“A woman should never ever travel alone,” is what my mom told me upon hearing of my weekend plans to travel from Tokyo to Nara, Japan alone. Little did it matter to her that Japan is one of the safest places in the world for foreign female travelers due to high legal penalties for anyone who commits a crime against a traveler and the generally low crime, poverty and drug-use rates in the country. In fact, it is arguably much, much safer for a woman to travel alone in Japan than it is for a woman to live alone in Cleveland.
Luckily, I’d already booked my travel arrangements when my mom told me this over the phone. The adage holds true: better to ask for forgiveness than permission. And I was excited. It was fun to make the travel arrangements and choose the sights to see without consulting anyone with: “What time do you get out of class, does 4000 yen sound alright and would you rather stay in Osaka?” I was ready for a big adventure to have all to myself.
So here I am in Nara, on my self-proclaimed art pilgrimage. To my mother’s horror, traveling alone as a woman is thrilling. I like getting on the train and having hours to myself. I like walking around Kyoto without a schedule to follow. I like taking pictures every few feet at Phoenix Hall. I like sitting at the bar, watching the chefs prepare my udon. I love that I planned this trip by myself and for myself.
Would having a friend accompany me make me safer? Well yes, there is strength in numbers, but I am definitely not at higher risk alone because I’m traveling to Nara instead of wandering my home-base, Tokyo, alone. Would having a friend make me feel safer? Yeah, probably having someone to consult about the correct train would calm me down more than Google Maps does. But did I see everything I wanted to and nothing I didn’t? Yes. I got the art pilgrimage I wanted.
I saw the oldest wooden structure in the world at Horyu-ji. I saw one of the only extant buildings from the Heian period at Phoenix Hall. I saw the largest Buddha in Japan at Todai-ji. I pet a deer in Nara Park and the cats at Fushimi Inari-taisha. I walked through thousands of lanterns at Kasuga-taisha. I slept in a traditional “ryokan”, a Japanese hotel room complete with tatami mats and a Japanese-style futon. I ate salmon over rice in green tea soup and drank beer from a vending machine.
With just a little bit of caution, checking train times, maps and admission times beforehand, I enjoyed my weekend trip all the more. I did my homework, and I’m glad I didn’t have anyone slowing me down. I was free to indulge my wandering curiosity. There is no greater sense of adventure and wonder than getting lost in a beautiful country alone, especially at the feet of thousand-year old temples I never dreamt I’d see in real life.
Morgan Wood is a third-year student studying economics and art history. She is spending the Fall 2017 semester at Temple University, Japan in Tokyo.