We recently returned from a family holiday to Japan! It was an amazing and unforgettable experience - seeing the cherry blossoms, experiencing the magic of Tokyo Disney, exploring Universal Studios in Osaka and visiting the many temples and historical sites across Japan - memories I will cherish forever.
The people of Japan are so friendly, helpful and welcoming, the country is exceptionally clean and it is very safe - making it the perfect choice for a family holiday destination. Japan itself is a quite a large and populous country, spanning over 3,000kms with a population of over 126 million (WorldBank.org data). Japan offers a range of experiences for travellers young and old - from historical masterpieces, awe-inspiring landmarks, built up cities, waterfront views and fun-filled amusement parks. It is well serviced by excellent public transport infrastructure, easily accessible pedestrian walkways (perfect for prams and young explorers), and offers plenty of stunning parks and green open spaces to explore.
Below I share some of my favourite parts of our Japan adventure:
Encompassing over 30% of Japan’s total population (livejapan.com), the bustling city of Tokyo (and surrounding prefectures) are the perfect place for excited travellers to experience the essence of Japan.
There’s so much to see and do in Tokyo and surrounding areas, we would recommend allowing for at least one full week. Tokyo is the perfect walkable city with world-class public transport options from trains, to buses, to subways and the humble (yet slightly expensive) taxi service.
Tokyo Station is quite easy to navigate, with plenty of maps illustrating the various train lines, allowing you easy access to the region’s many sights and landmarks. There are also many lifts throughout the station, making it easily accessible for parents with prams. Many delicious treats and nourishing meals can also be found within Tokyo Station too - perfect for hungry travellers!
Tokyo’s Bay area is where the magic is at, with the area being home to Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea. An easy train ride via Tokyo Station (using the JR Keiyo Line to Maihama Station), the Disney Resort area itself is serviced by the wonderful Disney Resort Line - a Mickey Mouse themed train and bus line. Tokyo Disneyland and especially the Disneysea theme park (as it is unique to Japan) are a must visit if you are in Japan with your family.
Top Sights to See and Experience with Kids in Tokyo, Japan:
Visit the historical sites of the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Senso-ji Temple and the Imperial Palace.
Take a stroll in the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens, filled with cherry blossoms during springtime.
Explore Tokyo City by foot - take in the breathtaking views via Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree.
Visit the breathtaking Mount Fuji.
Take in the majestical rows of cherry blossoms with a picnic and stop by the Zoo at Ueno Onshi Park.
Ride on the trains at Tokyo Station - there’s so many different models of trains to see - it’s great for train lovers! Don’t miss the opportunity to travel on one of the fastest trains in the world, the Shinkansen (also known as the '“bullet train”).
Enjoy sushi, shopping and waterfront views in Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay.
Experience the magic of Disney in Tokyo Bay with a visit to Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disneysea and a stay at one of the Disney Resorts.
Best Vegan (or Vegetarian) Restaurant or Cafes in Tokyo:
T’s Tan Tan - serving vegan ramen and other delicious vegan foods within Tokyo Station: 〒100-0005 Tokyo, Chiyoda City, Marunouchi, 1 Chome−9−１ JR東京駅（改札内）KeiyoStreet内 1階
Raw Life Ginza - serving raw vegan delights at Yurakucho Station, Tokyo: 銀座2-4-19 浅野第3ビル 7F 中央区, 北海道 〒104-0061 Japan
Organic Cafe LuLu - a cafe serving organic meals (no egg and no dairy!) with a children’s playarea in Kiba, Tokyo: 東京都江東区木場5-6-30 Kiba, Koto-Ku, Tokyo
Famous for it’s historical temples and beautiful landscapes, Kyoto is the perfect place to experience Japan’s traditional beauty. With plenty of temples and shrines to visit, stunning cherry blossoms blooming and traditional architecture to behold, Kyoto is a must-see on your visit to Japan.
Sights to See and Experience with Kids in Kyoto, Japan:
Take in the historical Kiyomizu-dera temple.
Explore the amazing Fushimi Inari Shrine with it’s famous red gates.
Stroll the streets of Kyoto’s historical Gion District.
Walk the Philosophers Path amongst the beautiful cherry blossoms.
