Japan is modern yet full of culture. It has the perfect mix of tradition and innovation. It’s full of colourful experiences, temples and shrines, mouth watering food, neon lights, wacky robots and beautiful friendly people. This all combines to create a wonderful destination for a family adventure.
We had 12 days to see and do all we could here in ‘Japan land’ as the kids called it, and boy did we see a lot!
Below is a run down of our Japan adventure which will hopefully inspire you for your own Japan travels. If you’re after some tips about travelling in Japan, read our popular post – Japan Travel With Kids – 7 must read tips before you go.
OK, grab that cuppa and let’s jump in…
Osaka, Minions and Universal Studios
Starting our trip off with a BANG we headed straight for Universal Studios in Osaka. Following our direct Qantas flight from Sydney we arrived early in the evening and transferred to our hotel at Universal City for a late check in.
We stayed at the Universal Port Hotel which is a Minion themed hotel – and gee whiz it was fun!!! With crazy minions all through the foyer and lifts, a beautiful aquarium and an interactive entrance – the kids woke the next morning in awe, exploring all they could and we couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces if we tried.
When booking our room we opted for breakfast to be included (which we recommend as there is not a lot of breakfast options around the area). The buffet boasts a wonderful spread of Japanese and Western food options so it was the perfect way to ease the kids (and us) into the Japanese cuisine.
Universal Studios was SO AMAZING!! It was only a short stroll from our hotel to the front gates. We would definitely recommend getting a 2 day pass (or a 1.5 day pass) which will give you a chance to see and do so much more as it’s a HUGE park with so much on offer.
Our time here was full of crazy fun. With kids our age we mainly explored the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Minon Park and Universal Wonderland (cue Elmo, Snoopy, Hello Kitty and Sesame Street fun!). Below is a little snippet of our day here to get you excited for your visit –
Hot Tip: To save on time (and to get a good deal) we recommend purchasing your tickets online before you arrive at the park via Klook. You then simply scan your ticket to enter which often means you avoid the queues too. For your day here, pack some snacks (grab something from the 7 Eleven near your hotel or train station), wear comfortable shoes and if needed hire a pram for the day near the entrance of the park.
Following our time at Universal Studios we opted for a quieter day with a trip on the train to explore Osaka Castle. It was a great little ‘tester’ outing for us where we took our time to figure out the train system, navigate our way around and even order some lunch with the locals – a first of many in this non-English speaking country.
Catching the train to Kyoto from Osaka had us on 4 different trains but we managed to navigate it all pretty easily. The public transport system is amazing and it’s by far the best (and most affordable) way to get around …yes, even with all your luggage and kids in tow! We share loads of great tips including all you need to know about train travel in our other blog post here.
We stayed with Mimaru Hotels in Kyoto at the Shinmachi Sanjo property and it was an amazing experience. Only a short stroll from the station and restaurants, our room was huge and featured a kitchen, full bathroom and loads of space to spread out (view our room tour in our Japan highlights on Instagram). We also had free wifi in our room and access to a mobile phone for the duration of our stay. We definitely recommend this place and are excited to have a discount code for you for all bookings made via their website.
Use code: visitmimaru
*This code is valid until 31st December 2020.
Nishiki Market & Nishiki Tehmangu Shrine
Visiting the local markets when travelling is one of our favourite things to do and this market was definitely a fun experience for us all. Full of fresh seafood, vegetables, spices, sweets and all kinds of wonderful shops. You can stroll along sampling the local cuisine and gawk at the crazy options like grilled sparrow on a stick or octopus with quail eggs in their heads.
At the end of the market you will find the gorgeous Nishiki Tehmangu Shrine which is definitely worth a visit too. In this area (near the shrine) you will also find some more modern shops and western food options.
That night, with the help of a google search we walked a few blocks from our hotel to eat an amazing feast of sushi in a traditional sushi restaurant. Sitting on the floor with our shoes off, sipping Asahi beer and green tea we enjoyed the best fresh Sushi we have ever tasted. With the help of the Google Translate app we managed to place our order. You simply take a photo of the menu and the app will translate it into English for you – so, with a few charades and finger pointing we had our scrumptious meal in no time!
