When you have hyperactive kids of pre-schooling age, travelling far and wide to a country like Japan will possibly be the last thing on your mind. Imagine the nasty meltdowns, the rude stares from strangers when your kids misbehave on the plane, and the sheer exhaustion from handling the kids while navigating your way around! It's really enough to turn you into a grumpy bear throughout the trip and force you to limit the next few holidays to staycations or nearby destinations.
But all is not lost with proper planning and research. You CAN remain sane AND travel with your kids – just follow these 11 essential tips on how to survive Japan with pre-schoolers!
1. Plan for a more spread-out itinerary, if you can afford it.
When travelling with young kids, it's important to note that they don't do very well with a busy itinerary. Ambitiously squeezing three or four attractions within a day will quickly zap the kids of their energy and make them extremely prone to meltdowns.
You could perhaps aim for one or at most two attractions per day over an extended period – if you can afford the leave. At a more relaxed pace, you and the kids are most likely to enjoy the day out without having to stress with time limits and rushing between multiple attractions!
This is probably what will happen if you overstretch your kids too much.
2. Avoid red-eye flights, go for day flights instead.
Almost everyone on red-eye flights will want to sleep onboard the plane. The last thing you want to happen here is for your child – who refuses to go to sleep when the lights go dim – runs amok up and down the aisle. Or screams non-stop for two hours. Or keeps pressing the call button maniacally. Or something like that, you know, the stuff of nightmares.
Since Japan is most probably a good 6-to-8-hour flight from where you're at, it makes good sense to fly out in the early morning, and arrive at your destination in the mid-afternoon. So to avoid the damning glares of sleep-deprived fellow passengers, book a day flight instead!
You wouldn't want to resort to this to contain your overzealous child ?
3. Avoid evening rush hour crowds by staying the night at the airport.
We know how stressful it is to travel with young kids, what more if you land in a city like Tokyo where the infamous peak hour rush (or crush) is described at best as hellish. If you do choose the day flight to Japan and land mid-afternoon, you can avoid the peak hour crowds on subways and trains by staying the night at or near the airport. Moreover, you and your family will be well-rested by the next morning and ready to conquer the day!
Credit: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons [GFDL 1.3 or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Navigating your way through maddening crowds at peak hours with restless kids and luggage in tow? Nope, just nope.
If you land at Haneda Airport, we highly recommend a stay at the Royal Park Hotel The Haneda which is conveniently located within the International Terminal building. It has an awesome view of Mt. Fuji on a clear day! Also, if you stay on the premium floor, you will enjoy a free one-hour stay at the Refresh Room on your day of departure.
Kids warming up to the room at the Royal Park Hotel The Haneda with a stunning view of Mt. Fuji in the background!
4. Don't leave the strollers at home!
It may seem like a drag to bring strollers on a holiday, but they are literally lifesavers! This is especially true when your pre-schoolers still nap in the afternoon, or when those tired legs give up after a long day out. The key is to prevent your kids from getting too exhausted, hence averting potential outbursts! And not to worry, most train stations have elevators, while the Japanese are typically quick to give a hand should you need to carry the strollers up or down a short flight of steps.
Your arms will die on you if you think you can carry a sleeping pre-schooler everywhere!
5. Post your heavy luggage to the hotel!
Say you are travelling as a family of two adults and two children. You and your spouse would be pushing one stroller each. So who will be handling the luggage? Gasp! Ideally, cabs are the way to go when travelling with young kids and heavy luggage but then cab fares in Japan are notoriously expensive!
Here's an idea...you could post your luggage to your next destination! Companies dealing in takuhaibin
(goods delivery service) like Yamato Transport or Sagawa Express can be conveniently found in the arrival lobbies of most Japanese airports.
Postal delivery fees are affordable too! We sent a large-sized luggage from Haneda Airport to Osaka and it cost us about 2000 yen! Consider them if you wish to send your luggage from the airport to your hotel or between hotels, and avoid hauling heavy luggage onto crowded trains, or up and down stairways.
When delivering your luggage, ensure it is less than 25 kg and does not exceed 160 cm in total dimensions (length x width x height, excluding the wheels). Also, make sure you pack a light travel bag for an overnight stay as delivery is usually on the next day. It may be possible for same-day deliveries for short distances, though distant locations like Hokkaido or Okinawa can take two days.
6. Book a residence with a washing machine, or use the coin laundry service!
When travelling with young kids, it's no surprise that dirty laundry tends to pile up FAST, given their knack for messing their clothes during mealtime and playtime. But here's a tip - save your sanity and your luggage space by booking an accommodation with a washing machine, or make use of the coin laundry service found in most Japanese hotels. Coin-operated washing machines and dryers cost only about 1000yen per load – a steal considering how expensive normal hotel laundry services are!
