The land of the rising sun is a place where tradition meets modernity. A country where cleanliness, organization and punctuality are qualities worth being respected. A land of tropical beaches and snowy winters. A place where we discovered that hostelling with kids is a great idea. A land where our kid was impressed by trains, dad could not get enough of sushi and mum fell in love with the Zen gardens, trees and sleeping on tatami beds.

Destination: Japan

Time of travel: April 2015

Time difference: GMT+9 (Ljubljana +7 hours)

Travel days: 16

Age of child: 2 years and 5 months

Appropriate for kids: all ages

Flight: we flew with the Japanese airline company called Ana from München to Tokyo (Haneda airport) non-stop. We booked Adria Airways to get to München. The flight took approximately 11 hours. We had the minimum 1.5 hours of waiting time in between flights. For the flight back, we booked Lufthansa to get to Frankfurt where we waited 2 hours for our flight to Ljubljana. We were in quite a hurry due to the customs procedures.

Adult plane ticket: €767

Child plane ticket (2+ years): €678

We bought our plane tickets here Lufthansa.com .

Before you book a long flight, we suggest you read through this article How to prepare for a flight with a child?  Prior to embarking on a longer trip, check out Travel health kit-tips-for-a-carefree-journey/.

From the airport to the location: we planned our trip with the help of Hyperdia.com. Do not take a cab since the city infrastructure is well-organized. You can save up to €70 if you travel on your own and you will not lose any extra time.

Trip planning made easy:

1. Hyperdia.com:

We used Hyperdia.com to plan train and bus rides (from the airport to the apartment or hotel). The site or app suggest the fastest and most comfortable ways of travelling between places with up-to-date timetables, names of transporters and prices. The information came handy, especially when planning our way from the airport. We saved up to €70 on transportation costs.

2. Triposo Japan mobile app:

The mobile app was a great detailed and accurate guide (which came handy when searching for our apartments) that is GPS-based so you do not need internet connection to use it. The app allows you to mark places of visit and calculates the time you need to get from one point to the other. Check out the apple store link https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/japan-travel-guide-by-triposo/id467670217?mt=8

 

Our travel direction:

We first flew to Tokyo, stayed there for 3 days, and then flew to Kagoshima where we took a boat ride to Yakushima Island. After 6 days on the island, we flew to Kyoto where we stayed for 2 days. We took the high-speed train from Kyoto and the local train to Takayama where we visited the traditional villages of Shirakawa-go and Goykoyama. We took the high-speed train to return back to Tokyo.

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Tokyo

A city with 13 million inhabitants where every day feels like Sunday. No crowds (well, except on the metro) and not a single piece of litter on the ground. A city where all your wishes come true – the promised city.

Accommodation via Airbnb.com: apartment in the Shibuya districtWe rented a place with a great location. A five-minute walk away from the Shinjuku Park and the Yoyogi station. Quite a spacious apartment (considering the Japanese circumstances) with a lovely terrace. The kitchen was well-equipped.

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Shibuya Crossing -the most heavily used pedestrian crossroad in the world

Top 3 in Tokyo

  1. Running around the beautiful parks (admiring Cherries blossom)

You can enjoy Tokyo’s numerous parks and gardens, three of which we decided to visit: Shinjuku, Harajaku, and the park next to the infamous Imperial palace. Our kid loved running around the parks, and we were pleasantly surprised by the locals meeting in the park, bringing their own blankets and simply taking the time to relax.

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Blowing bubbles in Shinjuku Park

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Beautiful blossoming cherry trees

2. Trainspotting

If your kid loves trains then Tokyo is the perfect place for him. It has great lookout terraces above the busiest train stations. You can get the best view of the complex railroad infrastructure from the terrace above the Tokyo Central Station.

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Probably the best trainspotting view in the world

3.  Culinary delights

Tokyo is famous for being a destination of culinary delights, among which you must try sushi and egg rolls. Every travel guide will advise you to visit the world’s largest fish market – Tsujiki Fish Market. However, it is not advisable to take small kids and strollers to the market. We wanted to visit it anyway, but our kid was still sleeping because of the time difference. In the end, dad was the only one to experience the fish market.

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Sushi at the famous fish market

You will find a really good article with suggestions where to take your (especially older) kids in Tokyo if you click on this link: http://mylittlenomads.com/tokyo-with-kids. There is more than enough to choose from, including Disneyland.

Yakushima Island

The trip to Yakushima Island was also our honeymoon. After the pre-wedding craze, we decided to take 6 days off on Yahushima. We chose this island because it is less touristy and not the typical tropical island. It has 13,000 inhabitants, 6,000 deer and the same number of monkeys, and beautiful nature. Even though it is one of Japan’s most rainy islands, we experienced quite a great deal of nice weather.