Kimonos and Tea in Higashiyama-Ku
The next day we caught a taxi to the Higashiyama-Ku to get our ‘Kimono’ on! Experiencing a day in these traditional Japanese threads was a fun and steamy experience. With under layers, top layers and a rib crushing obi sash we definitely felt the part, but not before slipping on a pair of slippery toe socks and a pair of ‘plank of wood’ flip flop thongy things. We Clippity-Clopped ourselves along the old streets and imagined what it would be like to wear this every day.
We immersed ourselves further into the culture by taking part in a traditional matcha tea ceremony. It was all loads of fun but oh so hot under all that material and we were happy to get changed back into our Blondie clothes before we climbed the hill to visit KIyomizu-dera temple.
There are loads of tourist shops to look at as you walk up towards the temple which we loved and with our forever hungry kids we stopped for lunch half way up the hill (and to enjoy some air conditioning). We spent the rest of the day exploring the area, watching a gorgeous praying mantis and visiting Ishibe Koji and Kodai-ji Temples that are near by.
That night for dinner we navigated our way to a busy street to enjoy some Ramen Noodles which were awesome. They also served Gyoza here as well as a bowl of rice with a fried egg in it which the kids happily devoured.
Traditional Japanese Brekkie, Monkey Park and Bamboo Forest
The next day we indulged in a traditional Kyoto Breakfast at Shunsai Imari. We were presented with a tray of weird and wonderful things which all tasted pretty good. The kids shared a tray and did well to try lots of the exotic colourful condiments displayed between the fish, rice, veggies and cold omelette. We were a little put off by the miso soup which had what we dubbed ‘snot weed’ floating through it – not what we are used to finding inside our miso but one out of 5 isn’t bad hey?! This place is very popular with the locals so bookings are a must.
From here we caught a cab to the base of Mt Arashiyama to climb up and visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park. The kids loved seeing all the macaque monkeys running around doing their thing. The monkeys are wild but you can purchase food to feed them if you like. The view from the top of the mountain is pretty speccy too. The kids also loved playing in the play park at the top of the mountain.
Once back at the bottom we crossed the famous Togetsu-kyo Bridge, had lunch looking over the Oi River and then headed up the main street of Arashiyama. This area is very touristy with lots of colourful things to look at and eat! We treated ourselves to a matcha tea ice cream and then headed into the Bamboo Forest.
To hear the wind sing through the bamboo is a beautiful sound and there is definitely some special magic here. If you can, try and visit first thing in the morning before the crowds as it was super busy for us which definitely changed our experience here, but it was a wonderful sight to see.
That night we treated ourselves to a speciality Beef restaurant in the Gion district where you cook your own meat on a hotplate in your own private room. We enjoyed wagyu sushi and all kinds of amazing high grade cuts of beef.
After dinner we wandered up the street to Yasaka Shine which is a wonderful place to visit at night with all the lanterns lit.
Shrines, Tori Gates and Cooking Class
Our last full day in Kyoto had us visiting Fushimi Inari-Taisha – our favourite place yet!!! We took our time to walk up the mountain through the beautiful red Tori gates which have all been donated and feature an inscription on the back. Dedicated to a Rice God, Fushimi Inari-taisha dates back to 711 A.D which just blows our minds!!
The real magic begins when you walk further up the hill away from the crowds (and we highly recommend you do). Then, you’ll be greeted by incense, offerings and loads of mini tori gates, it’s a beautiful serene place and you can’t help but relax and be taken away by the tranquility.
Our Mini Blondies loved exploring through all the mini shrines and kept an eye out for cheeky monkeys and wild boars that live in the hills. Up on the mountain there are some restaurant options but we chose to eat a simple sushi lunch back down at the base of the hill. We recommend visiting first thing in the morning if travelling with kids so you can walk as far up as they will ‘allow’ you to go.
For a change of pace, in the afternoon we headed to the ‘Noodle Factory’ for a Ramen Noodle cooking class which we all loved. Looking the part with our aprons and ninja head scarves we mixed, kneaded and even punched our Ramen dough, then fed them through the noodle making machines. After a quick boil in water we added our noodles into our broth, threw in some chicken and a few other bits and bobs to create a scrumptious dinner!!! It’s a fantastic and fun activity for any food lover – young or old. You can book your cooking class via their website as well as on Klook. We opted for the shorter Express class.
Making our way to Tokyo the next day had us catching our first bullet train (the Nozomi train on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line). We packed the kids some activities, iPads and grabbed some sushi and bento boxes from a 7 Eleven and it was a great 2hr trip.
