Family Holidays in Japan: Visiting Japan With Your Kids
Japan is a playground for children, and a world full of robotics, pioneering gadgets and gizmos, neon lights and make-believe. Tales of ninjas, samurais and geishas will come to life the moment you step foot in it.
Family holidays to Japan are fascinating, colourful and full of energy. It must be one of the most captivating countries in the world, playing host to:
- Iconic cherry blossom trees
- Playful snow monkeys
- Ancient samurai legends
- Stunning national parks
- Astounding architecture
- Exclusive Michelin-star restaurants
As well as being home to anime, cosplay, futuristic technology and incredible bullet trains.
It is clean and well-organised, and there are direct flights from the UK all year round. Plus, it is not much bigger than the British Isles, making it very accessible to get around by riding the Shinkansen Bullet Train. So, grab a cup of tea and read on as we cover the top spots, from Tokyo’s cool and quirky neighbourhoods to exploring the stunning countryside.
Top 7 Things To Do In Japan With Kids
While your kids are bound to love the entire country, there are a few key activities and places that really cater to them, as well as the young at heart. Below are the top 7 things to do in Japan with your children that our guests have loved time and time again.
1. Harajuku, Tokyo
Harajuku is a fantasy land that will make your kids’ eyes pop out of their sockets with delight and wonder. When planning holidays to Japan, Tokyo is an ideal place to start, particularly this district. It is so much more than just a neighbourhood. It is a subculture, where the Harajuku style and Harajuku Girls originate from. This quirky, fun (and perhaps a little crazy) look is an expression of freedom for the young people of Japan and has become popular all over the world.
As well as fashion, the spirit of Harajuku culture flows into restaurants, cafes and shops. Spend half a day immersing yourself in all that it has to offer. Children will particularly love the super-cute or kawaii, themed cafes where you’ll find:
- pygmy pigs
- gaming characters
- and a whole host of other fantastical creations and experiences!
Harajuku will appeal to children of all ages, from six to 15 years and up.
2. Akihabara, Tokyo
With its surplus of super-sized department stores selling anime, comic books, video games, action figures - and all the merchandise an avid gamer could possibly ever imagine - Tokyo's nerdiest neighbourhood attracts devoted otaku from all over the world. Between the gigantic neon billboards and discount tech shops, you’ll find turbo-charged arcades. Both vintage and futuristic, they are filled with every game conceivable, from claw cranes to the latest video craze, often accompanied by staff dressed in cosplay.
It’s not all for the kids though. Akihabara is just the place to sample Japanese cuisine, full of Michelin-starred restaurants and cosy izakaya. And if you’re craving a different type of culture there are plenty of ancient Shinto shrines. As with Harajuku, a range of different ages will enjoy this activity on your family holiday in Japan, but as a guide, we’d say 8 years old and upwards - depending on your child’s interests.
3. Breakfast at the Fish Markets, Tokyo
It doesn’t get much fresher than Tokyo’s fish markets. What was once the world’s largest closed in 2018 and then reopened as two separate outposts, giving you Tsukiji and Toyosu. The original site, Tsukiji, is a buzzing, old market – loud and in-your-face. Pull up a chair at a sushi bar or sit down to a more formal offering, and when you want a bit more luxury there are Michelin-star restaurants. To save spending a fortune on a meal that your kids don’t finish, breakfast is the best time to go, when even the top restaurants offer great value. You’ll find set menus for about £15 a head, giving you a chance to sample the sea-to-plate eating that takes place there.
Chefs carefully slice up a whole tuna in front of you passing around delicious fresh meat to devour. Inquisitive kids will love to see where their food comes from. Meanwhile, at Toyosu, you can witness the famous fish auctions and live fish sales while perched at a sushi bar. A trip to the fish market is a memorable thing to do when in Japan with kids of all ages.
4. Odaiba, Tokyo
Aptly accessed via the illuminated Rainbow Bridge or the futuristic Yurikamome train, Odaiba is a man-made, technological island. Amongst the many kid-friendly attractions are the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and teamLab. The former, more commonly known as Miraikan, has enough interactive exhibits and activities to keep kids occupied for the better part of the day. There are robots, self-driving cars and virtual reality exhibits a plenty.
TeamLab is possibly the most instagrammed art installation of all time. A truly immersive and psychedelic virtual space that sees you traverse through a series of exhibits, which will transport you into another world. Children young and old will love this. The older because it’s social media heaven – the ultimate selfie spot and a favourite with celebrities like Justin Beiber. The younger ones because of the magical rooms filled with floating lanterns and moveable art, plus they can get creative and add their own art to the installations. This would be our top pick for those travelling with children under five.
Top tip: The train station to Odaiba is close to Tsukiji Fish Market, so breakfast there first is a fantastic way to start the day.
5. Samurai Experience, Kyoto
For a truly authentic experience on your family holiday to Japan join a samurai workshop just outside Kyoto, where you’ll learn the martial art of using a samurai sword, dress up in traditional clothes and discover all the ancient etiquette around it. While samurai don’t exist in Japan anymore, they are still an important part of the country’s history and culture. And this experience is not something that just anyone can do. The three-to-four-hour experience will pique the interest of older children, aged 10 and over, who will love becoming samurai warriors for the day and taking their virtual reality into actuality.
