Top 8 Things to Do with Kids in Japan

You have decided to visit Japan with your kids, but you are not sure what you can do to entertain them? Don’t worry: Japan is full of activities your kids will love.

You will be overwhelmed with choice, from learning the samurai dance, to watching a puppet show; from bathing in a warm pool surrounded by nature, to visiting the many Pokémon centers. You just need to plan ahead and choose the best activities, perhaps in the process preparing a surprise your kids will never forget.

Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites is a great learning opportunity for you and your kids. In Japan there are 22 such sites, each with its own special story and features.

We have chosen four for you, some of the most representative.

Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

These villages, more than 250 years old, are famous for their gassho-zukuri farmhouses, resembling the hands of Buddhist monks in prayer.

A typical tour will see you going round the villages, with a guide explaining their history and how they were constructed. For lunch you will try the local specialty, traditional soba noodles.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

The ruins of this dome are today a memorial for all the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The bomb was dropped almost directly above the dome.

A visit to the memorial is simple and quiet: you will stroll around the park to view the many monuments, and then head to the Museum. It is an impressive and moving experience, from which both you and your children can learn something more about Japan’s past.

Itsukushima Shrine

Of the many shrines in Japan, Itsukushima is one of the most famous. The shrine is located on a small island not far from Hiroshima and it was built during the 6th century. Take your time to explore the island and its numerous shrines and temples.

The most characteristic feature of this shrine is its torii (gate) built near the shore: when the tide is high, it seems like it is floating.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Tara

There are 8 historic monuments: 5 Buddhist temples, 1 Shinto shrine, 1 palace, and 1 forest. The temples, built during the 7th century, are some of the most important in the entire country. The Shinto shrine is particularly famous for its bronze lanterns.

During the Nara period (8th century AD), the palace used to be the imperial residence. The forest, 250 hectares in area, is home to a huge variety of fauna and flora.

Experience Japanese Traditional Performing Arts

Japan has a rich history of performing arts, and watching them can be a unique experience for your kids. In Kyoto, one of the best places to experience this unique traditional art is the Gion Centre, popular among locals and foreigners alike.

Here, you can choose between several different performances, like the elegant kyo-mai dance performed by geisha; kyogen theatre and its comical plays; or bunraku puppet theatre.

Choose the best one for you and your family. We think your kids will be expecially entertained by bunraku and kyogen performances, designed to amuse viewers of all ages. Performances start at 6 or 7 pm, and usually last about 50 minutes.

Traditional Pastimes

In Kyoto you could also watch a geisha show, with dance and music, and wear one of the traditional kimonos. Or, if you want to do some activity, try to learn Japanese calligraphy or origami in the warm setting of a traditional family home.

Visit a Local Market and Sample Japanese Food

Food is extremely important in Japan, and this is your chance to discover why. Head to a local market and watch where the greatest chefs buy their ingredients, or stroll around the city tasting the flavorful street food. Or, if you like something more refined, try the kaiseki cuisine.

The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is one of the biggest food markets in the world. It opens at 5 a.m., and the best fish are auctioned in a dramatic bidding war. Visit for breakfast and try the freshest fish you can imagine. And, when you are back in the city, try the yakitori: coal-roasted strips of meat or vegetable.

Kaiseki cuisine, on the other hand, is an elegant meal with seven or eight courses. Dishes are light and carefully prepared by skillful chefs, and are usually part of the tea ceremony. This kind of meal is best experienced in a ryokan, where food is prepared using only the freshest seasonal ingredients.

Stay in a Family Suite in a Ryokan

Ryokan are small inns built in traditional style, and the best ones are those run by families, with not too many rooms and great care for the custumer. Some of the best are to be found in Tsumago, where ryokans are simple and respect tradition: rooms without too much furniture, futuns for beds, and homemade meals.

Bathrooms are usually shared, but you will have your own sleeping quarters with sliding doors, opening onto a beautiful Japanese garden where you can relax and your kids can play. As mentioned, the food is home-cooked, and only uses seasonal and local ingredients, especially fish from the river which runs through the town.

Enjoy an Onsen Bath

Hot springs are one of the highlights of Japan. Onsen baths are bathing facilities built around hot springs and, each weekend, lots of Japanese people escape from the bustling cities in search of an onsen bath, to regenerate body and soul.

Onsens are large, with naturally warm water, where bathers relax naked (they are divided according to gender). Everyone has to take a shower before entering the bath. Locations are usually chosen according to their surrounding views.

Maybe the best way to enjoy an onsen bath is to choose a pool surrounded by snow. If you like the idea, head to the Hakone National Park near Tokyo sometime between December and February. And, if the weather is nice, you will also get to see the great Mount Fuji in the distance.

Learn How to Make Sushi or Wagashi

As mentioned above, in Tokyo you can visit one of the largest fish markets of the world, and give your kids an opportunity to learn a lot about local fish and how it is cooked by Japanese people. If you want deeper insight into the fish culture of Japan, book a tour and learn how to make sushi.

After a guided visit to the market, where you can buy the fish you will use to make your own sushi, you go back to a traditional house and learn how to make three different kinds of sushi:

Maki sushi, the rolls

Gunkammaki, white rice wrapped with seaweed and with other ingredients on top Nigiri, a ball of rice topped with fish or vegetable A guide helps you and your kids, teaching you everything you need to know about sushi and its history. After you have made it, just eat your own creation!

Watch a Samurai Sword Dance

Samurai play an important part in Japanese history, and your kids will love learning their traditional dance, the kenbu: samurai used it to practice sword-craft and to train their concentration.

A master of kenbu will patiently instruct you, every step and every move. It is a truly unique experience that you and your kids will love. Instructors, fluent in English, will happily answer your questions.

After you’ve learned the dance, you can pick up your pictures and a souvenir (included in the price).

Experience Manga and Anime Culture by Visiting the Theme Parks and Museums

We bet your kids will be really excited to visit Japan for mostly one reason: manga and anime. In Japan, manga and anime are extremely popular, and there are many museums and theme parks focusing on them.

Pokémon Centers are to be found in many major cities like Sapporo, Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima: they are small museums and stores where you can buy anything you can think of related to Pokémon. You can take a guided tour or visit them by yourself. They are extremely easy to find.

Another interesting shopping center is DiverCity in Tokyo. It features attractions related to Gundam, including a life-size Gundam statue. Also in Tokyo, at the base of the Tokyo tower, you will find One Piece Tower, an indoor amusement park with dozens of shows, games, and attractions.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x