kyoto with kids


With its excellent luxury hotel scene, superb family-friendly dining, and flashily modern cities, Japan is a great choice for an unforgettable family holiday.

Our two-week itinerary allows families to see the very best of this fascinating country without skimping on the creature comforts. From soaking in hot springs to spending cash at super modern malls to riding the world-famous bullet train, this article is your ticket to a dream family break in Japan.

Day 1-4: Tokyo

Tokyo offers so many family-friendly activities, it can be hard to know where to start. Families on a luxury break in Tokyo may find it’s worth booking a private driver or guide to whizz them around the city. Artisans of Leisure is a good bet for bespoke trips that can take kids’ ages and families’ travel style into account. Don’t miss the Akihabara shopping district, where older kids’ eyes will pop at the insane amount of gadgets and parents can browse for the most modern electronics on the market. The Ginza neighborhood, meanwhile, is the place to come for luxury brands and jewelry.

Shopping aside, your family’s visit to Tokyo should also include a tour of the Imperial Palace District, the Ueno neighborhood, with its panda-filled zoo and its impressive Science Museum, and a hands-on experience at the Origami museum. Foodie families on a luxury holiday in Tokyo should be sure to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market (the largest fish market in the world!). Here, visitors can feast on sushi and tuna steaks for breakfast, should they be so inclined. Tokyo has over 220 Michelin-starred restaurants (making it a record breaker), a dozen of them with double or triple stars. Make sure the kids are primed on their table manners, and take them out for their first taste of Wagyu beef at Aragawa, in the Ginza upscale shopping district. For a more relaxing experience, head to one of the many conveyor belt sushi spots, which are fun for kids and usually serve a very high standard of sushi and sashimi.

To see the city from the water, take one of the several luxury river cruises that glide out from Tokyo Bay, taking in major sites while noshing on high-end cuisine. Visitors should also pay a visit to the famous Harajuku neighborhood, where you showcase your trademark style and kids can shop for fabulous fashion. A wealth of toy stores here will appeal to the littlest ones, too.

Where to stay: When you touch down in this super-modern city, take a cab (or, for an extra luxe touch, a limo transfer service–there are several companies offering this service in Tokyo) to your hotel. There are some stellar boutique options in the city, but for luxury family breaks in Tokyo we recommend Mandarin Oriental, in the well-heeled Nihonbashi district. Occupying the upper floors of a Cesar-Pelli-designed skyscraper, the hotel has jaw-dropping views that sweep right out to Mount Fuji (even little ones might be impressed!). The top-notch spa is a worthy place to soak up the view, and parent-child massages and other treatments can help the whole family relax and let any traces of jet-lag fall away. Michelin-starred dining on site means families arriving in Tokyo may be tempted to spend their entire first day and night at the hotel.

 ?Tip: The hotel’s rather ritzy restaurants are perhaps a little formal for families (children’s menus and half-portions of adult meals are available, though), but a babysitting service means parents can get dressed up for a kid-free meal if the mood strikes).


Day 5-8: Hakone

Should you be able to pry yourself away from your luxurious lodgings, visitors to Hakone with kids will find a whole lot of family-friendly things to do. The famous Owakudani Ropeway is unmissable, and the Hakone Open Air Museum was the first outdoor museum to open in the country, impressing kids and their parents since 1969. A luxury trip to Hakone should also include a car and driver to take you to off-the-beaten track beauty spots by nearby lakes and mountains. Bring a picnic of bubbly and other goodies to make it extra special.

Where to stay: There are direct bullet trains (around one hour) to the lovely Japanese lake town of Hakone, but with luggage and family in tow it may be more comfortable to have the airport arrange a transfer. However you arrive, families in Hakone should be sure to check into on of the famously fabulous ryokans here. Offering a uniquely Japanese experience, these inns range from super-simple to high end, and Hakone is home to some of the best in the country. One top option for families in Hakone is Gora Hanaougi a luxury Ryokan where guests can soak in hot spring baths in their own rooms, as they admire stunning views of Mount Fuji and take part in traditional tea ceremonies.