6. Kayaking & Walking, Hiroshima
Japan is easily one of the most stunning countries in the world and among its natural wonders is the famous Itsukushima shrine, the Grand Torii Gate. Floating in the sea by Miyajima Island, just outside Hiroshima, is this celebrated landmark, which represents the border between the secular world and the sacred worlds of the Shinto religion. For a refreshing change of pace from the city buzz, take the kids on a one or two hour kayak trip around the island, which will keep them engaged and excited while you soak in the culture.
On the island itself is a hiking trail, which takes about an hour and a half and has a cable car to take you up or bring tired legs down, as well as some low-key, local restaurants for lunch. As an alternative, head back to Hiroshima for the city’s famous savoury pancakes Okonomiyaki. We recommend this excursion for active, outdoorsy families with children over 10.
A trip out to the countryside is an incredible contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life in Japan. Kawaguchi, at the bottom of Mount Fuji, overlooking lakes and with views of the majestic site in the distance, is a dreamy place to get back to nature (and allow social media fans to capture the ultimate Instagram snap of the famous mount!). Here you’ll find Hoshinoya Karuizawa, a fabulous glamping-style resort, which offers horse riding, kayaking, barbecues in the forest, hot springs and even childcare for those between four months and nine years old.
Best Time to Visit Japan With Your Family
Holidays in Japan are incredible almost all year round. Its seasons are clearly defined and the landscape changes dramatically with them. The climate varies from region to region, so the best time to visit Japan really depends on which part of the country you’re visiting and what is on your itinerary.
Spring is from March to May and a famously beautiful time to visit and see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, turning the country into a sea of pink. It starts in the south in March spreading up the country to the north by May. But this does bring with it a sea of tourists too and prices can be at their peak, particularly during Golden Week (from 29th April), which sees four national holidays come together, providing an opportunity for the locals to travel. Temperatures in Japan in spring range from 2°C to 24°C depending on where you are.
Summer is hot and humid and can bring typhoons with it, particularly between August and September so we don’t tend to recommend family holidays to Japan then. If you are adamant about experiencing a Japanese summer, temperatures range between 20°C and 30°C with the mountains offering the coolest spot and ideal conditions for hiking.
Autumn is the best time to visit Japan for sightseeing. It’s usually mid to high 20s and mostly dry. The country transforms into a stunning blanket of oranges, yellows and reds as nature adopts its autumn colours.
Winter is the obvious time to go skiing in Japan with kids (December to February). Snow monkeys, hot springs, incredible powder and ramen between runs give a whole new take on ski holidays, especially if you’re used to Europe. Temperatures drop to an average of 5°C across the country and fall below that in the mountains. Although it is cold, there is little rainfall and often blue skies.
Which Parts of Japan Are Kid Friendly?
Tokyo is by far the best place to visit in Japan with kids. Pop culture, neon streetscapes, high-tech gadgets and gizmos are found at every corner and with mind-boggling museums, game centres, underground shopping malls, themed restaurants and amusement parks all sitting top of the bill, there is something to keep all ages entertained.
It is a high-rise metropolis, which revels in innovation and pushes the boundaries of progress in all directions, ensuring teens are well-catered for. Meanwhile, a bullet train is a superb way to entertain short attention spans and is not only a high-speed locomotive but great for getting from A to B while reaching white-knuckle speeds and whizzing across the country in a holiday highlight for younger children.
The countryside also promises much entertainment for children while on holiday in Japan. Places like Hakone, Takayama and Kawaguchi offer their world-renowned hot springs, or onsens, which are the perfect antidote to a stint in Japan’s bustling cities. Hunker down with the family in a ryokan or take to two wheels and explore the beautiful countryside by bicycle. Getting a glimpse into daily life in Japan is an incredible contrast, and while these locations still offer lots of activities, it is slower paced than days in Tokyo.
Where To Stay With Your Family in Japan
Japan has a fantastic mix of ultra-lux hotel chains and smaller, traditional offerings. Both are great for families. Hotel groups like the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental really get families and know what children (and parents) need for a relaxing holiday. Meanwhile, at guesthouses and ryokan, you will experience true Japanese hospitality, where nothing is too much trouble.
Lake Kawaguchi (Mount Fuji), Japan
Perched next to Lake Kawaguchi at the base of Mt Fuji, Hoshinoya Fuji is Japan's most breathtaking 'glamping' experience. This wonderful escape sits deep in a red pine forests and on a clear day the views of Mt Fuji are spectacular.
Mandarin Oriental Tokyo
The Mandarin Oriental is a chic hotel located in a commanding position high above the busy metropolis of Tokyo, giving unparalleled views. It is just a short distance from the exclusive Ginza shopping area and the Imperial Palace Gardens.
Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto
A luxurious addition to Kyoto, the Four Seasons Kyoto offers spacious, contemporary accommodation with a Japanese flare in the historical heart of Kyoto. Enjoy the sites of this former Imperial city during the day before returning to this Japanese haven.
Established in 1901, Jinpyokaku is a historic onsen ryokan loved by many writers and artists such as Yasunari Kawabata and Soseki Natsume. With only 6 rooms, this is a quiet and traditional option and a great base from which to explore the mountains.
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