Japan with kids: the perfect Japan 2 week itinerary

Osaka is a great stop on your 2 week Japan itinerary, especially if you're visiting Japan with kids

Take the kids to Japan with our comprehensive family friendly Japan 2 week itinerary!  Visiting Japan with kids is an amazing experience for the whole family.  Be enchanted by delicate zen gardens in Kyoto; be serenaded by robots in Tokyo; visit a volcano in Hakone; learn about the harrowing history in Hiroshima, and much more.

Japan is my family’s favourite destination, so read on to find out why a trip here is so special.

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A Japan 2 week itinerary with kids

Japan is an increasingly popular destination, and with the upcoming Olympics in 2020, interest in Japan has never been so high.  Most first time visitors will have about two weeks in Japan so I’ve come up with the perfect Japan 2 week itinerary for people who want to see the main sights.

We visited Japan with kids (of course), and so this itinerary is ideal for families too.  We’re not massive fans of rushing through a place; we like to spend at least two or three days in each location.

Having said that this itinerary does see you moving around a fair bit.  If you don’t want to do this then spend longer in Tokyo and Kyoto (or Osaka) and take day trips.  I’ll go over alternative options where relevant.

First of all, let’s find out why Japan is such a great family friendly destination.

Why should you visit Japan with kids?

Family meal in Takayama on our 2 week trip to Japan with kids

I absolutely adore Japan.  Ever since my first visit to the Land of the Rising Sun I’ve wanted to go back. So when my husband mentioned he was keen, our flights were booked before any backtracking could take place.

Japan is a really family friendly place.  It’s clean and modern, you don’t need any jabs and you can drink the tap water so no worrying about sanitation as you might have to if you’re going elsewhere in Asia with your kids.  The Japanese are wonderful; for the most part everyone is friendly and happy to help even through the language barrier.

Kids are welcomed in most places in Japan.  However in some restaurants you won’t find baby seats, and it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to take kids into izakaya (Japanese pubs).  I have heard anecdotes about families being turned away at restaurants but this never happened to us.

There is so much to do in Japan with kids, and the best thing is that adults will also love all the things that kids will want to do, so Japan is basically great for families.

You can find out more of the best things to do in Japan with kids here.

What does this 2 week Japan itinerary cover?

Coloured votives at Konjogi temple in Kyoto will delight kids in Japan

In this itinerary I’ll cover the main sights to see in each place and give suggested timings or alternative destinations depending on what sort of thing you and your family want to see.

This itinerary should also be useful for any first time visitor to Japan – you don’t necessarily need to be travelling to Japan with kids to enjoy everything in this itinerary.  Us adults definitely enjoyed everything covered here.

It’s going to be a long post so get comfy! 

In brief this two week Japan itinerary covers travelling to the below cities.  This is not our exact itinerary as we spent almost 3 weeks in Japan, and we didn’t take our kids to Hiroshima (we went to Shibu Onsen to see the snow monkeys instead).  However I have been to Hiroshima and Miyajima on a previous trip to Japan, so I still speak from experience!

Days 1 – 3: Tokyo

Days 4 – 5:  Hakone

Days 6 – 7:  Takayama

Days 8 – 9: Hiroshima

Days 10 – 11: Osaka

Days 12 – 14: Kyoto

I haven’t included travelling days; you’ll need to add an extra couple of days to account for travel to and from Japan.

You might find that this itinerary has you moving around too much; if that’s the case and you don’t think your little kids can handle it then you can skip Hiroshima and add the extra days to Tokyo or Kyoto (or both).  You can also combine Osaka and Kyoto by staying in one city and visiting the other on day trips as they are so close (which is what we did).

While I’ve been to Hiroshima and it’s a great city with some really worthwhile things to see and do, it may not be the best place to take little kids.  One of the main things to see in Hiroshima is the Peace Memorial Museum and small children either won’t understand it, or they will and it will upset them, or they won’t behave appropriately.  Our kids are generally really well behaved but we still decided not to take them to Hiroshima until they’re a bit bigger.

I don’t mean to lecture anyone; it’s a personal choice, and that’s how we felt about it.  If you think your kids can handle it then by all means take them; it’s a fascinating place.

I’ve also included a couple of alternatives or detours that you can take depending on your interests or the season. Enjoy your planning!

Japan with kids: Know before you go

How to get around Japan with kids

Shinkansen train in Japan - Japan bucket list

Trains with a JR Pass

Ah, Japanese trains.  They’re basically the exact opposite to British trains.  They’re clean, on time and fast.  Returning to the UK after spending a few weeks speeding around Japan on the shinkansen is a surefire way to experience reverse culture shock.  (You’ll feel the same after using Japanese loos, by the way).

Needless to say, this is the option that we recommend.

You will probably want to buy a 2 week JR Pass for this itinerary.  Japanese trains are expensive and the JR Pass will let you get to most of the below destinations without needing to buy another ticket (Hakone and Shibu Onsen are exceptions).

The only downside to a JR Pass is that you can’t use it on the Nozomi or Mizuho shinkansen; it’s only valid on Hikari, Sakura, Kodama and Tsubame services.  So be careful when planning which trains to use.

