Archived Q&A and Reviews
- Visiting Osaka with a teen
- Kyoto weekend trip from tokyo?
- Japan hotels for family of 4
- How safe is a trip to Beijing or Tokyo?
- Visiting Tokyo with two young children
- Short trip with multigenerational family
- Taking kids to Japan
- Tokyo with a 2-year-old
We have the opportunity to visit Osaka next Summer for a business trip, and are trying to decide where else to visit. Especially interested in experiences related to history and art/handicraft. Not sure yet if this is a family (parents and a teen) or just a parents-only trip. Also wondering about a one or two-week home exchange. Your thoughts and opinions would be most welcome. Darla
Lucky you! Japan is not the cheapest place to visit and combining it on a business trip should surely make things a little more reasonable.
You will get many recommendations, I'm sure, to visit Kyoto which is one of my favorite cities in all of Japan and a short 1-hour ride by express train from Osaka. But if you are interested in art, I think that the very best reason to visit Kyoto is to spend a day at the Miho Museum - http://www.miho.or.jp/english/. It's a family-owned museum high in the mountains of Kyoto (only a few buses a day up the mountain), designed by IM Pei and the architecture - as expected - is absolutely breathtaking. The museum itself is on the small side, but it's incredibly well curated. It is a favorite of my uncle, who is a docent at the SF Asian Art museum, and was subsequently recommended to me when I was living in Japan. I've since recommended it to all visiting Kyoto and I have never received any negative feedback. Just be sure to check the calendar as it is not open all the time.
If you spend time in Kyoto proper, don't miss my favorite (and most underrated site), Sanjusangendo Hall, which is Japan's longest structure and filled with Buddhist Kannon. Another favorite, Fushimi-inari is a short train hop outside of Kyoto proper is incredibly picturesque and is famous for the thousands of red torii gates (for better or for worse, it was in the movie 'Memoirs of a Geisha').
I recommend that you allow enough time to wander the small back alleys of Kyoto and not just fill your schedule with tourist sites. In my many trips to Kyoto I've gotten lost in these back alleys, but usually always ended up in a small, charming shop that has been in the same family for hundreds of years where the traditional craft has been passed down. If you don't want to do the wandering yourself and want and more pointed experience, there are many tours that you can go on as well.
One of my favorite places which is popular among Japanese tourists but not with many US visitors is Hida Takayama, http://www.hida.jp/english/. Hida Takayama is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is made up of little towns that feature the traditional gassho (thatched roof) homes. It's about 4 hours by train from Osaka. I'd at least spend the night there. It's such a charming place surrounded by mountains and hot springs and you'll find it much, much cooler than Osaka for sure. In the little towns, I found that there were art galleries and traditional artisans showing off their wares and you can wander at leisure in the cool evenings.
The weather will be hot (high 80s) and very humid (90%) in the middle of summer in Osaka so I would try not to over plan or over-do it. Coming from the Bay Area, you will be prone to heat stroke as our weather is the complete opposite of what you should expect.
If you do plan on doing substantial travel by train, you should look into the train pass for foreigners, http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en001.html. This is an all-you-can-ride pass on the nationally operated JR lines. Note: It is worth while if you will be doing travel on the shinkansen (bullet trains). You'll pay off the pass in one round trip shink ticket, but because it is expensive, I wouldn't buy it to cover the weeks that you will be working for example, only the weeks that you will be doing substantial traveling. It does not cover the Osaka or Kyoto subway lines which are privately operated.
