The Land of the Rising Sun is one of the best destinations for solo female travelers in the world. See where ancient tradition meets modern tech in Tokyo, learn calligraphy and sacred tea ritual in Kyoto, and eat your way across Osaka with 10 days in Japan.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Time to Visit Japan
- 2 How to Get to Japan
- 3 How to Get Around Japan
- 4 Tips for Solo Female Travelers in Japan
- 5 What to Pack for 10 Days in Japan
- 6 Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo
- 7 Day 2: Shinjuku to Harajuku
- 8 Day 3: Sake to Kabuki
- 9 Day 4: Asakusa
- 10 Day 5: Travel to Hakone
- 11 Day 6: Hakone Ropeway to Lake Ashi
- 12 Day 7: Travel to Kyoto
- 13 Day 8: Kimonos to Calligraphy
- 14 Day 9: Kyoto to Osaka
- 15 Day 10: Depart Japan
- 16 What to Do with More Than 10 Days in Japan
Best Time to Visit Japan
Japan is a year-round destination with pristine winter snows, beautiful fall colors and fun summer break activities, but cherry blossom season in the spring is perhaps the most popular time to visit. The best time to visit Japan for cherry blossom viewing or hanami is late March to early April, but the exact dates of peak bloom vary from year to year. If fall foliage is of greater interest, time your trip to Japan for November.
How to Get to Japan
There are two international airports in Tokyo, Narita Airport and Haneda Airport, both of which are served by a variety of major and regional airlines. Narita Airport has more international routes, a terminal for low-cost carriers, and a direct route to Tokyo city center via the Narita Express (1 hour, 3000 yen or $27.40). Haneda Airport is closer to Tokyo city center (30 minutes), but directions are a bit more complex. You willneed to take either the Tokyo Monorail to Hamamatsucho Station where you can transfer to a subway or JR line, or take Keikyu Railways to Shinagawa Station and get on a JR line from there.
How to Get Around Japan
The easiest and quickest way to navigate the country is on its national train system Japan Rail (JR). You can get a Japan Rail Pass for one, two or three weeks to cover your transportation between cities and on JR lines within Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Some JR passes also include the Narita Express so you can get to and from the airport without a separate ticket. For 10 days in Japan, you’ll need a 14-day Japan Rail Pass which costs $428.
Not all trains and subways in Japan are operated by Japan Rail, so pay close attention to specific platforms and trains. You should also get a Suica or Pasmo card for local subways in Tokyo and other cities. You can get one online for $24 or at the airport or any JR station.
Tips for Solo Female Travelers in Japan
Japan is one of the safest places in the world for solo female travelers. There is so much cultural emphasis on respect for others. Always follow basic common sense safety guidelines, but you will be perfectly safe walking alone, even at night. As an added bonus, most restaurants are friendly to solo diners.
Your biggest risks as a solo female traveler in Japan are getting lonely and getting lost.
Japan, and Tokyo in particular, have a very complex system of transportation with a major language barrier for English speakers. Take your time studying up on directions to your destination before leaving and print them out or write them down if you are nervous about losing a phone signal. Don’t overbook yourself — give yourself plenty of time to get from one attraction to the next, so if you do get turned around, you won’t miss a tour time.
There is plenty to do as a solo female traveler, especially in busy Tokyo or heritage-rich Kyoto. If you’re in the mood for some reflective alone time, you’ll especially enjoy the day break in Hakone, one of the most relaxing destinations for solo female travelers. If, however, you are feeling more social, you may want to seek out dedicated opportunities to meet people like group tours, hosting platforms such as Couchsurfing, or places like the Kyoto International Community House where locals come to meet visitors and practice their English.
What to Pack for 10 Days in Japan
For the full list of what I travel with, view my complete RTW trip packing list for solo female travelers. These are a few particular items I consider must-haves for visiting Japan.
Comfortable walking shoes
Many days on this itinerary are heavy on walking, so comfortable shoes are a must. For city travel, I love my Tieks. They fold up which is great for packing, have thick soles so they’re comfortable for my high arches, and are super durable so they stand up to heavy use while traveling.