It is a really good idea to reserve train seats in advance so you can sit together – most carriages are reserved seating only.  Children under 6 don’t need a rail pass but they’ll have to sit on your lap if there aren’t any free seats.  There are non reserved carriages but there’s no guarantee of a seat!

You can reserve seats at any JR station ticket office and the clerks all speak English.  It’s a good habit to book seats for your onward journey when you arrive at each destination, if you’re not ready to do this when you validate your pass. Click here to buy your JR Pass.

You can also use the JR Pass on the JR lines that run through Tokyo, although be careful that you allow enough time on the pass to journey back from Kyoto to Tokyo, unless you booked an open-jaw flight.

You can use an IC Card like Pasmo or Suica to get around Tokyo instead (Pasmo also work on Kyoto’s buses).  These cards can also be used in many shops.  Click here to buy an IC card.

The best way to get train times is by using the Hyperdia website and associated app.  The app is free for 30 days so download it just before you get to Japan and use the website to plan your journeys in advance.  Hyperdia is great as it even tells you what platform the trains depart from.

Don’t forget to rent a pocket Wi-Fi device; you’ll need it for navigating the cities and checking Hyperdia! Click here to rent a pocket Wi-Fi.

Drive

The other option is to drive.  Road signage is in English as well as Japanese, and the Japanese drive on the left so if you’re British it won’t be as difficult as you might fear.

Families might prefer to drive instead of dragging your bags around all the time.  The husband and I both hate driving, and there was no way we were going to attempt to drive in Tokyo.  Remember that you’ve got to find accommodation with parking, so trains it was for us!

When is the best time to visit Japan?

Japan is fantastic to visit at any time of year (well, almost).  Here’s a brief breakdown of each season (TL:DR, try not to visit in summer).

Japan in the spring

Cherry blossom in Japan

In the spring, you can see the famous cherry blossoms at the end of March and beginning of April.  The cherry blossom season is wildly popular with Japanese and foreign tourists alike.  Expect crowds and remember to book your accommodation far in advance.  I haven’t managed to visit Japan in cherry blossom season yet, but it’ll be a priority for our next trip (one trip to Japan is never enough).

In April and May the weather starts to warm up making this a pleasant time to visit.  Watch out for the Japanese holiday of Golden Week – everything will be very busy and trains and other transport will be chock full.  Avoid if you can.

Japan in the summer

Japan in summer

Summer is probably the worst time to visit Japan.  The temperatures can be stifling and the humidity high.  It’s also the wettest time to be in Japan; and the odd typhoon strikes from August onwards which can disrupt travel as well as being downright dangerous.  However there are wonderful sights in Japanese gardens and summer firework festivals to look forward to.

If you do want to visit Japan in the summer then the northern island of Hokkaido will be cooler and more pleasant than Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku.

Japan in the autumn

Garden in Nikko, Japan, in November

Autumn is a wonderful time in Japan, for the most part.  September sees the typhoon season continue so it’s not ideal weather wise.  In late October and through November you can see magnificent colour in parks and gardens as the autumn leaf viewing season progresses.

Temperatures are pleasant, and you’ll probably only need a coat in Takayama for the purpose of this itinerary.  Autumn is almost as popular as cherry blossom season, and just as beautiful.

Unfortunately autumn doesn’t fit in with any of the UK’s school holidays (unless you get two weeks in October half term) so you’ll have to risk a fine if you want to take you kids out of school.

Japan in the winter

Mt Fuji Japan in winter seen from shinkansen

Winter is a surprisingly good time to visit Japan, and if you can’t visit in the Easter holidays then I’d advise going over Christmas rather than the summer holidays.  You’ll find everywhere decorated for Christmas, so don’t worry about missing out on any festive spirit.

Winter is quieter than spring and autumn and skies are clear in December, making winter a great time to see Mt Fuji.  Kids will be enchanted by the festive illuminations, many of which carry on throughout the winter.  You can also head to some of Japan’s ski resorts, or visit the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park.

Click here to read more about the best things to do in Japan in winter.

What sort of accommodation should you book in Japan?

Typical Japanese accommodation in a ryokan

Accommodation in Japan can be expensive, but with a little searching you can find some good bargains.  Rooms tend to be on the small side, especially in big cities, and for families this can mean that you might feel a bit squished sometimes.  Try to pack as lightly as you can.

As well as the usual hotel chains, Japan has some interesting accommodation options.  You’ve probably heard of the tiny capsule hotel where you basically sleep in a pod rather than a room – while these sound like fun for one night they’re not suitable for kids (and many are men only).

AirBnB is now heavily regulated in Japan, so be careful when booking stays through this site and only communicate through official channels.

You can also find family friendly hostels, and we stayed in a great one in Tokyo.

Staying in a ryokan with kids

Staying in a ryokan is an essential Japanese experience.  A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn; many of the buildings are old or built in a traditional way.  You’ll sleep on tatami mats on the floor, and sometimes a low table is provided.  Many ryokan are family friendly.

