If you’re a parent like me, you will certainly have lots of questions when planning your trip to Japan. Most parents feel completely lost once they have to decide if their dream trip to Japan should be done with the kids or not, and I totally understand that. I saw lots of questions in the forums asking for advice on whether they should bring the kids to Japan and sometimes they don’t get the answer they deserve. I wanted to write this post to help you decide if you really should take your kids with you to Japan, without judgements.
Parents must know that there is no perfect age to enjoy Japan. If parents schedule quality time for kids during the travel, there’s no reason to leave their kids out of this experience. On the other hand, if the trip is planned based only on what the parents want, then they should not bring their kids.
I know that some parents might hesitate a lot with this because I feel the same way, and there are good reasons for that. In the next paragraphs, we’re going to see the main concerns of parents and try to answer them so that you can decide what’s best for you.
Advantages of taking the kids to Japan
All parents loves theirs kids and want what’s best for them. If you are reading this post, you certainly are a loving parent that is concerned with a long trip overseas and need help with the decision to take the kids with you or not. Let me help you first with the huge advantages of taking the kids on this amazing trip.
You don’t have to worry about missing your kids
This is the hugest concern of all loving parents, and since you’re reading this post, you are a loving parent that worries about this. Usually, people plan a two-weeks trip, and leaving the kids for this long can be a challenge in many ways. I left my little boy once during a two-day business trip and it was awful (maybe because it was the first time I did it, but I certainly did not enjoy the feeling). I guess this is more or less difficult depending on the age of the kids and how independent they are, but it will always be a little difficult for most parents. If you take the kids with you to Japan, you don’t have to worry about missing them during your stay in Japan.
You don’t have to find someone to take of the kids
We saw that it’s hard for most parents to leave the kids for two weeks, but that’s not the only problem. Raising kids needs lots of logistics and finding someone to take care of them might not be that easy, specially when you don’t have family around to help or the grandparents aren’t available. Most parents know how hard it is to find someone responsible to take care of the kids; now imagine finding that person for two whole weeks. This is why, if you chose to take the kids with you, you won’t have to worry about this either.
Japan is a safe country for kids
Japan is not only a safe country, but it’s also one of the safest countries in the world to take your kids on a trip (if not the safest). For example, kids don’t need to hold your hand and be right beside you all the time; you can let them walk in front of you with no problem. Drivers really respect traffic regulations and as long as you teach your kids that they should look first to the right (Japanese drive on the left), you should be ok. A little heads up with some small streets that doesn’t have sidewalks, but just a line painted on the floor to separate people from cars. Again, if you teach your kids not to cross this line, they will be fine.
Another example, I see people talking about every time, is that Japan is so safe that when you forget your phone on a table or a train, you actually get it back because the person that finds it, gives it to a lost and found section, and you can go get it. I don’t recommend trying to test that on purpose though 🙂
Kids will be of great help with shy Japanese people
Japanese people are known to be a little shy regarding foreigners, but this only concerns adults. If you have your kids with you, they will usually break the ice and you can actually make some friends in Japan. I saw testimonials of tourists that are still friends with Japanese thanks to their kids. If you’re willing to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture with the help of the locals, your kids are definitely going to be of great help.
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Inconvenient of taking the kids to Japan
You can visit more things in Japan without the kids
Unfortunately, this is a fact and there’s no way around it. No matter what age your kids are, they will slow down your pace in Japan. You probably have a clear idea of everything you would like to see, but let me tell that even if you don’t take your kids, you will not have the time to see everything. There’s never enough time in Japan.
If you’re travelling with a baby, you will have to stop to change diapers, to feed, to calm the baby, etc; with a toddler, it’s almost the same plus you will have to stop to rest; and teenagers…well, teenagers are complicated. And even if you have a teenager that’s passionate about Japan, it is likely that your teenager’s tastes aren’t the same as yours.
The best thing you can do is to optimize your itinerary by visiting places that are close from one another, like the amazing area around Nara Park, for example, and it is a great place for kids too. Check my other post about visiting Nara to have a better idea.
Your trip will cost you more money with kids
This is also an inevitable inconvenient, even if small kids usually pay half price in general. Flights are usual a little pricey and most hotel rooms are small, so if you want to save on accommodation, you’ll have to choose an Airbnb which is a less expensive option for families (check my article about Airbnb too). Attractions’ tickets can add up a lot to the expenses, so look out for some places where kids under 12 years old benefit from free admission. That’s usually a good thing for parents with small kids. And regarding food, if you go to chain restaurants, you should be fine; convenience stores are also great to save money on food. Unless, you’re eating at traditional restaurants every day, you should manage to keep the expenses under control even with kids.
Long flights can be challenging with kids
Flying to Japan can take lots of time depending on your departure city. Unless, you’re flying from nearby countries like Korea or East China, you will likely have several hours of flight. (If you want to learn more about how much time does it take to fly to Japan, check my post on the subject)
I’m not going to lie to you, this overseas flight will be challenging even if you don’t have kids with you. It takes lots of time, but if you plan some things to do while on board, you will be fine. With all these hours of flight, jet lag will probably hit you, so I recommend taking a look at my other post about what causes jet lag, how to recover from it and most importantly, what you can do to try to avoid it.
