Two weeks in Japan - with a 6 year old
February 26, 2014 12:12 PM   Subscribe

We're flying in and out of Narita at the end of March - and that's pretty much all we have planned at the moment.

Been to Japan a bunch of times. Lots of time in Tokyo. One visit each to Osaka and Kyoto. Skied in Niigata. That was all before kids, or on business trips. Google says there's a metric ton of stuff to do with kids in just Tokyo - should we be spending time in other parts of the country? It looks like Osaka or Nikko can be done in day trips, but this question is mainly motivated by the need to make hotel reservations.

tl;dr - you've marched a kid around Japan - what did they love/hate doing? Did you make it out of Tokyo? If so, where?
posted by NoRelationToLea to Travel & Transportation around Japan (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing that would keep me from going from place to place in Japan is paucity of spacee on the trains for luggage. That always puts a crimp into an elegant plan. Plus it's more expensive over all.

If there is plenty to see and do, from one hotel in Tokyo, I'd do that.

Yes, it would be great to go to the island with all the rabbits. But if you have to ship your luggage ahead, deal with the Shin and all of that...seems like a lot of work to me Uncle Charlie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:24 PM on February 26, 2014

With two weeks, I think it's perfectly feasible to get out of Tokyo. Would your child enjoy seeing the monkey park in Kyoto, feeding the deer in Nara or Miyajima, or watching the penguins at the Nagasaki penguin aquarium? Sakurajima (island with volcano next to Kagoshima) even has it's very own Jurassic Park, though the dinosaurs are made from fibreglass. Really, it all depends on what they're into.

I've never had any problems finding space on the bullet train, even with larger cases. The real pain is lugging it all around stations and getting to your hotel. It's not so bad if you have carry-on size and a backpack. You could opt to forward your luggage to your next destination (super easy and reasonable), or you could leave your main luggage back in Tokyo (hotels will often keep it for you) while you go off on a trip for a few days.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 1:00 PM on February 26, 2014

I loved Miyajima, and I'd recommend it, except that I've been reading reports that the deer are starving. (I'm not going to link to reports, too disturbing.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:14 PM on February 26, 2014

The Studio Ghibli museum and a cat cafe would make most 6 yr olds I know pretty happy!
posted by jrobin276 at 1:28 PM on February 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

A ride on the Shinkansen (whether day trip or changing cities) would make my 6 year old flip out with excitement.

I did a day trip to Kyoto from Tokyo, so that's an option if you don't want to hassle with changing hotels.

Tokyo Disneyland?
posted by Joh at 2:26 PM on February 26, 2014

I enjoyed my stay in Asahikawa, but it's way up north, and you'll need to fly to/from Tokyo. They have a zoo that's famous for their penguins and polar bears. I think your 6-year old would love to see them in frolic in the snow. They have a "penguin parade" at 11am and 3pm everyday.

For a place around Tokyo, I'm seconding the Ghibli Museum suggestion by jrobin276. They have pretty cool animation-related exhibits, and if your kid is a big Totoro fan, there is a huge cat bus which kids can climb and play with at the top floor. The Museum also has a film showing. You can easily spend all afternoon here.

There's Tokyo Disney Sea of course. In Osaka, there's also Universal Studios. Also some stations away from Tokyo is an amusement park called Fuji-Q Highland though I hear this is more geared towards the older kids. I've never been to those three theme parks sadly, so I can't really provide an opinion about them.
posted by Carmine Red at 7:03 PM on February 26, 2014

I think it would be worth it to spend one of the weeks outside of Tokyo. Here are some active things (ie not temples or museums) to do outside of Tokyo arranged from west to east:

Climbing to the top of Miyajima (Hiroshima). There are deer at the base of the island as well as the famous Torii gate and various souvenir shops. It is a nice hike to the top of the island and there are monkeys there. You can then take the ropeway back down to the base of the island. You could also do the reverse and take the ropeway to the top and then hike down. You could also spend some time walking around the Peace Park/Genbaku Dome. While in Hiroshima eat their version of okonomiyaki - it is very good.

