Finding the perfect location to take your family on vacation can be difficult. Everyone has different interests, weather preferences, and vacation aspirations. And there’s always that one family member who decides days before the trip begins that they’re exclusively eating peanut butter (smooth) and raspberry jam (seedless) sandwiches for every meal. No substitutions allowed. It can be overwhelming to get every family member onboard with a vacation. But, Japan truly has something for everyone. Regardless of age, interest, and food preference your family will find something (or more like dozens) of reasons to fall in love with Japan. Here are some of our greatest recommendations for the best family vacation in Japan.
1. Visit the home of Hello Kitty
Sanrio Puroland, is arguably Japan’s most unique theme park experience. You are likely familiar with Sanrio whether you are aware of it or not. Their family of characters such as Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Pekkle, Badtz Maru, Keroppi, and Gudetama the lazy egg, among others are found on a vast variety of items from pencil cases to t-shirts all across the planet. Sanrio Puroland is Sanrio’s answer to Disney’s Disneyland.
Opened in 1990, Puroland is an indoor theme park a short 60-minute train ride from Tokyo station, so easily added to any other Tokyo adventures you may choose. While it doesn’t offer the scale and quantity of rides that Disneyland does, Puroland will immerse your family in the world of Hello Kitty and friends for an experience you can’t have anywhere else.
2. Get away from the city to an island spa
Another attraction within easy reach of Tokyo but destined to take you away from the big city entirely is a trip to Enoshima island. Again, just an hour away from Tokyo is the lovely Enoshima island famed for its picturesque hot spring spa. Enospa offers traditional hot spring fed onsen baths with gorgeous views over the sea and Mt. Fuji in the distance. In addition to the traditionally gender-segregated onsen, there are ten different temperature-controlled pools which are open to all, saunas, and even a carbonated hot spring bath.
Either make a half day of it and return to Tokyo, or packages with rooms are available, up to you.
3. Immerse yourself in a world of snow and beer
In the North of Japan, the city of Sapporo has found a way to embrace and celebrate its long snowy winters. They throw a yearly festival that you will not want to miss. The aptly named Sapporo Snow Festival. Held over seven days in February, the festival has events and sights across Sapporo such as a mile long park containing hundreds of massive snow and ice sculptures. There are ice mazes, snow slides, ice skating rinks, and an ice sculpture contest with teams from all over the world competing.
If you think you recognize the city’s name from somewhere else, it is likely the Japanese beer loved around the world that began here as well. Why not throw in a trip to the Sapporo Beer Museum here to warm up after a day out in the snow? This brewery from 1876 looks every bit the part and has three restaurants serving up local Hokkaido specialties as well as plenty of the local beer to keep you happy and warm while you are here.
4. Tropical beach time + the most impressive aquarium
Japan has its own tropical island paradise with palm trees, pineapples, and the perfect sugar sand beaches. South of mainland Japan lies Okinawa where there’s something for every family member from shopping, beaching, foodie tours and the coolest aquarium you’ll ever visit.
The island is home to many resort names we’re familiar with like the Sheraton, Marriott, Hilton, and InterContinental. Many have an all-inclusive option to make life easier for the whole family. Of course the tropical beaches are not to be missed either lounging on shore or taking to the waters to observe the sealife.
Okinawa has a long history of US military presence and because of that, a unique dish has become a staple of Okinawa. Taco rice is all over the island and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Delicious and perfectly cooked Japanese rice with taco toppings piled over – ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and salsa. If anyone is missing a taste of home, this is sure to hit the spot. Of course, if you’re still looking for Japanese food the main shopping street of Kokusaidori doesn’t disappoint.
On the northwest side of the island you’ll find the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium – the second largest aquarium in the world and one of the very few that has whale sharks. The main tank here holds a hefty 1.9 million gallons of water. It’s impressive to say the least and a must-see for anyone who is remotely interested in sea life. Mixing a bit of tropical paradise in with your Japan itinerary is sure to keep everyone happy.
5. Experience baseball like you never have before
Japan loves baseball. Really loves baseball. Even if some of your family isn’t excited about baseball or even sports in general, going to a baseball game is likely to be a highlight of the trip. These games are not the games we’re used to in the US. Japanese baseball games are a full on fan fest. For an amazing afternoon or evening (depending on game time) head to Meiji Jingu stadium in Tokyo for a Tokyo Yakult Swallows game.
For starters in seeing the difference between this baseball game and games in the US, let’s look at the price. An adult ticket for a non-reserved seat in the outfield is $14. A child’s ticket is $4.60. This makes a baseball game cheaper than going to a movie in Tokyo. The outfield seating is a jovial, communal place. Don’t be surprised to leave having made some friends or shared some snacks. On the topic of snacks, bring your own. It’s totally allowed to bring in your own food. And go ahead and bring your own drinks too, just make sure they’re not glass. Vendors in the stadium are not to be missed though. Flag down the edamame vendor, the snack of choice for Japanese baseball rather than peanuts. And the beer vendors carry small kegs on their backs so your beer is as fresh and cold as it gets.
