Japan attracts many tourists every year. It is very popular as a tourist destination for families due to its clean cityscape and good public safety. Japan has its own unique culture and manners. Knowing these customs and manners at a minimum will make your trip to Japan, with its unique charm, more enjoyable. We will also tell you some hotels and restaurants we recommend.
Recommended itinerary for travel to Japan with kids
I’ll be frank. If you are traveling to Japan with kids, the best place to go is Kyoto because of its temples and shrines ranging from 100 to over 1000 years old and many World Heritage sites. (The article about World Heritage sites in Kyoto is coming up soon.)
Kyoto has something for everyone! When traveling to Japan with kids, Kyoto is the best place because you can enjoy unique to Japan experiences, see streets which still look like they came from a period before now, enjoy delicious Japanese cuisine, and learn about Japanese history and culture. In addition, it has a great location and it is easy to get to other cities for sightseeing like Nara, Osaka, and Hiroshima. So I recommend Kyoto as your base when traveling to Japan with kids.
If you were to choose another city besides Kyoto, it would be Tokyo. Unlike Kyoto, where you can enjoy tradition and history, in Tokyo you can feel the cutting edge of Japan. Overall, there are many more people than Kyoto so the stations and trains are crowded, but it is exciting. It takes about 2 hours and 10 minutes by bullet train from Kyoto. Because Tokyo is much larger than Kyoto, we recommend an overnight trip to Tokyo rather than just a day trip. (For more information about a trip to Tokyo, see One Night Family Trip to Tokyo from Kyoto.)
３ Things to Prepare When Traveling to Japan with Kids
Cash and Coins
When visiting Japan, you will want to exchange currency to have Japanese yen on hand. Until recently, Japan has been a very cash-based society. These days you can use credit cards and electronic money (cards you charge periodically) at more and more places, but there are still many shops which only accept cash. Shrines and temples also typically only accept cash for entry. Another reason to have cash on hand, especially coins, is for the many vending machines you will see on your trip. Say you are out sightseeing and your child is suddenly dying of thirst. If you have coins and usually even a 1000 yen bill (about $10) you can easily get a drink from a vending machine and quench your child’s thirst.
Clothes which can be adapted to the weather
Japan is a country with drastic changes in weather and climate. Depending on the season, the temperature difference between morning and night and daytime may be over 10 degrees Celcius (50°F). You will want to prepare clothes which can be adapted to the temperature changes you my experience. You definitely don’t want to catch a cold while traveling. Children may be more likely to get sick in unfamiliar places, especially when you factor in the time difference and jet lag. Even in spring and autumn when it is relatively comfortable, you should prepare things such as light jackets, stoles, and thick socks.
Smartphone & Tablet
Many Japanese are not good at English. There are few people who can speak languages other than Japanese. Therefore, even if you just want to ask for directions, many people have a hard time responding. Smartphones and tablets are useful in such cases. You can communicate smoothly by using a translation app or showing a map or photo of the place you want to go. Also, smartphones and tablets will be useful when children get bored waiting in line at popular tourist spots. Although recently there are many areas where Free Wi-Fi is available, there are still many places in Japan that do not have Wi-Fi, so we recommend that you prepare an international roaming service, portable Wi-Fi, or a prepaid SIM in advance. You can find some of these services at bigger airports like Narita Airport or Kansai Airport.
Traveling with Kids in Japan – Restrooms and Manners
Restrooms in Japan
There are many Western-style toilets in cities, and I think there aren’t so many problems for foreigners. However, there are still many Japanese style toilets in the shrines and temples that are far from the center of the city. When seeing a Japanese style toilet for the first time you may be confused and wonder how to use it. And it may be difficult for children to use it. Just in case, you may want to read here about how to use Japanese style toilets, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilets_in_Japan in advance! Also, some places may have slippers specifically for the restroom. If you open the door to the restroom and see a sort of plastic-looking sandal just in front of the door, please take your shoes off and wear those while using the restroom.
Manners regarding children in public
Pay attention to manners in public, especially in trains and stations. You will notice Japanese people wait in line for their turn. Most stations have some marks on the ground indicating where you should line up. At larger stations, such as Kyoto Station, there will be a symbol on the display next to the train you want to take, like a circle, triangle, or arrow. That symbol indicates where you should line up to wait for your train. When getting on the train, you want to let people get off before you board. If you will wait to the side of the door, those getting off can walk straight off the train and once everyone has exited the train you can get on. Some stations don’t have any sort of barrier between the platform and the train tracks, so please be careful when on the platforms with small children.
3 types of restaurants to try when traveling in Japan with kids
Japanese style family restaurant
When dining with kids, I recommend what is known as a family restaurant. You will see many families dining at these sorts of restaurants and they are budget friendly. Also, the menu usually has photos which makes ordering easy. There are family restaurants with western style food, but Japanese style family restaurants are also a great choice with their extensive menus.
