Alone in Tokyo: 5 tips to get through the solo foreigner blues

By Holly Terrens

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.

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.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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Please don’t peddle this nomikai thing as a mandatory part of the job.

Some of us have families with kids waiting at home.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Tinder tinder tinder tinder tinder. You're welcome.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If you are into an activity or sport, I think it is easier to meet people in Japan. I would probably have a much more active social life in Japan even though I don't speak Japanese (haha) because there are way more fit active people in Japan than the US. Every time I have gone to group activities or met international people while traveling it has been a good experience.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If you are into an activity or sport, I think it is easier to meet people in Japan.

Definitely. Even if you cannot speak Japanese, you instantly become 内 (うち uchi); in-group. Particularly with people on the team, but more generally with people who do the sport. Being part of the in-group makes it easy for Japanese people to open up, because there are less mental walls in the way for them. I did some martial arts when I first came here, and it was a really good experience.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Strange article with some strange suggestions.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Honestly I can have a blast in Tokyo bring by myself.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Loneliness is a powerful emotion. So much so that it is starting to be considered a public health problem in many countries In fact

The lack of hobbies is a far more bigger problem imo.

Most people that say there are lonely don't have any hobby at all, they don't know what to do of their free time, hence feel they should be around other people...

Read a book, watch movies, play games, learn something, practice an activity, and then maybe you won't feel lonely so often...

Just a guess though...I'm not really a social person so may be I don't need as much time with others as most...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Probably not having kids is a good idea, as a woman. The only non-parenting activity that will ever be socially acceptable for you to partake in are Mommy-lunches, until your kid gets married. There is no more boring activity in the world. God forbid you ever leave your kid with a grandparent or sibling to go out for drinks with your spouse or friends and if you ever do, you'd better be at least 6 stops away from your house or your kids school, otherwise SOMEONE will see you and gossip.

My own MIL talked so much s** about me going out for dinner and drinks alone with my male college friend when he was visiting Tokyo like a year ago because she was freaked out about people gossiping or me disrespecting my husband. My friend being gay, married, and good friends with my husband who wouldn't care anyway because he's not an insecure manchild* didn't seem to sway her paranoia anyway.

Basically in Japan, if you want friends, you have to be part of a group. A work group, a school group, a sports group, a hobby group, something. Don't ever expect to just make friends with people organically and definitely don't ever expect to mix the friends from one group with the friends from another. In fact, as a foreigner - if someone starts talking to you randomly, they're probably creepy or want free English lessons. Sorry.

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