Japanese are very fond of children, which makes traveling in Japan with kids a delight. All social reserve seems to be waived for children. Taking along some small and easy-to-carry gifts (such as colorful stickers) for your kids to give to other children is a great icebreaker.
Safety also makes Japan a good destination for families. Still, plan your itinerary with care. To avoid crowds, visit tourist sights on weekdays. Never travel on city transportation during rush hour or on trains during popular public holidays. And remember that with all the stairways and crowded sidewalks, strollers are less practical than baby backpacks.
Children 6 to 11 years old are generally charged half-price for everything from temple admission to train tickets, while children 5 and under are often admitted free. Tourist spots in Japan almost always have a table or counter with a stamp and inkpad so that visitors can commemorate their trip; you might wish to give your children a small notebook so they can collect imprints of every attraction they visit. There are many attractions throughout Japan geared just toward kids, including sophisticated theme parks. And what teenager could resist Japan's pop culture, fashion, and fads?
Although it's not advertised, many hotels and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) give discounts to young children (up to 5 or 9 years of age) or allow them to stay for free, but only if they sleep with you and do not require an extra bed. Ryokan may also give discounts for meals. At budget chain Tokyo Inn, for example, children 5 and under stay free, while those 6 to 10 are charged an extra ¥1,050 per night. In any case, it's advisable to ask in advance. Many upper-range hotels in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka provide babysitting services, although they are prohibitively expensive. Expect to fork over a minimum of ¥5,000 for 2 hours of freedom.
As for food, the transition from kid-favorite spaghetti to udon noodles is easy, and udon and soba shops are inexpensive and ubiquitous. In addition, most family-style restaurants, especially those in department stores, offer a special children's meal that often includes a small toy or souvenir. For those real emergencies, Western fast-food places such as McDonald's and KFC are seemingly everywhere in Japan.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.