Visiting or moving to Japan with children allows you a different perspective on what to do, see and eat. We have a son who has traveled to Japan several times. So, I asked him his idea about what would be “fun” and “memorable” to do if you had a family with children living in Japan. Here are things he recommends.
Children are more adventurous than you think when it comes to food. Japan has some amazing things that are at the top of my son’s diet. He absolutely craves them. Even though we eat them in the U.S, the taste is quite different Japanese food is known for using fresh ingredients.
Many restaurants have a children’s set meal option. Set meals are a great way to try different “kid” friendly items in smaller size portions. They generally cost around 1000-1200 yen.
Don’t be distracted by the size and age of the restaurant. Restaurants in Japan can be quite small in seating size. It may not seem perfect on the outside but a great tip is to look for the number of people going in or waiting. This tells you a lot about the quality of the food.
For example, there was a yakitori (BBQ) restaurant near my residence in Japan. It only seated six people at a time. It really was a “hole-in-the-wall” type place. The walls were aged, and it had years of oil residue on them. However, it honestly was THE best yakitori restaurant I have ever had worldwide. Due to the shabby outward appearance, if my friend hadn’t recommended it, I would have walked right past. However, I’m so glad they introduced it to me. I ate there regularly with friends and got to know the chef/owner quite well. He was a great guy and has been the owner of this small restaurant for over 30 years.
Ramen restaurants are a “must” on our food list whenever we go back to Japan. They are inexpensive and high in volume. You can pick out the flavor of the base soup stock and ramen toppings. Base flavors tend to be “miso,” “shoyu” (soy sauce) and “tonkatsu” (pork). However, each restaurant might have its own “house specialty.”
You can add side dishes with your meal. We tend to share “gyoza” (potstickers) and or fried rice.
Source: Picture 1 – www.epicurious.com
Source: Picture 2 – kaleandkumquats.blogspot.com
My son LOVES soba. Soba are long thin noodles. They can be cold or placed in a hot soup broth. You can add extra items to the order. Some of those items include: Tempura (deep fried vegetables and shrimp) and toro-soba (special grated yam).
If you are in the Tokyo/Asakusa area, Towada is an excellent restaurant that we consider our “family choice” for soba. The soba is made fresh right in front of you. You can see the person making the soba eaten in the restaurant in the glass window from the street. They do NOT take credit cards or point cards. So, please be prepared to bring cash (Yen) to pay. They also are very popular, and the sitting is somewhat limited. So, you might have to wait in line a bit. However, people tend to come and go rather quickly. Therefore, the wait usually isn’t too long, and it is well worth it.
Source: Picture 1 – www.dishmaps.com
Source: Picture 2 – niphocultura.com.br
Picture of “Towada” Soba Restaurant
If you have never tried sushi on a conveyor belt, or if you have in a different country, it really is an experience to do it in Japan. Kids like it because they can easily pick out the items they want to eat. The food is right in front of you, so you don’t have to wait and entertain your children. You can order off the menu for special items you and your family want to try. Most importantly, it doesn’t cost a great deal.
You can eat quickly, the mood is light, and people are always talking. They come and go, so you don’t feel like it has to be a “perfect” sit-down type restaurant to keep your children on their best behavior.
Tonkatsu is a fried pork cutlet. It is served with rice, shredded cabbage, and sauce. You can find it available in many restaurants. There are even restaurants that specialize in tonkatsu.
Here is one famous restaurant chain that you can try. The atmosphere of this family-friendly restaurant is very casual and pleasant.
Okonomiyaki is like a pancake with various items in it: meat, seafood, vegetables, fried noodles (to name a few). The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “how you like” or “what you like,” and yaki meaning “grill.” Okonomiyaki is mainly associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan but is widely available throughout the country. You can choose your fillings and toppings depending on what you like to eat. You can cook it on a hot plate set in the table (as seen in the picture below), or okonomiyaki beginners can ask the restaurant staff to prepare it instead. A topping can be added to the top after it is cooked. Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region.
Mos Burger is the Japanese version of McDonald’s. However, the menu is tailored to Japanese tastes, so you will see many different options from McDonald’s in your home country. It is fun to try and costs about the same as a McDonald’s in Japan.
One of the most convenient and tasty takeout options in Japan is Yoshinoya. The beef bowl is very famous, and you can find restaurants all over Japan. The food is quick to order and pick up. You can take it home and eat it with your family. Most Yoshinoya restaurants are conveniently located near train stations or major streets. So, you are sure to see one. The cost is inexpensive too, so feeding your family is not going to break your budget.