Typical meal served in a Japanese inn, or ryokan

You’re usually provided with yukata, or lightweight kimonos, to wear around the ryokan, and to breakfast and dinner.  Ryokan often provide traditional Japanese meals at set times (vegetarian options are usually available).

You might be lucky enough to get an ensuite toilet but don’t be surprised if toilets are shared, and the only place to wash is in a communal bath.  Shared bathing facilities are really common in Japan.  Many ryokan which are family friendly will have a private bath for families to use – this worked out really well for us as we could try out an onsen together, without having to worry about the kids or anyone else!

Ryokan come in all shapes and sizes, and for all budgets.  Apart from our hostel in Tokyo, we stayed in ryokan and guesthouses for our whole trip.

How to spend 2 weeks in Japan – a complete Japan 2 week itinerary

Days 1 – 3 in Japan with kids: Tokyo

View over Odaiba's Rainbow Bridge at sunset, Tokyo, Japan

You’re most likely to begin your trip by flying into Tokyo’s Narita airport.  Narita is quite far out of Tokyo itself so if you can find flights that arrive at Haneda you might find this more convenient.  However, there are plenty of transport options to whisk you into the centre of Tokyo without too much trouble.  We took the Narita Express.  

Tokyo is, quite frankly, an amazing city.  For me, only London tops it (and only just).  In Tokyo you can be walking through a Blade Runner style futuristic metropolis, but turn the corner and you’re in a quiet park with temples and manicured gardens, and perhaps a traditional tea house too.  Tokyo is ordered, and deceptively easy to navigate.

It won’t come as any surprise that there are a huge number of amazing things to see and do in Tokyo, unlike anywhere else in the world.

You will want to plan out your time in Tokyo carefully as there’s so much to see and do that it’s easy to miss the main activities.  I’ll recommend a bare minimum of 3 days in Tokyo, but try to extend this if you can.  We spent a little longer in Tokyo; click here to read about how to spend five days in Tokyo with kids.

If you don’t have as long as we did, here’s a brief run down on what we think are the best things to do in Tokyo, with or without kids. 

Day 1: Harajuku and Shibuya

Rainbow candy floss in Harajuku; Japan bucket list

On Day 1 of your 2 week Japan itinerary, get stuck into the thick of it all and go to Tokyo’s most famous areas.  Start your day at Harajuku’s Takeshita Street; make sure try some of the amazing street food like the enormous rainbow candy floss, or crepes from Marion’s.

You can spend an age browsing in the shops and it’s a great place to people watch too.  If you’ve got kids make sure you take them to KiddyLand on Omotesando, just around the corner.  It’s a toy lover’s paradise with plenty of cute Japanese characters, and Western toys like Marvel and Star Wars too.

For lunch try out the Harajuku Monster Cafe; it was my daughter’s favourite part of the whole trip (and possibly ever!).  The food isn’t great but kids will love the Alice in Wonderland decor and the monster Chompy.  Don’t take kids in the evening though; it all gets a bit, ahem, adult.

After lunch take a break from the busy streets at Meiji Jingu Shrine, just behind Harajuku train station.  This is one of Japan’s most important shrines, and well worth a visit.  Get the kids involved by buying a votive and writing a wish on it.

In the evening take the Yamanote Line one stop to Shibuya.  From here you can meet the loyal dog, Hachiko (a bit like Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Bobby) and cross the mad Shibuya Scramble crossing.  You’ll probably want to do it a couple of times!

Shibuya scramble crossing from Starbucks cafe

The best viewpoints for the Shibuya crossing are at the Starbucks and Mag’s Park viewpoint at Shibuya 109 (you can’t miss either of them).  We got a snack and the view from Starbucks.  We didn’t visit Mag’s Park (it was brand new and we hadn’t heard of it) but here you can even take selfies of yourselves and the crossing using a remote camera.  Entry to the viewpoint costs ¥300 and use of the remote camera costs ¥1000.  More info about Mag’s Park here.

From here head down Shibuya Centre Gai street, and take a look at the shops and restaurants. Try out a Japanese institution – a visit to Mega Donki (or Don Quijote) is a must – this shop sells everything!  Nonbei Yokocho (drunks’ alley) is an atmospheric street filled with izakaya (Japanese pubs) and makes an interesting stop, although it’s unlikely that the kids will be allowed in any of the pubs.  And if you’re visiting Tokyo in the winter then make sure you visit the Shibuya Blue Cave illuminations.

Day 2: Odaiba and Shinjuku

Palette Town in Odaiba is home to the Mori Digital Art Museum

Start today by travelling to Odaiba, a man made island in Tokyo Bay.  Kids will love taking the futuristic monorail over the Rainbow Bridge (you’ll have to fight for a seat up front though).

Once in Odaiba head to Palette Town for the Mori Digital Art Museum and the TeamLab: Borderless exhibit.  You’ll need to have booked your tickets in advance and I’d arrive for opening time to avoid the queues.  The entrance is right by the enormous rainbow wheel (somehow we got lost trying to find it).  Click here to book tickets.