Many of the attractions you’ll visit on this itinerary are shrines and temples. Always keep something light to cover your shoulders as a sign of respect for these sacred sites.
If you are visiting in the spring, you might have some rainy days. My favorite rain jacket from Columbia is a nice weight and fits well over a fleece when you need an extra warm layer.
When you head into the mountains, particularly in spring or fall, you’ll want a good thick pair of socks to stay warm. My favorite brand is SmartWool.
Silk sleep sheet
Another handy warm layer for chilly nights on a tatami mat in Hakone is an easily portable silk sleep sheet.
Solid shampoo bar
Soaking in an onsen is a must do in Japan, but proper etiquette is to shower before getting in the hot spring bath. Most onsen shower areas provide shampoo, but if you prefer to bring your own a solid shampoo bar is the easiest to pack.
While people in Japan are largely very friendly and eager to help, as an English speaker you will probably still find yourself up against a big language barrier sometimes. A small visual dictionary allows you to simply point to an image to communicate.
One of the things that surprised me most about Japan – a country well known for its technology industry – was how often I found myself unable to use a credit card. Make sure you have plenty of yen so you don’t get caught off guard by a cash-only business.
Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo
Your first day in Japan is about nothing more than getting settled in. Give yourself time to get lost, have a delayed flight or be hit by jet lag and want nothing more than a long nap upon touchdown.
Check into your hotel or hostel, then hit the streets nearby to get your first bite of Japan – teriyaki, tempura or soba noodles are all great options for a first dinner in Tokyo. If you have the time and energy, you might book a food tour or cooking class. If nightlife is more your speed, you’ll find some of the best bars in Tokyo in the neighborhood of Roppongi.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Tokyo is a great place to try Couchsurfing as a solo female traveler, or you can experience a uniquely Japanese accommodation at a capsule hotel. Many capsule hotels cater to men, but there are options for women like Akihabara Bay Hotel and Booth Net Cafe and Capsule. For something more traditional, but still budget-friendly, there are plenty of hostels with private rooms and dorms. Check out Emblem Hostel in Nishiarai for something wallet-friendly and off the beaten path, or Wired Hotel in Asakusa for a hostel closer to the city center. Whether you are staying in a hostel or capsule hotel, you should budget $40 to 50 USD per night.
Day 2: Shinjuku to Harajuku
Start your first full day in Tokyo with a relaxing morning stroll through Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Springtime visitors are in for a treat with blooming magnolias, chrysanthemums and 1,500 cherry trees.
There are three entrances: Shinjuku Gate, a ten-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station; Okido Gate, a five-minute walk from Shinjukugyoenmae Station on the Marunouchi subway station; and Sendagaya Gate, a five-minute walk from JR Sendagaya Station. Admission costs 500 yen (approx. $4.50 USD).
Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo’s most important spiritual sites, is dedicated to the deified Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken, credited with ushering Japan into the modern era. Pay your respects by bowing at the massive torii gates and cleansing your hands and mouth at the temizuya or font. Explore the shrine buildings, write a wish on an ema or wooden tablet, or purchase an amulet as a souvenir.
The Kita-Sando entrance to the shrine is about a ten minute walk from Shinjuku Gyoen, and it will be another ten minutes walk from the entry gate to the main shrine buildings. Admission is free and the shrine is open from sunrise to sunset.
After a tranquil morning in Shinjuku, Takeshita Dori will give you sensory overload with its trendy boutiques and cutesy cafes overflowing with all things kawaii. Take a photo in a purikura booth, enjoy some window shopping, and treat yourself to a colorful snack at Santa Monica Crepes or Angel’s Heart.
The south gate of Meiji Shrine is right next to Harajuku Station and it’s only a three-minute walk to Takeshita Dori from here.
Go with the flow at the world’s busiest intersection, then head to the second floor of the Starbucks in the QFRONT shopping center for a hypnotic view of its activity from above. Grab something regional like a matcha tea latte or in the springtime a sakura (cherry blossom) flavored drink.