Miho Museum fan
I don't know whether the decision to make the trip parents-only or family is up to you, but in case it is I just had to chime in. It's been a long time, but I was able to travel to Japan as an early teen and it is something that really changed how I look at the world. I dearly hope to take my own children when they are old enough to understand it. If you have control over who gets to go, I would advise bringing your teen along. The culture is amazing! anon
I visited Osaka for a couple of days last year, and it felt like the average big city, but with excellent and affordable food (okonomiyaki and takoyaki are especially delicious there!). Kyoto is a must-see and you could spend a significant amount of time/days there (and nearby Nara if you have the time). In the other direction from Osaka, the Himeji Castle is spectacular (a World Heritage site), but I think it still may be under significant renovation next year. Other personal favorite towns nearby are Okayama and Kurashiki. You'd love Kurashiki especially if you're interested in local handicrafts and art. All these places I mentioned would easily fill your one- or two-week stay in Osaka. Have fun! Kathleen
Of course Kyoto is the number one visited spot in classical Japan because of all the beautiful temples, gardens and handicrafts. Even the most aloof teenager can find some beauty there, I think. Also, as a foreigner if you want you can request entry into the Imperial Gardens (the wait list for Japanese citizens is over a year). Don't be late for your appointment, though! It's a short train ride from Osaka. Kurashiki is a smaller town famous for its art and handicrafts. Would highly recommend purchasing a 1 or 2 week Rail Pass because then you can jump on a bullet train or any other JR train and go anywhere, even Tokyo. Also recommend air fare thru Japanese-oriented travel agent, eg Sankei Travel in SF. They were able to get a much better fare, even in this age of internet price wars. Finally, Osaka in summer is HOT and muggy. All the shops and taxis are air-conditioned, but it is humid and there are lots of mosquitoes - beware. Even so, you can have lots of fun and enjoy delicious food and amazing sights. Spent lots of summers in Japan
If you haven't already, I highly recommend you visit the web site japan-guide.com. Lots of good info, and a great, well-organized on-line Q&A forum. Kyoto is very convenient to Osaka, and has a lot to offer visitors, but there are lots of great places to visit in Japan. Depending on how long you have to spend, consider getting a Japan Rail pass (info can be found on the above web site). Note that in summer, much of Japan can be very hot and humid, but we've loved our trips there (both as a couple and with a teen). We stayed at a variety of accommodations including small apartments we found through VRBO, and traditional ryokan. RK
We will be in Tokyo for a work trip this summer (July) and were hoping to take a 2 day trip to Kyoto on a weekend, as we hear it is extremely beautiful and amazing. I am having trouble finding out online what sort of things would make sense to visit, where it might make sense to stay, etc. We've heard for example that there are some really nice places one can stay that are very traditional, but ok for (American) kids, that itself would be a really cool adventure. We'd love recommendations of a place to stay and/or to visit (somehow gardens and quiet beautiful places sound best to us, we aren't much into restaurants and shopping). We are two adults and one 12 year old, not very sophisticated travelers and don't speak Japanese (though we are trying to learn some). We don't care if a place is for tourists, we are tourists.... Thanks a lot! joanne
If you haven't already, please take a look at japan-guide.com. It's been our go-to when planning several trips to Japan over the past five years. In addition to providing lots of basic information for the tourist, you can join the forum and ask any specific question and get good, reliable answers (even as detailed as, 'what time does the bus go from x to y, and where do we get it?'!).
We've been to Kyoto (as part of longer trips) twice now, and would say to check out:
-The Imperial Palace (note that although it is free, you do have to reserve entry in advance)
-Fushimi-inari Shrine (a short train ride away, but really worthwhile)
If you have more than just a weekend, also consider a side-trip to Nara.
Be sure to check in advance for closures, as the temples are sometimes closed for repairs, etc. Japan-guide is pretty good at keeping that info up-to-date.
Both times we were in Kyoto, we stayed at apartments (in very old, traditional buildings, with short doors!) through VRBO, though I don't know how easy it would be to find for just the weekend.
For precise train-travel planning, go to hyperdia.com (it's in English)
And although you didn't specifically ask for Tokyo suggestions, I will make one: Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science. For some reason, it's not usually mentioned in must-do lists for Tokyo, but our whole family thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think it would be a hit with a 12-year-old (as well as adults!). R.K.
I spent part of my childhood in Kyoto. It's a beautiful city, you'll love it!