The crowd has a specific chant for each player that you’ll pick up on quickly. Stop by the team store before the game and buy a small umbrella, too small to actually use in the rain, but you’ll need it, even if it’s a sunny day. When the Swallows get a home run, everyone will bust out the umbrellas for an all-out high-fiving celebration.
Maybe you hate sports and never attend baseball games at home, but it’s truly a positive cultural aspect of Japan that shouldn’t be missed.
6. Eat everything from the convenience store
Obviously one of the highlights of a trip to Japan is eating all of the food. But with family, sometimes this can be tricky. Especially with the one who wants only peanut butter and jelly. But Japan has you covered: the Japanese convenience store. I know exactly what you’re thinking, and I was in the exact same boat. The convenience stores in the US are not nice places. Yes, we all go on July 11 for a free Slurpee, but aside from that, it’s not the place to get anything more than road-trip food. Japanese convenience stores, however, could not be more different. Japanese convenience stores are some form of heaven on Earth, and this is the perfect place for your entire family to pick and be picky about which foods they want to try.
Family Mart, Lawson, and 7-11 will be the convenience stores you see most often, and all of them have a cult following of loyal customers who think their preferred chain is the best. All are great, so you should go to the one that is most convenient (dad jokes are allowed when talking about family vacations).
Here’s why they’re so awesome. All of them have somewhere in the ballpark of 3,000 items for sale. Sandwiches, ice creams, chips, and candy for small treats. But the magic lies in the pre-made items like noodle bowls, onigiris (Japanese rice balls with various fillings), and the bentos, basically grown-up Japanese Lunchables. With so much variety packed into these stores, let the entire family run wild and pick what they like. Head to a park and enjoy your new found favorite foods together as a sort of sampling platter. The beauty of being on a picnic instead of at a restaurant is that if a food doesn’t go over well, spitting it into a napkin is totally okay.
Bonus points: almost every convenience store in Japan has a sparkly clean public bathroom. So if someone has to go IMMEDIATELY, duck into any convenience store to avert the crisis at hand. They also have a (fancy) coffee machine that will keep you going and set you back about $1. You’re welcome.
7. Entertain all ages at Tokyo’s best “kids” attractions
Anyone who says Disney parks are only for kids, have never been to Tokyo Disney Resort. Tokyo is home to two Disney parks – Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea, the latter often being considered the most beautiful theme park in the world. Both parks have attractions for all ages to be entertained from park open until close. There’s even a mall between the two parks for shopping and restaurants if you need a break from the parks. If you’re short on time the parks offer an “After 6pm” pass which will get you in from 6 until closing at 10pm.
On the other opposite side of Tokyo lies the Studio Ghibli Museum. If you’re totally unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli, you have homework to do. Watch “My Neighbor Totoro,” or “Spirited Away,” or “Howl’s Moving Castle,” or “Ponyo,” or really any of the other films the studio has produced. The museum is all about bringing to life the Studio Ghibli favorite films from the most well-known animation studio in Japan.
For kids under 12, there’s a catbus to crawl around in, a prominent character in “My Neighbor Totoro.” The museum itself is an exhibit with special activities just for the kids. For just the adults, there’s an exclusive Studio Ghibli beer in the sit-down cafe.
Bonus points: The Ghibli Museum is in a corner of Inokashira Koen, a huge and wonderful park that would be perfect for your convenience store picnic.
8. Get a taste of slow life in Japan with views of Mt. Fuji
The window for climbing Mt. Fuji is small. It’s only open for the months of July and August. While it’s not a hugely difficult mountain to summit, it’s definitely not for small kids. With proper preparation, this could be an awesome family activity if you’re there in the summer. But if you’re not or you don’t feel like climbing a mountain should be part of a vacation, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the surrounding areas that afford incredible views of the mountain. This is also a great way to experience Japanese life in a slightly slower lane than its big metropolises.
Kawaguchiko offers a huge range of family activities. You’ll have to stay in a traditional Japanese house with tatami mats on the floor and futons for beds. Or at least the kids should. Most offer Western rooms if you’d rather have a bed you’re used to. Many also offer the option to add on a traditional Japanese breakfast which is the perfect cultural experience to start your day.
Dotted all around the area of Mt. Fuji are Japanese onsens, bathing pools fed by hot springs. You can opt for a public bathhouse where you’ll likely be separated by gender, or one that rents out private pools so you can be with just your own family. Either way, the onsen experience is quintessential in Japan, especially if you go to one that has a view of Mt. Fuji.
Planning a trip to Japan?
Let us know in the comments if you’re heading to Japan soon and what’s on your “must see” list! We love all that Japan has to offer for any type of traveler and would love to help you plan your perfect vacation! Leave the details to us and enjoy your fully planned and stress-free vacation! Let’s get planning!