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Planning a solo trip to Japan is a lot of fun! But it can be intimidating as well. There is so much to do in Japan which makes it challenging to narrow down the choices. And if you have a month and you are planning on backpacking to Japan for the first time, how do you decide where to go? Where do you start?
I travelled to Japan as a solo traveller and did a lot of research before my trip. I’ve filtered all the best stuff and put them together in an epic 1-month itinerary for Japan. I’ll show you exactly how you can spend one month in Japan, including all the highlights of all the best cities between Tokyo and Hiroshima.
How to spend 1 month in Japan
Starting in Tokyo and travel west to Hiroshima. You can see different sides of Japan from the glitziest cities, hot spring towns, art islands and to all the off the beaten track cities in over 4 weeks. And along the way, you can sample the most delicious Japanese food as different regions have different regional food.
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Day 1 – 6: Tokyo (6 days)
The best way to spend a month in Japan is by visiting Tokyo first. The biggest city in Japan is truly unique. If you like the big city vibe, bright lights and fascinating things to see and do day and night, then you have to visit Tokyo.
What to do in Tokyo
A trip to Tokyo must include a visit to all the different neighbourhoods. Visit Shinjuku to see the bright neon signs and Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest train station. Take an Instagram photo at the Shibuya Crossing in Shibuya. Wander around the hipster neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa and vintage stores in Koenji. Visit the famous Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa and see the glitzy shopping district of Ginza.
And for off the beaten path attraction, see hundreds of lucky cats at the birthplace of the lucky cat at Gotoku-ji. And for something low-key, browse through all the streets of Omotesando, boutique shops of Harajuku and the laidback neighbourhood of Kichijoji.
Even though there is a lot to see in Tokyo, you should venture outside of Tokyo and see other attractions as well. Kamakura and Nikko are both great destinations for day trips.
Where to stay in Tokyo
One of my favourite places to stay in Tokyo is Kaisu near Roppongi. The hostel has clean bunk beds in a dorm room and a clean shared bathroom. The best part about the hostel is the common area and the restaurant. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
At the start of your journey, pick up an IC Card at the airport or any JR train station. You can get either a Pasmo or Suica card in Tokyo and use the same card across the country for most transportation including the major routes for the suburban train, subway, bus, and other transportation as indicated.
Day 7 – 8: Hakone (2 days)
Hakone is the hot spring region of Japan. It is also an excellent home base for exploring Mount Fuji as well.
What to do in Hakone
When you are Hakone, buy a Hakone Day Pass that includes all the transportation for touring around Hakone. Starting from Hakone-Yumoto Station, take the Hakone Tozan Train to Gora. Then take the Hakone Tozan Cable Car to Sounzan. Then hop on the Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani Valley. You can smell the sulphurous gas while you are on your way up to the top. At the top, you can also see Mount Fuji in the background.
Then after you descend Owakudani Valley, the day pass includes a ride on the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise where you sail the length of Lake Ashinoko and disembark at Hakone-machi Port. Then you can explore the areas around Lake Ashinoko. Look for the Hakone Shrine where a large torii gate is sitting at the edge of the lake.
While you are in the region, you can also see Mishima Sky Walk near Mishima. The Hakone Day Pass includes the bus between Hakone and Mishima.
And if you are keen, you can join local tours and see Mount Fuji up-close and personal.
Where to stay in Hakone
Accommodation in Hakone can be expensive, and budget accommodation options are just okay. However, experiencing traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring) at a Japanese Ryokan is a must when visiting Japan. Ryokan Senkei is a traditional ryokan where you can experience traditional Japanese onsen on the premise. You can get a clean twin room at a reasonable price. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
Accommodations in Hakone can be expensive. However, you can stay in Mishima to save a bit of money. The town is not far away, and the efficient bus system can take you from Mishima Station to Hakone-machi Port and Hakone-Yumoto Station. And while you are in Mishima, enjoy a local delicacy of freshwater eel. The delicious fish lives in the subterranean water from Mount Fuji and is super tasty!
Day 9 – 11: Osaka (3 days)
Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city with a vibrant nightlife. The city has modern buildings, traditional temples, exciting nightlife and delicious food. Located in the Kansai Region, Osaka is an excellent hub for travelling across Japan. Kansai International Airport is close to Osaka, and an efficient railway system connects the city.
What to do in Osaka
A visit to Osaka must include a stroll through Osaka Castle and the surrounding park. While you are there, also visit Hozenji Temple and Osaka Tenmangū, which holds one of the top three festivals in Japan.
And the action-packed Namba area has everything you want in a big city. And Dōtonbori in Namba is full of bright lights, neon signs, takoyaki (octopus balls) stands, and okonomiyaki restaurants. Before you leave Namba, take a photo in front of the Glico Running Man sign.
