Visiting Japan...With Kids
May 02, 2023
I often receive questions about where to visit in Japan. And, will it be a good experience with toddlers? My answer is absolutely yes!
We went in 2018 on a multi-generational large family trip when my daughters were 3 and 1.5 years old- they were both stroller children. While you may not see many kids around (Japan unfortunately has an aging population- that’s another story), it is a friendly city for kids!
Overall Insights on Japan
How long do you need?: First- you need more than a week in Japan! But if you only have a week, you can still combine history, famous landmarks, culture, and food.
When to go?: You can go anytime. It can get cold in December / January. We went during a unique in Japan- Cherry Blossom Season in March/April!
Where to stay?: There are many fancy hotels, but Japan is not cheap! In Tokyo, Most of the hotels only allow 2 or max 3 people per room and are in tourist areas like Ginza. And rooms are small. We stayed at an AirBnB in Shinjuku. It was cost effective with our large family- we saved thousands right in the center of the local scene in Shinjuku!
Language: While you will hear English... it is encouraged to learn some basic Japanese phrases. Thanks to Google- it’s not hard!
For you foodies: Wow- Japan has amazing food including those “street vendors” that cook in front of you. Sake, whiskey, matcha, and bubble tea. Freshest sushi in the world. The originators of Ramen (totally not the same as the college one minute meal). Mochi- so yummy! From sake to whiskey to desserts— yum yum yum. You will love it!
How were we treated?: We stood out in a crowd. Not only being Indians, but being that we were always in our large multigenerational family group and loudly talking in various languages! But- the locals were not at all phased by us, they were focused on what they needed to do! And everyone was very nice and helpful as we navigated around with the streets and metro with our maps!
There is so much culture to experience. Here are some neighborhoods and places you must visit in Tokyo: (see above video)
- Harajuku specifically Takeshita Street is famous. It’s the busiest street with tons of stores and all these waffle/crepe/desserts places and these underground selfie taking booths- I have never seen anything like that before! And they have places where you can pet hedgehogs or house cats that look like tigers. It’s so different than anything I have ever seen! They have amazing Japanese ice cream too. You just have to go to see the scene.
- Shinjuku- The main local spot which is hot with lots of restaurants and the like NYC Time Square evening lights scene.
- Ginza- This is the fancy touristy place with lots of those name brand fashion stores. You should check out a mall and stuff- they are so cool!
- You must visit a Shinto shrine. Meiji Jingu- a Shinto shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo. It’s all outdoors and has some walking and worth it.
- Another place in center city Tokyo is Senso-Ji temple (it’s one of those temples you see on IG a lot)- they have a market in that area as well.
- Tokyo Tower- their version of the Eiffel Tower. It’s cool to see great views of the city and kids will like it as it has lights. And there is a big food court below with some cool ice cream places.
- Fish Market- the largest and most famous in the world! Cool to walk through.
- TeamLab Planets and Diver City- a cool indoor place with 3D and amazing animation. Relevant for all ages!
- And who could forget the land of Super Mario Brothers- there is a go kart place! And the creators of Pokémon- oh my! A whole other world to explore!
- Shibuya Crossing is a must see / walk across. It is considered one of the busiest crossings in the world! It is estimated about 3,000 people cross this street on every 2 minutes by the traffic signals. All the lights in the background are similar to Piccadilly Circus in London and Times Square in NYC. For me, I just think Shibuya is cooler!
- And if you are able to visit during Cherry Blossom season- there are many places to see them. We went to NakaMeguro River Cherry Blossoms Promenade. Timing is everything so plan accordingly.
Outside of Tokyo, here are other places to visit in Japan.
- Kamakura (a short day-trip from Tokyo)- Home to the Great Buddha and Hachimangu Shrine. This is a cute little neighborhood with lots of food options and stores. It is worth the visit riding a metro and train to get there! And no matter how hard you try- someone always comes in the picture!
- Mt. Fuji (full day trip from Tokyo)- This is a bus ride with stops on the way. There are other places en route to Mt. Fuji- boat tour on any of the 5 lakes that surround the mountain, Koyo-Dai Lookout Platform, Sanko-Dai Lookout Platform, Oshino Hakkai Springs, Rooftop of Fujisan Station, and others. It can be a long day getting there and if there is fog, you unfortunately won’t get a clear view of the mountain but it is worth it for the nature buffs.
- Kyoto- Amazing! This feels like the Japan you envision. You need to spend more than 1 day there. I recommended 2-3 days. It is a great walking city too. You can get there via the bullet train- a 2-3 hour train ride depending on the speed. A one-way ticket with reserved seating costs about $110+ on the Nozomi Shinkansen (reserved seating costs more). The Hikari is cheaper. Here is a good link that provides train information and prices.
And, here are some places to visit in Kyoto:
Sanjūsangen-dō is a Buddhist temple of the Tendai sect in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto- it has 1000 golden Buddhas.
Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion), Nijo Castle which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and Ryoanji Temple.
Fushimi- A hilly district between the Uji and Katsura rivers, Fushimi-ku is home to Fushimi Inari, a Shinto shrine on a mountain path framed by hundreds of orange torii gates. Fushimi Castle is a replica samurai stronghold set in tranquil gardens.
- One of my regrets is that we didn’t spend enough time in Kyoto. My daughters were 3 and 1.5 years old back then. Also, we were on a multigenerational family trip with 13 people so it was not easy to move around. But we plan to go back!
- Osaka- While we did not make it there, add to your list. Not as busy as Tokyo- but as awesome. And you can return back home from there- another major airport.
So, if I hope I have convinced you to visit Japan- definitely one of the coolest countries in the world. The land of the rising sun lives up to the name!