I have mixed feelings about our trip to Japan, in large part because of how surprisingly difficult it was to get information beforehand and how difficult it was to get around. We underestimated just how difficult “getting around” would be – from reading the subway maps/signs, to locating specific addresses, to finding restaurants that would accommodate us with our son. Having traveled to Asian countries before, I was surprised to find the lack of children in Tokyo and the hostility towards children, since most Asian countries are full of kids and tend to welcome kids with open arms.
That said, some of the blame is likely entirely our fault as this was the first international trip we took with our son. Although we had traveled with him extensively throughout the United States prior to this trip, we likely over shot in terms of making this around-the-world trip our first International trip with kids. Nevertheless, I loved loved loved our time in Japan and can’t wait to go back. If I could do it differently, though, I would:
- hire a local travel guide, or make more heavy use of the concierge at the hotel to identify restaurants
- send my husband out to scope out restaurants before venturing out with our son. On a few occasions, my husband did go out and scope out locations while we were resting or napping in the afternoon and that helped significantly in terms of confirming locations and ensuring that they would allow children to dine
- not underestimate how important it would be to make prior reservations for better dining establishments. Many of the better rated or better reviewed restaurants are small (think 4-8 tables) and turn over maybe twice during one meal, so it’s imperative that you have prior reservations if you plan to dine
- spend more time in Kyoto. Although we never ran out of things to do in Tokyo, it was definitely too overwhelming a place to be with a little kid. In Kyoto, children seemed more welcome, and there was lots more we could have done/seen that would not have involved what seemed like endless walking on city streets
In terms of getting around, we had a much easier time getting around in Tokyo once we got our bearings. We eventually figured out how to purchase train tickets and the stops were labeled in English so we were able to pinpoint, generally, where we wanted to go. Once we got to our general location, however, it was still sometimes overwhelming in terms of how much walking we had to do to actually locate our destination. The walking became a problem only because we had a 4 year old with us, BUT, to his credit, we easily put 4-7 miles on those legs every single day, and he managed and did it without any major issues.
One of the nicest things about Japan was that everyone was extremely helpful and assisted in making sure that commuters got where they wanted to go. For example, our shuttle stop had an attendant with a loud speaker who would call over the bus and make sure that people who wanted to get back to the hotel got on the correct bus. This was an amazing perk and something that we saw quite a bit of throughout Tokyo.
If you have the opportunity to travel to Japan, I highly recommend it. A more off-the-beaten-path location like Okinawa or Kyoto is likely to be a better destination with kids, especially younger children. If you happen to be planning a trip in the Spring, aim for the cherry blossom season! Hopefully you get lucky like we did and hit them at peak bloom.