- make sure to get Japan Rail Pass - discount pass only available for foreign tourists. Depends on where you stay (in Tokyo and Kyoto) you'll save lots of money. You can also use that for Shinkansen (bullet train connects to Tokyo-Kyoto). The pass can't be used for Nozomi line, but you can take Hikari line. The official JR site: http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en001.html# The site with simpler explanation: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361.html
- For place to stay - I don't have specific recommendation, but definitely try traditional Japanese style inns called ryokan. Usually the room comes with tatami mats and you put futon on the floor to sleep. Some also have large communal bath area, and serve really nice traditional Kyoto style food. (example:http://www.hiiragiya.co.jp/en/, http://www.hoshinoyakyoto.jp/). Another option is renting Machiya townhouse - it's getting popular to rent out those renovated traditional townhouses and you can find tons via vacation rental sites such as vrbo, or just search for 'machiya rentals Kyoto'.
As of locations, for first timers it's recommended to stay central Kyoto - a square area between Oike dori/Shijo dori, Karasuma dori/Kawabata dori for better public transportation and food choices.
- If you're going there in July - it's time of Gion festival, one of the largest festivals in Japan! The highlight of the festival is the 'yamaboko junko' on July 17th, which all the traditional floats parade the central Kyoto, but there should be lots of other small events. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3942.html
- If you love Japanese style gardens try Tenryuji temple; Ryoanji Temple; Kinkakuji Temple; Nanzenji Temple and Nijo Castle.
- Followings are UNESCO world heritage sites worth visiting: Nishi-Honganji temple; Nijo Castle, Ryoanji temple, Kinkakuji Temple, SHimogamo shrine, Ginkakuji temple, Kiyomizu temple, Tenryuji temple, Ninnaji Temple, Daigoji temple
I'm a Japanese married to an American husband and living in the bayarea now but used to live in Osaka area. Kyoto was my favorite place to go. Great food, so many things to see. It had so much layers and it is a great place to go back again, again, and again since most Japanese school students go as a school field trip.
As a major international tourist destination, Kyoto has tons of accommodation. If you want to stay in a Japanese style inn, it is called Ryokan and usually serves breakfast and dinner. It looks expensive (mostly $300 and up per person) but when you consider the meals served, I don't think it is that expensive, compared to major American cities and their hotels.
Couple courses I recommend for first time Kyoto travelers is;
Kiyomizu temple--walk-Sannen zaka/ninnen zaka (--walk-kodaiji--walk-ishi bei komichi (the path of stone fence)-walk-Yasaka jinnja-walk-gion
Nannzenji---tetsugaku no michi (path of philosophy) ---ginkaku ji--(taxi)--sanju sangen do--national museum see http://www.kyotokanko.co.jp/en/tetsugaku/map.html
Oku sagano (Rakushi sha--nison in--jo jyako ji) see http://www.kyotokanko.co.jp/en/sagano/map.html
Last one is far out of city so you can feel more of old Kyoto, rather than metropolitan, modern Kyoto.
These are all starter information. If you want any other detailed information or have a question, I will be happy to give you an advice. Japanese mom
Kyoto is amazing! It is the old capital of Japan and has the best temples and many historical sites. Kiyomizu, also called 'the Floating Temple' is one of the most popular. Be sure to walk the entire grounds to see the bells and gardens. Lots of people also like Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Temple) but there is less to see than just the temple itself. Sanju-Sagen-Don (Temple of a Thousand Gods) has a hall where a thousand buddhas stand guarding one giant one, and lots of other interesting things on the grounds. Nanzenji Temple has beautiful views from its Sanmon (gate) and amazing paintings in the halls. The grounds are beautiful and since it is a working temple you may find monks walking around. All these places have brochures in English.
Nishiki Market is an old-style street market (narrow and crowded) with the most amazing foods and stores. They have a famous traditional knife store in there and if you are a foodie and appreciate great (expensive) knives you can get them made to order and with your name carved in them. If you like a more modern vibe go to the Shoji Dori district which is busier and has huge department stores. Have a colorful parfait with fruit and ice cream in one of the fun parfait restaurants.
