If you’re planning a family trip to Tokyo for the Olympics (or for any reason!) this year, you might be wondering what to do in Japan with kids. Obviously there’s plenty for adults to enjoy across the country, but the prospect of traveling with younger, fussier members of the family, a great deal of questions are raised.
To try and answer some of those, we’ve compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions below. (For more information about visiting the region in general, these tips for traveling Asia with children also apply.)
Is Tokyo safe for kids?
Tokyo is very safe for travelers, in fact it’s the safest city in the world according to Smarter Travel. Japan overall is safe, (Osaka is number three on that list), as long as you stay away from seedy entertainment districts (see: Kabukicho) and generally exercise common sense. Stick to the main tourist areas for extra safety.
Is Japan toddler friendly?
Japan is kid-friendly in that it’s clean, there’s reliable and extensive travel infrastructure (trains especially), hotels include amenities for kids, you’ll find family restaurants readily enough in major cities (especially if you have a local guide or Travel Specialist to give you a list), and malls have change stations and kids’ toilets for potty trained toddlers. Navigating larger cities with more than one small child is naturally going to be more challenging, but certainly not impossible with proper planning.
On that note, is Tokyo toddler friendly?
All of the above points stand for visiting Tokyo with toddlers. Though it’s a very busy and hectic city, Tokyo residents are helpful and friendly, and if you avoid using the train system during peak hours (7am-9am, 5pm-7pm) it shouldn’t be too stressful for you or your brood.
Tokyo is not particularly stroller-friendly as the train system has multiple levels and it can be difficult finding the elevators, sidewalks can also be narrow and busy, depending on where you are, and temples often have lots of stairs. If your toddler is on the younger/smaller side, it’s far more convenient to bring a baby carrier; you can take frequent rests at the countless cafes and malls in the inner-city wards. With many expats living in Tokyo, the internet is full of resources for child-friendly cafes in Tokyo and malls with family amenities where you can take a rest.
Do kids need car seats in Japan?
Thinking of a family road-trip through Japan? Children up to the age of six must use a car seat in a private car (for taxis and buses there’s no need). Car rental companies will have baby seats available for rent if you’re not bringing your own.
What age is a child free on the train in Japan?
Up to two children aged from one to five can ride the train for free with one adult. Kids six to 11 pay half-price, as do any additional kids aged one to five. Babies under 12 months are always free. Kids 12 and over pay full price.
When is the best time of year to visit Japan?
This depends on what you want to do and which city you’re headed to. The general rule is that June to August is summertime and hot in Tokyo, making it steamy in the city and probably uncomfortable for younger kids. Be sure to stay hydrated if you visit at this time.
From April to May in Tokyo is sakura season – a busy time of year when you can catch the cherry blossoms in bloom and enjoy perfect weather. During autumn, you’ll get the fall colors and still have good weather. Meanwhile, winter from December to February is cold and can be rainy – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you like the lack of crowds and cozy feelings that winter brings.
Keep Reading: Best Time to Visit Japan
So what is there to do in Japan with kids?
It may be safe and efficient, and super-exciting for adults, but temples, sushi bars, museums, parks and malls might not be that exciting for younger children. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities for your list of what to do in Japan with kids if you use a little imagination and a decent amount of travel planning. Here we break it down by destination.
What to do in Tokyo with kids
This bustling city has an endless array of diversions for kids and adults alike. You could easily spend a week here and still feel like you wanted to do more, but if you don’t have that much time, then budget at least three days. If traveling with younger children that need daily naps and downtime, a five-day stay would be more ideal to fulfill your list of what to do in Japan with kids.
This beautiful sanctuary in the middle of the city is a must. While there’s nothing specifically kid-centered here, it brings a welcome respite from the frenetic city streets. A cafe with ice cream will keep most little ones happy.
Ninja and anime classes
For an unforgettable family tour of Tokyo, fill your holiday with fun cultural activities that everyone can enjoy. Take a manga-drawing workshop that unleashes your creative sides or get active with some ninja classes.
The famous studio that created My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away will have kids enthralled for a few hours. It’s in Koganei and easy to reach by train, though you need to organize tickets before you arrive in Japan.
