14 Nov Ten-day Japan Itinerary for a Solo Female Traveller
My ten-day Japan trip was a last-minute idea. I was about to leave Toronto, Canada to teach English in Changhua, Taiwan and realized I should visit Japan, while I’m in East Asia region, considering the 13-hour long haul flight from Canada. I visit Japan beginning of May, coincidently right after the end of cherry blossom season (oops).
Planning a ten-day Japan itinerary requires preparation before you jet off from your home country. My guide below will show you how to make your Japan trip easier before your departure—even if it’s a last-minute Japan trip! It is a ten-day Japan itinerary that is totally safe for solo female Muslim travellers (or anyone else really).
What to prepare before you leave your home country
I booked my Japan Rail (JR) pass with Japan Rail Pass Canada and portable wifi with Pupuru WiFi. Make sure to arrive in Japan within 60 days of booking your JR pass, otherwise it will become invalid. My arrival to Narita International Airport was smooth. First I picked up my portable wifi, which was reliable and worked in all the cities I travelled to, and had long-lasting battery throughout my entire ten-day Japan trip. Then, I made my way to the JR pass office to present them with my letter in exchange for a pass.
To return of the portable wifi, there are drop off boxes located in all Japan airports. It doesn’t need to be returned to the office you picked it up from.
Narita International Airport
I land at Narita, go through customs, pick up my portable wifi device and find my way to the JR office to show my ticket in exchange for a JR pass. Then I make my way to a counter to buy a bus ticket to take me into Tokyo. Exhilarating to do this all this solo.
My first Airbnb is in the Akebonobashi district in Shinjuku City. This means I get to experience the busiest, most perplexing station in the world, Shinjuku Station, right off the bat. Every type of public transportation, from everywhere, arrives and departs from Shinjuku Station, including MRTs, Shinkansens (bullet trains) and buses. Even the local Japanese get lost in the tsunami of people and hordes of signs. I enter the station and none of it makes sense.
I steer from station worker to worker to ask where to go and try to understand their English. Japanese men appear shy as they look down while they speak. Sweat beads drip down my underarms and sternum, dampening my shirt. Thank God for my petal pink Adidas windbreaker to hide the sweat stains on my plain grey tee. By the time I find the correct MRT station I had asked about six Japanese station workers for directions. And thank God for my tenacity for minimalist travel—I flowed through the flood of people with just a carry on and backpack.
My experience with Taiwan’s public transportation system makes Japan easy to navigate. You need a Suica card (it’s like the Presto card in Toronto), which you can buy from kiosks located all over the stations in Japan. I tap my Suica card, get in the MRT and I’m off to my Airbnb for the night.
Once I arrive, I am greeted by Raiku, the Airbnb host. Tired and hungry, I heave my luggage into my room and head into the night, to a nearby 7 Eleven to buy dinner and some snacks. I also meet my Airbnb mates—two Hawaiian women, hardcore Republican and former cocaine addicts. We instantly get along (don’t ask why) and I learn they’re in Japan as part of a cruise that has stopped in Japan for a couple days.
Raiku is lovely; she makes us all a delicious Japanese breakfast.
Me and one of the Hawaiians, Linda, set out early morning while the other one goes back to sleep.
The sun’s ablaze and the heat hits us hard. Nonetheless, we go for a stroll, past traditional Japanese architecture, a graveyard and make our way to the Meji Shrine. It’s packed with tourists. Three weddings take place. Barrels of sake envelop both sides of the wide path. People—both Japanese and tourists—pray to shrines. We divert through a forest. It’s sweltering hot so we return to the Airbnb to change into lighter clothes.
We go back out for a stroll again while Leialoha and Reiko go elsewhere. We stop by 7 eleven and Linda buys a beer. She takes full advantage of the alcohol consumption in public allowance.
That night, we head over to Shibuya to see Hachiko—the dog statue—and the Shibuya Crossing, the busiest crosswalk in the world. This time, Reiko is our guide and we don’t get lost. She weaves us through the crowd easily. We stroll around Tokyo—I go shopping and buy a jacket from Adidas. I’m appalled my usually American XS size is too tight and I have to settle for a size medium. Me and Linda skip dinner and return to the Airbnb.
Day 3 and 4
Fukishima and the nuclear disaster
Linda and Leialoha leave the Airbnb to return to Hawaii. The next couple days on my ten-day Japan itinerary is to embark on my four-hour trip on the Shinkansen to Fukushima to explore the nuclear disaster of the Daiichi Powerplant.
I return to Tokyo from Fukushima. It’s just me and Reiko this time. I take the MRT to the Kabukicho, the red light district, and go for a stroll in the drizzle. Bouncers reach out to women walking around, saying something to them I can’t make out—but very well know. It’s not an area I want to associate myself with at night. I explore the city a bit further and head back to Reiko’s for my next destination—Osaka.
Tokyo to Osaka
It takes me quite a while to find my Airbnb in Osaka. The sidewalk turns into a long staircase which leads to a bridge to walk over the intersection. At this point, I’m absolutely thrilled I don’t have a suitcase. I walk back and forth, across a 7 Eleven until I finally find the apartment and decipher the check in instructions.