Kyoto Station (Shinkansen and local trains) is a HUGE shopping mall (15 stories?) with all kinds of fun stores and arcades if you like that. If the 12-year old is a boy who likes arcades, this is a must. Be sure to go to the market below and if you are there late in the afternoon, many of the prepared foods will be on sale. We ate fresh sushi every day this way and it was a steal! And even if stuff is not on sale, it is much cheaper than eating in restaurants and you can get fabulous prepared foods and just eat somewhere in the station.
Try to stay in Ryokan for a traditional experience if you don't mind sleeping on a futon. Many of the ryokans have their own on-sens (hot baths) and you can ask or look online. Most give you tea and traditional snacks and some will give you a Japanese breakfast.
Ten years ago I took a tour with a guy called Johnny Hillwalker (Hajime Hirooka) who gave a walking tour of some of Kyoto's local artisans and hidden temples. His brochures were at Kyoto Station and it was really interesting if you are into the local flavor. We went to tea factories, pastry shops, saw fans and pottery being hand-painted, tofu being made, and also visited some smaller temples and gardens.
Kyoto is super tourist-friendly and you can get around easily by train. Have a fabulous time!
--Wishing I could go back
Hi there. The easiest and most economical way to do a weekend trip to Kyoto would be to use a gaijin-friendly travel agency to book a package 'tour'. Sunrise Tours has a few different options and is part of JTB, one of the largest nationwide travel agencies. http://www.japanican.com/tours/list.aspx?aff=GMT&destcd=18 [or google Sunrise Tours Japan]
Their Kyoto tours include the RT shinkansen ticket and hotel room, but once you get there, transportation and meals are up to you. There are three or four different speeds of bullet train available in Japan and while this package isn't on the fastest, it's certainly faster than anything we've got here!
The hotels you can choose from are very nice. I usually stayed at the Karasuma Kyoto Hotel with friends, which is a nice, clean, no-frills business hotel (i.e., frequented by business men on overnight trips) and once at the New Miyako Hotel with family, which is slightly nicer and right next to Kyoto station (so it's farther from most temples/shrines). They've got a couple Japanese-style hotels to choose from, but I think they're more expensive.
Kyoto doesn't have quite the network of trains/subways that Tokyo has, so the best way to get around the city is by bus. While at Kyoto station get a daily unlimited bus pass [Adult:Â¥500/Child:￥250]:
The buses are super easy and will drop you within walking distance of anything you want to see.
Also be sure to pick up an English map (which will have cute cartoonish pictures of the temples/shrines) at the Kyoto train station.
Depending on your motivation and how much time you want to spend at each place, you can easily see 3-4 temples a day. [if you're super quick & have a plan, you can see twice that!]
A few places that I would say are MUST sees:
1. Sanjusangeno (三十三間堂) http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3900.html This is number one with a bullet! This place is awe-inspiring. Hands down my most favorite temple in all of Japan. They say that you will see the face of everyone you've ever known somewhere in the faces of those 1000+ statues. Simply amazing.
2. Ryoan-ji (龍安寺) http://www.ryoanji.jp/smph/eng/ This is a famous zen temple. Unfortunately, the cherry tree that hangs over the wall won't be blooming when you're there, but this temple is not one to miss. It's down the road a bit from Kinkakuji, which is the iconic Golden Temple, but they are worlds apart. You can easily see both of these in the same day.
3. Nijo-jo (二条城) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nij%C5%8D_Castle This is the castle with the nightingale floors. It also has beautiful gardens.
4. Suzumushidera http://en.japantourist.jp/view/suzumushi-dera If you get the cartoonish map from the station, this is the bug temple that's off to the side. It's kind of out of the way, but it's beautiful and so peaceful. Admission includes tea & sweets, plus you'll get a lecture from the monk. [During ours, the monk was reprimanding us for acting like we were at Disney World instead of holy places -- something that's easy to forget while you're there.] This temple is famous not just for its crickets, but for the shoe-wearing Buddha. If you pray to him, make sure you give him your address so he can come grant your prayers! [hence the shoes]
5. Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3907.html This is the Silver Temple. It's far less flamboyant than its Golden cousin and the street leading to it has a lot of traditional-type tourist shops. [at least it did years ago]
Word of warning: You're going to Japan at possibly the worst time, weather- wise. It's going to be hellishly hot. Muggy. Oppressive. Disgusting. It's also the rainy season. Make sure you bring a few small towels/washcloths/handkerchiefs that you can put in your bag. You'll need them to wipe the sweat off your face and neck. Trust me. You might want to also get a folding fan to carry around with you. It will help -- especially since the AC they use is basically just a fan.