Digital art in TeamLab: Borderless at the Mori Digital Art Museum Tokyo Japan

TeamLab: Borderless is an amazing place with absolutely tons of digital art to interact with.  It’s as great for children as it is for adults and you’ll need about 3 hours to do it justice.  If you go to one museum in Tokyo, make it this one.

Once you’ve looked around the museum, go back into the city centre to Shinjuku.  This is where you can visit the Samurai Museum or the Ninja Trick House before catching the Robot Restaurant show at about 4pm.  There are other, later showings but the 4pm one is family friendly (the later showings probably aren’t, according to my sister in law!).

The Robot Restaurant isn’t really a restaurant so don’t eat here. Instead it’s one of the most bizarre shows of dance, music and elaborate costumes I’ve ever seen.  The kids loved it, and it’s well worth doing.  Make sure you shop around for cheaper tickets as otherwise this show can be very expensive.  Book your tickets in advance, here.

After Robot Restaurant hang around Shinjuku for a bit longer.  You can visit the Metropolitan Government Buildings for a free view over Tokyo (until 11pm; more information on timings here) or try visiting more izakaya filled streets (Omoide Yokocho).  Alternatively there is plenty of shopping in this area.

Day 3: Asakusa, Ueno and Akihabara

Senso-ji temple in Tokyo seen from the Asakusa visitor centre

Asakusa is one of the oldest parts of Tokyo, and personally, it’s my favourite area.  It’s very busy with tourists and locals alike, so try to arrive early, or brace yourselves for the crowds!  Asakusa’s biggest draw is the amazing shrine and temple complex, Senso-ji.

There’s a fabulous shopping street that runs directly down from the main shrine, and there are also covered shopping streets off to each side.  When we visited this area we took a food tour with Arigato Japan – which we’d definitely recommend.  Click here to read more about our experience and get a discount code.

While you’re walking around Senso-ji you might notice a nearby theme park – it’s one of the oldest in Japan and your kids might be interested in visiting before you get lunch in the area.

After spending the morning in Asakusa, you can jump on the metro (or walk) to nearby Ueno.  Ueno has a fantastic park which also has a zoo and plenty of other attractions, including museums and shrines, to explore.  Little kids will want to play in the playground here.

Akihabara, Tokyo's Electric Town is a haven for anyone interested in buying electronics

You can then spend the evening in Akihabara, Tokyo’s electric town, or get back on the metro and visit the Tokyo Skytree for sunset.  Lots of Tokyo’s shops and large department stores are open in the evenings, so it’s the perfect time to visit them as you then have more time for sightseeing during the day.

More options for things to do in Tokyo

Ghibli Museum's robot guardian, Mitaka, Tokyo

This is only a brief taster of what Tokyo has to offer.  There are many more museums and attractions to visit!

Many kids will obviously want to go to Tokyo Disney Land.  There are two parks here; Disney Land and Disney Sea.  It’s the only Disney Sea in the world and the rides are a little more thrilling too, so if you’ve got older kids, take them to Disney Sea.  Click here to buy tickets for Disney Land  or click here for Disney Sea tickets.

If your kids are into anime, then Studio Ghibli’s Museum is one for you.  Tickets can be hard to come by and you must book them 1 – 3 months in advance. Find out how to buy your Studio Ghibli Museum tickets here.

Where to stay in Tokyo

If you’ve only got 3 days in Tokyo, then staying centrally is a must.  I’d recommend somewhere on the Yamanote Line (it’s a bit like London’s circle line so it’s very convenient).  While I’ve previously stayed in Ueno and Kiyosumi Shirakawa, if you’re short on time then I’ll recommend Shibuya.

We didn’t stay centrally, although Kiyosumi Shirakawa has good metro links.  We stayed in a budget hostel with a bar and restaurant, on the river.  It was great and we’d stay here again.  We couldn’t beat the price.  Click here to book the Share Hotels Lyuro.

Click here for a full list of hotels and hostels in Tokyo.

Days 4 – 5 in Japan with kids: Hakone

On day 4 travel out of Tokyo to head towards Mt Fuji.  There are two main sightseeing areas around Mt Fuji: the hot spring area of Hakone and Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji go-ko).  I’ve only been to Hakone, not Fuji Five Lakes, but this area is also meant to be lovely so take your pick!

If you haven’t done so already, activate your JR Pass.

Day 4: Tokyo to Hakone

Moss garden in Hakone; make sure it's on your Japan 2 week itinerary

Hakone is a popular hot spring resort near to Mt Fuji.  There are plenty of family friendly attractions to visit here, and you might be lucky enough to see Mt Fuji!

It is entirely possible to visit Hakone as a day trip from Tokyo but it’s a very full on day and I wouldn’t recommend it with small kids.  There’s a lot to see and do here so taking your time over two days is better.  It also saves on backtracking.

To get to Hakone, take the JR shinkansen from Shinjuku to Odawara.  Once you reach Odawara, you’ll have to take non-JR transport the rest of the way.  Take a look at the 2 day Hakone Free Pass which lets you use all the transport in Hakone from Odawara.  From Odawara take the Hakone Tozen Railway to Gora.