Dango – Japanese dumpling made from sweet mochi
This is a special treat if you can get it fresh from a jinja (shrine) area or at a matsuri (festival). You can eat it outside and it is best when freshly made.
Cost: 80-100 Yen per skewer
Garigari-kun is a Japanese popsicle. It is family favorite. They are available at any convenience store and are an easy low-calorie treat option for your children. The cost per popsicle is 100 Yen. There are many flavors to choose from. When it is hot or humid outside, we recommend a family “outing” to the convenience store to pick some up.
One of my son’s favorite places to go on a regular basis is to a pastry and/or cake shop. He could almost “live” in one as many times we go. The owners of one pastry shop near our area get to know us on a daily basis. The cakes in Japan are less sweet than in the U.S. They also have so many tempting flavors that you can’t stop at buying just one. We end up buying several and sharing them when we get home.
It’s the same with pastries in Japan. You can buy things that have children’s characters on them and Japanese delicacies that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s a great place to buy some breakfast items to share with your family or food that you can eat for a picnic or lunch.
Source: Picture 1 – www.pinterest.com
Source: Picture 2 – littlemissbento.com
Places to Visit
Every region of Japan has wonderful places that would be memorable for your children to visit. These are just a FEW of the options available. It depends on the age of your child(ren), the gender and where you live. However, I hope you get to try to get to some of the places on this list as you won’t have a chance to do these things in other countries.
Visit a Jinja
Visiting jinjas (shrines) throughout Japan is a special family event. You can experience the customs of visiting a jinja as well as understand more about Japanese culture. Each jinja is different, so visiting them throughout Japan will give you more of an understanding of the history, people and customs.
You can also take part in several of the traditions. You can buy “omikuji” (fortune telling), throw a good luck coin (5 Yen) into the “osaisen” (money offering) box, buy “osenko” (incense) to burn and put on the bad part of your body. The smoke is supposed to help heal your injury/injuries and purify yourself with water before entering the jinja.
Take a Ride on a Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
If you have a chance to travel via Shinkansen in Japan, children love the experience. There are different trains depending on the region of Japan and travel destination. If you don’t want to go far, it could good fun to jump on just for a few close stops. Then spend a few hours looking around the area and take the local trains home to save the trip cost. Travel costs vary depending on your point of departure and destination. However, it is a convenient way to see Japan and get there in a short amount of time. You can buy food and beverages on the train or bring them with you to enjoy on the go.
There are non-reserved (first-come-first-serve) seating train cars and reserved (ticketed) train cars. The cost and trains will be different depending on this so we recommend you do your research before ordering your tickets.
Relax in an Onsen (Japanese Mineral Spring/Bath)
One of the quintessential things about Japan is the onsen. You might think children would be bored here, but it can be an amazing time. My son thinks it’s like a jacuzzi. He loves to sit and relax in the different temperature pools.
You can find onsens throughout Japan. There are outdoor and indoor, mixed-gender and gender-separate baths. Children typically go with the mother if they are babies or toddlers. When they get older, their gender determines which bath they use. My son has always bathed with his father. So, I also think it depends on the family.
If you go to an onsen, you can make it a relaxing family trip. Stay at an onsen resort, eat a wonderful dinner and breakfast, tour the area and make lots of memories.
Explore the Underwater: Aquariums
If your child(ren) are interested in underwater sea life, this is a fun excursion. There are so many aquariums to visit throughout Japan. Below is a link to a website that explores in detail the options, locations and times available.
Website in English: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2425.html
If you find an aquarium that catches your interest, clicking on the individual link will provide you with complete details for that location. It also provides you a detailed map.
The Pokemon Center
The Pokemon Center
There are many Pokemon Centers (stores) in Tokyo. Each Pokemon store throughout Japan is different. If you and your children love Pokemon, it is a MUST DO place to visit. Items sold in these stores are not available anywhere else in the world.
Pokemon Centers are located in: Yokohama; Pokemon Mega Tokyo (Sunshine 60), Pokemon Bay, Pokemon Center DX and Cafe
Odaiba is a fun place to go in Tokyo. It is located on a manmade island. There are many restaurants, shops, stores and attractions. Some of the highlights are:
Fuji TV Building (headquarters of Fuji TV)
AquaCity Odaiba (shopping mall and restaurants)
Decks Tokyo Beach (includes: Tokyo Joypolis, a trick art museum, Legoland Discovery Center, Madam Tussauds – wax museum)
DiverCity Tokyo Plaza (shopping mall and restaurants)
Palette Town (includes: a Ferris Wheel – one of the largest in the world, Toyota Mega Web, a Ferris Wheel, the Zepp Tokyo music venue and Tokyo Leisureland)
Venus Fort (shopping mall and restaurants)
Toyota Mega Web (see the latest cars built by Toyota; has car museum)
Tokyo Big Sight (convention center)
Panasonic Center (see the latest products made by the Panasonic Corp.)