?Box out: Hot Springs

The famous hot springs of Hakone will soothe any stresses, aches, and/or pains. Japanese have been flocking to this hot spring resort for centuries, and with good reason. There are dozens here, supplying the ryokan with water for their all-natural hot tubs, and there are also some lovely public baths that merit a visit. Families on a luxury trip might want to dodge the crowds and take a guided tour out to the several hot springs dotted around the nearby valleys.


Day 9-13: Kyoto

The shinkansen bullet train is an integral part of any trip to Japan, and kids will thrill at the speediness (200 miles per hour!) of the experience. Take the train from Hakone to Kyoto (around 2 hours). Your luxury family vacation in Kyoto should also include kid-pleasing trips to the Ryoanji Rock Garden and samurai headquarters at Nijo Castle. In addition, a luxury cruise down the river is a wonderfully relaxing way to see the sights, gliding past riverbanks covered in sakura (cherry blossom) trees and stopping off to walk through bamboo-lined paths to hidden temples. The Kaiukan Aquarium, one of the largest in the world, is another must-visit, and afterwards see if you can tempt the kids to try octopus dumplings, a popular Japanese snack.

Where to stay:  There are a wealth of good ryokan in Kyoto, but families may wish to return to the more familiar surrounds of a large hotel. One excellent option for a luxury family stay in Kyoto is  the Four Seasons, where beautiful landscaped gardens provide plenty of opportunity for younger travelers to race around imitating the bullet train. The central location and on-site fine dining means guests are well-placed for visiting the many UNESCO-designated temples here.

?Box Out: Taking Tea in Kyoto

The ritual of preparing matcha green tea is considered by the Japanese to be one of the highest art forms around. The ancient art of the tea ceremony has its roots in Kyoto, and there are many places in the city that welcome visitors to join in the ritual. The serenity of the situation makes it a little unsuitable for very young children, but those aged four and over tend to find it fascinating, and parents may find that the promise of wagashi (colorful rice flour sweets) at the end of the ceremony helps keep them on their best behavior.


Day 14: Nara

Take a side trip to Nara (50-minute drive), famed for its enormous Deer Park, where thousands of the animals roam freely through beautiful grounds that spread for miles. Be careful about feeding them though, they can be a little forceful! From here, it’s back to Tokyo (possibly with a side trip to Tokyo Disney to end things on a high note for young ones!) and time to bid goodbye to enchanting Japan.

Where to stay: Nara has a beautiful setting, and families looking to overnight here can find some excellent high-end ryokan. Highlights include the welcoming Matsumae which prides itself on serving wholesome, locally-sourced food in its excellent restaurant, and where comic theater performances and workshops provide entertainment for kids and parents alike.


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Too often, travelers return home with memories of crowded tourist spots devoid of authentic character, toting mass-produced souvenirs in their suitcases. These overrated destinations (Times Square, anyone?!) and corny knick-knacks (do you really need another overpriced T-shirt?) offer little glimpse into one’s cultural experience. It is vital to engage in the traditions of your destination to make the most of your journey. Read on to find ideas perfect for families to bring home meaningful totems that you can make yourself, all while immersing your loved ones in Japanese culture.


? Sampuru

As soon as you begin your journey in Japan, you will notice that elaborate plastic models of Japanese cuisine flank every restaurant window. Phantom limbs hold chopsticks dangling with soba noodles, mini sushi rolls sit lifelessly on plastic trays, and bowls of synthetic soup gleam from inside display cases. Why? Sampuru, which means “sample,” is the Japanese tradition of creating lifelike plastic models of gastronomic fare. Originally made from wax, sampuru were invented in the early 1900s to craft menus before photography was widely used. Although these phenomena may be curious to travelers, they can actually be of great help. Don’t know Japanese? You can simply point to the plastic version of whatever dish you desire and skip the confusion of attempting to order what you like in Japanese.

