Tips and tricks for traveling in Tokyo as a female “couple”
By Taryn Siegel on 10 Jan 2017
Having lived in Japan for over 2 years now, by far my most common form of traveling (besides solo traveling) is with one close girlfriend. And as much as I love traveling alone and the company of my boisterous guy friends, this is, for me, easily the most fun form of traveling.
In Tokyo, traveling as a female duo comes with perks, discount accommodations, and a nearly endless list of fun activities that guy friends would probably scoff at. Tokyo itself is an incredible, vibrant city, and the experiences it offers are too vast and changing to fit into any guidebook of finite length, let alone a single article. So for this article I’d like to narrow out my focus to a special side of Tokyo travel: the unique Tokyo treasures awaiting the female traveling duo.
I’ll start with the many discounts that only ladies can enjoy. Tokyo has something like 5 different downtown hubs (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Ikebukuro, Harajuku is my list, at least), so it’s no surprise that it has a huge array of nightlife activities and nightclubs. Unfortunately, most of the decent nightclubs have an entry fee ranging from ¥3000-¥6000 and beyond, and this doesn’t include drinks. But as a lady, by hitting the right nightclub on the right night, you can enjoy seriously reduced prices or even free entry and drinks. Ele Tokyo is great choice for this—a classier club in the middle of Roppongi where ladies are ALWAYS free. Other clubs, like Ageha (Tokyo’s biggest night club), offer free ladies nights if you just check their schedule.
Outside of drinks and nightlife, ladies can also enjoy discount movies in Tokyo. The massive cinema chain Toho Cinemas offers a “Ladies Day” every Wednesday where movie tickets are only ¥1100 for girls.
Tokyo also offers some interesting free hairstyling and haircut services for girls. One of my weirdest experiences in Tokyo was sitting in a chair at an upscale downtown salon surrounded by 20 hair stylist trainees, a camera crew, and a lighting specialist all watching intently as an expert stylist from New York demonstrated the proper way to style my long, blonde, foreign hair. The whole surreal experience was entirely free, and they even offered me and my blonde friend coffee while we waited for the styling to begin. If you’re after a haircut too Cuttaloca is a great site that offers free haircuts for girls. The catch is that your hair will be cut by a trainee. But their site will carefully match you to the right trainee according to the profile you set up, and you can expect your trainee to discuss the cut and styling with you extensively. And it’s free!
As far as more female-leaning activities goes, Tokyo is an amazing city for shopping. Harajuku is usually considered the fashion capital of the city, and the wide, glossy boulevard of Omotesando and gothic-Lolita-packed street of Takeshitadori are absolutely worth a visit. But as far as actually buying things, most of that area is at least totally outside of my budget. But in the more hipster pockets of the city, there are some amazing vintage shops and thrift stores to be found. Probably the most famous thrift store hub is the neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. This area is very close to Shibuya, with tons and tons of winding, crisscrossing little streets packed with cafes, hole-in-the-wall bars, basement live houses, and thrift stores. It’s probably, objectively, one of the coolest areas in Tokyo. Near to the station you can find the famous ¥700 store, which, yes, offers all of its clothes and accessories for ¥700. But beyond and around that one is a whole sprawling array of affordable boutiques.
Another thrift store neighborhood that I only recently stumbled upon is Koenji. This neighborhood—situated between the jazz-bar hub of Asagaya and the downtown center of Shinjuku—also offers a range of affordable thrift stores in cool Japanese styles, along with a ton of cafes and bookstores.
And, lastly, though I may be mocked for this addition, I feel obligated to mention the gold standards of H&M and Forever 21. While I rarely enter these stores in the US, the Japanese versions are a regular stop for me, and probably make up 50% of my wardrobe at this point. The clothing lines in the Tokyo versions of these stores are distinctly different from their US counterparts, offering some fantastic pieces for incredibly low prices.
Tokyo also has every kind of café imaginable. My favorite one for girl friend dates is situated in the posh Daikanyama district next to Shibuya. The café is called Queen’s Collection Chocolate Café and specializes, as you would guess, in hot chocolate. But the best part of this café is that you make the hot cocoa yourself right at the table by mixing together chocolate pieces and milk over a candle-lit porcelain saucer.
