This story about experiencing a solo trip to Japan is written by one of our contributors, Diyana. Some parts of the article may have been edited for length and clarity.
As a Japanophile, it's no doubt that I love the country so much. It was my third time going to Japan but my first going solo and it was the season that I love the most, autumn.
A selfie at the Mifuneyama Rakuen (garden) in Saga, Kyushu
For 16 days (9-24 November 2018), I managed to cover Amanohashidate, Ine, Tottori, Kyoto, Osaka, Okinawa, and parts of Kyushu: Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Beppu, Kumamoto and a little bit of Miyazaki for the scenic Takachiho Gorge.
The scenic Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki
But for Kyoto and Osaka, I spent 2 days to help my little sister bring her friend around, and for the Okinawa part, I joined a group of friends so I could save on the car-rental cost. So I was alone only for Amanohashidate, Ine, Tottori and the Kyushu part, for a total of 9 days.
The famous sand dunes of Tottori
P.S. Find out how solo travelling to Japan made our writer fall in love with the country in this article !
Budget and accommodation tips
For a total of 16 days, I spent about 152 000 yen (RM6104/SGD1980) including all the expenses (admission fees, transport, passes, accommodations etc) together with the emergency money that I put aside. But for the solo part alone (Kyushu and Kansai parts), it was around 75 000 yen (RM3012/SGD977) for 9 days. For accommodation, I mostly booked hostels and capsule hotels. As I was hopping from one city to another, I moved a lot and hostels and capsule hotels were the best options.
Why Japan? I had been planning a solo trip quite some time and naturally chose Japan because I was quite confident and comfortable with how things work in Japan, and I do have a soft spot for Japan. Plus as a female Muslim traveller, I do feel safer in Japan as compared to other countries (Singapore is second on my list). For example, for their overnight bus where you can take for long distances at night and arrive at your destination early in the morning, they have a ladies policy where you will only be seated among females and no male is allowed in the place. Things like that definitely gave me peace of mind, as
I could sleep and rest properly on my way to my next destination.
Reaction from my family
I only told my sister and brother about my solo trip to avoid unnecessary worry from my parents. My sister and brother both knew how detailed I am in terms of trip-planning so they did understand and trusted me. I even gave them my detailed itinerary so they would know everything. My parents knew that I was going to Japan again, just that they were not aware that there were parts where I actually went solo until I was safe at home.
Planning a solo trip to Japan There are pros and cons in planning a solo trip but I always love the planning part. Normally, while planning for a group trip, I need to consider others’ opinions, preferences and budget, but for the solo trip, I was free to decide anything. Another thing was that I needed to be more detailed in planning for my solo trip. For instance, how many metres was it from my accommodation to the station? How's the walking route or alley to my accommodation? Was it safe for me to walk alone at night?
As I had no partner to be on the lookout for me, I needed to properly plan
where I should pray and how I would execute my prayers. And as I was planning the solo trip in Kyushu, a place that was more prone to disasters as compared to other parts in Japan, I needed to put extra thought into the emergency plans. How much money should I put extra aside, how should I organize my travel packs in my small backpack, what things should I pack in ziplock bags in case they get wet, and other things like that.
Example of packing things like torchlight, qibla sejadah, raincoat, food and necessary items in a ziplock bag for my daily travels I was scared and anxious in the beginning, especially because the place that I was going to go was a little bit risky (prone to disasters like earthquake and flood especially months before my trip), but I tried my best to be fully prepared for anything, tawakal (trust in God's plan), and slowly I got so excited towards the date. I did remind myself again and again that the reason for my solo trip was not to boast around about how brave or how great I was
(plus there are many renowned solo female travellers with extravagant experiences compared to mine), but it was merely a trip for me to rejuvenate myself, find myself, and to amplify the feeling as a slave of Allah. Or in short, to be a better person than I was. P.S. Check out our 7D6N Muslim-friendly West Japan itinerary.
During the trip
There were too many feelings. I missed Japan so much. It had been 2 years since my last trip to Japan, and Japan had been like a second home in my heart. To come again, to land at the airport alone, was a very new experience for me.
Autumn leaves in Kumamoto
I had an adrenaline rush thinking about the adventure of facing things alone and I was excited to conquer new places, yet I needed to remind myself to always be alert and careful.
The gorgeous view at Amanoshidate, one of Japan's three scenic views in northern Kyoto prefecture Even though it was my third visit, Japan never failed to surprise me in many ways. The scenic views, the kindness of strangers, the hospitality, the effort that they put in to prepare musollah and halal food, and many other things that
I think everyone who's been to Japan would agree.
Suizenji Garden in Kumamoto
If I have to choose the most surprising thing about Japan, is how they put so much effort in appreciating and taking care of their environment, especially the trees and the lakes in the gardens. There was once I had the chance to witness a group of ‘gardeners’, with their cool uniforms together with the safety hats, working hard to put wires and pillars for a tree in order to preserve the wellness of the tree. It was very methodical, something that I did not really see in my own country.
Magnificent ginkgo tree at the Kumamoto Castle area
Facing obstacles and overcoming them On my second day, when I was going to Kyoto from Osaka, I made a silly mistake. I was very aware that JR Kansai WIDE pass did not cover the Shinkansen between Osaka and Kyoto, but maybe due to the adrenaline, I totally forgot about it that morning, and only realized my mistake when I was already at the exit gate. Therefore, as I didn't want to waste my time going back to Osaka and coming back with a local train, I just
paid the price.
