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An Excellent Way for a Woman to Explore Japan

Transportation...

Japan has as efficient a public transportation system as I've seen anywhere. In Tokyo alone there are 13 million people, 62 train lines, 13 subway lines and 13 exciting bullet train lines (capable of going up to 180 miles per hour). Most signs are in Japanese. An inexperienced solo traveller could take hours to figure out any one journey they needed to make. As an OAT group, we used every form of transportation simply by following Hiro. She bought the tickets, knew all the shortcuts, and showed us where to stand to board the train easily and when to prepare to disembark (bullet trains stop for only one minute at each station). We did not feel over protected or stifled by any means. Yet, this way the group could enjoy the travel experience without the anxiety that huge, unfamiliar Japanese stations and situations can generate.

On longer chartered coach rides, our bus became a classroom. There was no time for boredom. We learned how to count in Japanese, Hiro drilled us on phrases like, 'Let me have this meal' and 'good evening' and 'I'm sorry, excuse me.' Since the group was predominantly female we asked about status of women in the workplace, government contribution to maternity leave and child care. Hiro's explanations were always thorough and interesting. We were also taught about Japanese history, musical instruments, Samurai warriors, Zen Buddhism, Shintoism (nature based), tea ceremonies, Japanese garden landscaping and much, much more. All were an absolute treat to listen to and the extra knowledge enriched our experience.


Daily Itineraries...

The variety of experiences I missed on my first two trips to Japan were more than made up on this trip. We saw modern Japan in Tokyo and ancient Japan in Kyoto. We experienced famous Mt. Fuji up close and bathed at a Japanese ryokan in Hakone. There was the Geisha House in Kanazawa and a climb to a Senkoji Buddhist Temple where we learned to meditate. We visited the most beautiful Japanese gardens, played paparazzi with all the Japanese couples posing for wedding pictures and strolled through bamboo groves, to name just a few of our many adventures. Each day brought new vistas, new activities and new knowledge. There was amble free time and also many optional tours available. We were all so smitten with the country that all the optional tour spots were quickly occupied. Though it poured while we were in Hiroshima (one of the trip's add-ons) I happily accepted the drenching in order to pay my respects at the Peace Park and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, both honouring the victims of the world's first atomic bombing.


Food...

The majority of our meals were Japanese and were included in the cost of the trip. It was the perfect opportunity to learn more about Japan's cuisine, dinnerware and cooking utensils. We asked questions; Hiro explained everything to us. We experienced full dinner banquets with many courses as well as everything from local buckwheat noodles to delicious okonomi yaki (pancakes) to sushi, tempura, teriyaki, and popular street food. We drank tea, cold beer and warm sake. No matter if it was a large banquet hall, a local market or a tiny neighbourhood eatery all the food was well-prepared and clean. On days where dinner was not included and we could all go our separate ways, our guide made sure that everybody knew where they were going and often took the undecided with her for an inexpensive neighbourhood meal.


Meeting the locals...

On average very few people come to Japan knowing how to speak Japanese. With this language barrier present there is, of course, less opportunity to meet locals casually and to exchange ideas. That means that travelling solo in this country can often feel isolating and frustrating. Overseas Adventure Travel understands this; one of their strong objectives is to have their participants enjoy home visits, to attend community festivals and lots of other meet and greet situations. Some are planned well in advance while others evolve as the situations present themselves. One of my personal highlights was meeting Japanese grandparents of my own age, visiting in their home, exchanging gifts and discussing our mutual enjoyment of grandchildren.

We also had the opportunity of chatting with a gracious geisha in the House she managed. We earned sushi making certificates from housewives in Kameoka City and gossiped with them over lunch as only females can do. In Kyoto we took public transport to an evening lantern festival we would never have known existed. In our Hakone ryokan there was an impromptu meeting with grade six Japanese school children on a field trip. They sang songs for us and their teacher translated as they asked us questions about where we lived and what we liked about Japan. Needless to say this conversation went on for a very long time and we all hated to have it end.


My time in Japan delighted me. As a solo woman traveller I can honestly say that there was nothing about it that I would change. There was ample free time to wander and observe on my own however I was always pleased to rejoin the group for more structured activities. I never worried about getting lost or disoriented; Hiro's Japanese instruction card on how to reach her via cell phone was tucked safely into my wallet. The food was good; my tummy never complained about our Asian diet and I can now safely say, 'I understand Japan just a tiny bit more.'

Japan offered amazing photography opportunities. There is the old saying that 'one photo is worth a 1000 words'. Click here for my Japan album.

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