Visit the Arashiyama bamboo forest and nearby Tenryu-ji Temple.
Explore the grounds of the Kinkaku-ji Temple.
Experience Kyoto’s Railway Museum - a delight for train lovers!
Best Vegan (or Vegetarian) Restaurant or Cafes in Kyoto:
Veg Out - serving a range of vegan options, with a full vegan menu: 〒600-8133 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, 七条通加茂川筋西入ル稲荷町448 鴨川ビル1F
Mumokuteki Cafe - a trendy cafe serving vegetarian and vegan meals in downtown Kyoto: 2F Human Forum Bld., 351 Iseya-cho, Gokomochi-dori-Rokkaku-sagaru, Nakagyo-ku, 中京区御幸町通六角下ル伊勢谷町351 ヒューマンフォーラムビル2F
The second largest city in Japan, Osaka is a another must-visit if you are on holiday in this beautiful country. Osaka is home to many kid-friendly activities, so the little ones will really enjoy their time in this city.
Sights to See and Experience with Kids in Osaka, Japan:
Visit the majestic Osaka Castle.
Experience Kid’s Plaza in Osaka’s Kita District.
Play with the Sesame Street Gang, and hang with the Minions, at Universal Studio’s Osaka.
Explore Osaka Bay’s Tempozan Area, with great shopping, an Aquarium and a fun ferris wheel!
Best Vegan (or Vegetarian) Restaurant or Cafes in Osaka:
Green Earth - delicious vegetarian options in a relaxed setting: 〒541-0057 Osaka, Chuo Ward, Kitakyuhojimachi, 4 Chome−2−２ 久宝ビル１F
Shizen Bar Paprika Shokudou Vegan - for simple but yummy vegan bento boxes and rice bowls: 〒550-0013 Osaka, Nishi Ward, Shinmachi, 1 Chome−9−９ アリビオ新町１F
Organic & Vegetarian Cafe Atl - range of vegetarian and vegan options in Osaka’s Chuo Ward: 〒542-0085 Osaka, Chuo Ward, Shinsaibashisuji, 2 Chome−1−２４ アーバ ネックス心斎橋ビル ２階
Planning, Packing and Preparing for our Japan Adventure:
Booking.com was our top choice for all our accomodation needs. Booking.com was such an easy way to find and book our accomodation (including efficient communication directly with our hotels of choice to secure baby cribs/baby beds), it really took the stress out of planning our overseas adventure. If you’re looking to plan your next overseas (or interstate) stay, you’re welcome to use this code NIKZ0893 to save on your stay via booking.com!
Qantas Airways are a great choice for travelling families. Their staff are welcoming, friendly and provide a good service from booking through to arrival. If you are a vegan or vegetarian mummy or daddy you can even select your meal requirements ahead of time online to ensure your dietary preferences are catered for. Once you’re on board your flight, your meal will usually arrive early along with your child’s meal (which is a welcome treat for a hungry parent and child!). The flight to Japan is only a little over 10 hours from Melbourne, so it’s a good idea to use that time to sleep by booking a flight that travels overnight. Melbourne Airport features some neat play spaces for children, including a play area in Terminal 2 (International Departures) near Gate 15, to tire out those little legs before they get some rest. When travelling home, there are plenty of larger fun play spaces for kids at Narita Airport (our children particularly loved the play area in Terminal 2 on the 3rd Floor after passport control) - these play areas are a blessing for parents looking to tire out their little ones before boarding a long flight.
Japan is most easily accessible by train. Therefore, we highly recommend grabbing a Japan Rail (JR) Pass before you go, to help you to travel Japan with ease. The JR Pass gives you access to all of Japan Rail’s trainlines (aside from a couple of the Shinkansen lines). You can purchase a JR Pass for 7 days, 14 days or 21 days. Children under 6 travel for free (however please note they are not entitled to their own seat, so if you are travelling on a crowded train they will need to sit in your lap for the duration of your journey). There are several websites that allow you to purchase your desired JR Pass and will mail it directly to your door.
