Japan for family vacations may seem like an oxymoron, but it doesn’t have to be. And in fact, it can be a lifetime of amazing memories. To give you a roadmap for Kid-Friendly Japan, we tapped into the expertise of SmartFlyer’s Kara Slater.
A member of Travel + Leisure’s A-List for honeymoons, and what usually comes next – family travel, Kara made the switch to creating dreams 12 years ago after a career as an advertising sales executive.
In this week’s issue, Kara shows us (along with pictures from her own family vacation) how with a well-planned itinerary taking the kids to a foreign country goes far beyond fun; it enriches their young minds.
Day 1 – Arrival to Tokyo
Welcome to Japan! Whether you arrive at Haneda or Narita Airport, meet your driver at arrival and they will whisk you to your hotel, the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo. If you arrive privately, they will arrange transportation for you at the separate facilities for private jets at each airport.
Pro-tip: Make sure to make a dinner reservation at the hotel this evening. We love the pizza bar at the hotel, The Pizza Bar on 38th, for something more interactive and familiar. Don’t be fooled, some of the best pizzas in the world can be found in Tokyo!
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Tokyo
The Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo has a number of amazing suites, ranging up to the 2,691 sq. ft. Presidential Suite (above), which can be expanded to two bedrooms with a 550 sq. ft. connecting room.
Situated between the 33rd and 36th floors, there are connecting Deluxe Corner and Deluxe Premier rooms that together offer a spacious layout and a wonderful option for families traveling together that provide 1,076 sq. ft. of space (below).
Another option, situated between the 30th and 36th floors, is a Deluxe Corner Suite connected to a Deluxe room (below). This gives you 1,507 sq. ft. of space, including two full bathrooms, a full and separate living, and guest powder room.
Day 2 – Tokyo – Harajuku Boys
After breakfast, meet your guide and start the morning visiting Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of the most significant temples in Tokyo. Nearby, check out the landmark toy paradise that is Kiddy Land. Its four floors are filled with items and toys of popular characters from Snoopy to Sailor Moon and Pokemon.
In Harajuku, walk down Takeshita street where you can stop for a giant fairy floss at the Totti Candy Factory, as well as rainbow-colored foods of all kinds! Don’t forget to take a purikura (photo booth picture printed on stickers), and be sure to order a creme brûlée crepe.
When lunchtime comes around, head over to the Kawaii Monster Café for a fun show with the kids where the staff are as much part of the experience as the food and drinks. Be on the lookout for the cool Harajuku Girls!
Then, head to Origami Kaikan to discover the art of folded paper. The gallery space displays beautiful intricate pieces while the upstairs area showcases how origami paper is dyed and painted. Here, try your hand at folding your own pieces. Before you leave Harajuku, visit a bunny, cat, owl, or hedgehog cafe.
Day 3 – Culture Fix, the Tokyo Way
This morning visit Tokyo’s Fish Market in Toyosu district or Jogai where you can have sushi breakfast or optional sushi-making class.
After breakfast, head over to the Borderless Labs Light Museum, Tokyo’s newest interactive light museum, and it has to be said, the city’s most instagrammable spot. Produced in collaboration with local urban landscape developer Mori Building Co. Ltd., the amazing light displays are housed in their very own building, spread out over two floors in a huge space in Tokyo’s Odaiba district. The Light Museum is popular with tourists and locals alike, you’ll need some tips on how to maximize your visit, be sure to ask your advisor!
After, make your way to the vibrant neighborhood of Akihabara, known for its pachinko & video game parlors. Finally, visit the historic Asakusa district. This atmospheric neighborhood is a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi (or “old town”) and is also home to Senso-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. The narrow streets and alleys around Senso-ji are full of little shops that sell traditional Japanese handicrafts.
Day 4 – Tokyo to Kyoto
After a morning at leisure, in the afternoon transfer to the station and take a bullet train to Kyoto, around two-and-a-half hours. Upon arrival, head over to the Four Seasons Hotel, Kyoto to check into your hotel. This evening, organize dinner at the hotel and relax.
Four Seasons Kyoto
There are three two-bedroom suite options at Four Seasons Kyoto. The 2,627 sq. ft. Presidential Suite (above) offers views of the 12th-century Myoho-in Temple. There are one king and two double beds, full bathrooms, and a powder room. There’s also a pantry with a refrigerator.
There is also the Two-Bedroom Corner Hotel Residence and the Two-Bedroom Hotel Residence Garden View ranging from 1,722 sq. ft. to 1,937 sq. ft.
Day 5 – Kyoto – Temples, Geisha + Bamboo, Oh My!
Today explore the calm western side of the city where charming temples and backstreets are tucked along the Arashiyama mountain base. Stroll on the Togetsukyo Bridge, visit the famous bamboo groves and a monkey park, as well as the sacred Tenryuji Temple.
Return to town, but on your way, make a stop at the iconic Golden Pavillion, and then make your way to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the city’s most famous temples that sit in the eastern foothills and has sweeping views of the city. Meander down from the temple through historically preserved side streets lined with high-end handicraft boutiques and eateries.
Reach Gion, famous for colorfully-dressed geisha who shuffle down the quiet, cobblestoned streets, on their way to entertain the patrons of one of Gion’s many teahouses and restaurants
Day 6 – Ninja in Training
This morning, after breakfast, meet your Four Seasons rickshaw driver for a fun way to discover some of the city’s most visited spots.
Starting from the hotel, this tour first takes you to neighboring Sanjusangen-do Temple where you can admire the Thousand-Armed Kannon, designated a National Treasure in Japan. Next, take a stroll to Miyagawa-cho, one of the well-known ‘flower towns’ where generations of geishas have been living for centuries. Finally, visit the Rokuharamitsuji Temple and popular Toyokuni Shrine, the official tomb, and shrine of daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi are completed before you return to Four Seasons Kyoto.
After, take a taxi to Kyoto’s famous Nishiki Market, wander through the market’s myriad of food stalls and observe locals grocery shopping and browse the shopping arcades nearby Nishiki market.
Afterward, experience an authentic and traditional ninja training at the tatami dojo, complete with ninja clothes, shuriken (ninja stars), and sword. Feel the spirit, wisdom, and survival skill of ninja and learn the survival technique that’s been handed down over 500 years of generation.
Day 7 – Iconic Red Gates Moment
After breakfast, visit the iconic red tori gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine. Meander up the mountain through the seemingly endless tunnel of thousands of vermilion torii gates, passing by various graveyards and shrines.
Transfer to Osaka and check-in to your hotel for the night. There are several great options. Enjoy evening touring of the vibrant Dotonbori neighborhood, which comes alive at night. Enjoy a food tour with your guide and sample iconic Kansai staples such as okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake omelet), takoyaki (ball-shaped octopus fritters), kitsune udon, and more.
Day 8 – Departure
Transfer to KIX and depart on your flight home.