If you’re not using a JR Pass then the slower Odakyu Railway service also leaves from Shinjuku and gets you as far as Hakone Yumoto station, where you can join the Hakone Tozen Railway to Gora. You’ll probably want a Hakone Free Pass as well.

In the afternoon of Day 4, you can spend some time looking around the town of Gora.  There are plenty of museums, parks and onsen here.  Kids will love the Hakone Open Air Museum which has sculptures and all sorts of art to look at.  The Picasso area always goes down well with kids.

Day 5: Hakone Loop

Pirate ship on a lake by Mt Fuji at Hakone

On day 5, travel the Hakone Loop, also called the Hakone Round Course.  The Hakone Loop is the most popular activity in Hakone.  This involves a series of scenic train rides, cable cars over sulphuric volcano vents, and a trip on a pirate ship across Lake Ashi.  All the transportation is included in the Hakone Free Pass.

Cable car over Owakudani, Hakone, Japan

When I first visited Hakone you were able to get off the cable car and explore the volcanic area of Owakudani.  Here, eggs are boiled in hot springs – the volcanic minerals turn the shells black.  Eating a black egg is supposed to add seven years to your life (this does not accumulate, sadly!).  However Owakudani has been closed recently due to increased volcanic activity, but I think you can still eat the black eggs!  Check before you visit to see if it’s been reopened.

Kids will love the pirate ship trip across Lake Ashi.  If you’re very lucky, then Mt Fuji can clearly be seen looming above the lake.  However seeing this elusive mountain is by no means guaranteed!  After the boat trip there are scenic walks close to the lake.  The most popular one is the Ancient Cedar Avenue, and here you can also visit the Detached Palace garden and the Checkpoint Museum.

From here you can take a bus back to Gora – it’s possible to walk back, via the famous teahouse Amazake Chaya – but it’s about 10k which is too far for small kids.  When you get back to your accommodation, spend some time in an onsen, or take a look at more of the museums and gardens.

Where to stay in Hakone

We’d recommend booking a hotel or ryokan with an onsite onsen if you are travelling with small kids.  There’s a fair bit of etiquette around onsen bathing and frankly it’s much easier if you can find a private bath.  The onsen could be indoors or outdoors and it’s honestly a must-do Japanese experience.  It took some coaxing but our five year old daughter loved the onsen in the end; her three year old brother, not so much!

Here is a great option with an onsen bath and traditional Japanese rooms at a reasonable price. Hakone Gora Kanon is located near to Gora station.  The ryokan also serves Japanese breakfast and dinner. Click here to book.

Click here to take a look at hotels in Hakone.

Day 6 – 7 in Japan with kids: Takayama (or Shibu Onsen)

Takayama is a pretty city in the Japanese Alps, in Gifu Prefecture.  It’s most famous for its lovely preserved ancient centre, and for its ornate festival floats.  There’s enough in Takayama to keep you busy for two days, but you could also take a day trip to Shirakawago (or just stay there instead).  Kids will love the town’s mascot, a sarubobo, or monkey baby.

Day 6: Hakone to Takayama

Takayama is a great destination on your Japan 2 week itinerary

Getting from Hakone to Takayama is going to take about 5 hours.  First get the train to Odawara station; then a shinkansen to Nagoya.  From here you can take the Hida Wide Express to Takayama.  The Hida Wide Express is covered by the JR Pass.

Check times on Hyperdia, but from a quick search at the time of writing, you can expect to be in Takayama by 14.20.  Get lunch at the train station before you travel – eki-ben, or sandwiches or onigiri from 7-11!

Try to stay near the train station in Takayama so you can easily drop your bags off before looking around.

In the afternoon you can take a brief look around some of Takayama’s traditional streets.  There are a wealth of shops, restaurants and cafes in the preserved buildings, as well as some former homes that have been turned into museums, like the Kusakabe House or the Yoshijima Heritage House.

Day 7: Takayama

Takayama Jinya is well worth a visit during your 2 weeks in Japan

On day 7, get up early and visit Takayama’s morning market. It will all be over by 11am or thereabouts, so don’t leave it too late.  You can pick up handicrafts, sweets, souvenirs and more.

Later on, visit the festival floats museum, and look around the Sakurayama Hachimangu shrine nearby.  There’s a lovely walk from this shrine that takes you through the hills overlooking Takayama; this is called the Higashiyama Walkway, and it is especially nice in the autumn.

Alternatively, take in a sake brewery tour, or visit Takayama Jinya, the former government offices, which are a fantastic example of Japanese architecture.

Hida no Sato is Takayama's open air museum

Takayama also has an open air museum, Hida no Sato, with gassho-zukuri houses (the steeply pitched homes that look like alpine houses).  It’s just on the outskirts of town but you can take a taxi or local bus to reach it.  If you don’t time to visit Shirakawago then this is a good alternative.

Just opposite the entrance is the Takayama Cultural Centre which has handicrafts and activities for kids – we made our own sarubobo!

Keep an eye out for our upcoming guide to Takayama.

Where to stay in Takayama

We stayed just outside of the centre, near the open air museum.  The town centre was walkable, although we did take a taxi back a couple of times.  Our ryokan was spacious, with an ensuite toilet and a private family onsen.  The food was also great and we ate our dinner here too.  Click here to book.