Finally, Tokyo does have a kind of “discount accommodation” that female traveling duos can take advantage of. This may sound like an odd suggestion on the surface, but one of the cheapest and highest quality accommodations you can find in Tokyo are in the ubiquitous love hotels. The term “love hotel” is finally becoming outdated, actually, as these hotels are not only used for or geared towards couples anymore. Although the name calls to mind tacky, chiffon-pink walls and coverlets, most “love hotels” are just much nicer business hotels. Because of the stigma, though, they’re also much cheaper than business hotels. A pair of guy friends traveling together would probably feel too odd staying at a love hotel together, but female friends I expect could laugh off the silliness of it, and enjoy the cheap rates, beautiful rooms, and drinks, plus Jacuzzis and outdoor baths!
Tips & Tricks
Despite all the perks that Tokyo offers the female traveling duo, there are some tips and even safety concerns you should keep in mind. First of all, you should quickly learn the unsurpassable convenience of Japanese convenience stores. You can find basically any essential—drinks, snacks, full meals, stamps, cell phone accessories, toiletries, stationery, etc etc—including female-specific essentials (tampons, pads, makeup remover, lotion, shampoo/conditioner, etc.). And for those interested (though you likely won’t need these services), you can also pay bills, ship and deliver packages, buy concert tickets/plane tickets/bus tickets, pay for almost anything you ordered online, make copies, and print photos. Not to mention almost all convenience stores have a clean bathroom open to public use and an ATM. For foreign travellers, though, be careful that only 711 stores have an ATM that can accept international cards. Fortunately, 711s are all over the place in Tokyo, but, as Japan is a cash-based economy, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to withdraw a very large amount of cash whenever you happen to cross one.
Japan also has some wonderful beauty products that foreign companies attempt to imitate unsuccessfully. One of my favorite brands is Kose, but Shiseido is another classic. One thing to be careful of, though, is that a good amount of Japanese lotions come with whitening treatment, which, to me, seems akin to blotting your skin with bleach. Just be careful before buying a product that it doesn’t mention anything about “white” or “whitening,” and if you’re still concerned, feel free to ask a Japanese staff person. They use the English words “white” and “whitening” here, so if you say that slowly coupled with hand gestures, you should have no trouble understanding each other. (Although if you want to try, “whitening ga hoshikunai” is how you would say, “I don’t want whitening” in Japanese).
Safety for Ladies
For female travellers, another wonderful aspect of Tokyo is how incredibly safe it is. You never need to worry about walking alone at night or pickpocketing and can use your wallet or cell phone as a seat-saver in a café (seriously). That being said, there are some things to look out for. Just because Tokyo is safe, don’t abandon your common sense. Don’t follow strange men or women who you don’t know. And while pickpocketing and violent crime is supremely rare in Tokyo, there are creepier crimes to look out for. You may have heard that the unimaginably crowded trains of Tokyo can be scenes of groping. I’ve been fortunate that, in my over two years living in Tokyo, this has never happened to me. In general, gropers tend to avoid targeting foreign girls because their reaction seems more unpredictable and therefore risky. But if it does happen to you, or if you witness it happening to someone else, there’s a specific protocol you should follow and not be remotely shy or awkward about following: grab the offending hand, hold it up in the air and scream “CHIKAN” (which basically means groper) and train personnel will come to help you. They take this crime very seriously here, so never be afraid to come forward if you witness or experience this, thinking no one will understand you or care.
And finally, something that I did almost experience that you should look out for is something called “upskirting.” Actually, all cellphones sold in Japan are built such that the camera makes a loud shutter click even when the phone is on silent. And the reason for this is an issue with people furtively taking photos up women’s skirts. To avoid this, just keep to the protocol that if a lone man asks to take your photo, always say no. If a kind-looking Japanese person asks to take a photo with you, then that’s a different story and is really your call whether or not you’d like to oblige.
It’s always important to be safe when you’re travelling, especially as a girl, but don’t let that discourage you from adventuring. Tokyo is an indescribably cool city, and I’ve never seen a tourist come through it without being blown away. And with its female-friendly discounts, exceptional safety, plus endless shopping, cafes, and beauty products, it’s the perfect city for traveling ladies.
Hi there! I'm a freelance writer, part-time Physics tutor, and amateur musician living in Tokyo, Japan. I'm originally from New York, but have also lived in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Scotland. My interests are nearly equal parts reading, writing, travel, guitar, coffee, and Physics. When I'm not trekking around glorious Japan, I'm likely biking around Tokyo, reading in cafes, or at a live show of one of my greatly more musically talented friends.