Travelling around on trains in Japan. This was on the Yufuin No Mori, a resort train travelling from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Beppu in Kyushu. The second thing that happened was when I was supposed to fly from Okinawa to Kumamoto. I was with my group of friends - I packed everything, got prepared to leave Okinawa and go my own way. It was a habit for me to lock my luggage, play around with the numbers and take a picture of the random combination number just in case I reset them accidentally. But, accidents happen, right? On that day, I was clumsily played around the number without releasing the lock button (so I was obliviously reset the combination) and forgot to take the final number. I only realized it when I need to put something; I put in my original combination number and the luggage did not unlock.
Luckily I still had my friends to talk to and joke around so I could calm my nerves. I was a little bit relieved as it happened on the day that I was going to the airport. I was sure that there were many people who might have had problems
luggage did not unlock.
Luckily I still had my friends to talk to and joke around so I could calm my nerves. I was a little bit relieved as it happened on the day that I was going to the airport. I was sure that there were many people who might have had problems like me there and Alhamdulillah, the information counter staff did understand what happen and assisted me through it. To make it short, I managed to arrange with a lock company to meet me in Kumamoto, and the price that I needed to pay after they succeeded in opening my luggage was around 10, 000 yen ? (RM402/SGD130). Luckily, I did put aside some extra money for my ‘emergency plan’ which I hoped I won’t use it, but there it went.
Travelling around Japan as a solo traveller and meeting kind locals
Alhamdulillah, it was easy to travel solo around Japan. Even when I faced difficulties, things could be solved smoothly. There were so many kind locals who helped me out.
Suizenji Garden in Kumamoto There was once at a train station, I couldn’t find the exit with an elevator, so I chose to use the stairs with my heavy luggage. I did analyze the consequences and was so ready for it, but 2 kind men came and helped me bring my luggage upstairs (even when I refused at first due to its heaviness and also because they were actually going the opposite way).
When I was in Fukuoka, there was a time where I had to change from the JR line to a private line, and the way to the station was a little bit tricky. I asked a lady for help. She was trying to explain the direction at first but then she signalled to tell me to follow her and from her signal, she was going the same way so I followed her. She even tried to walk faster to match my pace; I felt a little bit guilty so I slowed down ? Surprisingly, when we reached the station, she actually turned back, after seeing me going in the right direction. She wasn't heading the same way as I was, but yet she walked with me, and it was not a short distance. I felt sooooo grateful and bowed to her many times while saying thanks.
There were many more of such encounters with kind locals - like an old uncle who made sure that I got into the elevator safely and getting out at the right floor, a young lady who helped me get out of the bus at the right stop, Konbini (convenience store) staff who did not mind opening a new counter so that they could help me go through the ingredients of the food that I
Surprisingly, when we reached the station, she actually turned back, after seeing me going in the right direction. She wasn't heading the same way as I was, but yet she walked with me, and it was not a short distance. I felt sooooo grateful and bowed to her many times while saying thanks.
There were many more of such encounters with kind locals - like an old uncle who made sure that I got into the elevator safely and getting out at the right floor, a young lady who helped me get out of the bus at the right stop, Konbini (convenience store) staff who did not mind opening a new counter so that they could help me go through the ingredients of the food that I chose (I used the Muslim card to buy food!), and many others. These are only from my solo trip. I have more heartwarming encounters with strangers for my previous trips, which explains why I love Japan so much ?
Meals that I prepared by myself with mackerel fish and spicy garlic oil with Brahim's instant food and Japanese rice from the Konbini. I also bought other items from the Konbini like salad.
Sweet and juicy strawberries from the Konbini
What I learnt as a solo traveller
I learn so much about myself, as much as I learnt more things about Japan and the almighty Allah too. I learnt more about my strengths and my weaknesses. I learnt to appreciate every opportunity and chance that I have. I learnt to make mistakes and calmly solved it on my own without any judgement from anyone. I also learnt that most of the time, the paths that are not taken does not mean that they are not interesting. The mainstream places may be special, but some hidden gems are special too in their own ways.
Kinrinko Lake in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu Travelling alone meant that I could experience serenity and calmness. I could
enjoy the magnificent views and atmosphere as much as I wanted to and enjoyed everything at my own pace.
One of the hidden gems I discovered, Ine No Funaya, Japan's very own little hidden "Venice", located in northern Kyoto prefecture
Japan has so much to offer. Their motto ‘Japan Endless Discovery’ is so true. You can visit Japan 3, 4 or 5 times and there will always be new discoveries.
P.S. Looking for hidden gems in Japan? Check out this list of 17 underrated destinations in Japan!
Bamboo grove in Saga
As long as your intention is good and clear, I would recommend solo travelling in Japan for female Muslim travellers. Japan is a country where you can do your planning as detailed as possible, and that's a plus point. I still have many places to discover, and if I need to do it solo again, I would. I always enjoy my trip with others too. But sometimes, being solo also is a great way to enjoy the journey.
You can find out more about Diyana's travel adventures on her Instagram @dyanamastor
P.S. Want to share your tips and stories to help Muslims travel better? Click on this link to share your experience