It’s about a 15-minute walk from Takeshita Dori to Shibuya, or you can take the Yamanote Line local train from Harajuku Station to Shibuya Station.
Day 3: Sake to Kabuki
Tsukiji Fish Market
Despite all the news that Tsukiji Fish Market recently closed, there is still a market at the original Tsukiji Fish Market location. Start your morning with a little breakfast sushi and a tour of the various shops and restaurants that have stayed near Ginza’s upscale shopping district.
If you are looking for the famous wholesale fish market and live tuna auction, that has moved to Tosoyu Fish Market. Take a special tour or follow the detailed DIY guide on TokyoCheapo for a visit to the early morning fish auction.
Ishikawa Sake Brewery
Sake is the quintessential drink of Japan, but even though it’s often called rice wine, it is actually brewed similarly to beer. One of the best free things to do in Japan is a tour of the beautiful 19th century grounds at Ishikawa Brewery near Tokyo, followed by a sake tasting. Email [email protected] to reserve a spot in advance.
It’s about an hour train ride one way from JR Shinjuku Station. Take the Chuo Line Rapid from JR Shinjuku Station to JR Tachikawa Station, then change to the Ome Line Rapid and get off at JR Hajima Station. The brewery’s website provides detailed walking directions with pictures or you can hail a taxi.
On your way back to central Tokyo, take the JR Ome Line all the way to Tokyo Station. Here you’ll find no fewer than eight restaurants that take ramen to the next level. Live Japan has a detailed guide with photos explaining how to place your order from one of the vending machines at each restaurant’s entrance.
Experience kabuki, Japan’s classical dance-drama well known for its unique style of makeup and costuming, on a dime with Kabukiza Theater’s affordable one-act tickets. One act of a daytime show costs about 1000 yen ($9.14 USD). There is a special box office for single act tickets, so read the signs carefully.
Day 4: Asakusa
Begin your final day in Tokyo with a visit to the city’s oldest temple, Senso-ji. Enter through the iconic Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate, admire a five-story pagoda that acts as the temple’s graveyard, or stop in the courtyard to waft incense smoke over yourself to cure your ailments. Beyond the main temple, the Shinto shrine Asakusa Jinja, honors the founders of Senso-ji.
To reach Senso-ji, take the Ginza Line to Asakusa Station and leave through Exit 1. Admission is free.
Spend a little time window shopping and trying street food on Nakamise Street, the pedestrian thoroughfare leading to Senso-ji temple. Join a food tour or take your tastebuds on a DIY adventure with dumplings, senbai rice crackers, fish-shaped taiyaki cakes, red bean paste-filled dorayaki pancakes, or (my personal favorite) deep fried mochi with sakura (cherry blossom) filling.
Catch the sunset view from the Tokyo SkyTree, one of the tallest structures in the world. On a clear day, you might even see as far as Mount Fuji. Save money by being prepared for a long wait, instead of paying through the nose for the Fast Ticket line.
Regular admission to the lower observation deck is 2100 on weekdays and 2300 yen on weekends – approximately $20 USD. A more budget friendly alternative to Tokyo SkyTree is Tokyo Tower which only charges 1200 yen ($10.96 USD) for access to its main observation deck.
Read more details about spending 4 days in Tokyo.
Day 5: Travel to Hakone
If you have time in the morning before your train to Hakone, get a little last-minute sightseeing done in Tokyo. Akihabara, Ikebukuro, or Shinokitazawa are great neighborhoods to explore. If it’s cherry blossom season, head to the Meguro River.
How to Get from Tokyo to Hakone
The best way to get from Tokyo to Hakone is by local train. From JR Shinjuku Station, take the Odakyu Line express train to Odawara Station, then transfer to the Hakone Tozan Line to Hakone-Yumoto Station. The trip is about 90 minutes and costs 1190 yen or $10.80 USD.