Telecom Center Area (observation deck, Museum of Maritime Sciences, National Museum of Emerging Science and Oedo Onsen Monogatari)
Each location has different dates/times that they are open and closed. Please check their individual websites for further information. I’m including a website in English about more information you can find in Odaiba.
Tokyo Skytree is the world’s tallest broadcast tower. It is located in Asakusa (Tokyo). You can enjoy restaurants, cafes, souvenir shopping and viewing the Tokyo area from two different observation decks (350 m high; 450 m high). Tickets are needed to visit the observation decks.
Located: In Ikebukuro, 3-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima 170-6058, Tokyo Prefecture
It is one of the tallest skyscrapers in Japan and holds numerous shops, restaurants and fun things for you to explore. Floors 1-9 are for public use, which is where you will find stores, restaurants, and attractions. Floors 10-57 are offices. There is an observation deck to which you can take one of the 40 elevators to the top. It costs 620 Yen.
It is also one of the locations for the Pokemon Center (store) in Tokyo.
Tokyo Tower is one of the most symbolic icons of Japan. It is like the Empire State Building of New York City. If you have time, it is a great place to visit. There are now two observation decks that you can explore (a new top deck tour has just opened on March 3rd), numerous restaurants and souvenir stores to do with your family.
Website in English: https://www.tokyotower.co.jp/en.html
Studio Ghibli Museum (Movie Museum) – Tokyo
Do you know the movie titles My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo or Kiki’s Delivery Service?
The Studio Ghibli Museum is well-known around the world for people who like Japanese anime movies by Hayao Miyazaki. Disney has shown many of the movies throughout the world, especially in the United States.
You do need to plan in advance if you want to visit Studio Ghibli Museum as it is reservation only admittance. A certain amount of people can enter the museum at a time. The date and time must be reserved in advance. Due to popularity, we recommend you plan ahead as it is very popular with both Japanese and international tourists.
Information about what you can see, admission cost, how to reserve tickets, location and how to get there can be found by going to this link. It is completely in English. http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/
Tokyo Disneyland (special occasion)
One of the most famous theme parks in Japan is Tokyo Disneyland. It is a fun and exciting place to visit, but it can get costly with the admission fees, food, beverages, etc. So, this would be a great “special” event place to go with your children.
Check out their webpage in English: http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/
In Japan, there are a few different zoos (depending on what part of Japan you live in). This is a fun outdoor activity that would relaxing on a weekend or during a national holiday (non-work or school day). Zoos in Japan are not as big as some around the world, but for children, it’s a fun place to visit.
Website in English: Tokyo (Ueno Zoo) https://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/
Website in English: Kobe (Kobe Oji Zoo) http://www.kobe-ojizoo.jp/guide/fl/
If you live or want to visit the city of Osaka, Japan, you can enjoy Universal Studios. Again, this is a more expensive option for a family outing. So, plan accordingly.
Website in English: https://www.usj.co.jp/e/
Nara (Deer) Park
Nara Park is a popular place for families/children to visit as there are over 1200 deer walking around. Photos are fun to take and you can pay to feed them sembe (crackers). Please be careful! Sometimes, they can be pushy if you have food in your hands. Keep your little ones safe! You can go any time of the year, and experience the seasonal differences.
Website in English: http://nara-park.com/en/
Free Things to Do
If you are looking for something to do that is budget friendly, try these ideas. Going to a local or famous park is a fun outing. There are also many matsuri (festival) events throughout the year. You can enjoy Japanese culture and eat some tasty vendor cuisine. Come prepared with cash if you want to buy food or beverages at a matsuri. Remember, children love to eat. So, you might need to bring your own food or buy some at the site.
Check out when the matsuri festivals are in your local area. It will be a fun family event.
Of course, there are so many other places in Japan to visit and food dishes to try. This is just a small highlighted sample of things that you can plan with your family/children. Enjoy experiencing new places and expanding your culinary dining options! You never know, it might be your “new” favorite! No matter what – enjoy every moment and make the most of your time together! This time is a “chance of a lifetime” for you and your family.