Japan with Kids: A Comprehensive Guide to Planning an Unforgettable Family Trip

Japan is a great family travel destination, with its neon streetscapes and kid-friendly amenities. This is my detailed guide to traveling Japan with kids.

There’s nowhere else like Japan. It is ultra-modern yet traditional, and highly urbanized yet filled with nature. The multi-faceted country is truly unique in every sense of the word.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Japan three times, and my favorite trip was definitely the one I took with my then 3.5-year-old daughter. It turns out Kaleya is just as crazy about Japan as we are.

Japan is a great destination for kids. The country is home to psychedelic neon cities, bizarre themed cafes, and ancient towns. The great infrastructure in the country means it’s easy to get around and explore without worrying about your kids’ safety.

In this article, I’m going to share the details of our trip to Japan and provide you with valuable information to help you plan your own Japan family trip.

japan with kids - traveling japan with kids

Japan with Kids

In general, traveling Japan with kids is easy and fun thanks to the great infrastructure and kid-friendly amenities. The whole country is organized, clean, and efficient.

For accommodations, ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) are great places to stay with kids. The tatami rooms have plenty of space for kids to run around, and sleeping on futons laid out on the floor is a fun experience for them. Many ryokans even have their own onsens (hot springs), which are super fun for both kids and adults.

However, Tokyo is an exception. Many izakayas (bars) tend to be tiny and not suitable for kids, and most subway stations don’t have elevators. That said, almost everywhere else in Japan is easy and superb for travel with kids.

How to Get Travel Insurance for Kids

It’s important to have travel insurance, especially during the pandemic. Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID-19 coverage. They cover kids for free as long as you have a plan with them. I personally use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as well as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before the coverage start date.

When to Travel Japan with Kids

Spring (March-May) and autumn (September-October) are the most popular months to travel Japan with kids due to the mild weather and moderate humidity. Some spots can get overcrowded, especially during the cherry blossom season. Each year, the sakura season varies (usually around April), so make sure you check the predicted dates beforehand.

During our trip to Japan in late September, we found many places quite crowded, particularly Kyoto. We experienced mostly warm days of 21-25 degrees Celsius, with occasional rainy days. In mountainous areas like Takayama and Nagano prefectures, temperatures ranged around 10-15 degrees Celsius, but a light jacket was enough.

Winter (December-February) is pretty cold with temperatures dipping to freezing point. But Japan has lots of great ski stations, and it’s a good time to see snow monkeys in Nagano.

japan with kids - kyoto traveling japan with kids

How Long to Travel Japan with Kids?

Japan is a big country with so much to see and do, whether your family prefers nature, cities, culture, or food. We only had five days on our first trip to Japan and it definitely left us wanting more.

Two weeks in Japan is perfect; although, you may want to have even more time to see and experience everything. In two weeks, we managed to see the best of Japan, but I’ll admit I packed too much into the itinerary.

If you want to explore Japan off the beaten path, then you would need at least three or four weeks. Tokyo is a must-see, so make sure to check out my detailed Tokyo itinerary.

Here’s a summary of our Japan itinerary:

  • 3 Days in Tokyo — to experience all the wacky fun experiences
  • 2 Days in Hakone — with a stay at a hot spring resort and water park
  • 2 Days in Okuhida — to experience nature in the Japanese Alps
  • 1 Day in Kanazawa — to eat the freshest seafood
  • 3 Days in Kyoto — with a day trip to Nara to see the deer
  • 1 Day in Shibu Onsen — to see snow monkeys in Jigokudani
  • 1 Night in Narita — to catch our flight home

japan with kids - Okuhida in the Japanese Alps

How to Get Around Japan with Kids

By Car

We chose to rent a car in Japan as we wanted to explore off the beaten path and see more natural sights. It was also more convenient when traveling with our 3.5-year-old daughter, who still needed the stroller from time to time.

While the Japanese public transport system has impressive coverage across the country, there are still some places that are only accessible by car or foot. The quaint villages and mountainous areas we visited, such as Okuhida in the Japanese Alps, happened to be my favorite parts of Japan. I recommend driving the Golden Northward route if you’re looking for a scenic route that takes you off the well-trodden path.

Driving in Japan was surprisingly easy. Most road signs are in both Japanese and English, and with a mobile WiFi dongle, we could easily find our way using Google Maps. Car rental in Japan is quite affordable. We booked from Discover Car rental and paid US$565 for our two-week rental of a compact Japanese car and a child seat.

By Intercity Train

Japan is well known for its bullet trains (shinkansen) that are ridiculously fast and efficient. Taking a shinkansen is a must-try experience when in Japan! It’s actually faster to travel around Japan by bullet train than by car. For example, it takes four hours to get from Tokyo to Kyoto by train, but it takes seven hours by car.