Where to go:

North of Nagoya: Gujo Hachiman is the undisputed capital of plastic chow in Japan. Here you can shop for models of your favorite Japanese meals and watch plastic professionals craft shrimp tempura and teriyaki bowls. If you’re feeling creative, you can even make your own sampuru at Shokohin Sample Kobo!

Tokyo: Visit Kappabashi, AKA “Kitchen Town,” to find sampuru ranging from unagi keychains to fried egg phone cases to tuna roe magnets. These (often handcrafted) souvenirs can fetch a hefty price, so shop smartly!   

For more food related experiences, look into our route for food loving families traveling to Japan.


? Origami

Origami, literally translated to “folding paper,” is one Japanese tradition familiar to Westerners. Artisans intricately fold colored paper, called washi, to create 3D objects like animals, tiny boxes, and flowers without scissors or glue. The Japanese have practiced the art has since 1680, but origami became especially popular in the West after the paper crane became the symbol of peace. In fact, many believe that if one crafts 1,000 paper cranes, his or her dream will come true—so get to folding!

Where to go:

Tokyo: Many of use have seen paper cranes dangling delicately, but have you learned how to create your own origami menagerie? Seek out a lesson for your kids to craft their favorite creatures. Try the origami class at Origami Kaikan for a mere $4 USD, or just visit the enormous gallery of art featured there. You can also see artists crafting washi here.


? Kintsugi

We’ve all knocked over heirloom vases and cracked favorite coffee mugs. Luckily, the Japanese developed a brilliant way to fix our beloved broken keepsakes over 500 years ago. Kinstugi is the art of fixing damaged items, especially ceramics, by pasting the pieces together with different kinds of colored glazes. The philosophy behind kintsugi is that by repairing items that are broken, we transform the incurred damage rather than mask it. As a result, the flaws become a part of the story and beauty of the object. Kintsugi often come out so exquisitely that Japanese sometimes intentionally break items just so they can practice the art.

Where to go:

Tokyo: Take a kinstugi lesson in Tokyo! Look for deals online for hour-long lessons that provide both materials and instruction. Try booking a lesson through KUGE Crafts, near Shin Koenji in Tokyo. You’ll learn a new skill and take home a unique souvenir—no more kitschy magnets (unless you’re talking sampuru)!


? Shibori

One of Japan’s lesser-known traditional crafts is called shibori, or indigo dyeing. Shibori comes from the Japanese verb shiboru, which means to twist or squeeze. Artisans utilize dark blue dye and unique folding techniques to create patterns on different kinds of textiles. Kanoko shibori is what many Westerners call tie-dye, while nu shibori involves embroidery to create different designs. The earliest evidence of the practice dates to about 700 AD. Both wealthy and poor Japanese have used shibori methods throughout the centuries, albeit on different textiles (silk for the wealthy and hemp for the poor). Before new kinds of dyes were introduced in the 1900s, Japanese craftspeople used indigo dyes almost exclusively.

Where to go:

Kyoto: If you are interested in learning traditional shibori techniques, there are classes offered all around Japan. Visit the Kyoto Shibori Museum, where you can marvel at countless textiles and take a class to dye your own fabric for $30 USD.

Arimatsu: Eight Japanese families that specialized in shibori founded Arimatsu in the early 1600s, and the town has been known for the craft ever since. There is even a shibori festival there in June!


? Make Your Own Ramen

You won’t be in Japan long until you notice the ubiquity of steamy noodle dishes. Originating in China, ramen has become one of the most popular eats in Japan during the recent decades. Cheap, delicious, and made to order, ramen is a stupendous choice for families traveling with children. Although sampuru might help you figure out what you are actually ordering from the menu, chances are you might end up with a mystery dish or two. From pork belly to fermented bamboo shoots to fried eggs, there are countless concoctions for every palate, even the fussiest eaters!

Where to go:

Outside of Kyoto: Visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (the same company that makes the famous Cup o’ Noodles), where you can design your own flavor of ramen and take it home with you! For around $3 USD, you can invent your own ramen recipe by combining different noodles, spices, and toppings.