When planning the finer details for our trip to Japan we discovered a great blog by a fellow Mummy Blogger, Teni Wanda, who originally is from the States but now resides in Japan - the Baby Kaiju Blog. The Baby Kaiju blog is full of fantastic tips specifically on travelling Japan with a family - including toddler friendly eats in Japan and kid-friendly activities across Japan…well worth a read if you are soon to be travelling to this exciting destination!
The good ‘ol Lonely Planet guides are always a great way to plan your adventure too, and often come with handy maps embedded in the guide book. They even offer Kindle versions too, if you are planning to pack your Kindle for your travels.
My top travel items to pack when travelling with an infant or toddler include:
A few small toys - whilst little ones are very resilient and often easy to travel with, in my experience they do love having a few familiar toys from home to play with or to cuddle at night. Small is best - this way you can choose a few favourites to easily fit in your luggage.
Suitable clothes and a blanket for layering - When travelling to a different country (where you’re not 100% sure on how the weather will pan out) it goes without saying that it’s best to pack items of clothing that can easily be layered - both for yourself and your little ones (from long sleeve tops to pop on under t-shirts for extra warmth, to a lightweight rain jacket, sunhat and beanie, sunglasses and a blanket for the stroller).
Snacks and/or Baby Food for the Plane - Snacks are a great distraction for your little ones when travelling on the plane (or train, or bus for that matter!) - so it’s a good idea to pack several options into your carry on luggage. It’s common knowledge that something to chew on and/or something to drink can also really help their ears on take off and landing (even more so if your little one is still breastfeeding or taking a bottle). Airlines don’t always provide meals for children under 2, so it’s also a good plan to have one of their favourite meals packed in eco-friendly resealable bags or airtight containers with you.
Sleepsuits/Baby Crib Sheet - When travelling with my kids I’ve always packed a couple of sleep suits as well as a crib/baby bed sheet for my youngest. I find that it helps them to have that familiar smell when bedtime comes, and as most crib sizings are universal it is easy to slip your own crib sheets onto the hotel’s baby bed/crib.
Baby Carrier and Travel Pram - It’s always a good idea to make sure you pack a baby carrier and/or a travel pram when travelling with little ones. You will be doing so much exploring on foot - those little legs will need a good rest from time to time. A baby carrier or travel pram also allows for your baby to take naps in between your daily travels, so they are well-rested and happy on your journey.
Use packing dividers to make it easy to find the essentials - there’s nothing worse than getting to your hotel after a long day or night on the plane and forgetting where you’ve put the essentials in your suitcase! Packing dividers have changed my travel game! They have made it so much easier to separate my clothing, the kids clothing, toiletries, and to fit just that liiiittle bit more into the suitcase. They also allow for an easy unpacking/repacking experience when travelling from place to place.
My native language (English) isn’t necessarily wide spoken in Japan, so I found it very helpful to learn at least a few phrases in Japanese before embarking on my travels. The locals truely appreciate you attempting to speak the language - and I find that learning a new language is always a fun and exciting part of the overall travel experience. The basic hello (Konnichiwa), goodbye (Sayonara), thank you (Arigatogozaimas), excuse me (Sumimasen) are a place good start! There is also a Google Translate app that comes in very handy if you are looking at menus just in Japanese or you are wanting to purchase food or other products and aren’t sure of the ingredients. Simply download the app and place your phone’s camera in front of the text for easy translation (warning - sometimes it can give pretty funny results, but overall it is quite accurate!).
If any member of your family has allergies we recommend notifying the airline you are flying with, and also downloading and printing allergy translation cards. There are many websites with these handy cards available in many different languages, and for a wide variety of allergies too - just search google to find a suitable card for you or your family, or visit the website linked above.
If your children are old enough, it can also help to discuss the trip with them in advance, showing them pictures of where you will be travelling, reading stories about the location(s) and getting them excited for the adventures ahead!
If you are travelling with your young family, and you do happen to run out of baby (or toddler) supplies while in Japan, never fear! There are multiple Babies R Us Stores within the major cities of Japan - yes that’s right at least at the time of publishing this article Babies R Us are still in operation across various cities in Japan (including Tokyo, Tokyo Bay, Kyoto and Osaka). If you are looking for a special gift or momento for your little ones there is also a great range of boutique baby wears stores in Tokyo including Kagure and Miki House.
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Thank you for reading, and Happy Travels!