Osaka is also a shopper’s paradise. You will find most of the stores in Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade. The shopping street also has a lot of restaurants and cafes and even more restaurants when you venture off the main avenue.
Where to stay in Osaka
Staying near Namba is ideal for a short stay in Osaka. The Bon Hostel has modern dorm beds, clean bathrooms and a great location. It is just south of Namba. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
You can also visit Nara as a day trip from Osaka. The efficient train system will take you to Nara in 60 minutes.
Day 12 – 15: Kyoto (4 days)
During your one month in Japan, you must visit Kyoto, which was once the capital city of Japan. As one of the largest cities in Japan, there are many temples, shrines and zen gardens. There are too many to count. Because there is a lot to see in Kyoto, plan to make the most of your time in Kyoto.
What to do in Kyoto
A visit to Kyoto must include Kinkaku-ji, Gion and Kyomizudera Temple! All of these places are quintessential to Kyoto. And not to mention spending half a day in Arashiyama marvelling at the Bamboo Grove and feeding the monkeys in the Monkey Park.
For all the Instagrammers out there, photos at Fushimi Inari Shrine is a must. But don’t be intimidated by the crowd. Bonus tip: hike to the top where fewer tourists are photobombing your photos.
There are many more temples, shrines and other attractions. I detailed all of them in my guide to Kyoto.
Where to stay in Kyoto
Staying in either Gion or near Nishiki Market is ideal for a short visit to Kyoto. The Millennials Kyoto is a modern hostel where you get your bed and semi-private space in a smart pod. The hostel is close to many attractions, restaurants and bars. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
Kyoto is a big city and walking to all the attractions may not be possible especially in a tight time frame. Pick up a Kyoto City Bus One-day Pass at Kyoto Station so you can quickly hop into any of the subway and bus and visit all the sites within the same day.
Day 16: Kobe (1 day)
By now you have visited all the big cities in Japan, like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. The second half of your month-long trip in Japan will be visiting several off the beaten path cities and art islands.
When you hear the name Kobe, you will immediately think of Kobe beef. While the city is known for its delicious beef, there is plenty to see! Kobe is considered to be one of Japan’s most attractive cities!
What to do in Kobe
Trying Kobe beef is a must in Kobe! Many restaurants serve the deliciousness including Steakland, Wakkoqu and Kokoro. Each restaurant serves a variety of teppanyaki beef where it is one of the best ways to cook Kobe beef.
When you finish your meal, walk it off by visiting Ikuta Shrine, Sannomiya Shrine and Sorakuen Garden. Then see all the different museums, or former mansions known as ljinkan, in Kitano at the edge of Rokko Mountain.
Before you leave Kobe, a stroll through Nankinmachi (Kobe Chinatown) is a must. And end your day by visiting Kobe Harbour.
Where to stay in Kobe
Stay at the budget accommodation, Guest House Kobe Nadeshikoya. The budget accommodation is centrally located and has spotless rooms. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
You don’t need reservations for trying Kobe Beef at most restaurants. However, if you want to avoid the long queue, you might want to have an early or late lunch or dinner. Some restaurants, like Steakland, is quite popular with tourists and you might have to wait during prime time.
Day 17: Himeji (1 day)
Himeji is one of the friendliest cities in Japan. The city is compact and small, and it is worth spending a day visiting all the best sites. And Himeji has one of the top three most beautiful castles in Japan and zen temples hidden away in the mountains.
What to do in Himeji
Himeji Castle is one of the best attractions in Himeji. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is known as the White Heron Castle, where it has pristine white-plastered exterior walls that resembles a white heron in flight.
And you must visit a group of temples called Engyō-ji Temple which is hidden away in Mount Shosha just 20 minutes north of Himeji Castle. The forest surrounding Engyō-ji Temple has a peaceful atmosphere and zen-like feel. It is an excellent spot for cherry blossom in spring and also fall foliage in autumn.
Also, visit Koko-en Garden and one of the many museums in the city. You can do all of this on the same day.
Read more about all the details for Himeji here.
Where to stay in Himeji
Stay at the friendliest hostel in Himeji. The ONE Hostel & Standing Bar has clean bunk beds in a spotless dorm room. And as the name suggests, the ground floor is also a bar. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
Many people visit Himeji as a day trip from Osaka. But in my opinion, Himeji is worth staying for the night. You can spend the day seeing all the attractions and enjoy a great local meal at a traditional Japanese restaurant. I had the best oden (Japanese one-pot dish made with daikon radish, fishcakes, etc.) at Nadagiku Kappa. The restaurant has been around since 1910!
Day 18: Teshima (1 day)
As the second-largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, Teshima is an island full of contemporary art and design. Toxic waste was dumped illegally on the island before, but it has been cleaned up and transformed into an art destination.
