8 Tips for Travelling with Kids in Japan

kinkakuji temple travelling japan with kids
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Japan, the land of the rising sun, has become a destination high on the bucket list of many Australian families. With cheaper airfares to Japan than ever before, Leah Smileski from Kid Bucket List has these top tips for families to get the most out of their Yen in 2018!

1.         Plan your days – Take it slow

Japan can be overwhelming. There is so much to see, so much to do, so much to pack in. Or at least, your instinct will tell you to do that. My suggestion is to slow down!  Prioritise what you would love to see and take your time soaking it in with your kids. That’s the secret of travel with kids – take it slowly!

2.         Work out your WIFI plan and download the apps.

Prior to our trip to Japan, I researched all my options for WIFI. I knew I could purchase a SIM card or a pocket WIFI on landing in Narita. I also knew that I would be using my iPhone often to help us get around. As soon as we made our way through immigration and customs I sought out a SIM card and configured my phone. Work out how much data you think you’ll need. Every single hotel we stayed in had WIFI and there are free WIFI spots throughout the main cities including on JR Trains.

I had received lots of advice about apps that would help us in Japan. I had downloaded all of them onto my iPhone prior to leaving Australia. In the end, I only relied on two: Google Translate and Google Maps. Google translate came out when requests or support was being lost in translation. Google Maps helped us to get from A to B every single day. It shows you which trains to catch, on what platform and what colour to follow. Download them!

3.         Use public transport

shinkansen bullet train travelling in japan with kids

The best way to get around Japan is by public transport. It is incredibly efficient, affordable and easy to navigate once you get your confidence up, although I do recommend avoiding peak hour when you are likely to be squashed into a carriage. Remember that Japanese etiquette on train does mean you will need to refrain from talking on your phone.

If you are travelling between cities, it is almost a sin not to book yourself a seat on the shinkansen (aka the bullet train). It will get you from place to place super fast, and is a relaxing affair.

We pre-purchased a JR Pass for our trip (you will need to book this before heading to Japan) which gave us unlimited travel on JR lines for 7 days. They are available in 7 day, 14 day and 21 day passes in both first class and regular class. For our time in the city we used a Suica card which we could top up quite regularly. It is a prepaid e-money card which will allow you to transit through each station with a simple tap. It can also be used at 7/11 and most vending machines.

4.         Eat all the food!

One of our highlights from our trip to Japan was the food. There are so many varieties of cuisine to choose from so we spent much of our evenings debating which one to try next.

For breakfast, try to book a hotel where it is included and fill up on a good buffet. Failing that, head to your local 7/11 (they are everywhere in the city) where you can purchase sushi, noodles, pastries, fruit and much more fairly cheaply.

For lunch, wander and see what you can find!

Dinner? You can choose between: ramen (noodles served in a meat broth); yakitori (different styles of chicken skewers); soba (buckwheat noodles with a variety of toppings. It can be hot or cold); tonkatsu (deep fried pork with a number side dishes); sushi or tempura (you know what they are!); shabu-shabu (hot pot); takoyaki (ball shaped pancakes with octopus inside. They may take a little get used to); kare raisu (curry and rice, Japanese style); okonomiyaki (the most amazing Japanese style pancake) and teppanyaki (this seems to be more of a tourist thing, but heaps of fun).

And then there are the vending machines which are everywhere.

5.         Money Money Money

Japan is renowned for being incredibly tech savvy which makes their approach to money a little perplexing for the intrepid traveller. It is a cash society where credit cards or even debit cards are not necessarily accepted. My Mastercard was refused at DisneySea for example!

If you are uncomfortable taking all your spending money with you in currency, I recommend finding a Travel Card that you are comfortable with (the first step, see if your bank offers one). You can fill it up before you leave and then withdraw cash as you need it.

When it comes to cash withdrawals you will need to head to 7/11 or the post office. Regular ATMs are unlikely to accept foreign cards.

Please be mindful that in Japan, tipping is not advocated. In fact, many Japanese will be mortified if you try to offer them a tip!

6.         Know your shrine and temple etiquette

fushimi inari temple kyoto travelling with kids in japan

Heading to a shrine or temple is something I think all tourists do at some point during their travel to Japan. They are fascinating places, rich with both history and ritual.

When visiting it is important that you know a little about the rituals and expected observations at these spiritual centres. For example, you should show respect by bowing before you walk through a Torii Gate and you should never walk in the middle of the path. Then there’s a washing ritual that will take place at the water pavilion and a way of approaching the shrine. Learn more on our post about Exploring Meihi Jingu Shrine.

7.         Wear great socks!

There’s no escaping it, there will be times when you will need to remove your shoes. This includes some restaurants, museums, castles, shrines, and homes. The last thing you will want is smelly socks. So before you head to Japan, invest in some lovely socks.

8.         Visit a Theme Park

Japan is such a quirky place and that rubs off on its theme parks. Whilst they have all the components of the theme parks that you know: amazing rides, breathtaking attractions and familiar characters, they have added that special Japanese flavour.

My kids are that middle age where DisneySea was perfect for them! They loved sampling the multitude of flavoured popcorn (including curry!) and other interesting food.

Japan is a spectacular destination, unrivaled in its ability to make you feel safe and at home whilst also being a little surreal. It is the perfect family destination with attractions to suit all tastes. When can you visit?

Leah Smileski

Kid Bucket List – where travel is more than just a plane trip.

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