a part of a community where you’re all working towards one collective goal. And nothing brings people closer together than that.
There are plenty of volunteer organizations in Tokyo, but if you prefer interacting with furry friends, the Animal Life Matters Association (ALMA) is accepting volunteers for both administrative tasks, and caring for the cats and dogs, including cleaning cages, preparing meals, and dog walking. The website is in Japanese, but you can access the volunteering form here.
3. Endorphins make you happy—exercise!
It’s all too easy to stay under the covers with a good Netflix drama, but if you dig deep and get up and at ‘em, your mind and body will thank you.
If a standard gym session isn’t your cup of tea, I highly recommend a boxing class for an intense and not-your-everyday workout. Location-wise, I enjoy going to B-Monster because of the group-taught boxing classes that are held in a dark room that’s lit up by colorful LED lights. The idea is to “refresh yourself both physically and mentally as if you were dancing in a club”—you’ll be having too much fun partying that you’ll forget you’re working out!
For a gentler workout, practice your namastes at one of these English-friendly yoga classes in Tokyo. Everyone from beginners to super flexible yogis is welcome.
4. Go to a Japanese class
Perhaps the most obvious point is the inability to speak Japanese—it is automatically isolating to a certain degree. Self-study is all well and good, but only another student studying the language can understand the difficult journey of learning Japanese. The power of shared learning is not to be underestimated. I personally learned more Japanese in a single month of classes compared to months of self-study.
Perhaps the most obvious point is the inability to speak Japanese—it is automatically isolating to a certain degree.
If you’re like me and prefer flexible classes that don’t break the bank, I can recommend Coto Japanese Academy. Aside from the textbook material they supply, they teach Japanese words and phrases that are heard in everyday situations like at the convenience store or the train station. Simply being able to recognize a few sounds and kanji characters can go a long way; you’ll start feeling like you’re a part of the world around you. GaijinPot Study is also a good resource for finding a language school with courses to suit your specific needs.
5. Take a solo trip
Being lonely isn’t always caused by the absence of interaction. Rather, it’s how you feel about those interactions. If you’ve ever gone out with a group of people, yet felt disconnected, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
One of the best things about Japan is how incredibly safe and easy it is to travel. How is this possible? Enter Japan’s railway system. Hop on a train, throw on some earbuds, and make the mental shift from “lonely” to “solo day-tripper”. With countless historical monuments, mountains, natural hot springs, and an entire ocean only a hop and a skip away from Tokyo, there’s no better place to pursue your inner wanderlust.
There are a number of easy-to-get-to and totally #worthit spots in and around Tokyo: Hakone for a dip in Japan’s famous onsens, Enoshima for those missing the beach or in search of a spa day, Kamakura to catch historical views of the massive Daibutsu, or Ibaraki prefecture to catch the final colors of fall.
Feel proud of yourself for taking a chance on something—whether it’s a job, a relationship, or your own desire to be in Japan—you took the leap and made it happen. You can get through this.
Loneliness can be debilitating and lead to other mental health issues. There are a number of places you can reach out to if you feel you need professional support.
- Tokyo Counseling Services provides counseling and therapy services in a variety of different languages for all residents living in Tokyo
- TELL (Tokyo English Lifeline) is a wonderful organization that provides 24-hour support for mental health
- The Japan Helpline has info and resources for areas across the country for everything from medical help to other emergencies.
Have you experienced loneliness living in Tokyo? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments.