08 Nov 2023

Top Tips for an Unforgettable Family Trip to Japan

Top Tips for an Unforgettable Family Trip to Japan

Picking the Best Time to Visit Japan with Family

Arranging a familial journey to Japan requires a thoughtful selection of the visit's timeframe. The epoch of your stay profoundly shapes aspects such as crowd movements, cost variability, and weather patterns. A few essential deliberations when deciding your travel period include:

High and low seasons - Japan's peak travel seasons are late March-April (cherry blossom season)and late October-early November (fall foliage season). These times draw big crowds and higher prices. Spring and fall shoulder seasons offer moderate prices and crowds. Summer is busy with local tourism, while winter is a low season.

School vacation times - Avoiding Japanese school breaks in March, July-August, and December-January means fewer local families visiting attractions. Conversely, aligning with school holidays in your home country may be preferable.

Holidays - Japanese national holidays like Golden Week (April-May) and Obon (mid-August) see major crowds and hotel rate spikes. Scheduling around these holidays can save money.

Climate - Spring and fall offer mild temperatures ideal for sightseeing. Summers are hot and humid. Winters are cold, though fine for skiing. Typhoon season runs June-October.

Consulting a Japan tourism calendar can help determine the best times for your family trip based on these factors.

Creating an Itinerary

Heading to Japan with your family requires a good plan to see the main attractions and enjoy your time. You shouldn't miss places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. Japan's fast bullet trains can easily take you from city to city — a fun experience for children. Besides, you'll be using local transport systems like trains, subways, buses, and taxis to explore particular areas. To prevent exhaustion, some days should have minimal travel time. It's a good idea to stay put in each place for about two to four nights.

A good Japan family itinerary balances must-see attractions with fun activities for kids. In Tokyo, visit Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine, and the Tokyo Skytree, then let kids burn energy at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Kyoto is packed with temples and shrines to explore, like Kinkakuji and Fushimi Inari, and historic districts like Gion. Take time to enjoy cultural hands-on activities like dressing up in kimono, taking a rickshaw ride, or making your own pottery. Osaka offers Universal Studios Japan and a super fun aquarium. And don't miss the chance to see wild deer roam in Nara Park.

Make sure to research opening and closing times when building your itinerary. Some temples and attractions close for parts of certain days. Having a balanced mix of must-see sights along with fun downtime will result in a memorable Japan trip for the whole family.

Finding Family-Friendly Accommodations

Tokyo Disneyland

When planning a family trip to Japan, choosing the right accommodations is key to keeping everyone happy. Families have several lodging options to consider like hotels, homestays, and ryokans.

Hotels are the most convenient and familiar option for families. Large chain hotels like the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo offer family rooms and suites plus amenities like pools. Boutique hotels can provide more local flair. Opt for locations near train stations for easy access.

Homestays and vacation rentals allow families to experience life in a Japanese home. The Park Hotel Tokyo offers homestay packages. These accommodate larger groups with kitchen access.

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns offering communal baths, futon beds, and local cuisine. Ryokans like Hoshi Ryokancater to families with large rooms and family-style dining.

When booking, look for family rooms, interconnected rooms, breakfast buffets, and kids clubs. Locations near city centers, train stations, and attractions make for smoother family trips.

Kid-Friendly Activities

Japan has plenty of entertaining and interactive options for children. Highlights include theme parks, engaging museums, and activities that kids will thoroughly enjoy.

You shouldn't miss Tokyo Disneyland, situated in Urayasu City, near Tokyo, when on a trip to Japan. This expansive Disney park houses all the beloved rides and adventures for kids. Attractions like Pooh's Hunny Hunt and Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek are a must-visit. Similarly, Universal Studios Japan in Osaka is home to engaging rides and performances themed on well-liked films.

For hands-on learning experiences, head to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. It has interactive exhibits on robotics, space travel, and more. In Nagoya, Legoland Japan opened in 2017 with rides, shows, and millions of Lego bricks to build with. At the Namco amusement parks, kids can drive go-karts and play the latest arcade games.

With so many engaging and educational activities for kids, Japan offers memorable family fun. Just be ready to pull them away when it's time to go!

Trying Japanese Foods

Japanese restaurant

Japan is famous for its delicious cuisine. While some dishes like sushi may seem too advanced for kids, there are many kid-friendly options to try. Popular picks include udon noodles, oyakodon (chicken and egg rice bowl), and curry rice. For an authentic experience, visit a restaurant with a plastic food sampler display, and let the kids point to what they want to order.

If your child has food allergies, carry an allergy info card translated into Japanese. Many allergens like soy, wheat, and fish are common in Japanese cooking. Check ingredients carefully and look out for hidden allergens in sauces and broths. Stick to simple home-cooked meals if food allergies are a major concern.

Consider booking a family-friendly cooking class, like making gyoza dumplings or sushi rolling. Older kids may enjoy shopping at a local market and learning to identify Japanese produce and seafood. Let them pick a few items to try cooking back at your vacation rental. With an open mind, a sense of adventure, and some care taken with allergies, sampling Japanese cuisine can be a fun cultural experience for the whole family.

Understanding Etiquette

While in Japan, it's important to learn the proper etiquette in public spaces and interactions. Japanese society places a heavy focus on respect, nuance, and propriety. Tourists who fail to observe basic etiquette may cause offense or encounter difficulties.

For example, when dining in Japan, there are specific customs to follow:

  • Slurping noodles is not considered rude and shows you're enjoying them. But avoid slurping soup directly from the bowl.
  • Never stick chopsticks upright in rice as this symbolizes death. Instead, lay them across your plate.
  • Wait until everyone is served before starting to eat. Itadakimasu (“I humbly receive”) is said before a meal.

Inside homes and temples, shoes are strictly prohibited. Remove shoes before entering and wear clean socks. Never step directly on tatami mats with bare feet.

On public transportation, avoid talking loudly or on cell phones. Let passengers exit before boarding, and give up seats to elderly, disabled, or pregnant passengers. queuing and waiting patiently is the norm.

By learning Japanese customs, tourists can smoothly integrate and appreciate the local culture.

Navigating Language Barriers

Overcoming a language barrier in another country can be tricky, yet a few suggestions can simplify it on your family vacation to Japan.

Some simple Japanese expressions worth learning cover greetings such as "hello," gratitude like"thank you," and necessary questions such as "Where is the bathroom?" Make use of language platforms like Duolingo or internet guides to learn key communication phrases before your journey. Also, it's a good idea to keep certain expressions noted down or saved on your mobile phone for when you need to refer to them.

Utilize translation apps like Google Translate that allow you to type or speak phrases and translate them. These can be incredibly helpful for navigating menus, signs, and communicating basic needs.

Look for English signage and translations in busy areas like train stations and popular tourist sites. Many signs, menus, and directions in Japan have English alongside Japanese text. Bullet trains and metro areas also make announcements in both languages.

Traveling with a pocket Japanese phrasebook or dictionary can also come in handy if you need to look up additional vocabulary during your trip. Having a mix of technological aids and physical reference materials is useful.

With some preparation of common phrases, taking advantage of apps and translations, and looking for English signage, language barriers can be easily overcome on your family trip.

Getting Around

Public transportation in Japan is excellent, making it easy for families to get around without a car. The main options are trains and subways, which reach virtually everywhere in Japan's major cities. Trains are fast, clean, safe, and run very frequently. There are several types of trains including high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains between cities and local/express trains within cities. With kids, local trains or subways may be easiest for shorter trips.

You can easily find taxis, particularly in metropolitan areas like Tokyo and Osaka. But keep in mind, they're generally costlier compared to public transport. Taking a train is a better choice for covering long distances if you want to be cost-effective. Taxis could come in handy for shorter outings where carrying strollers in the subway could be a hassle.

Walking is an excellent method for discovering Japan's intriguing cities. Areas in cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto are pedestrian-friendly and perfect for strolling around. However, plan your longer walking routes keeping the children's endurance in mind. Have a lightweight stroller or a baby carrier on hand to give them a rest when required.

Staying Connected

When visiting Japan with your family, staying connected is important for navigating your trip. Here are some options to consider for WiFi, making calls, texting, and using transit apps while in Japan:

Many hotels and tourist attractions in Japan offer free WiFi, but the connections can be unreliable. An alternative is to rent a portable WiFi device or buy a SIM card / ESIM. Companies like Airalo offer ESIM specifically for tourists. These provide mobile internet access throughout Japan during your stay.

For making calls and texts, you can rent a mobile phone designed for international travelers. Phones like the Type-B phone allow you to make calls to Japanese numbers or receive calls from international numbers at no charge.

Finally, download transit apps like Google Maps and Hyperdia to help you navigate Japan's extensive public transportation system. These apps make route planning easy and provide real-time transit updates.

Handling Safety Concerns

Child safety should always be high on your priority list when traveling. Thankfully, Japan is a very secure destination for a family trip. As per National Master, the country boasts one of the world’s lowest crime rates. Even in big cities, violent crimes are exceptionally uncommon. But it's always a good idea to use common sense, like steering clear of dimly lit areas during the night

Preparing for natural disasters is another key consideration. Japan can experience earthquakes, typhoons, and occasionally, volcanic eruptions. Pack essentials like flashlights, battery packs, and emergency supplies. Familiarize yourself with the nearest shelter for earthquake scenarios. Regularly monitor weather updates and have a plan B ready if a typhoon is predicted near your locality. Such readiness can bring you some peace of mind.

If a medical issue arises, rest assured that Japan has excellent healthcare. English-speaking doctors and staff can be found in most major hospitals. Many pharmacies also have English support. Keep copies of prescriptions and medical documents to simplify treatment. Have your travel insurance information on hand as well. Be aware that an ambulance ride can cost around $700, so consider private car transport if the issue isn't critical.

