japan food


Japan at its Cutest

Throw on your unicorn onesie – Japan embraces all that is kawaii (cute), making the country a top destination for families with little princes and princesses in tow. From bubblegum-bright cafes to fairytale-esque castles, giant robot unicorn statues and restaurants where diners get the royal treatment, Japan has a whole to offer those with a taste for all things sweet and whimsical. And let’s not forget that this is a nation with its own real-life monarchy, so visitors can take a peek at royal residences, even if they’re unlikely to be invited to dance with Prince (or Princess) Charming at a royal ball. Read on for our guide to harnessing your inner unicorn and enjoying Japan at its whimsical best.  

Dine in Wonderland With Alice

Fans of Lewis Carroll’s rabbit-chasing heroine will be in for a treat in Japan. Alice is so popular in the country that there are not one but five Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurants, four of which are in Tokyo, while Alice in Fantasyland, in Osaka, offers a chance to enjoy the Alice dining experience outside the capital. Each restaurant in the Alice chain has its own take on the classic tale, but running themes are giant book-cover doorways, teacup-shaped seats and tables, waitresses in Alice costumes, and a menu designed to resemble a giant pop up book. The menu has dishes themed around familiar characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, and given their sweet design, it’s perhaps no surprise that desserts are a strong suit. Set meals start at around US$20, or roughly 20,000 yen.

Go Unicorn Spotting

Few parents can have failed to notice that unicorns are a big deal with kids right now, and indeed, what’s not to love about these mythical horned beauties? Unicorn-loving families in Japan can check into a Unicorn Hotel in Nagano City. The capital of Nagano Prefecture, known for its snow and skiiing as well as its beautiful palaces and temples and its near-mythical monkeys, Nagano is slightly off  the beaten tourist track but a good option for families, who can opt to stay at the pleasingly affordable (rooms from around $70, or roughly 7.600 yen) Hotel Unicorn. Although the unicorn theme doesn’t extend much beyond the name and the hotel’s logo, this friendly lodge does have cute, traditional Japanese design with some nice colorful touches and comfy family rooms. At Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku (the Tokyo neighborhood famed for its crazily colorful street fashions), the staff flitting between the rainbows and carousels of the uber-kitsch interior are actually dressed as unicorns.

But these mythical beasts don’t have be sweet and girly – fans of classic Japanese anime series Gundam can revel in the sight of a full-scale replica Unicorn Gundam statue – a 19.7 meter unicorn robot in front of DiverCity Tokyo Plaza on the man-made island of Odaiba, which is far from cutesy (and transforms dramatically from ‘Unicorn Mode’ to ‘Destroyer Mode’ several times daily, drawing quite the crowd each time).

Check into a Fairytale Hotel

Even the grownups will feel like teeny tiny fairies or pixies when they check into Aso Farm Land in Kumamoto, (rooms from $200, or roughly 2,600 yen), where the super-cute individual domes are shaped like strawberries, gingerbread houses, dinosaur eggs and other cute-as-a-button designs. There are play areas galore, and hot volcanic springs to soothe away any stresses and strains of family travel in Japan.

Meanwhile, at Yufuin Floral Village Hotel in Oita (rooms from around $38), guests can stroll around streets that look straight out of a fairy tale set in a quaint English village. With a lovely mountain backdrop, stores themed around the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Peter Rabbit and the Moomins,this is a sweet and very kawaii place to stay, but – bad news guys – it’s women (and children) only.

Box out: Deserted theme park

Until recently,  explorers in Japan could  make like Scooby Doo and snoop around an abandoned theme park, complete with fairy castles. Nara Dreamland which opened in the 1960s in a bid to emulate the success of Disneyland California, and was almost a carbon copy of the Disney original, transplanted to Nara, the former Japanese capital. Visitor numbers began to drop with the opening of a bone-fide Disneyland Tokyo in the 1980s, however, and the subsequent DisneySea and Universal Studios Japan (in nearby Osaka) were the last nails in the park’s coffin. It closed for business in 2006 but became a favorite haunt of photographers looking for artsy shots. Check out these from French snapper Romain Veillon, taken just before the park was demolished in 2017.


