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Plan a Family Trip to Japan: Kids-friendly Activities

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Embarking on a family trip to Japan offers a world of wonder and adventure, with a plethora of kids-friendly activities awaiting your exploration. Whether you’re drawn to the vibrant metropolis of Tokyo, the historic charm of Kyoto, or the captivating landscapes of Hokkaido, Japan promises unforgettable experiences for both young and old. From savoring delicious Japanese cuisine to discovering ancient temples and modern technology, this guide will help you plan a memorable journey that caters to the whole family’s interests. So, let’s dive into the intricacies of visiting Japan with kids, ensuring a vacation filled with cherished memories and cultural discoveries.

Why Visit Japan with Kids?

Japan beckons as a superb choice for family vacations. There are many reasons to visit Japan with kids, such as:

  • Safe, Clean, and Convenient: Japan excels in safety, cleanliness, and convenience. Robust public transport, kid-friendly amenities, and impeccable service ensure a worry-free experience.
  • Cultural Riches for All Ages: Japan’s diverse culture intrigues adults and kids alike. Traditional wonders like temples and tea ceremonies coexist with modern pop culture, featuring anime and cosplay.
  • Entertaining and Educational Attractions: Japan’s attractions offer a mix of fun and learning. Theme parks like Disney Resort, Tokyo Dome City, and Sanrio Puroland promise excitement. Interactive museums such as the Ghibli Museum and KidZania provide educational adventures.
  • Delightful Japanese Cuisine: Japan’s culinary journey is a treat for all taste buds. Sushi, ramen, tempura, and more await. Satisfy your cravings at street festivals and themed eateries for a unique dining experience.

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Best Time to Travel to Japan with Kids

Picking the ideal time for a family trip to Japan comes with its share of considerations, including weather, crowds, costs, and events.

Spring and Autumn: Perfect Picks

In general, the finest times to journey to Japan with kids are spring (from March to early April) and autumn (from late October to November). These seasons promise agreeable weather, boasting mild temperatures and low humidity levels. Moreover, they showcase Japan’s natural beauty with cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant foliage in autumn. However, do brace for peak tourist seasons, translating to pricier options and larger crowds at popular destinations. Early reservations for accommodations and transportation are a must.

Winter and Summer: Alternatives to Explore

To avoid crowds and save on costs, consider visiting Japan with kids in winter (December to February) or summer (June to August). In winter, enjoy snow activities and hot springs while embracing the northern landscapes, but prepare for cold weather and possible disruptions due to heavy snowfall. In summer, experience Japan’s vibrant culture and festivals, but be cautious of the hot, humid weather, particularly in July and August, and be ready for sporadic showers or typhoons during the rainy season.

Japan Tokyo Sakura
Tokyo in Spring

What to Eat in Japan with Kids

Japan offers a delightful array of tasty and nutritious dishes that your kids will love:

  • Miso Soup: A traditional soybean paste-based soup, miso soup is enriched with tofu, scallions, and often seaweed or veggies. This nutritious bowl provides protein, probiotics, antioxidants, and vitamins. Enjoy it for breakfast or as a side dish, readily available in Japan’s restaurants and convenience stores.
  • Curry and Rice: A versatile dish comprising rice blanketed with a hearty curry sauce brimming with spices, meat, and vegetables. Customize it to your preference by selecting your preferred level of spiciness, meat type (or none), and the veggies you fancy. This filling meal delivers ample energy and essential nutrients.
  • Gyoza: Savor dumplings filled with minced meat and herbs, encased in a delicate pastry, and pan-fried to crispy perfection. Dip them in soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil for an extra kick. These delightful morsels provide both protein and fiber, making them a fun, hands-on treat.
  • Tamago Sushi: This sushi variation features a sweet egg omelet atop vinegared rice, making it one of the easiest and most kid-friendly options. It’s sweet, soft, and a great source of protein, carbohydrates, and calcium.
  • Udon: Thick wheat flour noodles served in a hot broth or with a dipping sauce. Kids adore the chewy texture of udon noodles, which can be savored plain or adorned with various toppings like tempura, fish cake, or green onions. These noodles are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, making them a comforting choice for young palates.
Japanese Food Curry and Rice
Japanese Food - Curry and Rice

Where to Stay in Japan with Kids

Japan offers an array of accommodation options for families, catering to diverse budgets, preferences, and travel itineraries. Here are some of the most sought-after and recommended choices:

1. Family-Friendly Hotels: These Western-style lodgings prioritize family comfort, offering spacious rooms, kids’ clubs, playgrounds, pools, on-site dining, and shuttle services. Among the top picks are Highland Resort Hotel & Spa, Renaissance Resort Okinawa, Liber Hotel At Universal Studios Japan, and Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel. Conveniently situated near renowned attractions like Fuji-Q Highland amusement park, Universal Studios Japan, and Tokyo Disney Resort, these hotels ensure an enjoyable family stay.