? Shabu Shabu

After you wrap up your signature ramen dish at the Momofuku Museum, beeline straight to the closest shabu shabu joint you can find. There, you and yours will cook different kinds of vegetables and meats in a pot of boiling water heated on your table. The sound of the boiling eats is the origin of the name shabu shabu. The most traditional shabu shabu meal includes beef, seaweed, and mushrooms garnished with soy sauce and pickled carrots. Like ramen, shabu shabu has Chinese origins but has become increasingly popular in Japan over the last century. Dining in the shabu shabu style offers an interactive culinary experience perfect for families desiring an immersive experience in Japanese culture.

Where to go:

Tokyo: there are endless options for shabu shabu in Tokyo (and all around the country!). Try Nabe-zo, an all-you-can-eat shabu shabu smorgasbord, complete with dumplings and ice cream, for about $25 USD. They even give discount for children! There is a catch: Nabe-zo is all you can eat… in 100 minutes! Another similar all-you-can-eat option is called Mo-mo Paradise. For those with a higher budget, try the upscale Imafuku restaurant.


? Chakai and Chaji

Tea is a focal point in many Asian countries, and Japan is no exception. Your Japanese excursion will be incomplete until you experience an authentic tea ceremony. Based on Zen Buddhist tenets, the custom of tea ceremonies began during the 16th century. Since then, many different kinds of rituals have evolved, although every ceremony involves drinking green matcha (powdered) tea and nibbling on sweets. Chakai are informal, which chaji are elaborate rituals that can take hours. The ceremonies will also differ depending on the season. Those officiating the ceremonies will teach you how to stir, smell, and ultimately drink the tea.

Where to go:

Tokyo: Tea ceremonies can last anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours, so be sure to pick the ritual based on your family’s preferences.  Try Kyoto-kan, which offers quick and cheap ($4 USD) ceremonies between Friday-Sunday from 12:30-16:30. Make sure you secure reservations for groups larger than five. For a more elaborate ceremony, try Nadeshiko, where they’ll deck you out in an authentic kimono for $38 USD.


? Onsen

One of the most popular traditional pastimes in Japan is relaxing in one of the 3,000 of the country’s onsen, or natural hot springs. Located on the border of two shifting tectonic plates, Japan contains a collection of over 110 active volcanoes (including the famous Mount Fuji), creating the plethora of geothermal activity which heat onsen. Visiting onsen is a traditional Japanese activity (akin to human ramen soup?), prescribing certain practices Westerners should follow: always bathe before entering the pools, keep the onsen quiet and relaxed (no belly flops!) and never take photographs. Tattoos were traditionally banned in most onsen, but with the onset of increased Western tourism, many onsen operators will allow visitors with ink—so do not fear if you have some residual adolescent tats.

Where to go:

Okuhida: Okuhida is well-known for its high concentration of geothermal activity, which allows travelers to visit many different kinds of onsen in a small area. Okuhida also offers access to the Japanese Alps, so many like to hike and then relax afterwards in onsen.

Tokyo: For a traditional onsen experience, try Myojin no Yu in eastern Tokyo. Need a midnight soak? Try Kodai no Yu, which is open 24 hours a day—you can even rent an entire room for your brood.

Japan is known for its high-tech bullet trains, delectable sushi offerings, and traditional samurai and geisha culture; however, there are endless opportunities to explore the natural phenomena peppering the islands. From sakura (cherry blossoms) to geothermal hot springs to the snowy peak of Mount Fuji, families seeking to explore the great outdoors will have no shortage of options in Japan.

Quick layout of Japan:

There are four main islands in Japan—along with over 6,000 smaller ones!

∴ Hokkaido is in the northernmost main island. The most famous city on Hokkaido is Sapporo.
∴ Honshu is the largest island. The famous metro areas of Tokyo and Kyoto are here.
∴ Shikoku is south of Honshu.
∴ Kyushu is the southernmost main island. The main city here is called Fukuoka.



