Safe, clean and full of mod cons, Japan is a great place to travel with kids. The downside is that many cultural sights (shrines, temples and museums) may bore them; you'll want to work in plenty of activities to keep things fresh. Teens will love the pop culture and neon streetscapes.
Best Regions for Kids
Pop culture galore: stay in a hotel with a giant Godzilla statue, explore the world of Japan's top animator, Miyazaki Hayao, at the Ghibli Museum, take in an amusement park or shop for character goods. Teens will love neighbourhoods like Harajuku and Shibuya.
There are museums here that kids will love, like the International Manga Museum and the Kyoto Railway Museum, plus plenty of parks and gardens. Teens can get made up as geisha.
- Okinawa & the Southwest Islands
Work in a little beach time in subtropical Okinawa – a popular destination for local families. Off-the-beaten-track island Taketomi is great for kids: there are no cars (only bicycles!) and great, low-key beaches.
- Central Honshū
Hiking and skiing in the Alps, cycling past rice fields and exploring old farm villages outside Takayama and a fantastic castle in Matsumoto.
- Sapporo & Hokkaidō
Great skiing, snowboarding, hiking and camping opportunities for outdoorsy families.
Japan for Kids
Food can be an issue if your child is a picky or unadventurous eater. Supermarkets, bakeries, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores stock sandwiches and other familiar foods; supermarkets carry baby food.
If your child has allergies, get someone (perhaps at your accommodation) to write them down in Japanese. Chain restaurants often have common allergens marked on the menus with icons.
If you plan to stay at a ryokan with a meal plan, discuss any menu modifications when you book (places that regularly get foreign tourists should be accommodating); you can also book a stay without meals.
Local families take a lot of meals at 'family restaurants' (ファミレス; famiresu), chains like Gusto, Jonathan's, Saizeriya and Royal Host, that have kids' meals, high chairs, big booths and nonsmoking sections. High chairs are not as common as in the West.
Most hotels can provide a cot for an extra fee (providing there's enough room for one). Some hotels have triple rooms, but quads or rooms with two queen-sized beds are rare.
Local families often stay in traditional accommodation (ryokan and minshuku) with large tatami rooms that can hold up to five futons, laid out in a row.
Hostels often have family rooms (or at worst, a four-person dorm room that you can book out). These also often have kitchen facilities.
International hotels in Tokyo partner with local childcare agencies that have English-speaking staff.
Nappies (diapers) are readily available. A picture on the package usually indicates if they are for boys or girls. Bottles, wipes and medications are available at large pharmacies.
Department stores, shopping malls and larger train stations usually have nappy-changing facilities. More are adding nursing rooms.
Breastfeeding is generally not done in public, though some mums do (find a quiet corner and use a shawl and likely no one will notice).
- Trains and buses have priority seating for elderly, disabled or pregnant passengers, or people with young children, though many passengers ignore this; a gentle sumimasen ('excuse me') should do the trick.
- You won't get much sympathy if you get on a crowded train during morning rush-hour (7am to 9.30am) with a pram. If you must, children under 12 can ride with mums in the less-crowded women-only carriages.
- Children between the ages of six and 11 ride for half-price on trains (including bullet trains), while those aged under six ride for free.
- Most train stations and buildings in larger cities have lifts; however, many attractions, such as temples and shrines, do not have ramps (and prams do not get the same access to special elevators and back passages for visitors in wheelchairs).
- Beware that side streets often lack pavements, though fortunately traffic is generally orderly in Japan.
- Travelling by car is often a good strategy for families, as it makes child and luggage-wrangling easier. Destinations that are good for driving include pretty much anywhere outside the major cities.
- Child seats in taxis are generally not available, but most car-rental agencies will provide one if you ask in advance.
- Tokyo Disney Resort, Tokyo Visit the only-in-Japan Disney Sea park (along with classic Disney attractions).
- Universal Studios Japan, Osaka The Japanese version of the American cinema theme park.
- Fuji-Q Highland, Fuji-Yoshida Best known for its thrill rides.
- Tokyo Dome City, Tokyo Kiddie rides and a roller coaster in the heart of Tokyo.
Take kids to see the crowds go wild for the country's favourite sport. Even non-fans are likely to get caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of the fans. All major cities have a local team.
Skiing & Snowboarding
- Niseko United, Niseko One of Japan's biggest resorts, with English-speaking instructors and children's ski camps.
Every Japanese city has a karaoke parlour with song catalogues listing all the latest hits (and plenty of classics too). A great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Very little special planning is necessary for travellers with children heading to Japan, but do bring any medicines that your child takes regularly (or may need), as Japanese pharmacies don't sell foreign medications (though similar ones can be found). The shinkansen (bullet train) is very smooth and few travellers report feeling motion sickness, but if your child is very sensitive you might consider preventative measures; winding mountain roads are as nausea-inducing as anywhere. The only other thing you might want to pack are small plastic forks and spoons, as not all restaurants have these on hand.