Taking a tour of Himeji Castle. There are lots of ladders and places to imagine where archers, ninja and samurai could have been. You could easily stop off at Himeji for a couple of hours on the way to/from Hiroshima.

Osaka Aquarium is really nice. Can easily spend a day there. There is an extremely large ferris wheel right beside it (maybe one of the biggest in the world).

The Grand Sumo Tournament will be taking place in Osaka in March. You owe it to your child to take them to a sumo tournament. The arena in Osaka is close to Shinsaibashi which is the place to enjoy takoyaki. You can top the day off with the ferris wheel at the top of Hep 5 in Umeda. Also, Osaka station has water fountains that tell the time and make pictures with water. Last time I was there I must have spent an hour looking at it (admittedly this was at 7am so there wasn't exactly much else to do).

Taking the train from Arashiyama (Kyoto) to Sagano and then returning via river boat. Also in Arashiyama there is a temple filled with many different jizo (stone statues). Do a google image search for "otagi nunbutsu-ji" (the name of the temple). While in Arashiyama you can also get Geisha/Samurai makeup done, take pictures and walk around in costume.

At Toji temple (near Kyoto station) there is a huge flea market on the 21st of each month. There is a similar market at Kitano shrine (north part of Kyoto) on the 25th of each month. Big variety of things on sale from really expensive antiques to the junkiest of junk. Also lots of food stalls selling festival-type food.

Kyoto has a manga museum. It is also close to Nishiki koji-dori - a food market street that would be an eye and nose-opening experience for anyone.

You can visit Shigaraki in Shiga. This is where all the Tanuki statues come from and they are everywhere here. You can even make your own tanuki statue or other pottery (shigaraki-yaki).

Depending on what days exactly you will be in Japan you may be able to catch some interesting festivals as well.

Now that I've written all of this, I say you hit the Ghibli museum on either the first or last day and then use your rail passes to spend the rest of your time in western Japan.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:00 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For searchers' sake - what did we actually do?

The winner by far was re-connecting with old friends and seeing what their lives are like now that they're in Japan. In general, Facebook sucks, but it's awesome for no other reason than this. Close second is, of course, aimless wandering, getting lost, and generally doing it wrong.

In general, this trip was completely different than previous visits to Japan in that it was almost entirely family/kid focused. There's an entire world of kids/families of which we were completely unaware, previously.

In terms of specific destinations, we went to:


Tokyo Disneyland - more crowded than you would think for a random week day, might have had to do with spring break

Ghibli Museum - pretty good, but mostly tourists

KidZania - a kid sized simulated city, where during either the morning (9-3) or evening (4-9) shift, you either make reservations or queue for 30-60 minute sessions to learn about the jobs with facilitators. Even though only a small fraction of the jobs had English speaking facilitators, our son loved it so much that we went twice.

Edo Wonderland - Edo theme park. Think Ye Olde Japanese Renaissance Faire. Fun, even with zero English. Stayed in a nearby onsen hotel - also, fun

Ueno Zoo - pretty good zoo. Not sure it's a must see, but not bad.

Anime Japan - giant annual Anime show. Glad we went (once), but pretty overwhelming. Not sure I need to go again.

National Museum of Nature and Science - very good science museum. Lots of interactive displays for kids. More focused on the natural world.

Nippon Kagaku Miraikan - emerging science and innovation museum. More focused on space/deep water exploration, robots, etc.

Skiing at Gala Yuzawa - they've got English speaking private lessons available for kids. Decent resort, primary feature is gondola is on the other side of the building from the Shinkansen station.

Legoland Discovery Center - Lego themed indoor playspace, with a really remarkable Lego Tokyo, complete with Godzilla in Shibuya crossing. My kid wasn't that enthusiastic about going, but wound up loving the place


Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan - one of the better aquariums we've seen. They've got a whale shark!

Big Bang Children's Museum - another big hit. They've got a four story jungle gym tower that requires the kids to wear helmets and with climbing features that are too small for adults. You just kind of let them go and pray. Our son couldn't have been happier.

Kids Plaza - another really good kids' museum. Probably better than Big Bang, in general, but lacks the helmet required climbing tower.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:06 PM on April 1, 2014

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