I do not recommend getting a Hakone Free Pass on this itinerary, because you will be stopping in Hakone on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto, so the pass’s round-trip train fare from Tokyo to Hakone will go to waste.
Where to Stay in Hakone
One of the best things to do in Hakone is experience a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Most ryokan charge 15,000 to 25,000 yen ($135-225 USD) per night, but Hakone is home to a great budget-friendly alternative. Tent Hakone is where traditional ryokan meets modern hostel, with tatami mats in shared dorms, a kitchen and cozy lounge with restauran and bar, and best of all onsen — the hot springs Hakone is renowned for. Tent charges 3500 yen or $31.76 USD per night for a 6-bed female dorm.
Day 6: Hakone Ropeway to Lake Ashi
Catch a gondola for an aerial journey over sulfuric hot spring-studded Owakudani Valley to beautiful Lake Ashinoko. On a clear day, you might even see Mount Fuji – – just be prepared for clouds! A round-trip ticket costs 2600 yen or $23.59 USD.
Lake Ashi Cruise
Sightseeing cruises on Lake Ashinoko depart from a pier near the end of the Hakone Ropeway. There are two operators: Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats and Hakone Sightseeing Boats. The latter sail on stylized pirate ships. It’s about a 30 minute ride from one end of the lake to the other.
Get off the boat at the Moto Hakone Stop to see a large Shinto shrine with massive red torii gates. It’s about a five-minute walk from the dock. Admission is free and the shrine is open 24-7.
Hakone Open Air Museum
This outdoor sculpture museum features work by Japanese and international artists. Gora cable car station is about a 10 to 15 minute walk away. Admission is 1600 yen or $14.52 USD.
Read more details about taking a day trip to Hakone.
Day 7: Travel to Kyoto
How to Get to Kyoto from Hakone
Take the Hakone Tozan cable car to Odawara Station, then the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, which is included in your JR Pass, to Kyoto Station. The Shinkansen or bullet train takes about 2 hours.
How to Get Around Kyoto
Kyoto is very pedestrian friendly, especially if you book accommodations near the city’s downtown. Public transportation is much simpler here than in Tokyo with just two subway lines. The Karasuma line runs north to south and the Tozai line runs east to west. Because of this, you should plan your sightseeing carefully so you don’t lose time waiting on trains.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
If you’re up for a splurge, Kyoto is a great place to experience a traditional Japanese ryokan given its strong cultural roots. For a budget option, there are plenty of good hostels, many of which have female-only dorms. WeBase Kyoto, Cabin Inn, and Kyoto Zen are all highly rated. Expect to spend about $40 USD per night for a dorm closer to the city center.
What to Do Your First Night in Kyoto
Take your time getting settled, then devote your first night in Kyoto to one of Japan’s best dining experiences: tonkatsu. Katsukura is a chain with several locations in Japan, but many consider its original flagship restaurant the best tonkatsu in Kyoto. For about $20 USD, you’ll get a fixed price menu with a breaded pork loin cutlet, miso soup, barley rice, a pile of thinly shredded cabbage, and condiments. Crush toasted sesame seeds for a thick and tangy dipping sauce, and douse your cabbage in citrusy yuzu dressing. The original Sanjo Main Shop is just a few blocks away from Nishiki Market.
Day 8: Kimonos to Calligraphy
Explore the Gion District
Take a walking tour of Kyoto’s historic center this morning — just don’t expect to spot a geisha. The days of hostesses specially trained to entertain men with music, dance and conversation are largely in the past, and the few geisha still at work in the Gion District are out in the evenings. Add your own beauty to your explorations by renting a kimono for $30 USD or under.
Attend a tea ceremony
One of the best things to do in Kyoto is attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Preparation of tea is a sacred, ancient rite and is truly mesmerizing to watch. Join an intimate group for a 45-minute ceremony at En, a teahouse near the Gion District for 2500 yen, or $22.74 USD.