What to do in Teshima
You can see all the sites in Teshima in one day. Teshima Yokoo House is a beautiful and colourful gallery of artwork in an eclectic traditional house and exciting art installation in the silo. Les Archives du Coeur is a beachside gallery where space focuses on heartbeats. La Forêt des Murmures has 400 wind chimes in the forest which act as a reminder about life and the passage of time. And while you are in Teshima, also check out Needle Factory and Teshima 8 Million Lab.
And most of all, you have to visit the Teshima Art Gallery. The actual installation is open to the air and nature on Mount Myojin. It resembles a water droplet as it hits the surface. When you enter the interior, the semi-open space feels calm and peaceful. It is one of the best art installations I have seen in my life! Definitely not to be missed!
For more details about all the museums, check out my guide to Teshima.
Where to stay in Teshima
There is limited accommodation in Teshima which is why staying in Uno Port is a much better option. The Hym Hostel is a contemporary hostel in a renovated warehouse in Uno, close to both Uno Station and Uno Ferry Port. It is an excellent accommodation choice for visiting both Teshima and Naoshima. Check prices and reviews on Airbnb.
Solo travel tip
Rent an electric bike while you are in Teshima. Biking around the island is more efficient than walking as the attractions are a bit far from each other. Watch out for the steep hill as you approach Teshima Art Museum. Bike rental costs ¥1,000 for four hours (¥100 for an additional hour after that).
Day 19: Naoshima (1 day)
You can’t visit Teshima and not visit Naoshima! Naoshima is an island full of art, design, art installation, museums and everything else in between. If you love contemporary art or modern architecture, a fan of Yayoi Kusama’s work or Tadao Ando’s architecture, then you must visit Naoshima!
What to do in Naoshima
Get ready for a full day of contemporary art! First, start with seeing the modern artwork at the Chichu Art Museum. As you move closer to the coast, you will find the Benesse House Museum and Lee Ufan Museum. Part of the appeal of Naoshima is the outdoor art installations along the beach. Most notably is Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin. The Yellow Pumpkin was my inspiration for my solo trip to Japan!
And before you head back to the port to catch your ferry back to Uno, visit the Art House Project and Naoshima Bath (I Heart Yu). And snap a few photos of the Red Pumpkin for your Instagram!
Read my guide to Naoshima for more details.
Where to stay in Naoshima
There are a few accommodation options in Naoshima. But like I mentioned above, staying at Hym Hostel is an excellent option for visiting both Teshima and Naoshima. Check prices and reviews on Airbnb.
Solo travel tip
You can either walk or rent an electric bike to tour around Naoshima for the day. Walking is doable, and you don’t have to worry about parking your bike. However, riding an electric bike is so much more fun than walking!
While you are planning for your trip to Naoshima and Teshima, make sure to a, check the calendar for closure dates. It would be a shame if you go all the way and none of the museums are open.
Day 20: Kurashiki (1 day)
Kurashiki is a scenic canal town with so much character. It was once part of a vital distribution route for Japan’s most valuable commodity, rice. Canals were built around the city to facilitate the delivery of rice to the port towns nearby. Today, the charming village has restored warehouses converted to shops and restaurants.
What to do in Kurashiki
Spend some time in the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter where you will find picturesque canals and old typical Kurashiki shophouses along the canal. Also, visit Kurashiki Craft Work Village, a space for craft making and traditional Japanese tea ceremony and Kurashiki Monogatarikan, a tourism and cultural centre.
Other Kurashiki highlights include Honmachi and Higashimachi which are the main areas in Kurashiki. Both areas have traditional houses where you will find restaurants, cafes, and galleries.
Also, visit Kanryuji Temple and Achi Shrine in Tsurugatayama Park. Don’t forget to take in the view from above when you are up there.
Read more about all the things you can do in Kurashiki.
Where to stay in Kurashiki
The best Airbnb apartment I ever stayed at is in Kurashiki. The lovely Kurashiki apartment has everything you need: a bedroom, a living room, a full kitchen, a bathroom and a washing machine. The entire place feels very comfortable, and I highly recommend this place! And if you are not part of Airbnb yet, please use this code to claim your $35 Airbnb discount.
Related Post – How to save money by booking Airbnb
Solo travel tip
Okayama Prefecture produces a lot of fruits like white peaches and muscat grapes. You can try these local specialties in Kurashiki. Some stores along the canal will sell peaches and grapes (if they are in season) and other local food as well.
Day 21 – 23: Onomichi (3 days)
Onomichi is the small quaint town in Hiroshima Prefecture. Known for its temples, cats, and cycling, Onomichi is off the beaten path from the typical Japan trip itinerary. But let me tell you, it is one of the best places to experience Japanese culture, and cycling on the country’s best cycle route, Shimanami Kaido.