That said, hellish weather or not, I wish I could go back to Sanjusangendo...
FYI, I lived in Tokyo for 6 years & I've been to Kyoto... 8 times? All but once was through Sunshine Tours because it's so much cheaper than getting train tickets & hotel rooms separately. Feel free to contact me if you'd like.
We are planning a trip to Japan in November and I am having a hard time finding hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto that can accommodate all of us. In addition to sleeping arrangements for all of us, we could ideally have a little kitchen. I have googled over and over again and am coming up with nothing. We will be in Kyoto for 6 nights and Tokyo for 4 nights. We'd like to be in central locations in each city. challenged
We are a family of 6 and have traveled to Japan many times(Tokyo and Kyoto) We usually stayed at Oakwood Residence(full service apartments w/kitchen and washer/dryer) Recently, many of their locations are now only taking 1 month stay reservations. It is worth a try to contact them to see if they are willing to take a reservation for a shorter stay. Google 'Oakwood Residence TOkyo,Japan'. Also, try for Kyoto as well. If Oakwood does not work out - our son recently traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto with 3 of his friends and they stayed at KEIO PLaza Hotel in Shinjuku (Tokyo). They have a quad room with 4 beds, very small sitting area, and 2 bathrooms. THey also have a pool (no extra charge to use), but the room does not have a kitchen. In Kyoto, they stayed at SANOYA RYOKAN located right near the main JR train station. Our son and his friends stayed in a traditional tatami room - which accommodated the 4 of them. Good Luck with your search yy
Hi, Have you tried the Palace Side Hotel in Kyoto? http://www.palacesidehotel.co.jp/english/fr-top-en.html The location can't be beat...it's right across the street from the Imperial Palace garden, which is a great place to stroll about/ play if you have young people with you. They also have a small community kitchen (ala a youth hostel), but with regular hotel rooms
In my experience, hotel rooms in Japan are very, very small and very expensive by American Standards.
Have you also looked into the Japanese Inn group or Welcome Inns?
In Tokyo, try the Hotel Gimmond or Sawanoya Ryokan?
Have fun! Kyoto is one of my most favorite places... Andrea
Since you are staying several nights in each place, I HIGHLY recommend you check out vrbo.com. Owners of apartments (and some houses) rent their places out to vacationers when they aren't there. Some of the places are only used as vacation rentals, others are sometimes occupied by the owner (but not while you are there). They list a number of properties in both Kyoto and Tokyo. Even if they list the minimum nights at 7, you might be able to negotiate, or you might be willing to pay seven nights even if you are staying only 6 nights, if the price is right. We have rented two places in Kyoto in the past few years and been very happy with both. One had two full bedrooms, a big living room with TV and computer/internet, and fully equipped kitchen (including a rice cooker, and even rice!) and washer-dryer, plus a nice full bath and roof patio - all in an old-style 'townhouse' from the Edo era (updated with smoke detectors, modern electricity and shower, etc., but still with the character and short doorways of the old style). The other was a bit smaller (mini-kitchen, one large bedroom and an extra room), but was also less expensive. We haven't tried any of the Tokyo properties, but many are listed.
I also recommend japan-guide.com for its wealth of information and discussion boards about visiting Japan. R.K.