If you’re traveling Japan for more than a week, I suggest getting a JR Pass to get unlimited travel on JR transportation, including bullet trains, local trains, buses, monorails, and ferries. A 7-day JR Pass costs around US$265, while a 14-day pass costs US$420. Getting a JR Pass will definitely save you money, as individual trains are super expensive. Kids under 6 travel for free.

If you’re taking public transport, I’d recommend getting the Pasmo/Suico pass. It’s a prepaid smart card that allows you to use most public transport (metro, trains, buses, monorail) in Japan. The card also functions as an electronic wallet, so you can buy things on trains, in vending machines, convenience stores, and restaurants that accept the card.

japan with kids - our car rental

Language in Japan

English isn’t commonly spoken in Japan. On my first trip to Japan almost 10 years ago, it was quite challenging to travel around without any knowledge of Japanese because all the signs on the streets and public spots were shown only in Japanese.

Now, most signs are in English as well, and Japan has definitely become more travel-friendly in the past decade. Free WiFi is easily available in many public places, and you can use Google Translator to translate signs. It’s also affordable and convenient to rent a pocket WiFi router. We rented our router from GetYourGuide for US$71, which provided us with unlimited WiFi for two weeks.

japan with kids - japanese

What to Eat in Japan with Kids

Many people have the misconception that Japanese food is all about raw seafood and sushi. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Japanese cuisine consists of a huge array of food types: from different kinds of noodles to rice bowls, grilled meat to bubbling stews.

Every meal we had in Japan was great, even ramen from vending machines tasted amazing. You really can’t get bad food in Japan. My 3.5-year-old daughter, who’s usually a fussy eater, absolutely loved the food in Japan. Her favorites were edamame (steamed peas) and onigiri (triangular rice balls) as well as udon noodles.

Check out my detailed Japanese food guide, including 40 best Japanese dishes to try.

traveling japan with kids - japanese food

Where to Eat in Japan with Kids

You can find food everywhere in Japan, and it’s surprisingly affordable. A meal in a standard sushi restaurant costs around 800-1500 yen per person, not including drinks. Every restaurant provides free iced water or tea with your meal.

There are also entire restaurants devoted to food that looks like characters such as Hello Kitty or Rilakkuma. Other themed restaurants like Kawaii Monster Cafe and Maid Cafe are also great fun for kids.

If you’re on a budget, seek out the vending machines. You can easily get ramen or katsu rice bowls for around 500-800 yen. Even convenience stores like 7-11, Family Mart, and Lawson’s have cheap and delicious yakitori (meat skewers), onigiri (triangular rice balls), and bento sets.

If your kids aren’t adventurous eaters, there are plenty of fast-food restaurants, western cafes, and bakeries in Japan. The convenience stores also stock sandwiches and other familiar food.

japan with kids - a standard set

Here are some of the places we ate at and really enjoyed:

  • Sushi Dai, Tokyo — Located outside the famous Tsukiji Market, this is one of the best places to enjoy sushi in Tokyo. You’ll get an affordable taste of the freshest and finest seafood for only a fraction of the price of upmarket sushi restaurants. But it’s a tiny place and might not be suitable for those with strollers/babies.
  • Kisoji, Tokyo — Our Japanese friend brought us to this shabu-shabu (hotpot) restaurant, and we had some of the best wagyu beef I’ve ever had. You can book a tatami room and cook the shabu-shabu or sukiyaki yourself.
  • Sengoku Buyuden, Tokyo — This samurai-themed restaurant is quite an interesting place to celebrate a special occasion. Alberto booked a seven-course dinner here for my birthday, and the food was really good.
  • Sakura Tei, Tokyo — We absolutely loved this restaurant chain that allows you to make your own okonomiyaki and monjayaki (pan-fried pancake batter). It’s cheap, casual, and filled with character.
  • Tenka Chaya, Kawaguchiko — While driving around the Mount Fuji area, we stumbled upon this gorgeous roadside teahouse and had an amazing meal there. All of its tables are on tatami floor, and the menu offers traditional hot broth pots.
  • Kaseidon Ichiba, Kanazawa — Inside the Omichi market, you’ll find the best spots to try fresh sashimi that the city is famous for. This place serves awesome salmon roe, oysters, scallops, and outstanding sushi.
  • Sakaguchi-Ya, Takayama — Housed in a traditional building, this restaurant serves famous Hida beef in the form of hand-rolled sushi or beef rice bowls. It’s a little pricey but well worth it for the quality food and atmosphere.
  • Hokkyokusei, Kyoto — Right next to Yasaka Shrine is this cute ‘Western’ cafe that specializes in omurice (Japanese omelette rice), which is one of our favorite Japanese dishes. It’s kid-friendly and has good service.

japan with kids - eating in Takayama

Where to Stay in Japan with Kids

Hotels in Japan get booked up quite fast, especially during the peak period (March to May). I strongly suggest booking early and confirming your hotel stay a few days before arriving in Japan.

