High-tech, colorful, and safe, Japan is an enticing option for a month-long family break, and it really impresses o n the food front, too. There’s a lot more to this dazzling country than ramen and raw fish (although noodle-loving kids will be in their element) and the super-speedy bullet trains mean it’s fast and easy to zip between foodie destinations on a trip to Japan with kids. Follow our 30-day itinerary for the perfect foodie family break in Japan.
Tip: Get yourself a Japan Rail Pass before your trip, this is the most cost and time-effective way for families to get around the country
For more tips- please check our 5 best japan tips for traveling families
Day 1-8 Tokyo
Foodie families coming to Japan with kids should set aside at least a week to explore all that Tokyo has to offer. The ultra-modern capital city is big, busy and packed with family attractions so allow time to do it justice. Most high-end restaurants in Tokyo are aimed squarely at grown-up diners, but there are plenty of family-oriented options, as well as simple local spots that are happy to cater to kids. Tokyo has a reputation for being pricey, but there are some surprisingly budget-friendly ways to eat out with kids in Tokyo, from department store dinners to hole-in-the-wall noodle joints.
Of course, you can’t come to Tokyo without eating sushi, and the best sushi spots for kids tend to be those with conveyor belts (Kaiten Sushi) where younger members of the family are sure to enjoy the spectacle of food whizzing along, and being able to grab the dishes they want is helpful for families with fussy eaters (and neatly avoids language barrier issues). One good option is Nemuro Hanamaru, whose location at Marunouchi is handy for both Tokyo train station and the Imperial Palace.
Sweet-toothed kids (and their parents) should make a point of visiting the Jiyugaoka neighborhood, which has a mouth-wateringly large number of fancy patisseries. Be sure to check out Sweets Forests, which brings together several high-end pastry shops under one roof, showcasing the culinary talents of award-winning pastry chefs who create dazzling and delicious sweet treats.
A real treat for fans of the Studio Ghibli animated films is the Straw Hat Cafe, at Mitaka’s Ghibli Museum. Set in a pretty park, the cafe recreates dishes that are memorably enjoyed in Ghibli films such as Spirited Away (rice balls) and Howl’s Moving Castle (bacon and eggs). The whole place has a wonderfully whimsical vibe that Ghibli-lovers will lap up.
? Tsukji Fish Market
Another spectacle for foodie visitors in Tokyo with kids is the world’s largest fish market, at Tsukiji – get here at dawn for super-fresh catches and a chance to catch the famous ‘tuna auction’ – it’s so popular that admission is limited to two lots of 60 potential tuna-buyers, keen to snap up the freshest fish of the day.
Day 9-10: Yokohama
From Tokyo, it’s only a half-hour ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Yokahoma, using your Japan Rail Pass. This cosmopolitan seafront city has a large Chinatown, where some 200 or so traditional restaurants offer a chance to try fiery Sichuan dishes, Taiwanese cuisine or huka-ryori (the Japanese take on Chinese food). It’s a fun city to explore, too, and kids are sure to appreciate a day on the beach at Kamakura. As one might expect, there’s some good seafood to be enjoyed here.
Day 11: Nagoya
It’s all about the bullet train again for the 2.40 minute trip to Nagoya, where the family friendly attractions include an impressive car museum and a beautiful hilltop castle. Foodie treats for families in Nagoya include the vegan offerings at Nangoku Kitchen Puca Puca, whose parent-pleasing attributes include all-natural ingredients, age-tailored baby food, a kids’ space and the opportunity to have an organic herb facial while the kids are distracted by books and toys. (Shh, don’t tell the kids it’s vegan if that’s likely to put them off, the dishes are so yummy they won’t notice).
Day 12-17: Kyoto
It’s less than 40 minutes on the Shinkansen to the big ticket tourist attractions of Kyoto, famously home to some of Japan’s most picture-perfect temples and shrines. Visitors in Kyoto with kids may find that seeing the city by bike is a fun way to get around, and there are plenty of foodie adventures to be had here. Amid the sushi and ramen joints are a surprisingly large number of Italian restaurants, which may be something of a sanctuary for picky kids after a few hours spent goggling at the curious foodstuffs on offer at Nishiki Market, which sprawls over 5 downtown blocks and sells everything from insanely expensive Matsutake mushrooms to dried and fresh seafood.
? Often known as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, Nishiki market is over 700 years old, and is the shopping destination of choice for the city’s top chefs. Adventurous eaters will be in their element – sample weird and wonderful fruits, or treats such as baby octopus on a stick. Many vendors hand out samples for free, so it’s a good opportunity to try out new tastes.
Tip: Before booking a hotel for your vacation, read this post. It might save you some money.
Day 16-20 Osaka
Packed with kid-friendly attractions and just 15 minutes from Kyoto by bullet train, Osaka is a must-visit for families in Japan, and there are some top culinary draws here too, not least of which is Dotunburi, a bright and bustling hotbed of streetfood activity, where must-eat treats include takoyaki (battered, seasoned octopus chunks) and Yamaimo-yaki (yam-flour pancakes filled with pork, fish or other savory treats). This bustling street can be something of an assault on the senses, but children tend to enjoy the bright colors and food-as-theater. Prices start low, at about 400 yen for a plate of street snacks.
Day 20-22: Nara
It’s roughly 40 minutes on the bullet train to Nara, and the big draw for people coming to Nara with kids is the famous deer park, where some 1500 of the handsome creatures stroll around, and there are some instagram-fabulous temples, too. Foodwise, it’s something of a big deal too. The first capital of Japan, Nara has long been a powerhouse of Japanese cuisine. Local specialties include eel and fermented fish, but kids in Nara might be more interested in the Nara nyumen – a soothing somen noodle soup.
Tip: Street vendors sell ‘deer biscuits’ near Nara Deer Park – be careful if you’re carrying them though, as many of the deer aren’t shy about quite aggressively helping themselves.
Day 22-25: Himeji
Beef lovers, welcome to your culinary heaven. Himeji (roughly two hours by train, or 1 hour 30 by car) is all about the Kobe, which is sizzled over a hot plate in front of hungry customers at grill restaurants across the city. While it’s not super-cheap, the revered Wagyu beef is much more affordable here in its homeland than elsewhere in the world). For quality meat, set meals and English speaking staff, try the popular Steak Land, where a small steak with sides will cost around 4000 yen. The other big appeal here is the beautiful castle, which is sure to fire younger kids’ imagination.
Day 24-29: Okinawa
Foodie families can round off their Japanese adventure in style with a few days on the gorgeous white sand beaches of Okinawa Island. Flights leave from Kobe airport (Himeji’s neighboring town, less than 15 minutes by train), and there are inexpensive flights with Skymark (best prices around 5,500 yen) to the capital, Naha. Along with breathtaking beaches and excellent swimming and snorkelling potential, with tropical fish galore.
An important trade link between China, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia, Okinawa cuisine incorporates influences from all these places, and the local diet – rich in tofu, vegetables and seafood – is said to contribute to the locals’ extremely high life expectancy. Elsewhere, visitors in Okinawa with kids will find lots of easy eats such as ice cream and French fries, should the kids not be enticed by the freshest grilled fish imaginable.
Day 30 Tokyo
Several low-cost operators make the flight (around 2.30 hours) from Naha back to Tokyo, where you can jump on your return flight back, or spend an extra day and night tucking into some last delicious ramen bowls and other foodie delights.
One thing to remember: Eating or drinking (or talking on the phone) is actually not allowed on the train.