When you are thinking about a trip to Tokyo, you will not only have to think about the not inconsiderable cost of the ticket, you also have to think about a lot of other things. Especially since you are probably bringing your kids. After all, that is the reason for this blog: To help people navigate Japan and Asia when traveling with kids.
After all, you are going to meet a culture that is as different from yours as it gets in modern industrialized societies. No wonder you are excited. And nervous. So here are some questions I have seen people ask, and that they have asked me, about their visit to Tokyo. I will probably make a separate post about traveling to Japan in general, and feel free to ask more questions in the comment field below.
Let me try to answer them one by one.
1. Where Should You Stay?
Japan has great hotels. And some ryokan, the traditional guest houses, are the friendliest places on Earth. Japanese hospitality can be second to none. But nowadays, especially in Tokyo, there is also a lot of options for traveling families through AirBnB. If that is how you intend to stay, rent a house rather than an apartment. You may not be able to stay as centrally as you had planned, but with children a short train ride from the center will not matter when you are going ”home”. And the dining options will be as good, or even better for families. I wrote a blog post some time ago about how to select the best area and place to stay.
2. How Long Should You Stay?
Tokyo is a big city - by some counts the biggest city in the world. It is not possible to see everything in the city in a lifetime. Not even if you consider narrowing it down. Especially if you include eating. Japanese food have so many variations and combinations that it is literally impossible to try them all. Even in the long Japanese lifetime.
So you need at least one week if you are just skimming the surface. Two weeks if you do not plan to come back in the next few years, because not only is this a huge city, it changes constantly, even if some parts have remained the same for hundreds of years. But a week is minimum.
3. Have You Considered How Long Time It Takes To Get There From The Airport?
Knowing where you are going in Tokyo is an important part of planning, and something you should think through very carefully before leaving home. That first day you will be jetlagged, and so will your children. Minimizing the stress and effort is going to be crucial for your experience - that day and the rest of the stay. If you are coming in to Narita Airport late in the day, consider going to the city of Narita and staying the night there. It is actually a quite nice city. If you are coming to Haneda airport, consider the airport hotel.
4. How Should You Get Around?
There is really only one travel choice in Tokyo: The train. It goes anywhere and very few attractions are more than a few minutes walk from a train station. And the trains are frequent. Once every two minutes during rush hour on some lines, more frequently every 10 minutes.
5. Will My Child Be At Risk Of Dehydration?
Yes, in summer. It is easy to underestimate how hot it can get, and it gets even hotter inside a stroller, especially if you have a sun shade that covers the entire stroller. Take care and make sure they drink properly, and check that they are not listless or unresponsive. Stay indoors if you are worried, and take trains and taxis instead of exposing your child to the heat.
6. Will My Child Be At Risk Of Freezing?
Yes, in winter. Children will scream and complain so much that you will change the environment just to cut the noise when they are freezing, different from heatstroke. But make they sure they are dry and wrapped in a warm cover, and you are pretty sure they will be OK.
7. Are There Any Seasonal Attractions You Should Plan To See?
Broadly speaking, the cherry blossom and the fall colors. There are some places which you should not miss in season, like the Ueno Park during cherry blossom, the Ikenohata lotus pond (next to Ueno Park) when the lotus flowers, and Mt Takao in fall. But generally speaking, the famous sights in Tokyo will not be seasonal. But of course, Japanese tourists flock to them as well.
That said, some sights are only available some seasons. There are no snow festivals and no snow monkeys like those in Nagano are wild animals and go back to the forest when the winter ends. But while it is possible to surf all year round, you can only go whalewatching from the Chiba coast in spring.
8. Do People Really Sleep On The Floor? Are There No Beds?
Yes, they sleep on mattresses rolled out on the floor. Saves space and is surprisingly comfortable. And makes co-sleeping natural. But in modern houses there are beds.
9. Do I Need To Plan For Rain?
It can rain on any holiday anywhere. Witness the biologist who went to the Atacama desert in Chile, the second driest place on Earth, and was met by a rainstorm.