Another thing to note is that many hotels don’t seem to respond to emails promptly – even top-rated hotels. So you can often wait a day or two for a response to a simple question regarding your accommodations.

Traditional Ryokan

One of the experiences I think every visitor must try in Japan is staying in a traditional ryokan. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that usually has tatami flooring, futons as beds, and an onsen (hotspring).

Staying in ryokans gives you the chance to experience how the Japanese traditionally used to live. Plus, they tend to be spacious, which makes it great for families who want to share one room.

Every ryokan provides yukata (simple Japanese robe) for you to wear to the onsen or as pyjamas. In hot spring towns like Shibu Onsen, you can even wear the yukata out to town.

However, there are some things you need to know about staying in a ryokan. Firstly, ryokans tend to be the same price or even pricier than modern three-star hotels in Japan. We paid an average of around $80-120 per night for a room.

Secondly, you sleep on thin mattresses or futons that are laid out on the tatami floor. We found it quite hard to sleep at first and had backaches after our second night.

So take my advice, book just 1-3 nights at a ryokan (instead of 7 nights like we did!).

Airbnb

Recently, there was a government crackdown on the use of residential accommodation as Airbnb in Japan. As a result, all hosts must be issued with a permit to offer Airbnb services. This has seen many travelers left without accommodation when their Airbnb was canceled.

Modern Hotels

There are several modern hotel chains in Japan that are affordable and have quality facilities. APA Hotels and UNIZO have branches all over Japan and great locations. However, most of these have tiny rooms where you’ll barely have space to walk.

I suggest paying more and booking twin rooms or family rooms if you want to be a bit more comfortable. The APA Hotel we stayed in Tokyo even had an onsen and a rooftop outdoor pool.

We wanted to try capsule hotels, but they turned out to be more expensive than budget hotel rooms (as we would have to pay $30 per capsule and get three capsules). Plus, the capsules are divided between men and women, so Alberto would have to be separated from us.

Here are the places that we stayed at and can recommend to family travelers:

  • APA Hotel Tokyo Nishishinjuku, Tokyo — A modern three-star hotel centrally located in Shinjuku and steps from a subway station. Good quality facilities, including an onsen and rooftop swimming pool. The small double room is tiny; opt for a twin or family room instead.
  • Hakone Kowakien Tenyu, Hakone — Opened in April 2017, this spectacular five-star hot spring resort is a worthwhile destination on its own. Read my detailed review of the hotel here! All of its rooms have tatami flooring, an open-air stone bath, and mountain views. The hotel also has an attached hot spring themed park that’s perfect for kids.
  • Fujino Kirameki Fujigotemba, Gotemba — Possibly the most family-friendly hotel we stayed at in Japan, this glamping site has beautifully furnished cabins transformed from cargo containers and huge play areas for families to hang out. Best of all, it has a gorgeous setting high up above Gotemba, with Mount Fuji in the backdrop and thick cypress tree forests surrounding it.
  • Konji Ryokan, Gifu prefecture — Located in the Okuhida hot spring villages, this traditional ryokan is located in the Japanese Alps and close to hiking trails. Sadly, it rained the whole time we were there and the nearby Shin-Hotaka Ropeway was closed. Still, it’s a gorgeous area to visit. It’s a 1-hour drive to Takayama from here.
  • Kaneki Hotel, Shibu Onsen — This ryokan in the village of Shibu Onsen is clean, cute, and affordable. It has a nice and brand new private onsen that you can use, along with a key to enter the nine onsens that the village is famous for. It’s the nearest village to the Jigokudani Snow Monkeys Park.

Search for Japan hotels here!

traveling japan with families - hakone kowakien tenyu

Best Things to Do in Japan with Kids

There’s no shortage of things to do in Japan with kids. You can choose from themed cafes, unique museums, cultural experiences, and excursions, but it’s best to book in advance before your trip to avoid disappointment.

There are also lots of free things to do, for instance, most temples in Japan are free to visit. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Japan with kids:

Go to the Robot Restaurant

This over-the-top entertainment show is great fun, and kids under three go for free. Take note that it can be very loud and bright for young kids, though they provide noise-canceling headphones.

Our daughter really enjoyed the crazy show. Note that it’s more of a show than a restaurant. You do need to book your tickets in advance (they’re cheaper online as well) as they can sell out.

