Clean, safe, colourful, friendly and fun, Japan is one of the most unforgettable places on earth for families. Where else in the world can you find ancient temples, towering skyscrapers, peaceful gardens, picturesque national parks, some of the world’s best powder skiing, steamy o...

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Places to go in Japan

Safe, clean and thoroughly modern, Japan is a great place to travel with young kids. While the appeal of cultural sights like shrines and temples may be a bit lost on little travellers, there is plenty to keep them occupied. Many of the country’s museums, zoos and aquariums come with zones for little ones and there are theme parks catering to smaller children. Most cities have great green expanses for littlies to run off some steam and some of the best toy stores on earth. If you are travelling with a baby or toddler, keep in mind that Japanese accommodation tends to be on the small side, so you’ll have to check if your hotel is baby friendly and portable cots are available for your little one. There are breastfeeding and nappy changing rooms in department stores, and Tokyo and Osaka are relatively stroller friendly, though Kyoto’s cobbled lanes and narrow footpaths, not so much.

Step back in time in beautiful Kyoto where your kids will enjoy exploring the mysterious nooks and crannies of castles and its many beautiful temples, up to a point. If temple fatigue does start to set in, you’ll get no complaints with a visit to the stunning tori-gated Fushimi Inari Shrine where they can purchase and decorate fox-faced wooden temple plaques. A visit to the Monkey Park in Arashyama, where the people are put in cages while the monkeys roam free, is another must but for a change of pace, get hands on with the region’s culture. There are kid-friendly classes in samurai etiquette and sword handling, taiko drumming and Japanese cooking, or simply rent a Kimono to stroll through town Geisha style. Kids will also love the novelty of camping out on the futon bedded floors of one of Kyoto’s many traditional Ryokans.

Japan is a winter wonderland offering a huge variety of slopes to suit every age and ability, some of the best powder snow in the world, snow tubing and fun terrain parks just for kids. And it can actually work out to be cheaper than Australia when you are hitting the slopes with the family with all-inclusive packages that offer plenty of bang for your skiing buck. There are plenty of fantastic off piste activities too. In the north on the island of Hokkaido, the Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) sees parks filled with hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures. And at the more centrally located Nagano, on the main island of Honshu, it is almost compulsory to take the kids to visit the icicle clad snow monkeys. Add the unique culture, delicious cuisine, and its relatively close proximity to Australia and you have all the ingredients for the snow holiday of a lifetime.

Tokyo is a fantastic place to travel with teenagers. Not only does it have an incredible history, of the kind that will appeal to teenagers, the coolest of cool fashions, and on trend Manga and Anime everything, Tokyo has plenty of teen friendly drawcards. There are plenty of teen friendly museums based around interactive science and technology, plus plenty of theme parks with hair-raising thrill rides. Busy Shibuya is popular with local and visiting teens with music and manga galore, and at Harajuku it’s as much fun spotting Cosplay kids dressed to impress as it is to hit the cool and quirky stores. At DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, they’ll find a mall that is as much a theatrical space as it is a shopping centre. And if your teens are of the sporty type, take them to watch a Baseball game at Tokyo Dome or a Sumo Match.

Japan has four very distinct seasons but there is no bad time to visit as each is quite beautiful. Spring, from March to May and Autumn, from September to November are the most popular times to visit due to lower rainfall, clear skies and milder temps. Plus the country is a fairy-tale paradise of delicate blossoms in the early Spring and coated in a blaze of colour during Autumn. Winter, from December to February, can be less appealing to some visitors but prices are far more reasonable and smaller crowds can actually make it a great time to visit. It’s also the peak of Japan’s ski season with amazing ice festivals and incredible powder snow sure to appeal to snow loving families. Another thing to take into consideration when planning are Japan’s national holidays, particularly Golden Week (April 29 to May 5) when the whole country goes on holidays, as this can affect your plans.