- Washoku Sato https://sato-res.com/sato/en/
- Kagonoya – Shabu-shabu restaurant https://kagonoya.food-kr.com/
Izakaya – Japanese taverns
Japanese izakayas are also popular restaurants for foreigners. There are a variety of cheap and delicious menu items including fish dishes and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers). Each izakaya has different characteristics, so it’s interesting to try a few. Some shops allow smoking and are not suitable for going with children, but some are non-smoking or have non-smoking sections.
Kaiten sushi – revolving sushi
When you think of Japanese food, most people think of sushi. If you want to enjoy sushi while traveling in Japan with kids, then I recommend kaiten sushi. At kaiten sushi restaurants you can eat sushi for as cheap as 100 yen a plate! It’s fun to watch the look on your kid’s face as they watch the sushi revolving around in front of them. You could even say that kaiten sushi is a part of today’s Japanese culture.
- Kura Sushi http://www.kura-corpo.co.jp/en/
- Sushiro http://www.akindo-sushiro.co.jp/en/
- Kappa Sushi https://www.kappasushi.jp/
3 types of lodging to use when traveling in Japan with kids
5 Star Hotels
The Ritz Carlton, Hyatt Regency, as well as other 5-star hotels can be found in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, as well as other larger cities. Such hotels can accommodate customers using various languages and have a full range of services so you can enjoy traveling in Japan with kids with peace of mind. Many places also offer babysitting services, so you can enjoy some time out without kids.
Apartment style hotels (Ex: Apartment hotel Mimaru)
The number of apartment style hotels has increased recently. I have stayed in one such hotel and it was very comfortable! The hotel operated by the MIMARU group is characterized by its large space with multiple rooms as well as a kitchen and dining room. If you plan to stay in Japan a bit longer than one or two nights and want to be able to really relax, then this type of lodging is perfect for you MIMARU Group has multiple locations in Tokyo and Kyoto, all close to sightseeing spots, making it easy to move about with children.
Ryokan (Ex: Watazen Ryokan)
Since you have come all the way to Japan, perhaps you would like to stay somewhere with a traditional Japanese style. If that is the case, I recommend Watazen Ryokan in Kyoto. The rooms have tatami (floors made of straw) which is comfortable for relaxing, and there is a Japanese garden. You can have your dinner delivered and set up in your room, so if you are traveling with small kids, it is especially comfortable to dine and relax in your room.
Customs you should know when traveling with your family in Japan
Things in Japan usually run right on time. This includes trains and buses. You may think if you are a couple of minutes late it will be ok, but if you take your time and get to the station even a minute late, you may miss your train. Also, if you will be late for your reservation at a restaurant, you should try to call to let them know you will be late.
Shoes not allowed
I am sure many people are aware of this, but in Japan, you don’t wear your shoes indoors. When you enter your room at a ryokan or if you are entering a tatami room, you will need to take your shoes off. Some restaurants have a place for you to place your shoes at the entrance. If there is no such place then you can probably go in with your shoes. If you unsure, just ask! If you simply point to your shoes and say something simple like, “Shoes. Off?” most people can figure out what you mean and tell you either yes or no.
Although the native language of Japan is Japanese and not many people speak other languages, English is taught from elementary school. Therefore, when speaking, if you use short sentences and choose easier words, people may be able to understand you. The Japanese are very happy if you speak even a little Japanese, so you may want to remember a couple of key phrases.
Services you want to use when traveling to Japan with kids
These days people from all over the world are traveling with their small kids. In Kyoto, one of Japan’s most famous tourist spots, our group of local mothers and other like minded citizens have come together to make services specifically for those traveling in Japan with kids.
Kyoto with Kids Club
It is fun to go on a trip with your energetic kids, but even on vacation, you may want some time away from your kids. In that case, you should use Kyoto with Kids Club. With a staff familiar with working with foreign travelers to look after your kids and ensure they have a great time, parents can go out for a few hours and enjoy a more relaxing side of Kyoto sightseeing. Our goal is to help both parents and their kids have the best memories of their time here. As this is a program designed especially for foreign families traveling in Japan, it is sure to be a great experience.
Kyoto with Kids Babysitting
You may be worried about traveling to Japan with kids, especially if your child is still a baby. For travelers who fit this description, we recommend Kyoto with Kids Babysitting. Our Engish speaking, professional babysitters will take care of your child in your hotel room. We can provide babysitting services for children from 3-months old. This service is perfect for parents who would like to enjoy the Kyoto nightlife.
Kyoto with Kids Family Tours
For the traveler who wants to make great memories with their family, Kyoto with Kids Family Tours is for you. Local moms have chosen spots the entire family can enjoy and planned different tours. With the help of the local moms, your burden will be reduced and you will have the opportunity to communicate with locals.