I would recommend checking out some 'weekly mansions,' which are furnished apartments for short-term stays. (They call apartments/condos mansions in Japan.) Here's a website you can check out: http://www.wmt.co.jp/en/location/higashiueno/index.html Another rental is called 'tsukigime club,' which you can google or search on youtube. My parents, who are from Japan, and asked our relatives for recommendations for places to stay because we are traveling to Japan this fall with our baby and wanted a little more space than just a hotel room + amenities like a washer/kitchen. Our baby is only 9 months old though, so you might need more space if your children are older. Sandra
It will be difficult to find a room with a kitchenette in Japan. If you're looking to self-cater, your best bet would be to find a youth hostel with a private room. The kitchen and bath facilities would be shared. There are a few in Kyoto, and many in Tokyo.
Let me also add that youth hostels in Japan are not like youth hostels anywhere else in the world. They are CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN. http://www.jyh or jp/english/index.html
As for Tokyo, I would recommend a place that my family stays every visit. It is similar to a youth hostel in that they have shared bath facilities and kitchen, but all rooms are private and they are Japanese-style with tatami mats and futons. The futons are very comfortable. It is an easy 5 walk from the train station. The staff also speak English. http://www.kimi-ryokan.jp/
Good luck and have a great trip! anon
In Tokyo, you might consider citadines shinjuku http://http://www.citadines.com/en/japan/tokyo/shinjuku.html
National Children's Castle Hotel - no kitchen, but may be considered a hipper area - near Shibuya http://http://www.kodomono-shiro.or.jp/english/hotel/index2.html
We stayed at the Villa Fontaine Shiodome since it was relatively close to Tokyo Station and Ginza. A business hotel, so no kitchen, but a fridge in the room, lots of food places near by and breakfast buffet included. The best rate was by calling them directly. http://www.hvf.jp/eng/shiodome.php
Try vrbo.com for Kyoto.
I really want to visit Beijing and Tokyo but I feel hesitant about traveling there (especially to Beijing) because I have an 18 month old and I also hope to be in early pregnancy during the time of travel (Jan. 2008). I am concerned about us becoming sick from the water and/or food. Does anyone have advice about what the danger level is for a toddler and/or someone who is pregnant to visit these parts of the world? Do you recommend such a trip? What precautions should I take, etc.? Thanks!
Tokyo is much safer for water and hygeine. The water in China still has to be boiled even to brush your teeth. Even the 4 star hotels in China will give you a thermos of boiled water to brush your teeth. The hospitals and medical clinics are not at all what you would be used to seeing in the US. Tokyo on the other hand has no such problems. Nor does Hong Kong. These have been modernized for ages. Medical clinics and hospitals are just like thoses here. Water is safe to drink. Everything hygenic. Juliet
No experience with Beijing, but my husband visited Tokyo and thought it was the cleanest place he'd ever been. R.K.
[Editor]: also see Visiting China
We are going to be traveling in Japan for about 10 days - 2 weeks this March to visit my sister (near Nagoya.) We've got a couple places to stay there thanks to her very hospitable Japanese friends, but we'd like to get some advice about where to stay after we leave her and go to Tokyo for a few days on our own (specific hotels, apartments rentals, etc.) It would be nice to have access to a kitchen (or at least a small fridge.) I'm also interested in any fun/interesting places to go with kids (ours will be 18 months and 3 years.) Additionally, any info that you think may be helpful from those who have traveled w/ young kids there would be appreciated. There's nothing at all in the archives. Thanks in advance. paula
We took our 23-month-old son to Tokyo two years ago and had a really great time. We stayed at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel which was great for two reasons: 1)the convenience of the Shinagawa train station, a major transporation hub; and 2)our window overlooked the train station and at any time, day or night, there were at least 5 trains coming into or leaving the station. This was pure heaven for a toddler boy (and even his parents enjoyed it!).
As far as things to do: ride trains, go to the Children's Castle (this is not the exact name, but it's similar)--it's like Habitot and Kindergym and Music Together classes all rolled into one. Don't worry if you don't speak the language--kids speak a universal language. We also spent a day in Hakone. There's a loop you can do, a train ride, a tram ride, then a boat ride across the lake. Very fun for all ages. Go to the children's play areas on the roofs of the department stores. You will have a great time! I'm so envious! anon
Our family is planning a trip to Japan for a short visit (8 days) in early April. It's really hard to narrow down what will be worthwhile and good for the five of us - mom, dad, grandma (80's), a 14 yr old and 10 yr old (both girls). We're excited about this trip but know we'll only be able to manage the highlights. Are there any must-do's out there, for a family as diverse (agewise) as ours? Susan
Japan is a fantastic place to visit! Three years ago, my husband, infant daughter and I spent 6 months living in Kyoto. We are also planning an intergenerational return visit in May. Our approach is to plop ourselves down in Kyoto and then make day trips from there.