Most travelers begin their Japanese jaunt from the international airports in Tokyo. Although this city isn’t famous among nature-lovers, it is worth spending the first few days recovering from jet lag in Japan’s capital. There are even a few spots to escape from the concrete jungle within Tokyo. Firstly, no trip to Tokyo is complete without exploring Ueno Park, conveniently located right next to a metro station. In the spring, the park offers a stunning view of sakura (over 800 trees!), while those traveling in autumn have a chance to bask in fall colors. Here, children can climb all kinds of native Japanese trees and listen for birdcalls. Shinobazu Pond is a lake full of lotus flowers in the center of the park. Next, try Todoroki Valley, another special nature retreat within Tokyo, only minutes from Todoroki metro station. Enjoy a stroll through the scenic, lush park on the cobblestone paths and make countless stops for tea! Finally, check out the Imperial Palace, where you can rent bikes for free (!) on Sundays between 10 AM and 3 PM at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. There are tandem bikes available as well! The closest subway station is Nijubashi off the Chiyoda Line.

Transportation: Traveling within Tokyo is simple on the Tokyo metro. A 24-hour ticket costs about $6 USD, or you can pay per trip if you are traveling short distances.

Day Trip from Tokyo: Oshima Island

Take a sleeper ferry from Tokyo to Oshima Island to see volcanoes. The active volcano Mount Mihara crowns Oshima island, which is also known for its snorkeling and hot springs. If you’re visiting between January and March, look out for gorgeous camellia flowers! You can also camp overnight if you wish to visit to more remote locales like the Ogasawara Islands. Of course, there are onsen (hot springs) here as well to relax after hiking.

Transportation: Catch a ferry from Takeshiba Ferry Terminal in Tokyo. Tickets cost $60 USD each way—just make sure to check schedules as departures can be limited depending on the season.


Once you’ve gotten settled in Japan, venture outside of Tokyo to soak in some greenery! Take a trip to Okutama and leave the frenetic energy of the city to bask in the serenity of Mount Mitake, Lake Okutama, and Mount Kumotori. From Hantosu station, stroll around the Tama River and over the bridge. Hantosu Valley is a great introduction to the Okutama area. Then, head to the Nippara Limestone Cave. Hop on a bus from Okutama to reach these natural limestone caves and pay $7 USD for admission. Teach your little ones about stalactites and stalagmites in the cool cavern air. You can also try fishing for your lunch on the Tama River. You can rent fishing equipment in Hikawa and cooks can grill trout to your delight.

Transportation: The train will cost $9 USD from Shinjuku Station and take two hours to reach Okutama. Make sure to check schedule, as this route isn’t traveled as much as some other destinations outside of Tokyo.


Mount Fuji

To experience Japan’s most impressive natural sight, take your family to visit 3,776 meter-tall Mount Fuji. The best time to visit Mount Fuji for hikers is July to early September. The most famous trail is the Yoshida trail, but there are three other trails that are often less crowded (Subashiri, Gotemba, and Fujinomiya). The most popular week is the first week in August, so traveling to Mount Fuji at the beginning and end of the season will offer the most solitude on the trails. Even if you are not planning on hiking, the view of the mountain alone makes the trip a must for nature enthusiasts. Many people travel to Mount Fuji to celebrate Shogatsu, or New Year in early January. During this time, family and friends exchange gifts and enjoy endless bowls of soba noodles. From March to May, rosy pink sakura are on display during the Hanami festival.

Transportation: This snow-capped peak is 130 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, and easily reached by train or bus–Mount Fuji is only about 2.5 hours from Tokyo by bus. Buses leave regularly during hiking season, but if you are traveling at other times you may need to transfer. There are also numerous Japan Railway (JR) trains that go to Mount Fuji. However, trains are not recommended because they cost much more than buses.

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Okuhida: Hot Springs

After a grueling visit to Mount Fuji, it is imperative to relax in some nearby onsen. Okuhida offers views of the Japanese Alps along with countless spots for soaking in onsen after hiking around Mount Fuji. There are five towns around Okuhida, each complete with a natural hot spring. Let the family unwind in a myriad of natural geothermal waters. The popular dish to try here is mountain vegetables with beef. There are also numerous multi-day backpacking trips that begin in the foothills of the Japanese Alps.

