Travelling as a family in Japan | Expert Travel Tips
Travelling to a far-flung corner of the earth with children or teenagers can be a daunting prospect. When your five-year-old pales at the sight of a tomato you may wonder what they’ll make of sashimi – and that’s not to mention the packing, the long-haul flights and the language barrier. Our 12-day Japan Family Adventure is jam packed with activities suitable for all ages, so while we’ve got the entertainment and accommodation covered, here are a few handy tips to ensure that your family trip to Japan goes as smoothly as possible.
For the flight
- Check the baggage allowance for your airline to avoid any nasty surprises when you get to the airport.
- If you or any members of your family have dietary requirements, make sure to let the airline you’re travelling with know in advance.
- If you’re travelling with young children, it might be a good idea to download some child-friendly games on your phone or tablet.
- Whatever the ages of your children, bring a pack of wet wipes on the flight in case of any accidents.
- Plane food is rarely a gourmet experience, so bring some snacks to ward off hunger pangs.
Clothing to pack
- Pack shoes that are easy to put on and take off. You will find that you are often required to remove your shoes when going indoors in Japan, so fiddly laces or buckles are best avoided.
- Pack clothes appropriate to the season you’ll be travelling in. Japan has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons, so be prepared for hot, humid summers and very cold (occasionally snowy) winters.
- Bring waterproofs as showers in Japan can get pretty heavy, particularly in mid-summer which is the rainy season.
Learn some useful phrases
Travelling is always more fun when you know a little bit of the language. Japanese pronunciation is actually quite simple, so while you’re travelling in Japan there are no excuses! Here are some key phrases to remember – it could be a fun activity to learn them with your children on the flight:
- Thank you – arigatou
- Thank you very much – arigatou gozaimasu*
- Please – onegaishimasu*
- Sorry/excuse me – sumimasen
- Hello – konnichi wa
- Good morning – ohayou gozaimasu*
- Good evening – konban wa
- Could we have some water please? – mizu onegaishimasu*
- Could we have one/two/three of these please? – kore o hitotsu/futatsu/mittsu onegaishimasu*
- When a word ends in ‘masu’ you do not need to pronounce the ‘u’ sound at the end. So ‘gozaimasu’ can be pronounced ‘gozaimass’
The quality of food in Japan is exceptionally high and isn’t limited to raw fish! If you or your children are on the fussier side here are some less challenging dishes that might be worth trying:
- Tempura – vegetables, fish and shellfish deep fried in a light batter.
- Tonkatsu – breaded deep-fried pork, usually served over rice.
- Ramen – noodle soup served with a variety of toppings including eggs, meat and spring onion.
- Curry – Japanese curry is an accessible take on the Indian classic. Smooth, slightly sweet and a favourite with Wagamama fans! Curry restaurants generally allow customers to choose their spice level, from mild to fiery hot.
- Yakitori – meat and vegetables served on skewers and cooked on a grill. A Japanese kebab if you will.
- Omurice – an omelette stuffed with fried rice and usually served with ketchup.
- Western food – if you’re travelling in Japan’s big cities, you will find a huge variety of restaurants serving food from all over the world. Italian restaurants are particularly popular.
If you find yourselves with a few hours to kill outside of your itinerary, here are some suggestions for more family-friendly activities:
Kawaii Monster Cafe
A psychedelic extravaganza in the heart of Harajuku, masterminded by legendary artist and designer Sebastian Masuda. Kids will love the zany decor which includes a carousel in the shape of multi-tiered cake.
MoCHA Cat Cafe
Another Harajuku gem. MoCHA’s spacious and comfortable interior – not to mention its particularly adorable feline inhabitants – make it one of the best cat cafes in the city.
Owl Cafe Akiba Fukurou
Head over to the neon-lit district of Akihabara for another brilliant animal cafe experience. The staff at the cafe try to maintain a calm and quiet atmosphere (it’s important not to disturb any slumbering owls) so perhaps not ideal for more boisterous children.
Get a taste of old-style Tokyo on this quaint shopping street in the Yakaka area. Sample delicious fresh croquettes or korroke, and shop for Japanese handicrafts and traditional sweets.
Fans of Japanese popular culture will love getting lost in this labyrinthine shop brimming with merchandise and manga. It’s also a good excuse to visit the trendy neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa.
Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory
Delicious choux pastry cream puffs in the shape of Studio Ghibli favourite Totoro – what’s not to like! This adorable bakery is well worth the trip to a more residential area of the city and is sure to be a hit with kids.
Dating back to 1717, Ippodo Tea is one of Kyoto’s best and most established tea companies. Choose from a vast array of teas and enjoy your selection with a traditional Japanese sweet. You can also buy some of their beautifully packaged tea to take home as a gift or souvenir.
Yasaka-jinja shrine and Maruyama-koen park
Yasaka-jinja is one of Kyoto’s most famous shinto shrines, founded 1350 years ago. After exploring the shrine, you can walk through the neighbouring Maruyama-koen – it’s one of the city’s most popular cherry blossom-viewing spots but is beautiful all year round.
A lively food market selling a vast array of produce and street food. Look out for stalls giving out free samples!
Kids Plaza Osaka
Younger kids will love this museum, which promotes the idea of learning through play and has a huge indoor playground as its main exhibit.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Japan’s second city is home to one of the world’s best aquariums. Spread over 8 floors, the aquarium boasts penguins, an interactive sting ray tank and two whale sharks.
Cup Noodle Museum Osaka
This surprisingly interesting museum has free entry and features a number of exhibits explaining the history of one Japan’s most popular convenience foods. For 300 yen you can customise and create your own Cup Noodle.
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