In a long flight with kids, you can have different scenarios, depending on how long your flight is and if your travelling overnight or not. If you’re lucky, your kids will probably sleep during a huge part of the flight (I know that mine can sleep for one hour in a two-hours flight, for example). Planes usually have the same effect on kids as cars; they’re excited in the beginning, but they get bored really fast (and eventually fall asleep).
For those parents who will have several hours of flight, your secret weapon will be planning. You know your kids better than anyone else, so as a general rule I would say that how your kids behave in a car it’s how they will behave in a plane. And be careful if they never went on a plane before because I not sure that a long overseas flight is the best first-flight experience. You might want to see how it goes in a domestic flight for example.
Anyway, the best you can do to have a good flight with kids is to keep them entertained with quiet activities that will get them to relax (and you too).
Transportation in Japan can be a little challenging too
Most of the time, kids love trains, planes and any kind of transportation, specially when they’re little. This is a good thing because you will be moving around a lot in general, but remember that in Japan you should stay quiet on trains, buses, etc or you will probably get some weird looks.
Most parents know how hard it is to keep the kids quiet, so plan some games for the rides specially if you’re taking the shinkansen – Japan’s bullet train. (If you want to know more about this amazing bullet train, take a look at my post about it)
Small kids might not remember their travel to Japan
This is a fact not a fatality. If your kids are under 6 years old, they probably won’t remember much. Small kids usually just remember theme parks, but they aren’t cheap, obviously. As a general rule, they don’t care about temples since they don’t understand it yet, but the kimono experience is amazing for little ones because they look super cute with it. Plus you can do the kimono experience in family and take some really nice photos. There’re some nice offers online that you can book in advance like a Kimono Rental in Kyoto with Optional Photoshoot from Klook, for example. They have afternoon discounts and prices for families so it might be worth to take a look when planning what to do in Japan.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that even if the kids don’t remember much, you will and you will have the pictures to recall this amazing trip to Japan. There will never be an ideal time to travel with kids so go for it anyway, and don’t wait until their older because travelling with teens is not easy either.
You will have to pack extra things
Depending on your itinerary, you might change your hotel often. This means that you will have to pack and repack several times for you plus the kids. If they’re little ones, they will probably need some special items that you’ll have to bring from home. I’m thinking mainly about babies because some have special needs, and you might want to bring what they need in case you don’t find the same thing in Japan.
Packing and repacking doesn’t have to be a huge problem because it is likely the same thing when you go for a day on the beach. What can help you a little with that is training your kids to do it by themselves or to start organizing their things before you put them in the baggage. Of course, this doesn’t work for babies, but I found that when my boy was two years old, he was always willing to help me in some way.
And if you need some advice on how to pack for Japan, I also wrote a full guide post to help people pack.
You will have to make an itinerary for kids
If you decide to travel to Japan with your kids, you can’t expect to make your itinerary without taking in account the kids. This could turn your trip into a nightmare. You will need to schedule some rest time because kids usually can’t keep up with your pace, but you will also need to schedule good time for kids. Theme parks are a good option, so plan one full day at an amusement park like Disneysea or Disneyland. Zoos are also great experiences for kids too and you have several options in Japan. Just remember that these are generally crowded places, so you might want to go during the week as it will be packed with people during weekends.
You will be more tired if you travel with kids
Yes, travelling with kids can add extra work because you will have to manage them too instead of only managing yourself, but it’s like your everyday life since you had kids, right? If you want to go to Japan to relax and to charge your batteries, you probably shouldn’t take the kids, but if you see it as a family trip, it shouldn’t be much more difficult than your everyday life, specially if you plan almost everything ahead.
Eating in Japan can be difficult for some kids
Japanese food can be hard for picky kids. As you probably know, Japanese food is a lot different from what you find in the United States and several other countries in the world. If you have picky kids, it might be hard to even get them to taste it. I found that you can easily get away with the food you find in convenience stores because they have a huge variety at lower prices. I know that it won’t be the awesome culinary experience of a traditional Japanese restaurant, but it is certainly a good option to get the kids to eat. Most tourists use convenience stores on low budget travels, so why don’t you give them a try?
I guess that for most parents, Japan is a once in a lifetime trip that they want to enjoy to their fullest. From a practical point of view, it is easy to make the trip without kids, but emotionally, not all parents are able to stay away from their kids one or two weeks.
Travelling with kids (no matter what age they are) is always a compromise, and, at the end, it all comes down to how much money you want to spend and how much are you willing to compromise what you want to do in Japan. Taking the kids to Japan is not for everyone, but is perfectly doable if you plan ahead and keep in mind the kids needs at all time when preparing your itinerary.
Some parents might worry about what other people think if they go to Japan without their kids, but no one has nothing to do with that. You have to do what is best for your family and hopefully now you have a much clearer idea of what awaits you in Japan if you take the kids.
This post was written to help parents with their trip with kids, but if deep inside you don’t feel like taking them with you, don’t let the famous “parent’s guilt” stopping you from enjoying your trip. Sometimes, parents just need time for themselves and going to Japan might be your best chance to do it.
Hope you enjoyed this post and remember, don’t let anyone judge you, no matter what decision you make.