On our last trip we spent about 2 weeks in Tokyo all together, but we found it a bit modern and hectic for our taste. Kyoto is a much smaller city (think SF versus New York City). Kyoto is also very modern looking on first glance, but it is a treasure trove of exquisite gardens, temples and shrines. Because it wasn't bombed in the war, there is much more ''old Japan'' around than in Tokyo. Can you tell I'm a bit biased towards Kyoto...:))
In Tokyo, do check out the Edo-Tokyo Museum. There is also a large children's palace/ entertainment center in Shibuya, I think, although I haven't been there. We also went to an open air museum of old houses, just outside of Tokyo, called the Folkhouse museum which was fun, you can walk through the buildings. If you get to Kyoto, don't miss the Golden Pavilion and Sanjusangendo. Also the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama or the Hozugawa River Trip are fun for kids. We found the Lonely Planet guide to both Kyoto and Japan quite useful as well as info gathered at the Japan National Tourist Office in San Francisco and the tourist information centers in Japan. If you can, I'd also recommmend a splurge and going to see either a Kabuki or a Bunraku performance. In Tokyo they have simultaneous translation during the Kabuki performances. Bunraku is Kabuki plays performed with large puppets, it's not performed as often, the main theater is in Osaka...
There is also a website called something like Tokyo Kids, i think which you might find useful, if you're going to spend most of your time in Tokyo.
You can email me directly if you have specific questions. Although my experience is more in depth in a few places rather than about lots of different places.
Japan is a great place to visit as it's both western/ like home, but completely exotic at the same time...
Have a great trip!!! andrea
We are planning a trip to Japan with our 5 year old and 18 month old. We are wondering what we need to bring for our children, in terms of carseats, strollers or a backpack for the youngest. While the carseats would be ideal for the plane, once we arrive we'll be mainly taking the train and other public transportation and are not sure if it will be too difficult to carry the carseats everywhere we go? What are the regulations in Japan regarding carseats, etc?
Our family spent 2 weeks in Japan this summer. We travelled mostly by train and 2 times in a car (without a car seat). Buying a car seat in Japan is expensive and they are required for kids under 6. See http://www.japan-guide.com/forum/quereadisplay.html?0+11426 for an opinion -- I would consider it an absolute pain to carry the car seat around, but your youngest is still a baby.
Japan is a very child-friendly place and it is almost easier to travel ANYWHERE by train than by car. If you need to bring a car seat, I'd consider storing it and not dragging it around on the train. There is a luggage delivery service at the airport that most Japanese use (ie. the reason you do not see Japanese on the trains with tons of luggage). Aiko
I am thinking of surprising my husband with a long wanted trip to Tokyo this summer. We'd be bringing our 21/2 year old. Any advice from you world travlers? Where to stay? Where to eat? How to deal with not speaking Japenese? Must go to trips outside of the city- take a tour bus or drive ourselves?? Tips and tricks appreciated. Thanks Juliette
My husband, I and 3-year old son have been living in Tokyo for two years after 10 years in Bay Area. The best English online resources is: http://metropolis.japantoday.com/default.asp It'll give you probably most-up-to-date info. re: what's happening in Tokyo and outside, better than travel guides. If you are traveling on budget, you may even want to check out for classified for ST rentals.
I don't recommend driving -- traffic jam and quite complicated highway systems, not to mention that we drive the ''wrong'' side. Trains run almost everywhere - the challenge for a family with a toddler is that most stations do not have elevators. When traveling, you can get around this by sending your luggages ahead by ''takkyubin'' service, which is very efficient. Good luck!