Click here to see more hotels in Takayama.

Alternative trip: Shibu Onsen for the snow monkeys, via Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle Japan in winter

If you’re visiting Japan in winter, then you might want to swap Takayama for the snow monkeys and the pretty town of Shibu Onsen.  From Hakone you can take a train to Nagano and from here transfer to Matsumoto (although some routes take you back through Tokyo).

If you’re travelling through Nagano then you can easily stop off at Matsumoto Castle on the way.  We did this and just stored our luggage in lockers at Matsumoto Station.  The lovely raven black castle is authentic and a fantastic way to step back into the Japan of old.

From Matsumoto station take the train to Nagano.  From here take the Snow Monkey Express service to Yudanaka (note that the Snow Monkey express is not covered by the JR Pass) or a bus.  As we were staying two nights in Yudanaka we took the train and visited the snow monkeys the following day.

Snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park Japan

The snow monkeys are adorable and our kids loved seeing them.  After you’ve been to Jigokudani Monkey Park, you can look around the onsen town.

From Shibu Onsen travel on to Kyoto or Osaka (Hiroshima is probably too far to travel to in one day).  We carried on to Takayama.

Find out more in our blog post about visiting the snow monkeys here.

Day 8 – 9 in Japan with kids: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Hiroshima Castle is a good stop in Japan with kids

There are several different ways you can work the last three destinations in this itinerary.  The first time I visited Japan I travelled from Takayama to Hiroshima, and then back to Kyoto/Osaka.  This may be fine for you if you have older kids and you don’t mind moving about.

When we took the kids, we travelled from Takayama to Kyoto, and stayed there, as we decided not to take our little kids to Hiroshima.  We took day trips from Kyoto to Osaka and Nara; this saved us from moving our bags around too much.

The journey from Takayama to Hiroshima takes about five and a half hours.  It’s back to Nagoya on the Hida Wide Express, and a shinkansen from Nagoya to Hiroshima.  Even though there are direct shinkansen from Nagoya to Hiroshima, they are the Nozomi trains that don’t accept a JR Pass.  So you’ll have to take a different shinkansen and change – probably at Shin-Kobe or Shin-Osaka.

Day 8: Takayama to Hiroshima

Hiroshima's A Bomb Dome is at the epicentre of the nuclear blast that destroyed the city

So, let’s say you’ve decided to brave the journey from Takayama to Hiroshima.  You’ll arrive by about 1.30pm if you depart Takayama at 8am (another reason to stay near the station).  Drop your bags at your hotel and go straight out to visit the Peace Memorial Museum.

You can take a tram from the station or any one of the sightseeing buses.  The stop is called Heiwa Kinan Koen (Peace Memorial Park).  You can use your JR Pass on any of the Hiroshima Loop Bus services.

The museum is dedicated to the story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.  It’s very interesting, but also very harrowing in places.  Young children may find the photographs and remains of personal effects upsetting (and many adults will too).

Take the kids to look at the statue of Sadako Sasaki in the Peace Memorial Garden.  Sadako is one of Hiroshima’s most famous victims.  A child at the time of the bombing, she later developed cancer as a teenager.  A Japanese folk tale tells that if you fold a thousand paper cranes, then you’re granted a wish.  Sadako set about folding a thousand cranes, but nobody knows how many she managed to fold before she died.  Today thousands of paper cranes folded by children from around the world are displayed next to a statue of Sadako.

There is a good view of the A Bomb Dome from the Peace Memorial Museum.  Depending on how long you’ve spent in the museum and garden, you may want to walk to get a closer look at it.  The bomb’s Ground Zero is near the dome, although it’s very inconspicuous and you may walk right past it without realising.

In the evening make sure you get some Okonomiyaki for dinner – these savoury pancakes are a regional specialty.

Day 9: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Shukkeien garden in Hiroshima is a great place for the kids to chill out

On Day 9 you may want to look around more of Hiroshima.  It’s a vibrant city and there’s plenty to keep you busy.  Other worthwhile attractions here include Hiroshima Castle and the onsite Gokoku Shrine, and the lovely garden nearby, Shukkeien.

Many people want to visit Miyajima island while they’re in Hiroshima.  Miyajima is an easy day trip from the city centre; it’s a short train journey from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguchi; from here you can catch a 10 minute ferry journey over to the island.  The whole journey is covered by the JR Pass.

The floating torii gate at Isukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island is a great day trip from Hiroshima

No doubt you’ll have seen the “floating torii” gate of Miyajima, which rises out of the water at high tide.  It’s a lovely sight, as is the shrine it belongs to.  Be aware that the torii is currently being renovated, and it’s covered up until at least summer 2020.

View from the top of Mt Misen on Miyajima Island, near Hiroshima, Japan

Other things to do in Miyajima include feeding the (sort of) tame deer – although do be careful as these deer aren’t as friendly as the ones in Nara.  There’s plenty of shopping and more shrines in the main town, but you should also try to take the cable car up Mt Misen for an extensive view over the area.  Kids will really enjoy this journey, and there are also wild monkeys at the top (although I didn’t see any).