Japan’s modern metropolis is packed with Kawaii attractions and activities. Of course, the truly big ticket attractions are Disneyland Tokyo and Tokyo DisneySea and the magic kingdom has all the dreamy palaces and fairy adventures families could wish for. Leaving Disney (and huge crowds) aside, Tokyo has cuteness in spades. There not one but four Alice in Wonderland cafés (the simply-named Alice, in Kabukichu, scores extra parent-pleasing points for its excellent cocktails);  as well as a very Instagrammable Beauty and the Beast Cafe in Yokahoma, designed to resemble the beast’s castle, complete with chandeliers and suits of armour. Upping the cuteness factor, and sure to appeal to young children as well as grown up Beatrix Potter fans is the delightful Peter Rabbit Garden Cafe in Jiyugaoka; whose impressive attention to detail includes abundant stuffed toys, English garden party themed decor, and a menu designed like one of Potter’s classic books. If there’s ever a way to convince young children to eat their greens, surely it’s by telling them that they’re straight from Farmer McGregor’s garden? The dishes even come complete with edible bunny ears.

Leaving the world of fiction behind, families in Tokyo can try to catch a glimpse of real-life royalty at the Imperial Palace, which sits amid large, moated gardens in the center of the city close to Tokyo Station. While the inner gardens are closed to the public most of the year, they are opened on January 2 and December 23, when huge crowds draw to see the Imperial Famil appear on their grand balcony. The rest of the year, visitors to Tokyo can take a guided tour of the outer gardens, or just stroll around admiring the grand architecture and letting the kids burn off some energy racing over the bridges.

Families with cash to splash in Tokyo will find the Cinderella-themed rooms at TokyoDisney every bit as fabulously flamboyant as young princesses could dream of, but if you don’t have tens of thousands of yen to spend on a room, a decent affordable family hotel near ToykoDisney is the unusually-named Family Resort Fifty’s for Maihama (rooms from $37). Although the decor is dated, they’re spacious enough, there’s free WiFi and buffet breakfast, and it’s walking distance from the Magic Kingdom.

Box out: Butler and Maid Cafes

They’re not to everybody’s taste, for sure, but one curiosity about Tokyo’s dining scene is the potential to be waited on like real life princes and princesses at opinion-dividing Maid Cafes and Butler Cafes. At the former, young girls dolled up in cutesy maid costumes pander to client’s dining whims as though they were landed gentry, while at the latter it’s a similar affair, but with smart young men dressed up as butlers. Should you be curious, the pick of the bunch is probably Butler’s Cafe, in Shibuyu, where female diners are addressed as ‘My Princess’ by the uber-attentive ‘butlers’ and  even get to wear a tiara as they enjoy being waited on hand and foot.

Japan can be overwhelming and overcrowded, especially at high-season. Travelers in Japan often find themselves confused and lost, and so they miss so much of what this incredible country has to offer. These tips will help you cope better as a family, and save a lot of time, effort, ragged nerves, and frustration:

 – Book everything in advance- Large parts of Japan are overcrowded a lot of the time, so many establishments are completely booked out. That extends to more than just the obvious hotels and flights, but also to museums (such as the Hayao Miyazgi/Ghibli museum in Tokyo), other theme/amusement parks, and trains.

For trains, even if you a railway pass (which is highly recommended to buy online before you even get to Japan), you should still book you place in advance. The general rule is that when you get to a new city, if you know how many days you’ll be there, go and book your place on the train to the next city that same day. If you don’t know how long you’ll stay, or where you’ll go to next, do it once you decide.

 – Carry a few plastic bags with you- In Tokyo there are no trash cans in the street, so travelers often find themselves with nowhere for their trash.

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 – Have raincoats with you always- You never know when it’ll start drizzling in Japan, you you don’t your sushi to get wet.

 – Don’t worry about food- If one of your kids is a picky eater- have no fear! in Japan you can always find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks nearby

 – One Samurai castle is enough.

 – Ta-Q-Bin – Is a service that ship your suitcases for you! You go into a convenience store (like 7/11), ask if they have this service (most do), fill a form and pay a small fee, and they’ll ship your suitcases for you to your next destination, straight to your hotel or Airbnb. They’ll even carry it up the stairs for you! This way you don’t have to drag those huge suitcases around the train station.

They will also hold your suitcases for up to a week before shipping them, so you can pack a small bag and stop in a few fun spots on the way to your destination without having to carry a huge bag with you everywhere.

Ta-Q-Bin also operates in many other Asian countries and even carries packages internationally.



This article was written with the help of Gily Avishay who spent a long time in Japan.


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).

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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.