Japan is one of the most fascinating and diverse destinations on the planet, and makes a great holiday destination for families with children with enquiring minds. On this fifteen day trip parents can introduce their children to creative culture in Tokyo and Kyoto, important history lessons from Hiroshima, island life Japanese-style on Miyajima and beautiful volcanic landscapes in Hakone.
Your flight arrives into Tokyo in mid-morning and you will be met after baggage reclaim for your private transfer into Tokyo city centre. The journey takes around an hour and a half and the children will love seeing the space age city around them on the drive into downtown. Arrive at your hotel in time for lunch, and to enjoy even better views of the city since all the finest hotels in Tokyo occupy the upper floors of skyscrapers.
This afternoon you will be met by your guide for a private tour of the Taito and Odaiba districts of Tokyo. Start off in Ueno Park to stretch your legs, before visiting the bustling street market of Ameyoko, and then Akihabara, famous for its electronics shops, anime and manga comic shops and themed cafes. These cafes celebrate everything from princesses to cats and hedgehogs, but our personal favourite is Owl no Mori, a greenery filled café where visitors can pet a wide selection of live owls - only in Tokyo! Next, embark on a river cruise along the Sumida River to the futuristic artificial island of Odaiba, home to Tokyo's own Legoland and a 54ft tall Gundam robot statue. Grab a bite to eat before going up the giant Ferris wheel for fabulous views of the Tokyo skyline at night. We suspect the little ones might sleep well tonight.
After breakfast, your guide will meet you at the hotel and take you to see a more traditional side to Tokyo. First stop will be Sensoji, the most famous temple in the capital and a place of serenity that's far removed from the bustle of the rest of the city. Your guide will explain the basic temple customs to you and the children, from purifying your hands to praying and paying your respect to your ancestors.
After being well behaved (hopefully!) for an hour or so, there are some small food stalls nearby where the children can try some Japanese snacks. This before you wander along to Kappabashi (or Kitchen Town) to get a fuller understanding of the central role that food and cooking has in Japanese culture.
Explore dozens of stores and stalls selling highly sought after Japanese knives (look don't touch, obviously!), tableware and something else classically quirky Japanese - replica food. Creating highly realistic plastic food to display in restaurant windows has become an art form in Japan, and the children can try their hand at making some themselves - a truly original souvenir!
After lunch, your guide will take you for a 90 minute visit to a local karate dojo where the children can hear about the history of this famous Japanese martial art, learn some warm-up exercises and have step-by-step instruction to some of the classic karate moves. This whole session is run by Iwata-sensei, a 6th dan (hardcore, basically) black-belt karate expert, who trained under Fumio Demura, the karate master who was Pat 'Mr Miyagi' Morita's stunt double in the Karate Kid movies - we sincerely hope you remember the original!
Visit a Sumo wrestling stable (in season)
Samurai Sword lessons
This morning you will be transferred from your hotel to Tokyo train station, for the bullet train to Kanazawa. The line travels through the beautiful Japanese Alps but until 2015 only went as far as the Winter Olympic venue of Nagano. Now, however, you and the family can speed on to the beautiful city of Kanazawa, and in less than three hours (on the Shinkansen, the fastest type of bullet train) you'll be there in time for lunch.
Thanks to its location on the northern coast of Honshu island, Kanazawa was spared the fate of other Japanese cities during the Second World War, and as a result the city maintains a charmingly traditional air. This afternoon will be yours to explore the city at your leisure, and we'd recommend wandering around the well-preserved Higashi District, still full of wooden buildings, chaya teahouses (where geishas would dance and sing for clients) and small artisanal shops. Tonight you will have your first experience of a ryokan, a traditional inn that is one of the key experiences of any holiday in Japan, as it casts a light on Japanese home life.
Today you will enjoy a guided tour of the best bits of one of the world's greatest cities. Your guide will meet you at the hotel and today's tour is by public transport around the city.
First stop is Nijo Castle, an ornate building originally built for a feudal lord in the early 1600s, and famed for its 'nightingale floors' which make chirping noises when people walk along the floorboards - supposedly to warn of anyone wandering around at night. Then, visit the minimalist classic rock garden at Ryoanji, where small 'islands' of rock and moss seem to float on a sea of fine gravel. A short walk away is Kinkakuji Temple, an elegant gold leaf covered temple in a beautiful lakeside setting. By now it's time for lunch, before what will likely prove the highlight of the day for the children - a visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Here thousands upon thousands of tori gates (ceremonial arches) have been built along pathways, creating an extraordinary effect of vivid vermillion-coloured tunnels winding their way around the woods. Suitably wowed, return to your hotel and either eat at the restaurant there or at one of our recommendations in the city.
This morning you will have an early breakfast at the hotel before a transfer to the station for the three hour bullet train ride to Hiroshima.
The city itself has - physically, at least - made a full recovery from the events of 6th August 1945, but the area around the epicentre of the blast has been turned in to a hugely poignant reminder of the destructive power of the bomb. We can arrange for a guide for your visit but it's not necessarily required, as the area is well signed in English. First things first, since you will arrive into Hiroshima at around midday we imagine there will be some rumbling tummies. Luckily this is somewhere to enjoy a particularly child-friendly Japanese dish - okonomiyaki, a delicious savoury pancake stuffed with cabbage, pork, ginger, nori, and a special sauce. It's a speciality of Hiroshima, and the food hall in the basement of the station is filled with stands where you can try it. Then, leave your bags in the left luggage and make your way by taxi to the A-Bomb Dome. In a city that, at the time, was made almost entirely of wooden houses which were duly incinerated, the twisted girders and blasted out dome of what was once the Industrial Promotion Hall of Hiroshima have been left exactly as they were on the fateful day. Wander past the Children's Peace Monument, with its coloured paper cranes and the Cenotaph Memorial to the victims, before visiting the Peace Memorial Museum to learn more about what happened, and the consequences of President Truman's decision. There are few history lessons as important for the children, and you will leave the city with more than enough food for thought, and in the cheerier knowledge you are about to visit one of Japan's most peaceful and charming places - the island of Miyajima. To get there you will take a local train to the ferry port and cross over the bay, before being met by a representative from the ryokan you are staying in.
You will have the morning at leisure to explore Hakone further before lunch and then your transfer to the station.
From Hakone the train to Tokyo Central Station is less than two hours, so there should be plenty of time to enjoy one last afternoon and evening in Tokyo. We suggest visiting the new(ish) Tokyo Skytree this evening, and because there can be serious queues (there were 16.6 million visitors in its first 100 days), we will pre-book fast track tickets. After dinner you can ride up the second tallest structure in the world (after Burj Khalifa in Dubai) and enjoy night views of the sprawling Tokyo from the 1000ft and 1500ft tall observation decks.
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred to the metro station for the train to one of Tokyo's airports (flights depart from both) and your lunchtime flight home to the UK.
The flight is a good twelve hours and 30 minutes when flying in this direction, and you will land in the early evening.
If you would like to book the itinerary mentioned above, with economy flights, during mid-season and staying in our preferred room category at our preferred hotels.
If you would like to pare back the above itinerary by option for standard rooms and removing some or all of the guided activities.
If you are looking for something extra special and would like to upgrade your hotels and room types, or add more activities and guiding.
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