Top 6 family experiences in Japan
Kayaking, drumming, or travelling at high-speed through the country — Japan will keep the whole family entertained.
Meet the snow monkeys, recommended by Rory
While staying in the small hot-spring town of Yudanaka, in the northern Japanese Alps, a visit to see the snow monkeys that bathe in the natural onsen is a must. The native macaques flock to Jigokudani, nicknamed Hell Valley due to its natural geysers and sulphuric smoke, on a daily basis (except for the humid summer months).
The best time to see the snow monkeys relaxing is in January or February. You can access Hell Valley via a half-hour gentle hike, suitable for young children, through the woods at the top of Yudanaka town. After exploring the park, visit an onsen in town to experience a hot-spring soak for yourself before dinner.
Travel on a bullet train, recommended by Rebecca
Both children and adults will love the thrill of this futuristic, high-speed travel. Not only is riding a bullet train exciting, it’s cost effective too — private drivers can be expensive in Japan, but the coverage and reliability of the network allows you to explore the country in comfort and at minimum cost.
Pick up a bento box at the train station to eat on board —these meal boxes are made with local ingredients to reflect the area they are from. For example, if you are passing through Kobe, you can expect your box to include beef. The boxes are always very aesthetically pleasing and some even come character-themed for children.
Kayak around Miyajima, recommended by Jo
Spend the afternoon on a kayaking tour around Miyajima, a small, sacred island found in Hiroshima Bay in western Japan – a great activity for teenagers. The most prominent feature of the island is its red torii gate, which, though it appears to float in the bay, can be accessed during low tide.
Armed with your life jacket and paddle, you can scull across a calm strait of the Seto Inland Sea before reaching the island. After the tour, walk onto the island to explore the town or ride the cable car up 535-m-high (1,755 ft) Mount Misen for views across Hiroshima Bay, if the weather is clear.
Visit the Ghibli Museum, Mitaka, recommended by Clio
Just over half an hour from Tokyo’s busy transport hub of Shinjuku, you’ll find one of the most popular family museums in the country, the Ghibli Museum, Mitaka — perfect for teenage anime fans. Housed in a brightly painted building, it features original prints from all of Hayao Miyazaki’s highly acclaimed and influential motion pictures — including the classic Spirited Away — as well as statues of the characters he brings to life.
In the basement is the Saturn Theater, which plays an original animated short film. There’s also a rooftop garden, which offers a moment of tranquility above the bustle of Tokyo life.
Cycle around Takayama, recommended by Henry
Your whole family can get into the saddle to safely explore the rural Japanese Alps by taking a guided bicycle ride around the outskirts of Takayama. The tour starts at the station, where your guide conducts a brief health and safety talk.
You’re then led to the nearby town of Hida, renowned for the clean, natural water that flows in small canals and runs through the town — you can usually see koi carp swimming in them. Cycling on, you’re then taken through rice paddies and past thatched-roof farmhouses, with the Hida Mountains rising up in the distance.
Take a Taiko lesson in Tokyo, recommended by Laura
Taiko drumming has been a key feature of traditional Japanese music for centuries, and is still used at the large-scale matsuri (festivals) that occur throughout Japan. This lesson is a chance for the whole family to learn about the long history of the instrument, which was also used to motivate troops in battle, and have a go yourself.
Your English-speaking instructor starts with the basics by introducing the different types of drum, stance and tones, before going through some call-and-response exercises: the perfect way for young arms — as well as the simply young at heart — to let off some steam.