What to do in Japan with kids
Japan is a great place to visit with kids, whether they are babies, toddlers, or big kids—all for different reasons. Below is a list of fun things to do in Japan with your children no matter what age they are.
Before you head to Japan, make sure you check out my tips to prepare for your trip.
Feed deer in Nara
This is something we were going to skip, but I'm so glad we didn't. You can roam around the shrines in Nara while wild deer roam around and nuzzle right up to you. They are very well-behaved and I was told that they bow to you because even the deer in Japan are respectful. Nara is about an hour train ride from Kyoto which you can get to easily using your Jrail pass, so we did it as an afternoon trip.
See monkeys in Arashymaya
On the West side of Kyoto is Arashymama. It's a beautiful place to spend the morning, and a sure place to go with your kids is the Iwatayama Monkey park. It's a small fee and a short 20 minute hike up a mountain. Once you get to the top, you'll be greeted by a beautiful view of Kyoto and monkeys roaming around. What I loved is that if you want to feed them, you go in the cage and the monkeys are free. Oh how the tables are turned.
And if you plan to head to Arashymaya and if you are there early enough, the bamboo grove. It's become a hot Instagram spot recently, so it's crowded and far from peaceful during the day, but bright and early in the morning, it's gorgeous and free of selfie sticks.
There are ninja camps all around Japan where your kids can learn about ninjas, run around different obstacle courses and even dress as ninjas. We didn't make it to one so I can't recommend a specific camp, but there are many around Japan—usually near big cities.
Conveyor Belt Sushi in Kanawaza
This was fun for all of us. Jamie ate enough sushi to stack the plates to the ceiling, Zay, our three year old, was excited to pull the plates that looked good off the conveyor belt, and it was just all around a good time, not too expensive, and SO good.
Go to Monster Cafe
This is a crazy, funky, a little bizarre and a lot psychedelic restaurant that is full of whimsical decor and rainbow foods. It's about $5 to enter and you have to get at least one meal. Is it gimmicky? For sure. Weird? Absolutely. Fun for kids? How could it not be?!
Stay at a Ryokan
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inn that have tatami floors and public onsens (hot baths). They are definitely pricier than your normal accommodation, but I feel like this is something that you have to do in Japan. Take your shoes off when you enter and slip on the slippers and kimono they provide for you, sleep on a futon on a traditional tatami-matted floor, and soak in an onsen after a long day. It's a a cool experience for kids and adults.
Walk Takeshita Street in Shibuya
This is a crazy street full of funky fashion and crazy foods. It's hectic and packed with people but worth a walk through, especially if you grab an oversized rainbow cotton candy and a cheese hot dog.
Eddy’s Ice Cream
Overpriced funky ice cream in Shibuya. Need I say more? My ice cream had cotton candy on it and fruity pebbles on the cone, and make no mistake that I will pay a pretty penny for that. And if you're into overpriced ice cream, there is always gold leaf ice cream in Kanawaza for $10.
TeamLabs digital museum
This is a cool experience for kids and adults and I would say a must-see if you’re in Tokyo. It’s a digital arts museum that’s visually stunning and an Instagrammar’s paradise. We did this on a rainy day since it’s inside, but I should warn you that you line up outside for quite some time depending on the day (we went on a Sunday), so come prepared if it’s rainy. Reserve a spot and grab tickets here. It won’t disappoint.
There are lots of these pet cafes in Tokyo. I should say that it’s more like a glorified petting zoo rather than an actual cafe. It’s not what I was expecting which was a coffee shop where you sit, sip a cappuccino, then bunnies, cats and other fuzzy animals come and snuggle with you. Not the case at all, but our 3 year old son loved it! We were actually the only people with kids at the cafe we went to, so clearly people of all ages love it.
They don't do the fish auction early in the morning anymore unfortunately, but the market is still worth a visit and a good meal. With kids, you might want to head there early if you want to eat since most of the restaurants are small stalls and it would be way too hectic with kids.
Check out the lights of Shinjuku
Times Square times a million. As a former New Yorker, I avoided Times Square like the plague, but for some reason loved this area: the lights, the craziness, the hustle and bustle. Kids will love the bright lights and chaos of in the area. I should warn you that this is also the red light district in Tokyo, so be prepared to answer questions if your kid is old enough to know whats going on.
While you're there, check out the Robot Show. which is potentially the strangest thing you will ever experience.
What a unique experience it is to watch and experience sumo wrestlers. If you are traveling to Tokyo during a sumo competition (basho), what luck! They only happen a few times a year, so carpe diem and grab some tickets. If you miss out on a competition in Tokyo, there are tournaments in Nagoya and Osaka during the year as well, so you may be able to catch it there. If not, you can go to a stable and watch the Sumo Wrestlers practice (if you’re up for a 4am wake-up call).
If you plan on going, you should know that there are many rules and customs that you need to abide by including bowing when you come in, sitting still for hours, and no talking, eating, or drinking. Sounds like something fun to do with kids? Maybe for older kids, but with a toddler and an infant, it was not something we were even considering.
However, Arashio-beya is a stable where you can watch from the street through a window. You are still asked not to talk, but it’s something that is more doable with children as you can escape if there are meltdowns. Make sure you know and follow the rules while there as it is a privilege that they open this up to the public.
And extra bonus! They practice at 7am instead of 5am, so you can sleep in a little longer. Check out their website for more information and directions.