Japan is a lot wetter than the Atacama desert and it does rain a lot, especially during the rainy season and winter. But you do get occasional rainshowers at all times of year. So bring your rubber boots and rsincoats, and be prepared for rain. Or do one of the seven things I recommend for a rainy day.
10. Should I Plan Any Day Trips?
Yes, you should. While there is lots to discover in Tokyo, there are things you will not be able to see in Tokyo proper. Japanese people typically go either to the mountains or the sea in summer, to escape the heat which can be truly oppressive in August. Just going to Mt Takao which is only an hour from Shinjuku will bring relief. But be careful what time of day you travel - you really want to miss rush hour.
11. So Where Are Good Places To Go For Day Trips?
Here are a few places you should go if you want to make a day trip from Tokyo:
- Kamakura. The Great Buddha is not the biggest buddha statue in Japan, but this little seaside town is worth a visit for other reasons as well.
- Nikko. This is where the founder of the precursor to modern Japan is buried. His mausoleum is well worth the visit, and with the express train it is only two hours from Tokyo.
-Hakone. This hot spring resort area is at the foot of an active volcano, but it only erupts poisonous gas. Make sure your kids do not run into the roped-off areas.
12. Should I Bring A Stroller?
For Tokyo streets, a stroller is not a problem. Getting onto trains and subways is also easy. There are elevators in all stations, although maybe not where you are.
13. Do I Need Car Seats?
If you are going to rent a car, kids up to the age of six are supposed to be in car seats, or at least booster seats. But in trains and buses, there is no way of using them; and taxis are exempt from the rule. So unless you are going to drive, you do not need it.
14. Are There Dangerous Diseases You Could Catch In Japan?
Not really. While there were a couple of incidents of Dengue fever in Tokyo a few years ago, those were probably an infected person being bitten by a mosquito and spreading it to others. Most contagious diseases are controlled in Japan, and measles is considered exterminated. Be careful not to contaminate others.
15. So Why Is It Called Japanese Encephalitis?
It was discovered in Japan, but today it is extremely rare. West Nile Fever is more common in the US than around the Nile, so names of diseases are not as important as you think.
16. Where Can I Buy Diapers?
In Japan, the best place to look for diapers is the drugstores. Not pharmacies, who sell specialized types of medicine; and not supermarkets, who sell food.
17. Can I Use My Credit Card To Pay In Hotels And Shops?
Yes. With some exceptions. While there used to be an issue with foreign credit cards, that is gone. But there are many stores, especially smaller ones, that do not take any other payments than cash.
18. Do I Need To Carry My Passport At All Times?
Yes, you do. Not only are you required by law, and it does happen that police asks to see it. One reason Japan is such a fantastically safe country is that there is police stations everywhere, and the police will not only help people who are lost, they will also check on anything suspicious. But there is an even better reason: Many stores give you a discount if you show your passport.
19. Are There Food My Child Can Eat In Restaurants?
Yes, many restaurants have a kids menu. There are types of restaurants which focus on families, if you go there you will be well served. Smaller restaurants may not have the choice and they also may not have a non-smoking section. And if you have a picky eater on your hands, there is always rice.
Just remember small kids should not eat fresh things. Sushi is not only fresh, and there is also vegetable sushi. The wasabi is also very spicy in a very fiery way. And you also want to avoid the mustard and chili oil (laju) in Chinese restaurants, and Korean food is usually spicier than kids will like.
20. Isn’t Japan Very Expensive?
It used to be. But now you can get by on 5000 yen per day, including accommodation (although it will be very basic). That is about 47 USD, 38 Euro, 35 British pounds, or 61 Australian dollars. Even though Japan is a highly developed country it does not have to be expensive.
This post is one in my ongoing series on how to navigate Japan for travelers with children. I have written before about the Japanese travel year and the Japanese travel day (for most people heavily centered around taking the train), but sometimes for long trips you can choose between train and flying. I have a couple of articles on buying diapers in Japanand buying baby goods in Japan. I have written about how to figure out where to stay in Tokyo and how much you should budget for your trip to Japan. And I have written about whether you will be safe in Japan. And of course, since I have three kids, I have written a lot about Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. And lots more.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.