What to do in Onomichi
For a small town, there is so much to see and do in Onomichi. Follow the guided path along the Temple Walk where you can see 25 Buddhist temples along with the hillside town. The 2.5km trail also leads you to Tennei-ji Temple and Cat Alley. Hike up the hill to Senko-ji Park to see a panoramic view from the Observatory platform. Senko-ji Temple is perched near the top of the mountain as well.
During your second day in Onomichi, take the train to Okunoshima Island to see an island full of bunnies running around.
And on the last day in Onomichi, experience one of the best and longest cycle route in Japan. The Shimanami Kaido starts in Onomichi and will take you along the 70km journey to Imabari. The path connects six islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The entire route will take about eight to ten hours to complete. You can cycle to halfway to Imabari, and cycle back to Onomichi on the same day.
Where to stay in Onomichi
If you are an avid cyclist, you will want to check out Onomichi U2 as it is a hotel geared for cyclists.
And if you want to ride the entire length of Shimanami Kaido, stay at Onomichi U2 for the first night. On the second day, leave your belongings there and make an overnight bike trip to Imabari. Then return to Onomichi U2 on the third day. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
There are several bike rentals in Onomichi. There is one at Ekimae-kowan Car Park in Onomichi. You can rent a bike for ¥1,100 a day (and ¥1,100 deposit which you will get back when you return it to the same terminal).
Or rent an awesome road bike from Giant bike at the bike store at Onomichi U2 Hotel.
Day 24 – 26: Hiroshima (3 days)
Hiroshima attracts a lot of visitors from everywhere! You can leisurely visit all the major attractions in a few days and also sample all the delicious Hiroshima cuisine!
What to do in Hiroshima
If you are travelling to Hiroshima, you must be interested in all the sites in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Spend the day wandering around the park to see the Flame of Peace, the Children’s Peace Monument, and the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. Then visit Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to learn everything about the atomic bomb and how it affected Hiroshima. The Atomic Bomb Dome is not far and is an excellent place to see the remaining structures left from the nuclear bomb attack.
For a special treat, go up the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower to see Hiroshima from above. You can see the Peace Memorial Park and Miyajima on a beautiful clear day.
And visit Mitaki-dera which is just a train ride away. The temple dates back to 809, and the premise has a beautiful pagoda, hiking trails and waterfalls.
I have a detailed post on everything you need to do while in Hiroshima. Check it out!
Where to stay in Hiroshima
There are many budget and mid-range accommodations in Hiroshima. For a budget-friendly option, stay at 36 Hostel. For a very reasonable price, you can get a comfortable bunk bed in the dormitory room. The place is spotless and has a great common area. And it is located along the streetcar line and close to most major attractions. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
Getting around Hiroshima is super easy! The city is quite big, but the trains and streetcars will take you to every corner of Hiroshima. The streetcar costs a flat rate of ¥180 within the inner city and ¥280 beyond the city. Don’t worry about carrying the exact change; you can use your rechargeable IC card.
Day 27: Miyajima (1 day)
Miyajima is one of the most memorable places I’ve visited in Japan! Most people will use Hiroshima as a home base to visit Miyajima as a day trip. But if you have the time and the funds, stay overnight on the island to experience another side of Miyajima.
What to do in Miyajima
Spend the full day wandering Miyajima island. Start with walking through Itsukushima Shrine and finding the best spot for taking photos of the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate. After walking through Momijidani Park, follow the trail and either hike up Mount Misen or take the Miyajima Ropeway. While you are at the top, visit the Shishi-iwa Observation Deck, Misenhondo Hall, Reikado Hall and Kuguriiwa Rock. And on your way down from Mount Misen, check out Daishoin Temple and all the whimsical Buddhist statues.
Before you leave Miyajima, make sure you try some of Miyajima’s food specialties, including Momiji Manju (a small cake in the shape of a Japanese maple leaf with different fillings).
Check out all the details of Miyajima in my trip to Miyajima.
Where to stay in Miyajima
Like most solo travellers, I try to keep my accommodation budget quite low. However, if there is one place you want to splurge, this is it! Stay overnight at Hotel Miyajima Villa and experience traditional Japanese ryokan hotel where you can sleep on tatami mats and soak in the traditional Japanese hot spring bath. Check prices and reviews on Agoda.
Solo travel tip
The tide level changes quite a bit throughout the day. While I was there in October, it was high tide in the morning and low tide in the afternoon. I was able to see the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate submerged in water in the morning and walked around the giant torii gate in the late afternoon. You can check the tide level online before you visit the magical island.
Day 28: Fly home from Hiroshima or Osaka
All good things must come to an end. Most flights fly out of Hiroshima or Osaka and taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) is the most efficient way to reach either airport.
There you have it! The best 1-month itinerary for Japan! I truly enjoyed every single one of these cities and would highly recommend each place. I hope my sample Japan itinerary can help you tailor a dream trip to Japan.
It is not difficult at all visiting Japan as a solo traveller. Learn how you can make the best of your Japan trip by reading this post first.