Coin-laundry services are commonplace in most Japanese hotel chains, such as the Daiwa Roynet hotel chain. We LOVE the fabulous Fraser Nankai Residence in Osaka for their in-room washing machine and dryer!
Save on more luggage space by ditching your pyjamas at home! Hotels in Japan usually offer their guests with pyjamas and although most provide sleepwear for adults only, some child-friendly hotels may offer pyjamas for kids too. Just check with the hotel in advance!
7. Ride the shinkansen (bullet train) for inter-city travel.
When travelling cross-country in Japan, forget about dragging your kids through cramped overnight buses or expensive domestic flights. Instead, acquaint your kids to the romance of train travel by riding the shinkansen
These high-speed trains, well-known for their to-the-second punctuality and unblemished safety records, are also very comfortable and spacious – great for families with kids who need more space to stretch and move around! Not to mention, the relatively silent cars are a boon if your kids wish to nap. Otherwise, they could simply soak up the ever-changing scenery that comes with a train journey. Lastly, don't forget to leverage on a multitude of rail passes and discounts, which is definitely very cost-effective when travelling in a larger group with kids.
Make it a memorable trip with your kids by taking the shinkansen
Seats on the shinkansen
are FREE for children aged less than 6! You only pay if you wish to book reserved seats for each child. But if your kids are small, you can still save by booking one less seat. Here's how – the ordinary cars come in a 3+2 seat configuration, so if you book 3 reserved seats on one side, you can lift the armrests and comfortably sit a family of 4 with two small kids!
8. Keep 'em tummies full!
A hungry man is an angry man – we say a hungry child is a recipe for disaster! Let your kids fuel up on free-flow food by going for all-you-can-eat halal buffets! A popular lunch option in Japan, Viking-style buffets will keep your child well-fed throughout the day so you'll encounter less crankiness and meltdowns.
Have a Viking-style buffet at Naan Inn, a halal Indian restaurant opposite Kobe Mosque. Or if you prefer to feast on halal Japanese food, check out these halal Japanese restaurants
"Mess? What mess?" - kids doing the hands-on dining experience with ramen at Ayam-ya
Oh and while we're at it, don’t forget to stock up on Muslim-friendly Japanese snacks
to keep growling tummies at bay!
[Want other halal food options in Japan? Check out our halal food guides!]
9. Consider visiting animal attractions!
It's no secret that kids love animals. Include animal attractions in your itinerary, and watch your kids squeal with delight as they get up close and personal with all creatures great and small! We were in Western Japan recently, and these are some of our best recommendations for animal attractions here!
Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN
The Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN – one of the largest aquariums in the world and a must-see attraction for adults and children alike!
Credit: @kaiyukan_japan on Instagram
The whale shark – the largest fish in the world – is the main attraction at the KAIYUKAN!
Enjoy a relaxing pastural-like scene up on Mt. Rokko Pasture while your kids interact with farm animals.
Don't forget to visit the cheese factory at the other end of the farm, plus treat yourself and the kids by indulging in their famous cheese ice-cream!
While the adults are kept busy marvelling at the scenery and ancient buildings at this UNESCO World Heritage site, the kids can be similarly occupied with the free-roaming deer on the island!
10. Visit world-class theme parks!
If there's one thing that could make your child super-excited, it's the thought of visiting a theme park! And what's a visit to Japan without bringing the kids to world-famous theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland or Universal Studios Japan (USJ)? A trip to Japan wouldn't be complete without a visit to the "Happiest Place on Earth"!
[Arm yourself with our 8 Tips to Planning the Perfect Tokyo Disneyland Trip]
At USJ, your kids can take photos with their favourite Sesame Street characters! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at USJ is also not to be missed if your kid is a big fan of Harry Potter.
Credit: @purolandjp on Instagram
Or if you have a little princess who is cray cray for Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters, take her to the ever-popular Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo!
: Take a photo of your children when you arrive at the theme park. This way, should they get separated from you at the theme park, you will have a current photo of your kids dressed in the same clothes for easy identification.
11. Stay at a kids-themed room!
It'd be icing on the cake for a kid-friendly vacation if you choose to stay at a kids-themed room! In fact, Tokyo Disney Resort has a fine array of Disney-themed hotels like Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, Disney Ambassador Hotel, and Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta – all for your children to complete their Disney experience.
However, if budget doesn't permit, we highly recommend the more affordable Happy Magic rooms at the Hilton Tokyo Bay which is located very near to Tokyo Disney Resort.
Themed rooms often have kid-friendly amenities or fixtures to keep your kids occupied – like this magic mirror! The same kiddy witch in the mirror also appears in the books provided by the hotel. And she appears on these children's bathroom amenities too. Great theming, we say!
We adults were mainly here for the killer view!
So those were our 11 tips on conquering Japan with pre-schoolers! The time is never better than now to bring your children to Japan. It's a great family destination and one that is bound to leave long-lasting memories in your children's mind.