16 Tips for Travel in Japan with Kids
Our family trip to Japan was Javi’s first trip overseas at 15 months old and we were excited for our first trip to another country as a family of three. We had the whole trip planned out day by day as we wanted to see as much as we could during our two week visit. Considering this was our first trip to Japan I would say we did a lot of things very well. However, we also made quite a few mistakes that we would do over if we had our time again. Here are 16 tips for travel in Japan with kids if you ever decide to visit the land of the rising sun.
1. Japan Rail Pass
This is the one question most people travelling to Japan want answered. Should I get a JR Pass? The Japan Rail Pass is a multi-use discounted ticket that is only available to tourists.
We decided to purchase a Japan Rail Pass and it was a great decision for our trip. But this doesn’t mean you should rush into buying the JR Pass yourself. There are a few things to consider before making the purchase so we’ve written an article dedicated to this decision, Should I Buy a Japan Rail Pass? We explain the process of getting an Exchange Order which is then exchanged for the actual JR Pass, how you can work out if the JR Pass is good value for your trip and some other benefits we found from using it. Read more here.
2. Bring Nappies
If you read our article, 5 Tips for Travelling with Babies & Toddlers to Help Keep Your Sanity, you would already know about the drama we encountered when we realised we were out of nappies in Osaka. Our advice. Bring plenty of nappies with you and quickly find out where you can get more if you know you will run out.
3. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Tokyo has many attractions that provide an amazing view of the city. Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree are very well known tourist attractions. But the problem with them is you have to pay to access them. The Tokyo Tower costs ¥1600 (About $18 AUD or $14 USD) and the Skytree costs ¥4000 (About $45 AUD or $35 USD). When travelling as a family all these entrance fees can really add up! The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building will cost you a grand total of ZERO YEN. Although we didn’t venture to the previously mentioned buildings to compare. We can say we were totally captivated by the amazing view from the 45th floor.
To get to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building get off at JR Shinjuku Station and then walk for about 10 minutes from the west exit. Another option is to get off at Ocho-mae Station on the Oedo Subway Line and get dropped off right in the basement of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. We went in the evening and only had to wait about 10 minutes in line.
4. Baby Carrier
This is nothing new from us. We always recommend travelling with a baby carrier no matter where you go. Yes you can take a stroller to Japan, but just remember train stations and streets can get very crowded. You’ll also want to visit the many amazing temples that won’t allow you to wheel that stroller around inside. I couldn’t imagine cramming into a train during peak hour or walking down Takeshita Street with a pram. If your heading to Kyoto you’ll most likely visit ?? Fushi Inari-taisha?? There is no way you’re getting that stroller up all those steps through the thousands of vermillion coloured torii gates, and you don’t want to have to bear the weight of your little one in your arms the whole way up. Bring a baby carrier!
5. It’s Vegetable
We are buy no means food experts but if you are in Tokyo I have to recommend It’s Vegetable. Especially for anyone who is vegan or vegetarian. This was our favourite restaurant during our entire trip around Japan. They serve a wide variety of dishes that are completely vegan and 100% delicious! The owner is unbelievably nice and was so friendly towards Javi. He even taught me some Japanese during our short visit.
** Update – Happycow shows It’s Vegetable is now closed. However, I contacted the restaurant directly and they advised me that they are currently just renovating and expect to be opening again in December, 2017.
It’s Vegetable is located right under Kinshicho Station in Sumida.
6. Mt. Fuji in the morning
The Pagodas in Japan are definitely a unique architectural design, and most people would agree that Mt Fuji is Japan’s most iconic attraction. You can combine the two with an amazing photo at the Cherito Pagoda located in the Arakura Sengen Shrine in Fujiyoshida. The problem is that Mt Fuji is often hidden by the clouds. We stayed near Lake Kawaguchi and only managed to get a peak at Mt Fuji early one morning and then again for maybe 5 minutes during morning tea the same day.
The following day we went to the Cherito Pagoda hoping to capture a photo of the Pagoda with Mt Fuji in the background. Unfortunately for us we slept in and by the time we walked up the hundreds of steps to the Pagoda, it was closer to midday and all we could see were clouds. We managed to get a photo with the Cherito Pagoda, but we’ll just have to use our imagination for what lies behind those clouds.
To get to the Arakura Sengen Shrine and the Cherito Pagoda make your way to the Shimo-Yoshida Station along the Fujikyu Railway Line. Follow the signs for about a 10-15 minute walk.
Sumo is the iconic sport of Japan, and there is no better place than Tokyo to see the best Sumo wrestlers compete. In a way we timed our holiday perfectly, as during our stay was the annual Sumo tournament held at Ryogoku Kokugikan. Unfortunately our plan to see this event didn’t go to plan. The lesson we learned? Get your tickets in advance! Do not do as we did and think you’ll be able to get your tickets when you show up at the stadium. We did read that tickets should be purchased in advance or on the morning of the event. But still, we thought we’d just try to buy them in the afternoon. We did this because the best sumo wrestlers were scheduled to compete in the afternoon but we didn’t want to make two trips to the stadium. After getting off at the wrong station and a 30 minute walk, we were disappointed to find that it was a sell out. It was also our last day in Tokyo so we missed out!
8. Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble
This is one sight you will never see anywhere else in the world. Every few minutes the traffic lights change and hundreds of people scurry across this intersection. When we first got to Shibuya we had an excellent view looking down on the intersection from inside Shibuya Station. From a distance it looked like complete madness! We ventured down to street level and really didn’t have anywhere we wanted to go in particular. We just wanted to walk across this pedestrian scramble. We managed to find a spot right on the curb before we got the green light and when the lights changed we quickly made our way across. We managed to weave our way through the maze of people unscathed and found the whole experience quite exciting! We did it a couple more times just for fun 🙂
To get to Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble get off the train at Shibuya station. Take the Hachiko Exit (Exit #8). You can’t miss it!
