Who would’ve thought Japan would be so much fun to visit with children? I’ll admit that I thought it might be tricky travelling to Japan with the kids in tow, but we’re not the type to leave the tykes at home. I needn’t have worried. If anything, Japan proved to one of, if not the most kid-friendly destination we’ve travelled to so far.
Whilst we only touched the surface of what to do with kids in Japan in our two-week stay, this was enough to see and do plenty, and really get a feel for what holidaying in the Land of the Rising Sun is all about.
In the time we spent in Japan, I’ll highlight what we found most fascinating, interesting and fun for kids.
Sightsee in Kyoto: Temples and Shrines.
This may surprise you. Visiting temples and shrines in Japan is a given, but you’ll probably think such activities would be boring for kids. To be fair, you can’t really spend a day traipsing children around temple sights, but one or two will interest your kids as much as yourselves.
Our boys’ favourites were the Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto with the famed “Golden Pavilion” on the water. The kids both “wowed” seeing a ‘Golden Temple’. On the grounds of the temple also happened to be the first time the kids tried black ice-cream (sesame) and that was a winner!
Second favourite, the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine also in Kyoto, walking through the red Torii gates. It takes about 2 hours or more to walk up the mountain through all 10,000 Torii gates but after a 30-minute stroll, this was enough for us. We couldn’t really go much further after that because steps would prevent us from pushing a stroller.
Visit a themed cafe.
You can’t visit Japan without visiting at least one weird and wonderful themed café. Japan’s bizarre trend for themed cafes range from cute to downright crazy. Pet a cat, hedgehog, owl, goat, snake or reptile in one of the many animal cafes in Toyko. Go to a themed food café such as the Peter Rabbit, Gundam, Moomin, Snoopy (Peanuts) or Alice and Wonderland café. Or go completely crazy and swing by the Robot Restaurant, Kawaii Monster Café, Vampire Café, Ninja Restaurant, Maid or Butler café.
We settled for the Hedgehog Cafe HARRY in Harajuku because the kids asked to. You can wear gloves to hold the hedgehogs, which both kids decided to do because they thought the hogs spikes would hurt (they didn’t). Of all the things we did in Japan, our 9yo old claimed this his best experience. Not the cheapest of activities mind you. Also note, drinks are from a vending machine and are not served to your table.
Enjoy the sights sounds and tastes of Harajuku.
Harajuku in Shibuya, Tokyo is quite possibly the busiest, craziest district we visited in Japan. Filled with colourful quirkiness, think eccentric fashion, cosplay shops, vintage and trendy boutiques and a whole bunch of cake & lolly shops! My kids couldn’t get over the size of the giant rainbow cotton candy in the Totti Candy Factory, right in the heart of Takeshita Street. There is so much to feast your eyes over in Harajuku, I’m sure every single visit would introduce something new.
Discover something new in a Japanese Museum
Some museums can be tiresome for young minds, and I must admit our children didn’t find The Museum of Kyoto particularly interesting. However, we did find a few rather excellent museums that appealed to all of us. The Kyoto Kaleidoscope Museum albeit tiny, showcased a collection of colourful kaleidoscopes to peek through with a make-your-own kaleidoscope station, too.
Another favourite, the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo had dinosaurs, so that was a winner. The story of evolution really appealed to our 9yo, along with the advanced interactive technology used to describe the “big bang” through to current day.
Although we didn’t visit the Railway museums in either Tokyo or Kyoto because we run out of time, I am told both are excellent for children.
Encounter a wild animal or two
All over Japan, you’ll find pockets of wild animals you can meet and greet. From the Zao Fox Village to Okunoshima; Japan’s Rabbit Island, the Jigokudani Monkey Park with hot spring loving snow monkeys to one of Japan’s Cat Islands, there are furry creatures to pet far and wide.
We settled for a family-friendly trip to Japan’s first permanent capital Nara, to meet the wild deer. Nara is one hour on the train from Kyoto and Nara Park reached by a short bus ride or 30-minute walk. We opted for the bus.
Meeting hundreds of wild deer walking freely around Nara Park is a special experience. The wild deer in Nara are friendly, although they do get quite bold when you buy them ‘deer biscuits’ from one of the vendors. Our 9yo secretly enjoyed being chased around the park with deer biscuits in hand. Our 3yo got quite scared, but he enjoyed watching from afar.
Take a trip on a Bullet Train
A trip on Japan’s high-speed bullet trains aka the Shinkansen is an activity in itself. Japan’s terribly efficient and always punctual public transport system is an exciting way to get around, although admittedly the novelty does wear off after a little while with the kids.
Seeing the bullet train pull into the station and then taking a ride on one of the fastest trains in the world is must-do. It’s not cheap to ride the Shinkansen but is much better value if you buy a JR Rail Pass before you arrive in Japan.
The best part of the experience? Seeing Mount Fuji from the train window, in clear view (if the weather behaves) after around an hour out of Tokyo heading toward Kyoto.
Japan is a new favourite holiday destination for our family. I hope you consider the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ for your next family holiday, too.
Have you travelled to Japan with your kids before? If so, what did your family enjoy the most?
Erica is a freelance writer, editor and blogger from Melbourne, Australia. She spends most of her time writing and exploring all the cool things to do with kids in Melbourne and beyond with her family. Follow her Melbourne adventures on KidTown Melbourne and catch all the latest Melbourne fun on Facebook and Instagram too.