It's Best to Explore this One-of-a-kind Country in Spring or Fall
Japan is an excellent choice for an overseas trip with children. It has a one-of-a-kind culture, clean and colorful, and makes for a family adventure that kids aren't likely to forget. A little planning goes a long way, but that planning is essential, from when to go, to how to get about, to understanding basic traveling tips. Here are the bones of what you need to know if you are organizing a family trip to Japan.
When to Go
Yes, the kids are out of school from June through September, but sorry! Those are some of the worst months to visit Japan. June and July are the rainy season, during which it rains, not daily, but a lot and heavily. It's hard to have fun with youngsters who are wet and cranky.
After that, the country turns hot and painfully humid. Then comes typhoon season, with storms at sea and thunderstorms on land. As September ends, so does typhoon season. This is the perfect time to visit Japan, yes, just as school starts back up.
October and November are beautiful months, with cool, pleasant days and the local shrubs and maples turning brilliant colors against the indigo skies. You're sure to see more chrysanthemum shows in Japan at this time than you will the rest of your life. You can tour popular maple-viewing sites and take in a wealth of autumn festivals.
The other great option is visiting in spring, where cherry blossoms and plum blossoms burst into brief but spectacular flower. Kids will love the festival atmosphere.
Above all, avoid traveling on New Year's, during Golden Week (April 29 to May 5) and during the Obon Festival in the middle of August. Most everything is booked solid and very expensive.
Getting into Training
Most kids love train travel, with the countryside speeding by the window. That means they will love Japan, since railroads are the most efficient way to travel around the country.
Whether you take the famous Shinkansen bullet train (that flashes over Japan at 187 mph) or an electric streetcar, you'll find Japanese trains to be comfortable, clean, safe and delightfully on time. Most have washrooms, drinking fountains and toilets.
Buy reserved seats if you can. It's pretty hard to jump for an open seat when you have one eye on the kids. And kids between six and 11 ride for half-price, while those under six are free. Trains give priority seating to seniors, the disabled, pregnant passengers and passengers with young children, but, like in the U.S., many passengers ignore this.
Tips for Traveling with Kids
Don't skip Tokyo. Your children will love the pop culture, lively colors and feeling of animation. Visit Tokyo Dome City for kiddie rides and a roller coaster in the center of the city.
But don't stay there. Be sure to wedge in some beach time in family friendly subtropical Okinawa. Try Taketomi, a car-free island with bikes to rent and lovely beaches.
Food can cause issues if your kids don't like to try new types of meals. It's probably not a problem worth ruining the trip over, so you can easily buy food at supermarkets, bakeries, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores if that will keep them happy.
Look for hostels with family rooms or four-person dorm rooms. Ideally, find rooms with kitchen facilities.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.