2. Traditional Ryokans: Embrace the rich Japanese culture by opting for traditional ryokans, where you sleep on futon mattresses atop tatami-mat floors, savor delectable kaiseki meals, and unwind in soothing hot-spring baths (onsen). Suginoi Hotel, Ryugujo Spa Hotel Mikazuki Fujimitei, and Kurama Onsen are among the finest choices, with picturesque settings such as Mount Nasu, Chiba Prefecture, and Kyoto, providing a unique and immersive experience for families.

3. Self-Catering Apartments: Offering convenience and affordability, self-catering apartments are perfect for families seeking privacy and flexibility. Prepare your own meals, handle laundry at your leisure, and enjoy extra living space. Top selections include Oakwood Premier Tokyo, The Ritz-Carlton Residences Kyoto, and Hakuba Tokyu Hotel, strategically located in central areas like Tokyo Station, Kyoto Station, and Hakuba Ski Resort, ensuring a comfortable and self-reliant family stay.

Top Family-friendly Activities in Japan

Japan offers a plethora of kid-friendly activities that can make your family vacation truly memorable. Let’s explore some of the top options:

Experience the High-Speed Shinkansen Trains:

Hop on board the renowned shinkansen, also known as bullet trains, known for their mind-boggling speeds of up to 320 km/h. These trains offer a comfortable and stylish way to traverse the country while enjoying picturesque views and marveling at cutting-edge technology.

Meet Snow Monkeys in Nagano Prefecture:

Head to Nagano Prefecture to witness the charming snow monkeys taking soothing baths in hot springs during the winter. This heartwarming spectacle can be followed by an exploration of the nearby Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan’s oldest and most revered Buddhist temples.

Attend a Sumo Wrestling Tournament:

Don’t miss the opportunity to attend a thrilling sumo basho, a tournament where professional sumo wrestlers battle it out in a ring. You can witness exciting matches, gain insights into the rules and rituals of this ancient sport, and cheer for your favorite wrestlers.

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Embrace Taiko Drumming:

Enroll in a taiko drumming class to discover the rhythmic world of this traditional Japanese instrument. You’ll not only learn how to play the taiko but also gain an understanding of the culture and history associated with this art form. It’s a great way to create music and bond with your family.

Interact with Deer at Nara Park and Miyajima Island:

For an enchanting experience, mingle with friendly deer that roam freely in Nara Park or on Miyajima Island. These gentle creatures will even bow to you if you offer them crackers. Alongside the delightful deer encounters, explore the impressive temples and shrines like Todaiji Temple and Itsukushima Shrine in these regions.

Stay at a Buddhist Temple:

For a unique cultural experience, consider spending a night at a Buddhist temple. Here, you can immerse yourself in the lifestyle of monks, participate in meditation and chanting sessions, savor the serene atmosphere, relish vegetarian cuisine, and gain insights into Buddhism.

Discover the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo:

Unleash your imagination at the whimsical Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, where you can step into the enchanting world created by Studio Ghibli, the geniuses behind beloved films like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. Explore original sketches, enjoy exclusive short films, and even take a ride on a cat bus.

Japan Nagoya Ghibli Park
Ghibli Park

How Long to Spend in Japan with Kids

There is no definitive answer to how long you should spend in Japan with kids, as it depends on your preferences, budget, and availability. Below are some of our suggestions for your inspiration:

A 5-day Introduction:

For a brief introduction to Japan, a minimum of 5 days is recommended. This time frame allows for a deep dive into one or two major cities. For instance, you could spend 5 days in Tokyo and embark on day trips to nearby gems like Nikko and Kamakura. However, if you aspire to explore more of Japan’s diversity, additional time is a must.

10-14 Days for Family Adventures:

For a fulfilling family adventure in Japan, consider dedicating 10 to 14 days. This generous span enables you to visit the country’s top three destinations: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. You can also incorporate side trips to Hakone, Hiroshima, or Nara. To illustrate, allocate 3 days to Tokyo, 2 days to Hakone, 3 days to Kyoto, 2 days to Nara, 2 days to Osaka, and 1 day to Hiroshima. This well-rounded itinerary offers a blend of modernity and tradition, urban and rural settings.

Exploring Japan’s Hidden Gems in Two to Three Weeks:

For a more in-depth exploration of Japan’s less-traveled regions, consider dedicating 2 to 3 weeks to your journey. This timeframe allows you to discover captivating small cities, towns, and villages that are authentically Japanese and off the beaten path. For example, you can explore the Japanese Alps by visiting Takayama and Shirakawa-go, where the unique Hida folk village awaits. In Nagano, observe the famous snow monkeys as they relax in hot springs. A trip to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, grants you access to the nation’s natural beauty and wildlife.