Transportation: There are buses between the many onsen in Okuhida.  You can buy bus passes for unlimited travel during your multi-day stay in Okuhida. There is a bus from Tokyo to Hirayu, near Okuhida, which takes about 4.5 hours and costs $50 USD. You can spend several days in Okuhida before heading to Nagoya on your way to Kyoto.



Kyoto is well-known for its iconic golden palace (Kinkaku-ji) and whizzing bullet trains. Just like Tokyo, however, Kyoto has a few natural havens within its bounds. It is worth seeing a few temples because they are often surrounded by impeccable gardens, and below are a few more destinations for outdoor enthusiasts. Firstly, invite your family to marvel at the impressive bamboo grove in the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, which is complete with its own gang of monkeys. Children will love peering at the Japanese macaques monkeying around in Arashiyama! You can even witness park officials feeding monkeys throughout the day—a sure favorite with kids. A short hike along the Hozu River here offers views of Japanese macaques along with panoramic views of nearby Kyoto.

Transportation: You can take an express bus from Hirayu station near Okuhida to Nagoya, a city in the southern part of Honshu. From there, hop on another bus to Kyoto. There are many bus lines, but this trip will cost $50 USD. From Kyoto, take the Hankyu line to Arashiyama station. Make sure you reserve your bus tickets in advance if possible.


? Box out: Hokkaido: Daisetsuzan National Park

Hokkaido is the wildest and least-populated of the major Japanese islands. The entire island is studded with bike paths, hiking trails, and untouched wilderness. Here you will also find the best skiing in Japan—not to mention the best ramen. The national park is the optimal beginning to an expedition through Hokkaido’s natural wonders. From Tokyo, you can travel north to the island of Hokkaido to visit Daisetsuzan National Park. Search for deer and brown bears here in the park along numerous hikes that meander through pines. The park boasts numerous onsen and mountains to climb, and offers some of Japan’s most impressive displays of fall colors—plenty of leaf-crunching for the little ones!

Transportation: Since Hokkaido is so far north, the best way reach the national park is by plane from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) to Asahikawa Airport (AKJ). From there it is a short ride to the national park where you can stay for a week exploring the acres of trails and wildlife watching. You can also travel by road from Tokyo to Sendai, in northern Honshu, where you can catch a ferry to Tomakomai in Hokkaido, and then travel by road again to reach the national park. Either way, it will cost at least $150 USD to reach the park from Tokyo.

Travel Options in Japan:

Travelling in Japan is quite different than in other parts of Asia. Countries like Nepal, India, and Thailand are notorious for lengthy, bumpy bus rides that can often take hours to cover just a few kilometers. On the other hand, traveling in Japan is flawless, clean, and speedy. Japan is one of the most expensive countries in Asia. Transportation is the most budget-busting aspect of travel in Japan, so if you can think of the bullet trains and ferry rides as integral parts of your journey you can appreciate them more and accept the high costs more readily. Although traveling in Japan might be simpler than in other Asian countries, it can be difficult to find competent English speakers in Japan. Police officers and train agents can often only speak a few English phrases. It is important to have a good idea where you are going before you begin your intra-national journeys.

Rail: Bullet trains are the easiest, cleanest, and fastest way to travel in Japan; however, ticket prices can be high. For weeks of travel, consider investing in a rail pass that will offer unlimited travel for certain periods of time.
Boat: Although ferries are not a cheap way to travel between islands in Japan, they do offer a unique chance to see the Japanese archipelago from the ocean. One of the most scenic routes is between Osaka to Hiroshima, costing about $85 USD.
Plane: All four major islands in Japan have domestic airports. There are also two international airports in Tokyo, along with international airports in Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. There are many smaller airports in Japan that offer flights between China or Korea and Japan.
Bus: You can also buy multi-day bus passes if you prefer traveling on the highway. Japan Railways, the same company that operates trains, has a bus company that links most major cities in Japan.