Visiting Japan With Your Children
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.
Japan with kids ticks all the boxes for an unrivaled family-friendly vacation, it is a destination that promises wonderment at any age, but particularly for those aged 6 and over. It is where high-tech wizardry meets ancient cultures, and the sheer variety of things to do is mind-blowing. More than that though, it is safe and impeccably clean, easy to travel around, and kids are welcomed everywhere.
A getaway to Japan is something you and your kids will never forget, you’ll find...
- pop culture
- incomparable gastronomic experiences
For families, few cities can compete with Tokyo, filled with endless fun and entertainment, it will keep your kids’ eyes on stalks and their boredom at bay. Meanwhile, Kyoto is picture-perfect Japan: how you might imagine it if you closed your eyes. There are cherry blossom trees, cobbled alleyways, and astounding architecture. Just beyond the city, you will find bamboo forests, deer parks, and authentic Japanese experiences that will bring you in touch with the true culture of the land of the rising sun.
Top Things To Do In Japan With Kids
Read on to discover our top picks of what to do on a family vacation to Japan (it was hard to narrow it down!)
1. Harajuku, Tokyo
Harajuku is the heart of Tokyo's distinctive kawaii (cute) fashion culture. The eclectic and colorful style that originated in this neighborhood came about as a rebellion against strict societal rules and as a way for the young to express themselves. Now, the quirky culture extends into everything from ice cream cone characters to servers in cosplay, themed restaurants, and interactive experiences. And when we say themed, we really mean it. There is nothing understated about Harajuku, it is loud and proud, and incredibly fun.
There are arcades full of vintage and modern games, restaurants where you will find Pokémon serving you, and even eateries where you can catch your own food. Just around the corner, by Akasaka Station, you will also find the Harry Potter Café where you can dive into the slightly eccentric culinary world of J.K Rowling’s famous books. If you are traveling to Japan with kids do not miss Harajuku, it will appeal to all ages, from younger kids of around 6 or 7 years old, right up to teenagers.
2. Taiko Drumming Lesson, Tokyo
Taiko refers to a particular kind of Japanese drum made from a keyaki tree, that dates back thousands of years. Originally, taiko was used in the military or as part of religious ceremonies, but today it has turned into an art form. Known as ‘the heartbeat of Japan’, this ancient instrument is used in spectacular ensembles that are performed at festivals all over the world.
Master the art of taiko drumming in a group lesson, which will be a truly memorable part of your trip to Japan with kids. Be prepared for a noisy but fun experience, which sees families learn about the culture of drumming in Japan, including donning traditional robes and ending with a performance using drums of all different sizes. Children need to be 7 years and older to take part in the lessons, which last for about 2.5 hours and tend to be in groups of roughly 10 people.
3. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea
Disneyland and DisneySea in Tokyo are unlike any of the other Disneylands around the world. Licensed privately, it has the freedom to dance to its own tune. This means you will find a blend of traditional Disney, modern Disney, cosplay, and a fair amount of Japanese influence too. The rides nod to Disney classics like Dumbo, Peter Pan, and Toy Story. There are rides for younger and older kids, so this is a real crowd-pleaser to add to your Japan with kids itinerary.
A highlight for our Asia Travel Specialist Stacey Tieger was watching Finding Nemo at the iMax in Japanese – she went back twice with her family! Food and drink are a pleasant surprise, in place of greasy burgers and fries there are more refined offerings, cafes, and restaurants to sit down and pause in – plus there are alcoholic beverages, which are more restricted at Disney parks in the US. And just to make the experience even more appealing to adults, the queues are made as painless as possible, with entertainment to keep you occupied while you wait, plus the parks are clean and not overcrowded.
4. Samurai Ninja Experience, Kyoto
This is an absolute must for anyone on a family vacation in Japan. Get first-hand experience at becoming an authentic samurai ninja, wield a real katana sword, dress in traditional hakama, and for a few hours completely embody the spirit of the Japanese warrior. But if this all sounds a bit too energetic, you will love the part of the practice that involves more Zen-like meditation, which was used to calm samurai’s minds during battle. You will also get an insight into the thrilling history of the Japanese military by meandering through the Kyoto and Samurai Museum with a knowledgeable guide.
5. Nara Deer Park
Nara, 20 miles south of Kyoto, is a city filled with rolling hills, ancient temples, and thousands of free-roaming deer. The vast open space was once the capital city of Japan. Steeped in Buddhist and Shinto history, this is where many of the country’s earliest stories were set, with many significant buildings remaining. In 768 AD a god was rumored to have been seen riding a white deer over the fields of Nara and ever since the deer there have been considered sacred.
Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed. Within the park itself, you will also find Nara’s central temple Todaji, thought to be the oldest wooden structure in the world, which houses a 250-plus-ton Giant Buddha, the largest bronze casting in the world. Kids will love seeing if they can fit through Buddha’s nostrils! There is a pillar in the temple, which has a hole said to be the same size as the statue’s nostril. It is believed that those who can pass through the hole will be granted good health and protection from bad luck.
Nara is easily visited as a day trip from Kyoto during your family vacation in Japan and can be combined with a visit to Fushimi Inari, an important Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of torii gates. We would suggest starting with Nara Deer Park where the kids can run off all their energy. Then refuel with lunch in Nara, where there are lots of wonderful places to eat (do not miss sampling delicious gooey mochi while there), before heading on to Fushimi Inari in the afternoon to learn all about Shintoism.
6. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove & Monkey Park, Kyoto
This ethereal bamboo forest is one of Kyoto’s most magical sights – and one of the most photographed. Your social-media-mad teenagers will thank you for taking you here for their perfect Instagram shot, while younger kids will love running around and exploring the towering rows of trees. Hiking around the forest is not too strenuous so this is also a good option for those on multi-generational vacations.
After everyone has burnt off all their energy, head to the nearby Iwatayama Monkey Park, where about 120 snow monkeys roam free. This stop will not be for everyone. The monkeys rely on visitors to feed them and are not shy about looking for their lunch. It is best to go in the afternoon, when they have had plenty to eat already, particularly for timid children. But kids who love interacting with animals in a hands-on way will love seeing them in the wild.
While Osaka might not get as much airtime as Tokyo, this is the country’s culinary capital. Its street food scene is world-renowned, and it is home to approximately 100 Michelin stars. An early evening, food tour around Dotonbori will be the highlight of a vacation in Japan for foodie families. Kids will love the bright neon signs and the delicious – often fried – delicacies like okonomiyaki pancakes and kushikatsu (skewers of breaded and deep-fried vegetables, fish, and meat, served with raw cabbage).
Osaka is also home to Universal Studios and a very impressive aquarium. Meanwhile, for another unique experience, there is Osaka’s VR Zone in the HEP Five building (which itself boasts a huge red Ferris wheel). Pick from 10 different action and adventure virtual reality games, including skiing and rafting that tweens and teens will love.
What to learn more about Japanese cuisine? Check out our guide here!
8. Hakone National Park, Mt Fuji
For a breath of fresh air, head out of the cities to Hakone, where you will find a more traditional side of Japan. The beautiful, mountainous town is home to hot springs, stunning views of Mount Fuji, and the Torii of Peach, which leads to Hakone’s Shinto shrine. There is plenty for active families to do in Hakone, from kayaking around Lake Ashinoko to exploring its Open Air Museum, which is home to over 300 Picasso pieces and a stunning stained-glass window spiral staircase. You could also ride the Hakone Ropeways, which see gondolas take you over the valley for breathtaking views of Mount Fuji and Lake Ashinoko.
Best Time to Visit Japan With Your Kids
“Japan is a good idea all year round,” says our Asia Travel Specialist Stacey Tieger. However, it does have seasons and, if you are visiting Japan with children there are some considerations to take in.
Fall (September, October, and November) and spring (March, April, and May) are generally the best times to visit. This is when the country is either in full bloom with cherry blossoms (spring) or a blanket of orange and red (fall) and the weather is sunny and warm. Japan gets extremely hot in the summer and July/August can see typhoon weather, but June is pleasant. While winter (December and January) gets very cold in the north of Japan. However, if you are looking for a skiing trip, this is when to go.
Best Cities to Visit With Your Kids in Japan
You could easily spend a week in Tokyo or Kyoto with kids. Japan is so welcoming towards children and both cities have more to entertain your kids than they could imagine. If you decide to visit Japan with toddlers or babies, be prepared for a lack of baby-changing facilities or stroller access. Japanese people tend to carry their babies everywhere and do not use diapers in the same way we do in the west, which is part of the reason we suggest going with slightly older kids.
Tokyo promises high-tech gadgets, mind-boggling innovation, captivating museums, themed restaurants, and game arcades. It is a playground for adults and children alike. A top tip from our travel expert Stacey Tieger is to give your kids a little purse with some coins in it so they can be a bit independent about which games they choose as you travel around. There are vending machines and claw games at every corner.
Meanwhile, Kyoto is more about the traditional side of Japan, offering a look at its history and culture in a way that will keep your kids engaged and interested. Stories of ninjas, samurais, and geishas will transport them into a fairy-tale land. Base yourself there and take day trips out to the countryside or to nearby Osaka to taste its famous street food.
Where To Stay With Your Family in Japan
Japan has a mix of very luxurious hotel chains and smaller, more traditional offerings. Both are great for families. Hotel groups like the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental really understand what people traveling to Japan with kids need for a relaxing vacation – interconnecting rooms, kid-friendly meals, and babysitters are all available. At ryokans (family-run establishments with just a few rooms) you will experience genuine Japanese hospitality, welcomed as if you were staying with friends. It is worth noting though that ryokans are often quiet and calm settings, which does not always go well with lively children.
Hakone Gora Byakudan
Hakone, Hakone, Mount Fuji & Around, Japan
Infused with a compelling sense of harmony, this ryokan combines elegant interiors and modern comforts with the traditional features of a Japanese inn, offering private onsen bathing on every balcony with outstanding views of Hakone National Park.
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.
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.
Family Fun in Japan
Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa & Kyoto
Designed to appeal to adults and children alike, this awesome Japan tour takes in the neon-lit metropolis of Tokyo, with its distinctive cultural traditions of kawaii (cute), anime and cosplay. Then go cycling in the Japanese Alps, stay in a traditional ryokan inn and learn how to cook like a local in Kyoto.
Japan with Kids
Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto
An action-packed adventure for all the family, experience Japan’s highlights during a school break or combined with a Southeast Asian beach trip. Experience iconic pop culture in Tokyo, marvel at the natural beauty of rural Hakone and Mount Fuji, then ride the bullet train to Kyoto, laden with Japan’s rich geisha, samurai and ninja heritage.