There is nowhere else in the world quite like Japan, an intoxicating blend of the ancient and the modern, vibrant colours, multi-sensory experiences and irresistible flavours. And, while the country may not always be an obvious choice for a family holiday, its diversity, ease of travel, opportunities for learning as well as for pure unadulterated fun make Japan somewhere not to be missed for family memories that will last a lifetime.
FUN THINGS TO DO IN JAPAN WITH THE FAMILY
Kimonos and Calligraphy in Kyoto
Opportunities abound for children of all ages to embrace their creative side in Kyoto. Feel the rhythm in a Taiko drumming session or produce a souvenir to remember in a traditional Japanese calligraphy class. Teenagers meanwhile might want to capture a prized Instagram shot of themselves dressed in a colourful kimono against the backdrop of Gion’s timeless streets.
See the snow monkeys
The phenomenon of endearing Japanese macaques bathing in hot springs is said to have begun in the early 1960s when a young monkey entered Nagano’s onsen hot spring waters to retrieve some food. The monkey decided to remain and was soon followed by the rest of the troop, and before long this bathing ritual became common behaviour in the area. A full day trip from Tokyo involving travel by bullet train, road and a forest hike means we generally only recommend this experience for older children, but those who embark upon the journey to Nagano to see the snow monkeys usually find it utterly rewarding.
Theme parks in Japan
From perennial favourites such as Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka (which features a real-life Super Nintendo World) to the anime themed wonderland of Nijigen No Mori or the SEGA haven of Joypolis Tokyo, there is a theme park to suit everyone in Japan. Adrenaline junkies may wish to sample the steepest roller coaster in the world at Fuji-Q Highland near Mount Fuji, while those seeking to introduce children Japanese history in an engaging way can observe ninjas leaping from roof to roof in the impressively recreated Edo Wonderland.
TOKYO WITH KIDS
Learn Ninja skills
It is impossible for adults and children alike not to get swept up in the excitement in dressing like a Ninja, then honing their skills under the watchful eye of a Ninja master. We work with an authentic clan in Tokyo who will instruct your family in how to carry themselves like Ninjas and handle formidable weaponry such as throwing stars and samurai swords – all in a fun, safe and family-friendly way!
Kitsch & colourful Tokyo
Spending time in Tokyo’s Harajuku district is an absolute must for those travelling with children. Wander along Takeshita Street dotted with kitsch boutiques, robot restaurants and karaoke booths, perhaps grabbing an enormous parasol-shaped candy floss or an outrageously decidant crepe to feast on as you stroll. Those travelling with gaming-loving youngsters (or parents) should also take a detour to Akihibara District, Tokyo’s electronics heartland where hours can be lost in the retro game stores and arcades.
Immersive art at teamLabs
Few galleries in the world allow you to walk through waters filled with neon koi carp, float in a universe of flowers or climb a hill of cascading light particles. Such is the experience of a visit to teamLabs Planets immersive gallery which has been enthralling visitors to Tokyo ever since it opened. Building on the success of Planets, teamLabs have just unveiled a thrilling new digital gallery, Borderless, which blurs the boundaries even further. Expect a glittering world of shimmering bubbles of light, glowing megalith crystals and hypnotic light sculptures that transport you to another world.
ONLY FOR GROWN-UPS
Mario Kart Tokyo
The opportunity to embrace your inner Super Mario and drive a go-kart around the streets of Tokyo is a highly appealing prospect for some. Sadly for younger visitors, this experience is only available to those aged 18 years and over with a valid driving license and accompanying International Driving Permit. Should you meet this criteria, get kitted out in the costume of your favourite Mario Kart character and take a memorable journey through the Tokyo streets, assisted by the navigation skills of your expert local guide.
BEST HOTELS IN JAPAN FOR FAMILIES
We love the Palace Hotel, where interconnecting rooms can be guaranteed and the friendly staff can task children with a scavenger hunt through the hotel or a bartending workshop to create their own colourful mocktail.
Interconnecting rooms can also be guaranteed at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, and the Ritz Kids programme delivers a range of activities including treasure hunts, balloon making and even a regular evening activity to allow weary parents the chance to enjoy a quiet meal together.
The St Regis is the perfect base for families visiting Osaka. Once again, interconnecting rooms can be guaranteed, and the hotel is just a 15 minute drive from the fabulous attractions of Osaka Aquarium and Universal Studios Japan.
If you are in need of some green space after the buzz of Japan’s cities, Hakone Byakudan is just the ticket. Located in invigorating mountain surroundings close to Mount Fuji, the hotel combines the rare blend of traditional Japanese styling with rooms spacious enough to accommodate families. All come with added benefit of a private onsen bath on the terrace, and Hakone's funicular railway, cable cars and Open Air Museum are all within easy reach.
JAPAN TRAVEL TIPS FOR FAMILIES
Japanese culture and traditions can seem very alien to those who have grown up in the west, but by encouraging children to ‘get stuck in’ to as many activities as possible, they’ll learn a true sense of Japanese life and discover that east and west have much more in common than it seems on the surface.
Even outside the peak travel times such as the cherry blossom season, Japan holidays still need to be booked as early as possible to give you the best possible value and choice. This is particularly true for those travelling with families as interconnecting rooms and family suites are limited and get booked up very quickly.
Japan’s food may look strange to western eyes, but it’s some of the freshest and tastiest in the world. Our advice would be to try as much as you can. Where children are concerned we can almost guarantee the ‘yummy’ will outweigh the ‘yuck!’
Embrace low-stress travel
Travelling with children can be a stressful experience, but the efficiency and punctuality of Japan’s Metro and Shinkansen (bullet train) network creates travel days that are an exciting part of the adventure. Seeing the platypus-looking trains pull into a station before you board and then speed off at almost 200mph is a real thrill. Add to this the bonus of all signs and announcements being in English and Japanese, and you may well find train travel in Japan a refreshingly low-stress experience!