One Month In Japan - Solo Travel
Updated: Jun 21
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I went on a month-long trip to Japan, in the middle of Sakura Season, focusing mainly on Tokyo and Kyoto, with scattered Day Trips to cities such as Nara, Osaka, Himeji or Kamakura.
I truly fell in love with Japan in 2018. I was there for only 10 days but it was more than enough to make me want to go back and explore some more. It took me nearly 5 years to go back and sure, a month sounds like a long time to be on holiday but when you've been planning for such a long time, the list of places to see and things to do just gets bigger and bigger.
UK to Japan
I left Birmingham Airport at 1 pm and arrived at Narita Airport at 7.30 pm the following day. It was not a direct flight. I had a 4h stop in Schipol and a 3 h stop in Seoul which is why it took so long for me to get there. The change in Amsterdam felt quicker/smoother since I didn't have to go through customs again as I did in Seoul. Overall I can't fault KLM - the food was good, the movie selection onboard was decent and the flight attendants were friendly, but I will try to get a direct flight next time if possible to make my life a bit easier.
Unfortunately, jetlag is a thing, and, if you're like me and suffer from it quite badly, make sure you take your time and don't try and do anything too adventurous in the first couple of days after you've landed.
I arrived at Narita Terminal 1 at about 21.30, went through all the entry/covid/whatever procedures and got my luggage about 20 minutes after that. Bought a Pasmo Card and took the Asakusa Line/Keisei Narita Skyaccess to Ningyocho (it takes about 1 h), walked for about 5 minutes and got to the hotel. For me, it was the cheapest option (¥1350) and the easiest one as well, so, if you're planning on staying anywhere close to Tokyo Station then you might want to consider the same option. If you have other options as well, such as JR Narita Express or Bus/Limousine Bus, with prices between ¥1300 to ¥3000; the choice is yours.
I suffer from motion sickness so I stay away from busses like they're the plague. I can be on a local bus for about 10 minutes and won't die, but for the hour-long ride to Tokyo, I would be in agony. I have 0 advice to give when it comes to buses, unfortunately, but have some experience with Japanese trains, so if you have any questions, do ask in the comments below, I'll try my best to help.
Instead of travelling from one city to another with luggage and all, I decided to stay in Tokyo and Kyoto and from there take day trips to the places I wanted to visit.
I spent 9 days in Tokyo, 13 days in Kyoto making good use of my JR Pass, and then returned for another 9 days in Tokyo.
I generally try my best to group some of the places I visit based on their location so I don't waste too much time travelling from one part of the city to the other. I also try to have a bit of flexibility in my schedule as the weather will play a massive part in what you can or cannot do.
I had a couple of days when the rain was absolutely pouring so I couldn't visit any park/temple/outdoor anything. Still, I had a fantastic time visiting Museums and Distilleries and doing some shopping.
Before the trip
Order a Sim card if you can, it will make your life easier. Depending on which company/app you choose you can get some delivered to your location, or you can pick them up from the airport as soon as you have arrived.
If it's still feasible, buy a JR Pass ( prices will significantly increase in October so that might change things a bit). I bought the JR pass and a 31-day sim card from the same website, it all arrived on time and I had a lot of peace of mind knowing I have less to stress about.
Plan a few things in advance but leave some free time for whatever you're going to find while out and about
I've used Visa and Mastercard pretty much everywhere, but make sure you have some cash for the odd bits, markets, buying senbei to feed deer in Nara Park and that sort of stuff. I would recommend having some cash before you get there since getting cash at the airport won't give you the best rates and I like to know I have enough money to get to the hotel if any technology/bank issues arise. Better safe than sorry.
If you plan on going on any tours, make sure you can book on the day, otherwise you need to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
When it comes to apps - Naver and Jorudan (Japan Transit planner) are ideal for searching for trains with or without the JR pass. Google Maps was brilliantly accurate and Google Lens was great when trying to translate the ingredients in all the wonderful snacks I kept buying.
In the next few posts, I will go into detail about some of the attractions and places on the list, but, overall, here's what a month in Japan looked like:
Days 1-9 (Tokyo):
Japanese Sword Museum
Day Trip to Kamakura
Day trip to Fuji-San
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens
Tokyo National Museum
Fukagawa Edo Museum
Sumida Hokusai Museum
Days 10 - 23 (Kyoto):
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Kitano Temmangu Shrine
Day trip to Himeji
Day trip to Osaka
Kyoto Imperial Palace
International Manga Museum
Samurai and Ninja Museum
Day Trip to Nara
Kawai Jinga Shrine
Tadatsu no more Forest
Shimogamo Jinja Shrine
Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art
Suntory Brewery Tour
Days 24 - 31 (Tokyo):
Ueno Royal Museum
Metropolitan Art Museum
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Tobacco and Salt Museum
Nezu Shrine, Azalea Festival
Character Street Tokyo Station
Japan to the UK
I checked out from the hotel and since I was close to Ningyocho station and flying from Terminal 1, I took the same Asakusa Line/Keisei Narita Skyaccess to get to Narita as I did on arrival.
Last time I left Japan I took a ferry to Busan and continued the trip to South Korea so it was my first time flying from Narita Airport. It was exactly what I expected, highly organized, cleanest place ever, with super polite staff going above and beyond to help you. I left Tokyo at 6 pm and arrived at Birmingham International at 8.30 am the following day slightly less jetlagged than before.
When to go?
As with a lot of things in life, it depends on your personal preference, budget, and when you can book time off work. My one month in Japan was solo travel because none of the people who would have loved to join me could get that much time off work.
In my highly biased opinion, Japan is beautiful in any weather, any time of the year, but here are some highlights you might want to consider:
January to February for skiing
Late March to April for Cherry Blossom Season
July to September for Climbing Mount Fuji
August for Summer Festivals
September to November for Autumn Foliage
Where to stay?
This time I booked all accommodation through Booking.com about 4 months in advance. I've used Hotels.com for my previous trip, I just happened to find places I liked better through booking.com this time. I usually try and find hotels close to a train/underground/metro station as it's always made my life easier. It might seem obvious but I would suggest booking through a website you have some previous experience with and ideally trust.
It might look like you might save some money by booking through a website that looks too good to be true but you don't want surprises when you're on the other side of the planet.
One place I can definitely recommend is Fuji Hotel Kyoto Gojo. They have been amazing and made my stay in Kyoto even better.
How to get around?
Pasmo, Suica, JR Pass have been very useful and, if you can, walk as much as possible, you'll discover so many fantastic places just by wandering around from one place to another.
Where to Shop?
Everywhere I've been in Japan, there is either a Family Mart, 7 Eleven or a Daily Yamazaki at pretty much every corner. They're very handy for snacks, drinks, meals or toiletries but they will be slightly more expensive than some supermarkets such as OK Store (Tokyo) or Maruetsu/Aeon.
Daiso, Can Do and Seria are 100 yen shops (before tax) where you can find even more snacks, cute trinkets or even household articles.
Both Tokyo and Kyoto Station are fantastic when it comes to shops, restaurants and cafes, so if you don't have much time to explore Tokyo Midtown, Diver City (where you can also see Gundam) or Aeon Mall Kyoto you will still be spoilt for choice in the vast shopping areas located at these stations.
If you have any questions about any of the above, please ask in the comments below and I'll try my best to help.
I hope life is treating you well.