Getting around Japan is relatively easy with an extremely reliable and punctual network of airlines, trains, ferries and buses. Taxis are also easy to find in cities but are quite expensive. The most efficient way to travel around most of Japan is by train. The Tokyo metro and Kansai metro are linked by punctual network of JR and private rail lines, generally the fastest way of travelling around cities and between towns. High-speed Shinkansen “bullet” trains link major cities and are clean, fast and comfortable. If you’re staying for more than a few days, a Japan Rail Pass, valid for between 7 and 21 days, is extremely good value.

Like everything in Japan, the country’s health care services are of an extremely high international standard. Hospitals and medical centres with professional medical staff are available nationwide, and English speaking practitioners can be found in major cities. Medical fees though are quite high, so it's vital to have comprehensive travel insurance. It is also important to note that some prescription and over-the-counter medications cannot be imported into Japan. Generally, travelling in Japan is safe, no major travel illnesses are prevalent and food and water standards are high so travellers need only need to take the same precautions they would at home. No vaccinations are required to enter Japan however we do recommend that every member of the family should be up-to-date on routine vaccinations before any family holiday. In the event of an emergency please phone 110 to access police services and 119 for fire and ambulance services.

Thought to attract good luck, the ubiquitous lucky cat (Maneki neko) is seen all over Japan and can be purchased in almost every gift shop. Hand fans, folding (ōgi) or non-bending flat fans (uchiwa), make a practical purchase for summer as well as a pretty souvenir of your Japenese adventures. Matcha Kit Kats. Once you’ve tried the delicious green tea flavoured variation of Kit Kats, you’ll be stuffing every nook and cranny of your suitcase full of them. Daruma dolls are round dolls representing good luck, prosperity and accomplishing goals. They are always sold without eyes so the owner can draw the first eye after making a wish and a second after it is fulfilled. Your little warriors can’t leave Japan without a wooden or plastic Samurai sword or ninja costume.

Japanese food is usually well liked by kids and perennial favourites including sushi, tempura, noodle soups and rice and are readily available. Other popular dished for the kids to test their chopstick skills on include Ramen (steaming noodle soup topped with pork), Okonomayaki (thick savoury pancakes), Takoyaki (balls of octopus in fried dough) and yakitori (skewered grilled chicken). And they’ll love ordering their dinner via vending machines. If your kids are sticklers for western food, you’ll also find all the most popular American fast food chians in the larger cities. But rather than giving in to convention why not take them down a quirkier path to dinner? They’ll find Japan’s weird and wonderful themed restaurants irresistible. With everything from Cat, Hedghog and Owl Café’s to whacky Alice in Wonderland and Ninja Restaurants and the truly bizarre Robot Restaurant and Kawaii Monster Café, these only in-Japan eateries are as fun as they are tasty.

Bowing is the traditional Japanese greeting and is used when saying hello, thanking, apologising or asking a favour. Gift giving is a conventional part of Japanese culture. Gifts should be beautifully presented and always given and received with both hands. The suffix san is a title of respect that is added to both male and female names surnames or given names. Similarly, chan is often attached to children's names. When dining out, lift small bowls of rice or soup to your face to prevent dropping food and never directly pass food from your chopsticks to somebody else's chopsticks. It is also considered disrespectful to stand up chopsticks in your food. Instead try to rest them on the table or a plate between mouthfuls. Always take shoes off before entering a persons or home or anywhere with Japanese tatami flooring. You will be given slippers to wear with different slippers for bathrooms.

Japan has a deserved reputation for being one of Asia’s most expensive countries, but don’t let that put you off a visit as there is nowhere in the world quite like Japan. Prices are comparable with holidays in Western Europe and accommodation is the biggest expense. To make your family travel budget stretch that bit further, consider using Airbnb instead of more expensive hotels or Ryokans. If you are planning on staying more than a few days and are travelling around the country it is worth looking into purchasing a JR Rail Pass as this will offer unlimited journeys on all JR Rail, JR Ferry and JR Buses throughout the country which can add up to substantial savings. Food and drink is the easiest place to cut your costs with plenty of cheap, quality meals available throughout the country. You can even dine at higher end restaurants on the cheap as many offer inexpensive set menus during lunch hours.

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