A Comprehensive Month-Long Expedition:

For a thorough exploration of Japan and an immersive cultural experience, consider dedicating a month or more to your adventure. This extended journey allows you to traverse the entire length of Japan, from the far north in Hokkaido to the southern paradise of Okinawa. Moreover, you can venture to remote islands and regions that offer exceptional experiences. Yakushima Island, known for its ancient cedar forests that inspired “Princess Mononoke,” is a must-visit. Shikoku Island beckons with its 88-temple pilgrimage route, allowing you to explore this less-traveled gem.

Japan Fuji Hakone Izu National Park
View of Mount Fuji in Hakone

How to Travel around Japan with Kids

Subway and Shinkansen:

Japan boasts an exceptional subway system that seamlessly connects major cities and attractions. The Shinkansen, often referred to as the Japanese bullet train, offers a swift and scenic way to travel between cities. These trains are known for their cleanliness, comfort, and punctuality, ensuring a pleasant journey.

Car rental:

For those seeking flexibility and convenience, renting a car is an option, especially when exploring rural areas and national parks. It’s important to note that driving in Japan can be challenging due to narrow roads, heavy traffic, and primarily Japanese signage. Additionally, an international driving permit and a credit card are prerequisites for car rentals.

Stroller and carrier:

If you’re traveling with toddlers or young children, consider bringing a stroller or carrier to ease your walks. Be aware, however, that some places may not be stroller-friendly, such as crowded subways, narrow sidewalks, steep stairs, or ancient temples. You may need to fold your stroller or carry it at certain points.

Japan Rail Pass and Suica card:

For a cost-effective and efficient travel experience, consider obtaining a Japan Rail Pass or a regional pass that grants you unlimited train travel for a set duration. Additionally, Suica and Pasmo cards are handy options that can be used for subways, buses, vending machines, and convenience stores. These cards are easily rechargeable at any station, offering remarkable convenience during your travels.

Japan Shinkansen
Shinkansen in Japan

Essential Tips for Traveling Japan with Kids

Here are some essential tips for traveling Japan with kids, based on the web search results I found:

Strategic Itinerary Design:

In Japan, a well-planned itinerary is crucial. Given the country’s size and diversity, prioritize what interests your family most, balancing activities and downtime. Also, consider the season, weather, and crowds when selecting destinations. Top family spots include Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hokkaido, Okinawa, and Hiroshima.

Choosing the Right Season:

Choose the right season for your family’s trip. Japan’s four distinct seasons each have their appeal and challenges. Spring and fall offer pleasant weather but can be crowded and costly. Summer brings heat and festivals. Winter offers skiing and hot springs but can be chilly. Tailor your trip to your preferences and budget.

Early Booking for Savings:

Book flights and accommodations in advance to save money and secure your preferred lodgings. Japan is a popular destination, particularly during peak times. Look for family-friendly hotels with discounts or amenities like play areas. Alternatively, consider vacation rentals for more space and flexibility.

Pack Wisely:

Pack thoughtfully, keeping it light. Japan’s convenience means you can easily buy what you need locally or online. Focus on comfort and convenience items, such as comfortable shoes, layers, sunscreen, snacks, and more. Light packing simplifies travel and avoids excess baggage fees.

Efficient Public Transportation:

Make the most of Japan’s excellent public transport system. Trains, buses, subways, and taxis are reliable and swift. Consider a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for unlimited train access or an IC card like Suica or Pasmo for seamless payments across transport services, saving time and money.

Enriching Activities for Kids:

Japan has an array of entertaining and educational activities for families with kids of all ages. Explore amusement parks, historical sites, traditional arts, nature, modern technology, and delectable cuisine. Japan caters to diverse interests, ensuring an engaging experience for your children.

Embrace Japanese Etiquette and Culture

Japan boasts a rich and distinct culture, which may vary from what you’re accustomed to in your own country. To ensure you don’t inadvertently cause offense or inconvenience during your visit, it’s valuable to acquaint yourself with some fundamental rules of etiquette and manners. For instance:

  • Remove Your Shoes: When entering someone’s home, temples, or traditional inns (ryokans), it’s customary to remove your shoes as a sign of respect.
  • Bow Slightly: Greet or express gratitude to others with a slight bow, acknowledging their presence.
  • No Tipping: Unlike in some cultures, there’s no need to tip anyone for their services in Japan. Exceptional service is considered standard.
  • No Eating or Drinking on the Go: Avoid consuming food or beverages while walking along the streets. It’s preferable to enjoy your meals at designated eating areas.
  • Keep the Volume Down: In public transportation and other shared spaces, refrain from speaking loudly. Silence is generally appreciated.
  • Dispose of Trash Responsibly: Littering is unacceptable. Always make use of designated trash bins or carry your garbage until you find a proper disposal point.

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