You can spend a half or full day in Miyajima, as you like.

Where to stay in Hiroshima

Again, I’d recommend staying near to Hiroshima station if you possibly can.  This way you’ll be near to city transport as well as being convenient for your onward journey.

The Hotel Century21 may lack traditional Japanese features but you can’t beat the location, family friendly rooms and above all, the price.  This hotel is located very close to Hiroshima train station and metro.  Other features include a 24 hour desk with luggage storage and an onsite restaurant.  Click here to book.

Click here to see more hotels in Hiroshima.

Day 10 – 11 in Japan with kids: Osaka

Dotonbori, Osaka at sunset

As I’ve mentioned before, Kyoto and Osaka are so close together that you might want to stay in one city for the last five days of your trip to save moving around.  We stayed in Kyoto for six nights and took day trips to Osaka and Nara.

Irritatingly, we found that our Pasmo cards didn’t work in Osaka, although they did in Kyoto.  You could just buy an Osaka day pass or the local version of the IC card, the Icoca, will work here and in Hiroshima and Himeji too.  There’s also a JR loop line which you can use your JR Passes on.

Day 10: Osaka (via Himeji Castle)

Himeji Castle is one of Japan's most beautiful attractions

It’s not far from Hiroshima to Osaka (or Kyoto), and you might want to stop off at Himeji Castle on the way.  Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s best preserved castles and is said to be the most beautiful.  It’s very different to Hiroshima Castle or Osaka Castle so I’d say it’s worth a visit.  Take an early train from Hiroshima so that you arrive at Himeji for opening time or as close to it as you can.

After visiting Himeji Castle it’s a short hop on the train to Osaka.  You’ll probably arrive in the late afternoon so once you’ve checked in to your hotel I’d advise going out to the Dotonbori area, via some of the covered shopping arcades nearby – Shinsaibashi is a good one.

Dotonbori in Osaka is full of amazing food to try - a must do on your Japan 2 week itinerary

Dotonbori is a foodie paradise; its busy streets are lined with restaurants and street food stalls selling any number of Japanese dishes.  Among the most popular are crab dishes and takoyaki (fried octopus). There are also boat tours along the canals and a large yellow ferris wheel that our kids begged us to go on.  Kids will be enchanted by the neon glow of the shop’s lights and amazing moving signs and billboards.  It’s unmissable!

Day 11: Osaka

Kaiyukan is Osaka's Aquarium and one of the best things to do in Japan with kids

On Day 11 try to cram in as much Osaka fun as you can.  Here are a few ideas, all of which are really easy to get to using the train and metro.

I’m sure that your kids will want to go to Osaka’s aquarium, Kaiyukan, which is one of the biggest and best in the world.  The main attraction is a jaw droppingly huge tank which is home to not one but two whale sharks.  Of course, there’s absolutely tons of marine life in the surrounding tanks too, including seals from Monterey Bay, and enormous coral reefs.

The one downside to Osaka aquarium is its popularity.  We visited on New Year’s Eve and the whole place was uncomfortably rammed full of people who pushed and shoved everyone else.  This almost ruined the visit for us so try to arrive as early as you can and avoid going on a stupidly busy day.  We should really have thought of this before going on NYE!  Click here to book your tickets.

Just next to the aquarium you’ll find a large ferris wheel and plenty of kid-friendly amusements.  There’s a Legoland Discovery Centre in the main shopping arcade, as well as plenty of places to eat.

Our kids loved the visit to Umeda Sky Building too.  This is one of the tallest buildings in Osaka and it’s got a fabulous observation deck at the top – you’ll get far reaching views all across Osaka and beyond.  Its architecture is quite striking as well – vertigo sufferers may not enjoy the escalators which link the two buildings!  In the basement you’ll find a good food market.

Osaka castle is a good stop in Japan with kids

We also visited Osaka Castle, but if you’ve already done the castles at Matsumoto, Himeji and Hiroshima, you can give it a miss.  Osaka Castle is beautiful but it’s not original as it’s been burnt down or destroyed at least twice.  While the exterior of the castle is authentic, the interior is modern and home to a large museum.  It’s interesting, and the views from the top are great; but if you want to see a traditional castle interior, you won’t find it here.

Of course, Osaka is also home to Universal Studios.  If you’ve got older kids than ours then you might want to treat them to a day out in this amazing theme park.  There’s also a Harry Potter World here, complete with Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade.  We chose not to go because our little ones were too small to go on the rides, but I’m sure we’ll take them on our next trip to Japan.  Click here to buy tickets for Universal Studios Osaka.

Where to stay in Osaka

If you want Osaka’s best nightlife right on your doorstep then you can’t go wrong with Hotel The Flag in Shinsaibashi.  This lovely modern hotel is right next to Dotonbori and all that amazing food, and you can’t beat the price.  Click here to book.

Click here for more hotels in Osaka.

Days 12- 14 in Japan with kids: Kyoto

Kyoto is the final stop on this itinerary, and I’ve perhaps saved the best for last.  Kyoto has a huge amount of beautiful shrines, temples, historic streets and other attractions which mean that you simply can’t leave it out of your itinerary.