We based ourselves at the Shiba Park Hotel which is in a great location – close to 3 different train/subway lines as well as Tokyo Tower and some fun play parks for the kids to boot.
The hotel also has a Japanese Culture Salon where you can take part in art workshops like Calligraphy, Origami, traditional tea ceremony and Manekineko Painting (beckoning cat figurine). We opted to paint our own Beckoning Cat which we really enjoyed and we all had a lovely keepsake from our travels to take home.
Rainbow Fairy Floss, Cheese Melts and Kooky Cafes!
Our first adventure into wild Tokyo had us catching the train to Harajuku to explore the famous Takeshita Street. This is home to all things colourful, crazy and fun!
First stop was of course rainbow fairy floss!! This baby was HUGE and we all enjoyed tasting the different layers which had their own fruity flavour. Then – you of course have to wash down your floss with a rainbow toasted cheese sandwich…right?!!
After some exploring and taking in the fun and crazy shops we made our way to the Kawaii Monster Cafe. This was something we did to spoil the kids. We had a booking here which gave us the use of the huge mushroom booth tables (as opposed to a simple cafe seat). We ordered a round of drinks for us all (as a minimum you have to purchase something for everyone as well as pay a small entry fee). The kids met the Monster girls and had a little boogie to the crazy music, they loved every minute of it!
After we had filled ourselves with as much food colouring and sugar as we could, we walked it all off exploring the streets of Shibuya. We went to the famous Shopping Mall entry that is full of crazy mirrors, Shibuya crossing and then onto one of our favourite things we did in Japan – Conveyer belt Sushi!
You simply order your food at your table via the touch screen (there is an English button) and in no time at all your delicious food is delivered via a conveyer belt right to your seat! It was so good and well priced too.
Tsukiji Fish Markets and Robot Park
The next day we woke early and made our way to the Tsukiji Fish Market. As market lovers we had a great time taking in the sights and smells of this world famous market. From giant King Crabs, Wagyu Beef and Sushi galore it’s a fabulous place to visit and quite different to the Nishiki Markets we visited in Kyoto. As you walk through the busy market streets there’s loads on offer to ‘sample’, from shaved fish flakes to crunchy dried crabs and wasabi peas! Our Z-man, Ziggy, is quite adventurous when it comes to food so he was happily trying everything and anything that was offered to him, we had a busy job trying to keep up with his daily menu!
After our bellies were full from the wonderful fresh sushi we left the markets and caught the train to Roppongi Hills to visit the Robot Park. The kids loved playing on the colourful plastic slides, robot spring-riders and the super long rolling-pin slide!
Note: we did notice that each park we visited in Tokyo had little midge type flies that bite so you may want to look out for this and pack some repellant.
Teamlab Borderless, Venus Fort and Typhoons!
The grand finale of our time in Tokyo was definitely GRAND! We caught a taxi to the Mori Digital Art Museum to experience Teamlab Borderless and it was AMAZING!! We definitely recommend you make a visit here.
We arrived early and lined up at the door with a small group of people ready for the 10am opening. As with everything in Japan, it’s definitely worth arriving here early to get the most out of your visit. You can also save time (and not line up twice) by pre-purchasing your tickets here.
It’s hard to describe what it’s all about – you have to go and experience it for yourself. With loads of colourful rooms, interactive installations and beautiful artworks that move and sometimes intermingle with each other with no boundaries.
We spent ages here and I’m sure you will be the same. After our visit it was well and truly time for lunch so we found our way to Venus Fort which is basically a very fancy shopping centre. It felt like we were in Vegas as we entered and with the help of a shop directory we found another conveyer belt sushi restaurant!! We topped this off with some famous mega pancakes!!!
To use up some of our small change we had some fun playing the arcade machines and crazy photo booths here too!!
After lunch we had plans to visit the Odaiba Oedo Onsen which is a traditional hot springs bath house. Unfortunately Tokyo had a Super Typhoon on its way so we had to forego these plans and head straight for the airport to head home safely before the typhoon hit. We made it out on our scheduled flight which was a huge relief. (In Japan, typhoon season typically occurs in August and September, but may also stretch from July through October).
We hope this post has been helpful in your own Japan travelling adventures, it sure is a fantastic country and one we hope to visit again soon.
If you have any questions please post them below in the comments, safe travels and arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much).