The 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. Many of Tokyo's major hotels provide babysitting services, although they are prohibitively expensive. Expect to fork over a minimum of ¥5,000 for 2 hours of babysitting.
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 that they can collect imprints of every attraction they visit.
If your child under 6 sleeps in the same bed with you, you generally won't have to pay for him or her in most ryokan (a Japanese-style inn), and some hotels don't charge extra for children. However, it's always advisable to ask in advance.
As for dining, 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 everywhere in Tokyo.
The Best for Families
Learning History at the Edo-Tokyo Museum: Housed in a high-tech modern building, this ambitious museum chronicles the fascinating and somewhat tumultuous history of Tokyo (known as Edo during the Feudal Era) with models, replicas, artifacts, and dioramas. Not only can children climb into a palanquin and a rickshaw, but volunteers stand ready to give free guided tours in English.
Spending Sunday in the Park: Parks are popular Sunday destinations for families with kids and young couples on dates, making for great people-watching and a restorative afternoon. Among my favorites: Ueno Park (where you’ll also find the nation’s oldest zoo) and Yoyogi Park in Tokyo and the extensive park surrounding Osaka Castle.
Hanging Out in Harajuku: For teens and tweens, nothing beats a day in teenybopper heaven, with its many clothing and accessory stores lining narrow streets packed with a never-ending flow of humanity. Lots of restaurants in this vibrant Tokyo neighborhood are geared to the younger generation, too, but for a bit of culture (and quietude), head to nearby Meiji Shrine, enveloped in woods.
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.