Ja­pan ticks all the boxes for a dream fam­ily va­ca­tion— it’s im­pec­ca­bly clean, safe, and or­derly, with a slew of kid-friendly at­trac­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties of all kinds. From Tokyo to Niseko, here’s a guide on where to bring out the in­ner child in you.



At first glance, the hur­ried Ja­panese cap­i­tal might not seem like an ideal des­ti­na­tion for trav­el­ers with chil­dren in tow. But look beyond its crowded streets and you’ll find large open spa­ces such as Shin­juku Park and Ueno Park for your kids to run around and get some ex­er­cise; these two also trans­form into ma­jor cherry blos­som view­ing spots in spring. The Im­pe­rial Palace ( sankan.ku­nai­ is the place to be if you’re in town on De­cem­ber 23 or Jan­uary 2, when you can en­joy rare ac­cess to the palace’s in­ner gar­dens by join­ing the throngs cel­e­brat­ing the Em­peror’s birth­day and wish­ing him a happy new year.

Less than an hour’s ride west­ward from Tokyo Sta­tion is the city of Mi­taka, where the Ghi­bli Museum ( ghi­bli-museum

.jp) show­cases the works of Stu­dio Ghi­bli, maker of Ja­pan’s top an­ime films in­clud­ing Spir­ited Away. Mean­while, fans of the One Piece manga se­ries should head to One

Piece Tower ( one­piece­, an in­door theme park in­side Tokyo Tower.

Odaiba is a must-visit for those with school kids and teens. This ar­ti­fi­cial is­land in Tokyo Bay has plenty to keep them en­ter­tained—make sure you see the life­sized Gun­dam robot at DiverCity Tokyo

Plaza ( mit­sui-shop­ and the walk­ing robot named Asimo at the Museum of Emerg­ing Sci­ence and In­no­va­tion ( mi­ Don’t leave with­out stopping by Tokyo

Dis­neySea ( toky­o­dis­neyre­ in Urayasu, Chiba. The world’s only Dis­ney theme park with a nau­ti­cal theme, it’s a 71-hectare won­der­land where you can see Ariel come to life in a the­atri­cal per­for­mance or let your older kids con­quer the stom­ach-churn­ing Jour­ney to the Cen­ter of the Earth. Those with lit­tle kids will love Sin­bad, Aquatopia, and Jas­mine’s Fly­ing Car­pets; make sure you also catch the im­pec­ca­ble wa­ter pa­rade.


Only 45 min­utes from Tokyo by train, the more re­laxed port city of Yoko­hama is a wel­come respite from the cap­i­tal’s down­town crowds. Alight at Saku­rachigo Sta­tion to reach Yoko­hama’s wa­ter­front Mi­nato Mi­rai dis­trict, which is packed with fam­i­lyfriendly at­trac­tions. Your first stop should be the Kenzo Tange–de­signed Land­mark Tower, whose 69th-floor Sky Gar­den is the city’s high­est ob­ser­va­tion deck with views of Mount Fuji and Tokyo’s sky­line on a clear day. The fourth floor of Land­mark Tower houses Poké­mon Cen­ter ( poke­, a boon for Poké­mon fans of all ages. Pikachu pa­rades take place ev­ery sum­mer, typ­i­cally in Au­gust, in the mall be­low be­fore spilling out into the neigh­bor­ing streets.

Be­side Land­mark Tower are three ed­u­ca­tional venues sit­u­ated mere me­ters from each other: Mit­subishi Mi­nato-Mi­rai In­dus­trial Museum (, Yoko­hama Museum of Art ( yoko­, and the newly ren­o­vated Orbi Yoko­hama ( or­— a high-tech col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Sega and BBC Earth. At the other side is the in­ter­ac­tive Cup Noo­dles Mu

seum ( cup­noo­ where kids learn about the life of Mo­mo­fuku Ando, the in­ven­tor of in­stant ra­men, and get to cre­ate their own ver­sion of the pop­u­lar treat. Not far away are wa­ter­front pub­lic spa­ces like

Aka-renga Park and the wide prom­e­nade of Ya­mashita Park.