Book Your Tickets here.

japan with kids - robot restaurant in tokyo

Visit the new MORI Digital Museum in Tokyo

Definitely make some time in your Tokyo itinerary to visit this museum! The newly opened museum is hugely popular thanks to social media, so book your tickets way in advance. In a huge three-dimensional 10,000 square meter space, artworks created by computers move in and out of the rooms freely, creating magical formations.

Personally, the MORI Digital Museum is a MUST-see in my opinion and particularly interesting for kids. There are several areas designated for babies and young kids and lots of interactive artworks for adults. But be prepared to wait in line even if you have tickets (we only waited for 30 minutes to enter).

Read reviews and tips here.

japan with kids - mori digital museum

Eat at the Kawaii Monster Cafe

Bright, whimsical, and bizarre, the Kawaii Monster Cafe is a themed cafe that is definitely designed for kids. Besides its psychedelic interiors, the food here also comes in rainbow colors.

There’s an entry fee of 500 yen ($4.40) and you have to order at least 1 food and 1 drink per person. We ended up spending around $40 here for the three of us, twice of what we usually spend. In my opinion, it’s way overpriced and only suitable for young kids.

Book your table here.

japan with kids - kawaii monster cafe

Try rainbow foods in Harajuku

Harajuku is Tokyo’s wacky playground for those who love alternative stuff. There are lots of cartoon comic stores, cutesy boutiques, and big-chain lifestyle shops here. Best of all, it’s home to Tokyo’s most innovative foodie experiences.

We highly recommend trying the rainbow-colored cotton candy at Totti Cotton Factory, and the rainbow grilled cheese sandwich at the nearby Le Shinier. Kids (and adults) go crazy over these things!

Sign up for a Harajuku Tour here.

japan with kids - rainbow grilled cheese sandwich

Go to a hot spring themed park

Yunessen hot spring park in Hakone is not just any typical water park: here you can dip in pools with wine, sake, coffee, and tea. It’s a lot of fun for both kids and adults alike. All the pools are fed with natural hot spring water, so they stay warm even in winter.

Tickets are quite cheap and you can easily spend a whole day here. Entry tickets cost 2900 yen ($26) per adult and 1600 yen ($14) per child.

Reserve your ticket here.

japan with kids - yunessen themed park

Wander around the Omicho Market in Kanazawa

Kanazawa is best known for its fresh seafood and out-of-this-world sashimi. The Omicho Market is an excellent spot to bring the family and get a good introduction to Kanazawa’s seafood. You’ll see huge Japanese crabs here as well as larger-than-life oysters, shrimp, and sea urchin.

If your kids are adventurous eaters, see if they want to taste some! It costs around 600 yen ($5) to try an oyster or two big shrimp. There are also some interesting things to try like blue beer and gold-leaf ice cream!

japan with kids - omicho market

Try on a kimono in Kyoto

What an experience it was to try on the Japanese national costume! We got to see the complicated process of putting it on and then experienced wearing it all over Kyoto. Even Kaleya loved putting on the kimono.

To capture the special moment, we even booked a photography session with Flytographer. The results turned out great, and we now have gorgeous family shots.

If you’re interested in booking a photography session, use this link and the code “NELLIEHUANG” to get $25 credit. You can also combine your kimono rental with a tea ceremony to have a full cultural experience.

Book your kimono rental here.

JAPAN WITH KIDS - exploring Kyoto in kimonos

Explore the Arashiyama bamboo groves in Kyoto

In the outskirts of Kyoto, you can find beautiful bamboo forests as well as large gardens and hiking trails in and around the Katsuragawa River. The Path of Bamboos is packed with tourists these days, but it’s still a beautiful area to visit, especially for families.

You can even hire a rickshaw to bring you around parts of the bamboo groves that are exclusive to rickshaw riders.

japan with kids - arashiyama bamboo grove

Feed deer in Nara

Nara Park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered messengers of the gods in Shinto, Nara’s nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city.

Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed. The park is big and dotted with temples, shrines, and lots of greenery.

japan with kids - deer in Nara

See the snow monkeys in Jigokudani

The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is best visited in winter when the Japanese macaques are often seen dipping in the hot springs. However, the monkeys are fed by park staff, so they do hang out in the park year-round.

Even if the monkeys don’t interest you, the area is worth visiting for a chance to hike and experience Japan’s nature.

The nearest town, Shibu Onsen, is a cute hot spring village that I highly recommend visiting. If you stay at one of their associated ryokans, you’ll get a key to enter all of the nine onsens in the village for free. These are not scenic onsens but are rather public baths that villagers use for their daily baths.

![traveling japan with kids – snow monkey park](https://i2.wp.com/photos.smugmug.com

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