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Take the family to Japan

by Martha Hales

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Imagine your children wide-eyed with wonder at Japan’s neon cities, pop culture and stunning temples. Imagine taking them to see exotic wildlife, serene ornamental gardens or the iconic snowy peak of Mount Fuji. Imagine their excitement riding the Shinkansen, or bullet train.

Mount Fuji at sunset

Japan is one of Asia’s cleanest, safest and most efficient destinations, making it the top choice for adventures with the kids in tow. Outdoorsy fun is easy to come by among Japan’s many splendid landscapes, so it’s up to you to decide whether to hike, bike, ski or paddle your way through Japan’s natural highlights.

A father and son walk under the cherry blossom in Kyoto

Fun seekers can’t go wrong with an itinerary that prioritises the modernity of Tokyo, while culture fans will delight in the beauty and history of Kyoto. Whatever your family look for in a memorable holiday, you can find it in Japan. Here are a few of our favourite family-friendly activities and destinations in Japan.

The bright lights of Tokyo at night

Kyoto

Visiting some of Kyoto’s famous temples is an absolute must, and most kids will enjoy some temple time too as it’s a great way to enjoy a break from the urban streets and spend time among the greenery. Fushimi-Inari Shrine is an exciting one to visit as it is so unique, with its long corridors of orange torii gates leading up to some magnificent viewpoints. There are lots of stairs here though, so small children might need to be carried at times. Make time for the railway museum, a well presented and fun day out with some interactive things to do and a fine range of trains new and old. The Samurai and Ninja Museum is a good place for older kids to gain an understanding of the way of the samurai, see some historic costumes and even get to try out ninja weapons and learn samurai sword techniques.

The orange torii gates of the Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Out on the western fringes of Kyoto, Arashiyama is a great area to visit with your kids. The whole family will enjoy marvelling at the seemingly sky-high bamboo groves, renting bikes for leisurely trips to temples along the river, taking boat trips and visiting the Japanese macaques at the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Arashiyama is also a good place to view the beautiful cherry blossom or the vibrant autumn colours when you are in Kyoto.

The beautiful autumn colours of Arashiyama, Japan

Another interesting place to visit is the Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto, where the weird and wonderful food on offer will fascinate children and adults alike. Kyoto also boasts a zoo and an aquarium which are ideal activities if the children need a day dedicated to fun rather than history and culture.

Japanese ingredients on offer in the Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Tokyo   

There is so much to do and see in Tokyo with kids in tow that you could stay for a month and not see it all. From toddlers to teens there’s an excellent choice and you’ll be amazed at how family-friendly this huge city can be. The obvious destinations that many children will be clamouring to visit are the Disneyland and DisneySea theme parks. More appealing for adults are the many excellent museums dotted around the city, including the National Museum of Science and Nature which is full of interactive exhibits; the Museum of Emerging Science complete with explanations in English and a walking robot; the dreamy Digital Art Museum which is essentially an interactive and immersive three-dimensional light show; and the Tokyo Railway Museum where children can try a train driver simulator and marvel at the trains on display.

Bright lights at the immersive Digital Art Museum in Tokyo

Primary age kids will adore Kidzania, where they can role play around 30 different jobs in a child-sized world, while older kids into gaming would probably prefer Joypolis - an indoor amusement park full of computer games. As long as they aren’t scared of heights, most children will love visiting the Tokyo Skytree or the Tokyo Tower where you can ride to the observation level for amazing views. Wandering around Harajuku is also a must-do for all visitors to Tokyo, and it’s a big hit with teens for the quirky culture on display.

Cherry blossom in front of the Tokyo Skytree

For a meal with a Tokyo twist, head for a theme café such as Kawaii Monster Cafe which kids will adore. There are countless themed cafés and restaurants dotted about Tokyo, so mealtimes can be a real insight into quirky Japanese passions. Think dimly-lit eateries where you’re served by vampires or Ninja’s hideouts where you can feast on life-like bonsai trees made entirely of sweets!

The bright lights of Tokyo's Harajuku neighbourhood at night

Akihabara is a high tech district where gadgetry, anime, manga and arcades for video gaming are big business. Visit in the evening to see this part of town at its luminous best, with all the colourful billboards lit up and flashing. Don’t forget to try out a karaoke bar for some giggles, they are everywhere and great fun. To let the kids run off some energy, Yoyogi is a pleasant park where you can combine a run about with a visit to the Meiji Shrine. Sensoji Temple is another must see, and children will enjoy the serene surroundings and the souvenir stalls.

The Meiji Shrine in Tokyo's Yoyogi park

The rest of Japan

Children who enjoy the outdoors and are happy getting active will be spoilt for choice in Japan’s more rural areas where skiing, hiking and biking are popular activities. Delightful natural surroundings await at Miyajima Island - just offshore from Hiroshima - where the old fashioned charm, photogenic Itsukushima shrine and ‘floating’ torii gate are the major sights. What is most likely to appeal to children, however, are the free roaming deer that are all over the island, many of which are quite happy to pose for a selfie, and the cable car up Mount Misen. Back in Hiroshima don't miss a visit to the historic castle and the Peace Memorial Park.

Beautiful views out over Miyajima Island

If you are travelling in winter, consider taking a trip to Jigokudani Valley to see the snow monkeys who like to hang out in the hot springs during the colder months. It's quite a sight to see them grooming and playing in the steamy pools, with the volcanic activity in the surrounding mountains creating plumes of steam that rise into the chilly air. Nearby towns such as Shibu Onsen have plenty of hot springs for humans to enjoy, too.

A snow monkey enjoys the hot springs in the Jigokudani Valley

Hakone is a great year-round destination where you can get a taste of Japan's natural splendour. Look for the best viewpoint for photos of Mount Fuji, ride the ropeways and cable cars and strike out on foot around the national park. Boat trips on tranquil lakes are appealing for children, but what families will really love is the geothermal spring aqua park where kids and adults alike can relax, enjoy the warm waters both outdoors and in, and admire the views over the surrounding mountains.

Mount Fuji from across the lake in Hakone, Japan

For family beach time, look no further than Okinawa, Japan's subtropical islands where there are plenty of lovely sandy beaches and a warm climate to boot. The main island is the easiest to reach by air and has lots of options from peaceful coves to lively resorts. To travel onward to outlying islands can be time consuming but is a delight, as some of the smaller islands are completely car free and perfect for some family down time.

Okinawa's azure waters

Make it happen

Japan has so much variety on offer for visitors of all ages, and it's a breeze to travel around as it is safe, clean and efficient. Our handpicked local experts can design an itinerary around your family's interests, and have lots of child friendly suggestions to make your trip extra special. Send them a few details to start the process, or to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.

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