I head for Mount Fuji. Japan’s public transportation system is impressively easy to navigate—I accidentally get on the wrong train, but I quickly find myself on the right one with the help of a train conductor.
I purchase a ticket for the Mt. Fuji tour train—designed all over with a Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends—and sit in one of the booths by myself. The ride is scenic. I get off at the second last stop to hike to the Chureito Pagoda. The Chureito Pagoda is the stop before Lake Yamanaka. I don’t see Lake Yamanaka, but I hear it offers great views of Mount Fuji. It’s the Chureito Pagoda I want to hike to.
The hike to the pagoda is well marked and it’s hard to get lost. It takes you through a small village, across a road and uphill. You have the option of taking stairs or walking up a footpath.
I reach the pagoda and it’s as beautiful as the photos. Mt. Fuji, in clear view, towers over Fujiyoshida City, black with a top blanketed with snow. I’m mesmerized.
Osaka Castle on day eight of my ten-day Japan itinerary. The temple is huge, I have to stand back quite a bit to fit it in my 35mm lens.
I spontaneously decide to take the 2-hour JR ride to Hiroshima. It’s a beautiful city, despite its history. I visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, and now commonly called the Atomic Bomb Dome, in the Peace Memorial Park. The bright, hot sunny day overtakes the slight tinge of sadness. I watch in awe at the water and beautiful flowers floating in it and the large paper cranes sitting in the green grass.
Miyajima is next on my list, but I’m tired. The JR train takes me back to Osaka and I explore the streets as I return to my Airbnb.
Osaka to Kyoto
I make my way to Ashimbimboo forest in Kyoto. The day is sweltering hot and crowded. Again, I’m in awe of how easy it is to navigate Japan’s public transportation. A few women and men dress in kimonos and walk through the forest to take photos. Men pull carts of people—a bit like a rickshaw. Their tanned biceps bulge, their faces hidden underneath wide-rimmed straw hats. The forest is green and lovely.
I take a local bus and make my way to the Kinkaju-ji, otherwise known as the golden temple. It costs JPN 1000 JPN to enter past the gates. Again, it’s super crowded and security is hurrying people along and doesn’t allow photos or selfies. People take them anyway. The golden walls of the temple shimmer under the glistening sunrays. It’s surrounded by water, flowers and lily pads.
On to the next shrine.
I take the local bus to the Shimogamo Jinja shrine. Like many others, this one is huge and orange. A duel goes on for entertainment. I walk along the paved path through a forest and come across an open area with a creek running under a bridge. People are laying down and riding bikes. It’s calm and serene.
Next is Inara Tashi. I take the train there.
The train drops you off right in front of Inara Tashi. There’s a large, orange shrine in front of me. It’s is packed with people. A walk up some stairs and to my right I see the Instagram-famous orange tunnel and make my way through. There are people inside posing for photos. It’s too dark for me to get decent shots with my DSLR without a tripod. I take some anyway. I make it out and head back to the train, back to my Airbnb.
Nara Park is huge and I spend the entire day there quite easily. I travel on the Midosuji Line from Umeda Station and then hop on the Kintetsu Limited Express all the way to Kintetsu-Nara Station. The station is huge and empty. There’s a faint drizzle and the grey clouds envelop the sun. Nara Park has a bus that loops around all the sights so it’s easy to move from place to place. I grab a map of the park and hop on the loop bus. I get off at a random stop. It turns out to be Mount Wakakusayama.
A side note— to enter some parts of the park, you must pay a fee first. Unassuming, I walk right past the gates, past the lineup of people because I think they’re lined up to purchase food to feed the deer. I stop midway when I hear the Japanese cashier screeching behind me as she runs up to me asking me if I paid. I whirl around to look at the lineup. People smirk at me. I walk back to the back of the line. The Japanese cashier clearly thinks I tried to sneak in without paying as she’s asking me to pay in a high, shrill voice. I pay the small fee and walk in. Deer are everywhere. I take photographs of them.
I notice a cement staircase in front of me and walk up. They lead to a hiking trail, which I continue to walk on. It’s uphill and tiring, however, it’s a short way to the top. I climb up to a breathtaking view of Nara City, on top of Mount Wakakusayama. There aren’t many people up here, so it’s easy to roam around and take in all aerial views of the city.
I hike down the mountain, down the staircase and contemplate feeding the deer, but I forgo this and head to the bus top. I take the bus to the Kasuga Taisha shrine. This is an enormous orange shrine and beyond beautiful, immersed in nature and greenery as deer frolick about. I spend a long time here to take in the nostalgic petrichor and the misty scenery. It’s like I stepped into a fairy tale. I head back to my Airbnb in Osaka for the night and pack for my departure the next morning.
Back to Toronto
Time to leave. It’s times like these I really appreciate minimalist travelling with just a carry on and backpack. I take everything and leave for Osaka Station. From here I grab the express train to Osaka International Airport. I drop off my portable WiFi in the drop off box and make my way to the departure gates. It’s finally time to go home.