Cruise the Odaiba
One of the nicest things to do in Japan with kids is to see the sights from the river. Cruise the Odaiba to get closer to the city’s history.
Hakone and Mount Fuji
See this iconic landmark from the stunning Hakone. Take a cable car ride on the Hakone Ropeway, visit an onsen, take pics at the famous “floating” torii or gate on the edge of Lake Ashinoko, or cruise around the lake.
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea
It might not be the most cultured of day trips, but if you need a break from the temple sites, Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are some non-traditional options for what to do in Japan with kids.
What to do in Kyoto with kids
Kyoto is far more subdued than Tokyo and you’ll spend most of your time strolling around historic sites and streets. It’s not as exciting for children, but the pace is a lot more relaxed. Depending on how many of the city’s 17 UNESCO sites you want to see, you might find it easier to do a tour – spend from two to four days delving into the heritage and history of Japan.
The semi-tame wild deer here will be more interesting to kids than the UNESCO sites – buy some feed for them and watch them ‘bow’ for their snacks.
Get noisy with a class in traditional drumming. Learning the techniques of this traditional instrument will not only keep them entertained, it allows them to make noise (a favorite kid pastime) and burn energy at the same time.
Learn how to make lunch boxes with snacks in the shape of cartoon characters (like Hello Kitty). The kids can learn about local culture in a fun way that’s relevant to their age group and, importantly, keeps their little hands busy.
Kyoto City Zoo
This is Japan’s second-oldest zoo, established in 1903 and refurbished in 2015. Here you can see exotic animals from around the world alongside more local critters like squirrels, foxes, black bears and macaques.
What to do in Japan with kids: Osaka
Osaka, Japan’s ‘kitchen,’ is vibrant and exciting, but more relaxed than Tokyo. If you have a food-loving family, this will be one of your favorite destinations in Japan.
Japan’s most visited castle is surrounded by vast gardens which come into bloom during sakura season (April-May). There are cool relics and displays inside and you can enjoy panoramas of the city from the eight-floor viewing platform.
Explore different eco-systems and travel through a tunnel in the aquarium to see seals, otters, reef life and even a whale shark.
Universal Studios Japan
Shows, events, rides, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, plus a little kids’ cartoon zone – including Hello Kitty’s Fashion Avenue. Put it on your list of what to do in Japan with kids if you feel like a dose of pop culture.
If you just want to let the kids loose for an afternoon, this is the perfect venue – an indoor center with playgrounds, crafts, interactive games, role play, science and more.
Cup Noodles Museum
Learn how they’re made, make them yourself and get in the mood for ramen at this quirky museum just out of town. Don’t miss it if you want more out-of-the-box ideas for what to do in Japan with kids.
Street food tour
Don’t pass up the opportunity to try okonomiyaki ‘pancake’ and takoyaki octopus balls from the source.
What to do in Okinawa with kids
This tropical prefecture offers the perfect relaxing ending to a Japan tour with kids – and is just as worthy as a standalone holiday destination. You’ll find the culture is different here in the Ryukyu Islands, distinct from the rest of Japan. Stay at least three days to enjoy beautiful beaches, and to just sink into island life.
Okinawa has a great range of luxury beach resorts with family amenities where you can base yourself for relaxing days by the sea – always a good idea if you’re after more chilled-out things to do in Japan with kids.
If you’re an active family, cycling is a great way to explore the different islands, many of which have flat, quiet coastal roads. Traveling to Japan with kids, ask for some fun moments like this.
Swimming and snorkeling
Explore the reefs and calm waters around Okinawa – in particular Tokashiki Island with its white-sand beaches and abundant marine life. Aharen Beach is the most accessible on the island; dive in and be on the lookout for clownfish, butterflyfish and giant clams amid kaleidoscopic corals.
Hoshizuna no Hama
Star-Sand Beach has sand grains shaped like stars. This ‘sand,’ which is really shells, is found on a few different Okinawa islands.
Blue Seal Ice Cream Factory
Something sweet to finish our list of what to do in Japan with kids. An ice-cream workshop where kids can make their own ice cream is not only delicious but effective in cooling off during Okinawa’s tropical days.