Packing Tips

Packing for a trip to Japan requires some strategic planning, especially if you're traveling with kids. Here are some packing tips:

When selecting your carry-on, consider the Eminent luggage line for its reliability and ease of maneuvering through crowded airports and train stations. As for a backpack, something like the Osprey Daylite Plus is a great choice for day trips with kids, thanks to its comfortable design and ample storage. These options allow for efficient organization of your belongings and easy access to essentials like snacks, entertainment for the kids, and travel documents. This combination ensures you’re well-equipped for the bustling streets of Tokyo or the scenic countryside of Kyoto, keeping your travel stress-free and enjoyable.

Some essential items include reusable water bottles, hand sanitizer, tissue packs, and motion sickness medication if needed. Pack adapters for electronics. Bring copies of your passport and itinerary.

For clothing, bring lightweight, breathable fabrics. In summer, pack shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. For cooler months, pack sweaters, jackets, jeans, and closed-toe shoes. Consider a foldable raincoat or umbrella. Have one nice outfit for any formal restaurant.

Other items like sunscreen, hats, swimsuits, pajamas, underwear, socks, and an extra pair of shoes are musts. Be sure to have old shoes or slippers for ryokans. Pack some plastic bags for dirty shoes or laundry.

If traveling with an infant or toddler, bring plenty of extra clothes and diapers. You may want to pack familiar toys or books. A lightweight carrier or stroller can also come in handy.

Finally, keep medications, chargers, passports, and other essentials in your carry-on. With smart packing, you'll be ready to explore Japan with the whole family!

Managing Money

Japan might be a costly place to travel to, yet there are strategies to control your expenses and economize during your family vacation.


Japan's currency is the Japanese Yen. Current exchange rates are around 110 Yen to 1 USD. Be sure to check exchange rates before your trip and budget accordingly. Many ATMs in Japan do not accept foreign cards, so it's advisable to exchange some cash upon arrival. You can exchange money at airports and larger train stations.

Credit/Debit Cards

Credit cards are accepted at most major retailers and restaurants but some smaller shops and buses may only take cash. Visa and Mastercard have the widest acceptance. Inform your bank you'll be traveling to prevent your cards from being blocked. Carry some cash as backup but avoid carrying too much cash on you.


Make a detailed budget breakdown before your trip considering costs for accommodations, food, transportation, activities, emergencies, etc. Look for ways to save through transportation passes, eating local foods from grocery stores, choosing more affordable accommodations outside city centers, and taking advantage of free temples, parks, and museums.

Booking Flights

There are numerous travel options to think about when planning a flight to Japan. Many travelers prefer direct flights from major cities around the world, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Honolulu, Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, to Tokyo. Nonstop flights eliminate stopovers, yet they may carry a higher price. Some budget airlines, like ZIPAIR, offer cost-effective direct flights to Tokyo.

To save money, considering flights with a layover in cities like Seoul, Taipei, Manila, or Vancouver can be a smart choice. These indirect flights may extend your travel time by a few hours but can significantly reduce your expenses. Some notable airlines offering flights with layovers to Japan include Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, United, and Delta.

It's also worth looking at flights from Asia, as they can often be more affordable than other regions. Budget carrier Airasia, for instance, operates direct flights from multiple Asian cities to Tokyo.

Regardless of your starting location, it's advisable to book your flight early for the best fares. If you can be flexible with your travel schedule, plan your journey during the week, as it's often less expensive.

When to Buy

Planning your family trip to Japan well in advance can help you secure the best deals on airfare and accommodations. Many hotels and tour operators offer generous discounts and promotions for early bookings made 6-12 months out. Booking your flights early, around 5-7 months before your travel dates, can also help you snag cheaper fares before they start to rise. That said, last-minute deals on hotels and flights to Japan do pop up occasionally. Keep your eye out for promotions in the 1-3 months leading up to your travel dates, but also be aware that choices may be more limited closer to departure.

If booking activities like museum visits or theme park tickets, can often be purchased just a few weeks in advance without issue. Overall, the ideal booking window for a Japan family vacation is 4-6 months out. This gives you time to research and plan thoroughly, while still leaving some flexibility. Just be sure to nail down your flights and hotels early to maximize savings.

Some helpful booking tips for families include: - Look for Japan flight deals on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when fares tend to be lower. - Sign up for price alerts and sale notifications from your preferred airlines and hotels. Act quickly when you see a good deal.

Entry Requirements

To enter Japan, visitors should have a legitimate passport that remains valid for a minimum of six months beyond their planned departure date from Japan. It's advised to have at least two empty visa pages in your passport for entry and exit stamping. As of 2023, many countries, including the US, have visa waiver agreements that allow their citizens to make short stays in Japan without a visa. This applies to trips for tourism, business, attending conferences, visiting relatives, or other short-duration purposes.

To qualify for visa-free entry, tourists must possess an onward or return ticket scheduled within 90 days and should have adequate funds to cover their stay. For individuals with purposes like work or studies exceeding 90 days, an appropriate visa is necessary.

Upon arrival in Japan, visitors are required to go through immigration and customs control. Strict rules govern how much cash (equivalent to over USD 10,000), as well as certain food, plant, and animal products can be brought into the country. Visitors must declare any items that fall within these categories and should be aware of the customs allowances when packing.

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