It’s going to be busy whenever you visit Kyoto so my advice for sightseeing in this city is to try to get to major destinations as early as you can.  As Kyoto’s attractions are spread out across the city, staying near Kyoto Station will help save you time when moving about.

Day 12: Eastern Kyoto

Kyoto is a great place in Japan with kids

Eastern Kyoto has some of Japan’s most historic streets and religious buildings.  It might sound a bit dry for small children but Japanese shrines and temples always have lots of little things to look at, and kids can get involved by writing wishes on votive tablets too.  You can take guided tours around some of the most important temples which might help to get children more involved.

Some of the best things to see in this area of Kyoto include the Silver Pavilion; the Philosopher’s Path with its cherry tree lined riverside walk; Higashiyama, Kyoto’s loveliest and most historic district, and the wonderful Kiyomizu-Dera temple – surely one of Kyoto’s finest attractions.

Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto is a great interactive temple for kids

You can spend the whole day walking from the Silver Pavilion to Kiyomizu-Dera, stopping off in shines, temples and tea houses along the way.  And shops.  There are so many beautiful shops in this area – it might be wise to leave your wallet at the hotel!

You can also stop off at Kyoto Zoo and rest in several parks to break up the shrines.  In the evening you can visit Gion Corner to learn about geisha and Japanese arts.

Day 13: Southern and Central Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha Kyoto Japan bucket list

It’s an early morning start today as you visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, in southern Kyoto.  Fushimi Inari is an icon of both Kyoto and Japan – thousands upon thousands of orange torii gates line pathways up the mountain.  It’s unmissable, and our kids absolutely loved it here.

You’ll need to get a train from Kyoto Station to either Fushimi Inari station or Inari station.  Fushimi Inari is dedicated to the fox god, who’s also associated with sweet tofu, inari.  Make sure you pick up some rice-filled inari pockets from the stalls – they make a great snack.

Try to get to Fushimi Inari as early as you can to beat the crowds.  Tours tend to hang around the lower part of the mountain, so the higher you climb, the quieter it gets.  Try to get at least halfway up – there’s a viewpoint over Kyoto.  We actually managed to walk the whole way to the top, and took a different, quieter path back down.

Crossing the river in Kyoto by Gion and Pontocho

After looking around Fushimi Inari, take a train back to the centre of Kyoto.  Here you can visit the Nishiki Market for all sorts of food (we recommend taking a tour), or get a caricature at the Manga Museum.  You could also visit Nijo castle or the train museum.

Day 14: Western Kyoto

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto; Japan bucket list

Spend your last full day in Japan in western Kyoto.  The first stop of the day is at Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion.  To get to Kinkakuji from Kyoto station, take the 101 or 205 bus (check that the 205 has Kinkakuji written on the destination board as the rapid service doesn’t stop there).  It will take about 40 minutes.

Again, Kinkakuji gets very crowded so try to arrive for opening time.  There will be lots of pushing and shoving as everyone tries to get their snap of the pavilion from across the lake, but the crowds thin out as you walk through the temple’s zen gardens.  There are usually some snack stalls near the exit.

Arashiyama bamboo grove, western Kyoto

From here you can travel to Arashiyama (it’s best to take a taxi as it’s a bit of a headache to get there by public transport). At Arashiyama you can visit the famous bamboo grove – again expect crowds, although the grove itself is fabulous.  You can then go boating on Arashiyama lake, before walking over Togetsukyo bridge. From here you can visit Iwatayama Monkey Park, which has far reaching views over the city, and of course, monkeys.

There’s also plenty of opportunities for shopping in Arashiyama, so if you’ve got any spare yen left you can spend it here!

You can find out more about Kyoto in our full itinerary which covers all of the above sights and more.

Read our 3 day Kyoto with kids itinerary.

Where to stay in Kyoto

As you’re going to be moving around Kyoto a fair bit, I’d stay close to Kyoto Station. You need to use a variety of trains and buses for this itinerary so this will really save you time.  We didn’t stay close to the station and getting around on the bus network is slow going and not great when you’ve got two exhausted kids at the end of the day.

Our guesthouse was lovely though, and if you don’t mind slogging through Kyoto on the buses then I’d definitely recommend it.  Our host couldn’t have been more kind and helpful.  The guesthouse is within walking distance of Kinkakuji, and in one of Kyoto’s four geisha districts although it’s remarkably un-touristy.  Click here to book.

And click here for a list of hotels in Kyoto.


That’s it for your 2 weeks in Japan!  The only thing you now need to do is to take the shinkansen back to Tokyo for your flight home (we stayed another night in Narita).

And, of course, plan your next trip to Japan…


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Take the kids to Japan on our 2 week Japan itinerary! Visit Tokyo, Hakone, Takayama, Hiroshima, Osaka and Kyoto. This guide covers the best things to do in Japan in 2 weeks, and is suitable for families and first timers. Side trips and alternatives to the main itinerary are also offered. Find out how to travel around Japan and where to stay in Japan. #japan #familytravel #travel

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