From neon skylines and speeding bullet trains to imposing castles and breathtaking islands, Japan is a land of incredible contrasts. The line between ancient and modern is often so blurred that one becomes a traveler through time. Seventh-century shrines and vibrant traditional markets. Alpine mountain ridges covered in thousands of cherry trees. A world of natural beauty combined with ancient culture—grace and tradition unlike anywhere else.
In regards to women travelling alone...as a solo female traveler there, I have never felt safer on my own. As a vegetarian or vegan traveler, you can eat incredibly well most of the time!
BEST TIME TO VISIT JAPAN
Japan’s climate can be broken down into four distinct seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter), and each is culturally important in Japan. Late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November) are generally the best times to visit Japan, when there is little rainfall, skies are clear, and temperatures are mild. And of course, the delicate cherry blossom of spring and vivid hues of autumn leaves are visually stunning.
The colder months, December to February, are less appealing to most visitors which can make traveling at these times cheaper. As well as being less crowded and costing less, many of Japan’s highlights are even better in the winter months.
TWO PERFECT WEEKS IN JAPAN ITINERARY
DAY 1 - TOKYO
Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, a bustling hub of Japanese daily life and the source of most Tokyo inhabitants’ seafood. Next, visit the Shitamachi Museum to view historical reproductions of the living spaces of artisans and merchants who once occupied Tokyo’s lowlands, and learn about their remarkable culture.
Next pass by Shibuya Crossing, one of the most famous street crossings in the world. Located right outside of Shibuya Station, this busy crossing is a bucket list experience for most visitors. When the light turns green, the scramble begins! Businessmen, students, shoppers, foreigners… everyone is going everywhere. Besides participating in the mayhem yourself, you can also stay amused by people watching from the Starbucks window nearby.
A statue outside of Shibuya station commemorates the most well-known dog in Japan: Hachiko. The story goes that this Akita dog would come to Shibuya Station every day to meet his master, a professor, on his way home from work. After his master passed away, Hachiko still came to the station every day in search of his former owner…I’m not crying, you are crying!
Eat lunch somewhere in Shibuya. Don't forget that all the department stores in Shibuya have huge restaurant floors. Nagi Shokudo is a vegan option that offers three set menus at lunch.
Meiji Jingu, a famous Shinto Shrine, is about 15 minutes walk from Shibuya Station so it’s an easy thing to add to your Tokyo itinerary. The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. The ground is beautiful for a stroll and a great place to learn about Japanese history.
In opposite, contrast to the serene traditional energy of Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, located five minutes away, is a modern area for youngsters and fashion enthusiasts. Walk down Takeshita Street and witness the kawaii culture of Japan. There are shops selling adorable trinkets, unicorn colored candy floss, oversized fruit crepes and more. Your eyes won’t know where to look! Also visit Omotesando Street, an elegant row of upscale shops offering chic ambience and dazzling façades.
Finish your afternoon at the Samurai Museum, where you learn about the customs of this elite warrior class and get an up-close look at an authentic collection of their exotic armor and weaponry, before returning to your hotel.
Evening - As the largest shopping and commercial district in Tokyo, Shinjuku offers a lot to do and see. Some of Tokyo’s largest skyscrapers live here. Go up to the observation deck of the Metropolitan Government Office for a panoramic view of the city, a must see in Tokyo. The area really comes alive at night time when the lights are turned on.
If you go to one themed restaurant in Japan, make it the Robot Restaurant. It’s really an experience less about the food but everything about the spectacular show. Flashing lasers, robot monsters, dancing girls, it’s craziness in the most mesmerizing way!
Although the Robot Restaurant is stunning for their performance, I don't recommend eating there. Instead, right next door is the tastiest ramen shop in the world, Ichiran. Finish your two days in Tokyo with a bowl of comforting tonkotsu ramen from this award-winning restaurant.
Speaking of lights, you can’t miss the flashy Kabukicho, the notorious red light district of Tokyo. Eateries, bars, nightclubs, love hotels, karaoke, pachinokos…you name an entertainment, Kabukicho has it! Personally, my favourite part of Kabukicho is Golden Gai, an area with a series of alleyways packed with the tiniest bars and restaurants. Wind down your the first day of your Tokyo itinerary in one of these bars with a drink.
Day 2 - TOKYO
Today, visit Asakusa Kannon Temple, also known as Sensō-ji, to admire its pagoda-style architecture and learn about its history, which dates to the seventh century. The colorful pagoda-style temple was completed in 645 and is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy in several East Asian spiritual traditions. Pass through the famous Thunder Gate (Kaminorimon) and shop around Nakamise, a long street with shops selling all sorts of traditional goods like yukatas and fans, before arriving at the majestic Sensoji Hall. Finish your day with a photo stop at the Imperial Palace Plaza.
Akihabara is 15 minutes away from Sensoji by subway. This area is reputed for being the go-to place for “Otaku”s, anime lovers (or geeks if you prefer). This is also where you can get all your electronics shopping done if that’s on your list of things to do in Tokyo! Visit Yodabashi Camera to find all the fancy Japanese gadgets of your dreams.
Lunch at Kyushu Jangara Ramen which offers typical and vegan ramen.
This afternoon head to Ueno Park and walk north across the park to the superb Tokyo National Museum. After visiting the museum, walk south to Tosho-gu Shrine.
Head to Roppongi and walk west from Roppongi Station to the Roppongi Hills complex. Refuel with a cup of coffee there (the Starbucks at the TV Asahi/Tsutaya complex has good people watching). Then, head up to the 52nd floor Tokyo City View observation deck of the Mori Tower to see the city.
Eat dinner in Roppongi. If you still have any energy left, have a drink in one of Roppongi's many bars. It's been a busy couple days...retire early and perhaps have a soak in the hotel's onsen.
DAY 3 - Hakone
Depart from Shinjuku in Tokyo to the scenic areas of Hakone, a volcanic national park renowned for hot springs and views of nearby Mount Fuji. First, cruise on a well-decorated pirate boat to enjoy the breathtaking views of Mount Fuji around the green on Lake Ashinoko.
Perhaps it's time for tea... Amazake-chaya Tea House, is the last traditional tea house on Tokaido road, the road that historically served as the main artery between the shogun capital of Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto, the country’s imperial and spiritual center. Having been in continuous operation for over 360 years, this tea house has served everyone from Japanese royalty to samurai.
After viewing the mountain from the water, view it in the air by taking the Hakone Ropeway up to Mount Hakone, where you can see a clear view of Mount Fuji from another mountain. The Ohwakudani, Great Boiling Valley, is another famous volcano, which erupted 4,000 years ago with live white sulfur escaping. Try the local Black Boiled Egg, Kuro Tamago, to see whether the legend is true and that it extends your life for seven years.
Lunch time! Shika-Jaya is a restaurant specializing in tofu and yamaimo dishes.Vegan-friendly.
In the afternoon choose to visit Gotemba Premium Outlet for around 2 hours. Gotemba premium outlet is one of the largest outlets in Japan, you can see Mount Fuji from inside the outlet. The other choice is to experience the famous hot spring (onsen) from which you can enjoy a view of Mount Fuji view. Hot springs are one of the most famous cultures of Japan and many tourists like to experience it when they visit. Perhaps also visit one of Hakone’s best art museums.
Stay at one of Japan’s most luxurious and renowned ryokan (traditional inns), where you can soak in your own private outdoor hot spring bath and enjoy a gourmet kaiseki ryori (seasonal tasting menu) dinner. Of course vegan, vegetarian or other dietary needs can be accommodated.