Kamakura, a for­mer cap­i­tal, is barely half an hour’s train ride from Yoko­hama Sta­tion and home to cen­turies-old tem­ples, shrines, and tra­di­tional Ja­panese houses. As such, it’s a good op­tion for those in Tokyo who don’t have the time to visit Ky­oto. Kids will be amazed by the Daibutsu, an 11-me­ter-high out­door statue of the Bud­dha at Ko­toku

in ( ko­ tem­ple, while the view­ing deck of hill­side Hase-dera (, another Bud­dhist sanc­tu­ary, of­fers vis­tas over Kamakura’s low-rise rooftops and Sagami Bay. The city also has a small owl “for­est” where kids can pet dif­fer­ent kinds of owls; it’s sit­u­ated in­side a build­ing along the main shop­ping street, Ko­machi Dori.


Ja­pan’s third-largest city af­ter Tokyo and Yoko­hama is the pri­mary gate­way to the Kan­sai re­gion in south-cen­tral Hon­shu. The main draw for fam­i­lies vis­it­ing Osaka is Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios (, which was Asia’s first Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios theme park when it opened in 2001. Fa­mous for at­trac­tions such as The Wizard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter, Min­ions, and Shrek, it also has draws cen­tered on Hello Kitty and Snoopy. Osaka

Cas­tle is a must-see for older chil­dren in­ter­ested in Ja­pan’s feu­dal his­tory, while the sur­round­ing park­land pe­ri­od­i­cally hosts out­door events where you can try tra­di­tional street food. Across the Kyu-Yodo River, Kids Plaza Osaka ( kid­ is an enor­mous play zone and sci­ence museum with di­rect ac­cess to Ogi­machi sub­way sta­tion. Other stand­outs in­clude the bayfront

Osaka Aquar­ium (, one of the world’s largest, and Le­goland Dis­cov

ery Cen­ter ( osaka.legoland­dis­cov­erycen­ in Tem­pozan Mar­ket Place next door. And with Ky­oto, Nara, and Kobe just a short hop away, the po­ten­tial for side trips is end­less.


Head­ing to Ja­pan for your win­ter va­ca­tion? One rec­om­mended op­tion is Hakuba in the Ja­panese Alps. Just out­side Nagano City, which is 80 min­utes from Tokyo by bul­let train, Hakuba played host to sev­eral events at the 1998 Win­ter Olympics. Ever­green In

ter­na­tional Ski School ( ever­green-skischool .com) pro­vides les­sons for all ages, with chil­dren aged three to six en­rolled in its Yeti Club. Lodg­ings at Sierra Re­sort Ho­tel

Hakuba ( sier­ra­ start from a spa­cious 36 square me­ters, with thought­ful de­tails like kid-sized yukata and a large com­mu­nal gar­den that tran­forms into a snowy play­ground. Closer to the near­est ski area and res­tau­rants, Hakuba Springs

Ho­tel ( has large fam­ily rooms and na­tive English-speak­ing staff. Both ho­tels of­fer equip­ment rentals. Beyond the pistes, side trips in­clude

Mat­sumoto Cas­tle ( mat­sumoto-cas­— known for its orig­i­nal keep from the late 16th cen­tury—and the fa­mous Ja­panese macaques at Jigoku­dani Mon­key Park ( en.

jigoku­ End each ex­cur­sion with a soak at your ho­tel’s onsen.


The premier ski re­sort in northerly Hok­kaido is the per­fect choice for a late sea­son ski trip with your fam­ily. While Ja­pan’s other main is­lands are en­joy­ing spring, the slopes of Niseko are still cov­ered in dry pow­der, and kids can ski here for free from March to April. When the snow has melted, go for a scenic drive, try out white-wa­ter raft­ing with your teens, or see Hok­kaido’s fa­mous shiba

zakura (moss phlox), which bloom from the end of May to the mid­dle of June. A pop­u­lar place to see these dainty blos­soms is at the 4,000-square-me­ter Kazuo Mishima

Gar­den in the nearby town of Kutchan (, where a del­i­cately groomed car­pet of pink, red, and white flow­ers is back­dropped by con­i­cal Mount Yotei, a smaller-scale ver­sion of Mount Fuji.

Clock­wise from

left: Yoko­hama’s Cup Noo­dles Museum; the Im­pe­rial Palace in Tokyo; Mermaid La­goon at Tokyo Dis­neySea.

Start­ing out early at Hakuba’s Ever­green In­ter­na­tional Ski School. Above: Osaka Aquar­ium.

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