Eat your way through Nishiki Market
This five-block stretch of over a hundred shops and restaurants is a great affordable lunch in Kyoto. Try a few of these classic Kyoto street foods:
- senbai (rice crackers with various flavorings)
- roasted chestnuts
- sesame dumplings
- tako tamago (baby octopus with quail egg)
- fish cakes
- tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet)
- asasuke (lightly pickled cucumber)
- soy milk doughnuts
- chocolate croquettes
- matcha daifuku (mochi with green tea and cream filling)
If you have the time, a walking tour can tell you more about the market’s centuries old history and give you extra guidance for what to eat.
Learn the art of calligraphy
Continue your afternoon with a 90-minute lesson in Japanese calligraphy. The Ami Kyoto class has a wonderful master calligrapher for an instructor, and costs 5000 yen or $45.49 USD. You’ll need to book at least 2 days in advance, and it’s best to plan even further ahead.
Read more details about spending a day in Kyoto.
Day 9: Kyoto to Osaka
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Before you leave for Osaka, enjoy one of the best day trips from Kyoto. Famed for its iconic lines of bright red-orange torii gates, Fushimi Inari shrine is one of the most visited places in Japan. The complete hike up the shrine’s mountain trails and back takes two to three hours, and the site is just 5 minutes down the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station.
How to Get from Kyoto to Osaka
Kyoto and Osaka are quite close to each other. With the JR Pass, you can take the JR Kyoto Line Special Rapid Service for a 23-minute ride to Shin-Osaka Station or the JR Shinkansen for 12 minutes.
Dinner in Osaka
10 days in Japan isn’t quite enough to get the full experience of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Nonetheless, one night in Osaka is worth it for the food! Head for the neon-coated neighborhood of Dotonbori for some of Japan’s best culinary experiences. One of the best spots for solo diners is Mizuno. The line stretches out the door for their okonomiyaki, a savory pancake with a variety of toppings and fillings. For something more casual, there are a number of stalls in Dotonbori serving takoyaki, bite-sized battered octopus cooked in a unique spherical pan.
Read more about the best eats in Japan.
Where to Stay in Osaka
There are plenty of hostels in Osaka and like most Japanese accommodations, it’s easy to find quiet, clean and comfortable places to stay for solo female travelers. I stayed at Bonsai Guesthouse for less than $20 USD a night. Other highly rated options include Mad Cat Hostel Osaka and HIPPO Hostel & Cafe Bar.
Day 10: Depart Japan
Your 10 days in Japan are coming to a close. Take a final walk around Osaka in the morning before heading back to Tokyo to for your return flight. If you haven’t already taken a Japanese bullet train, consider it a must-do on your way out of the country. The fastest Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo is not covered by the JR Pass, but the Hikari train is. The trip from Shin-Osaka Station to Tokyo Station will be about 3 hours, and then the Narita Express will take another hour to get to Narita Airport.
What to Do with More Than 10 Days in Japan
If you can extend your time in Japan, try adding some of these experiences to your itinerary.
Additional Things to Do in Tokyo
- Geek out in Akihabara and Ikebukuro
- Get your anime on at Studio Ghibli Museum
- Get off the beaten path in Shinokitazawa with alternative shopping and cafes, a cat temple and a folk crafts museum
- Head to Lake Kawaguchilko for views of Mount Fuji
- Attend the cherry blossom festival at Chiba Castle
- Pay a visit to the giant Buddha statue in Kamakura
- Day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage mountain town of Nikko
Additional Things to Do in Kyoto
- Tour major temples like Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Temple) and Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Temple)
- Stroll along the Philosopher’s Path from Ginkaku-ji to Nanzen-ji
- Say hello to Sailor Moon and your favorite Pokemon at the Kyoto International Manga Museum
- Get lost in the tranquility of the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- Get up close and personal with wild deer at Nara Deer Park
Additional Things to Do in Osaka
- Go bar hopping in Osaka’s intimate izakayas
- Play pachinko at a parlor in the charmingly retro Shinsekai
- Sightsee at Osaka Castle and Shiteno-ji Temple
- Enjoy a nature walk in Minoo Park
- Take a day trip to Hiroshima