9. Ueno Zoo
Normally we aren’t really advocates for zoos. We prefer to seen animals in the wild where they belong. But there is no doubt zoos can be great places to educate your children about the animal kingdom and Ueno Zoo is one zoo we’re willing to recommend. They have a wide variety of animals and from what we saw, they are very well cared for. Their enclosures are bigger and cleaner than many of the other zoos we’ve visited around the world.
Ueno Zoo is located within Ueno Park which is right next to JR Ueno Station. Take the Park Exit from the station.
10. Shibu Onsen
Shibu Onsen is located near Yamanouchi and is well know for the nine onsens (public bath houses) scattered around the small town. The water for each bath house comes from hot springs and each one is said to have different medical benefits. Each bath house has a separate male and female bathing area which you’ll share with anyone else using them at the time. Because we had Javi with us we only tried a handful of bath houses. Elisa took Javi with her into each bath and the few locals she shared the baths with didn’t have a problem with it.
WARNING! You can only wear you birthday suit while using the bath houses. If this is not your thing, many of the local accomodations have their own bath house that utilises the water from the hot springs.
Another famous attraction in the area is the the Jigokudani Monkey Park, also know as the Japan Snow Monkeys. The Japanese Macaques that inhabit the area come down from the mountains above to bathe in the hot springs.
Finally, Shibu Onsen is actually a really cool town to explore at night. It almost felt we were the only ones there while roaming the narrow streets. The streets have a very traditional feel about them and almost feels like you’ve gone back in time. We also explored the various paths leading to the different Shrines located on the hill which the town hugs. We did this in the darkness of night which was a little bit freaky and got the adrenaline pumping.
11. Fushimi Inari Taisha
You might not know it by name, but you will no doubt recognise the vermillion coloured torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha.
This is one of the most important shrines in Japan dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. It is incredible how many torii gates there are here and it almost seems as thought they are endless as you take the 2-3 hour hike to the summit of the mountain and back. If you decide to take on Mount Inari, be prepared to walk up a lots of stairs as it is an exhausting trip to the highest point. Particularly when you are carrying a little one.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is located just outside JR Inari Station in Kyoto.
12. Kids Plaza Osaka
Kids Plaza Osaka has to be the coolest kids museum we’ve ever been to. With a wide range of activities for all ages there is no doubt your kids will find something that grabs their interests. After all, there is nothing better than learning through play.
To get to Kids Plaza Osaka get off at the Ogimachi station on the Sakaisuji subway line (exit #2), or it’s about a 3 minute walk from JR’s Temma station.
13. Day Trip to Hiroshima
Hiroshima is well known for one of the saddest moments in history, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the city. In an instant the city was transformed and the lives of the people of this city would be changed forever. Even though this event happened over 70 years ago in 1945, as you explore the city learning about the history and the stories of those who survived, everything still seems so raw and relevant today. The remains of the Genbaku Dome, also know as the A-Bomb Dome, reaffirms these emotions as visitors stare at it’s bare structure in pure amazement that it still stands. What is more astonishing is that it was located almost directly underneath where the atomic bomb was detonated.
It is possible to visit Hiroshima in one day. We did it by taking the bullet train from Kyoto early in the morning and returning in the evening. It was a long day for us all, particularly Javi. But he managed to get plenty of naps in the baby carrier during the day and handled all the travel very well. We’re happy to recommend Hiroshima as a day trip, but if we ever go back we’d probably try to stay for at least few days. Hiroshima has so much more to see that we just didn’t have time for in one day
Oh! One more must do’s in Hiroshima is to have some okonomiyaki from Nagata-ya. It’s just a short walk from the A-Bomb Dome and Motoyasu Bridge. You won’t be disappointed!
14. Get some anime
We absolutely love the amazing anime we had drawn for us during our trip. These are no doubt the best mementos we took from our trip to Japan. One night in Osaka we met with a local artist who quickly drew us as anime characters. The whole process only took about 20 minutes.
The following morning we thought this would make a really cool gift as well. It was Elisa’s father’s birthday in a few weeks and we thought some anime of himself with Javi would make the perfect gift. We couldn’t use the same artist we met the night before, so we had a different artist draw a photo of Javi with his Nono. As soon as we collected it we couldn’t get the smile off our face. The facial features that are emphasised are done cleverly, but not too exaggerated. We loved it, and so did Nono!
15. Japan Post ATM’s
When ever we travel overseas I’m always concerned about where I should withdraw money from. Which banks or ATM’s are trustworthy, have the best rates and charge the least fees. Before we went to Japan I did my research and came to the conclusion the best option was to use the Japan Post Bank ATM’s. With over 27,000 ATM’s across Japan there is likely one close by. They accepted our Australian debit card and we never had trouble finding one close by. Since our trip they have now developed an app that makes it even easier to locate their ATM’s.
16. Just try it
While in Japan we came across many things we’d never seen before. Japanese culture seems to be well ahead of us here in the west. If you see something interesting and your not sure if you should try it, I say go for it! Get our of your comfort zone and create those memories.
I hope you enjoyed reading our 16 tips for visiting Japan with kids. If you found any of these tips helpful please come back and let us know in the comments. Also, I’m sure there are many things we missed. After all we only spent two weeks in Japan. Let us know in the comments your tips for travel in Japan with kids.