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The view of an active volcano on our way to Yakushima

Accommodation: Zen house with a small onsen

We booked a wonderful wooden house surrounded with lush greenery. We woke up with the singing of birds and waves splashing in the background – just how we imagined our honeymoon. You can find more about our accommodation here. 

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Our cottage

Top 4 of Yakushima Island

1. Trekking across Shiratani Usuikyu Park

Yakushima Island has beautiful, ancient forests which are also part of its natural heritage. The oldest tree on the island is more than 7,000 years old. This subtropical island attracts tourists because of its picturesque forest covered in moss and numerous trekking trails with amazing views. Our kid experienced his first trek while following the magical trail of the Shiratani Unsuikyo National Park. He loved the waterfalls, walking over suspension bridges and watching the curious deer crossing our path.

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Deers often cross your path

2. Nagata – sandy beach; natural, warm pools and collection of small stones

Nagata is a long, sandy beach on the NW part of the island; also known as the turtle beach. We were most impressed by the natural pools that form during high tide in between the rocks. The pool water is warm and great for kids to play in.

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Bathing in pools surrounded by rocks

Do not be surprised to find yourself alone on the beach. The locals do not rest and sunbathe on the beach. Every now and then a tourist bus makes a quick stop for photos. If you visit the island in May or June, you can observe turtles that come to the beach to lay their eggs.

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Almost completely alone on the beach

If you drive to Nagata from the southern side of the island, you will find yourself on a magical forest path with deer and monkeys greeting you on one side and a stunning vista of the high cliffs and waves splashing on the other side

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Wonderful forest path

3. Bathing in the traditional onsen

Onsen is a Japanese term for hot springs. Bathing in an onsen brings you closer to the Japanese tradition since it is a very important ritual in their culture. Even though it is not a volcano island, Yakushima has one of the most beautiful onsens in Japan, overlooking the sea. Some onsens can only be accessed at low tide because they get completely flooded at high tide. The average onsen temperatures are 23 to 25°C while others can reach up to 50°C.

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Enjoying the warm water with a view

4. Monkeys and deer

If you do not come across deer while walking the forest trails then you must have really bad luck. Our kid was so loudly enthusiastic every time he saw one that they scattered away before we could take a picture of them. Beside deer, the predominant animal species on Yakushima are the endemic Macaque monkeys.

If you decide to visit Yakushima, we suggest you plan your accommodation, transport and car rental through the YesYakushima travel agency (http://www.yesyakushima.com/).

Warning! Credit cards are not accepted on the island, so calculate your costs and have your money ready beforehand. If you decide for a longer stay, consider renting a car for which you will need the official translation of your driver’s licence.

Kyoto

The former Japanese capital, Kyoto, is a place for culture lovers. It has many shrines, mighty, and humble temples, and wonderful Zen gardens. You might even see a Geisha if you are lucky. Kyoto is a popular tourist destination so expectt a large crowd at every major attraction.

Accommodation: we rented a small place through Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5598046?s=1. The apartment has a good location. It is near the train station and you can easily access the old town and several temples. A 10-minute taxi drive.

Top 5 of Kyoto

1. A stroll across the old town with (supposedly) the most beautiful street in Asia. Visiting the temples and their beautiful gardens

We suggest you take the Southern Higashiyama walking tour and see the numerous temples and admire the Zen gardens. Kids are welcome in temples. While doing the sightseeing, do not forget to stroll through the most attractive Asian street – the Shimbashi Street, where you will be able to see women dressed in traditional clothes. If you are with a stroller, prepare to conquer a lot of stairs.

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Kyoto has a lot of temples

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A walk through the most beautiful street in all of Asia

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Beautiful gardens surrounding the temples

2. Geisha dances

We watched the famous geisha dances at the Miyako Odori Theatre. The whole performance happens in one of the infamous temples. Before the show, we took part in the traditional tea ceremony and explored the beautiful temple garden. You can buy your tickets at the spot, but we recommend you buy them in advance as they sell out quickly.

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We were lucky!

3. Kyoto Train Station

Kyoto’s main train station is one of Japan’s largest buildings and a city in its own right. Here, you will find a hotel, restaurants, a shopping centre, shops and offices. The architecture is impressive, but your kid will be even more impressed by the busy railway tracks.

4. A walk through the Sagano bamboo forest

Walking through the bamboo jungle that stretches for 16 square kilometres is one of the most memorable experiences you can have in Japan. The sound that the wind creates while passing through the trees has been nominated as one of “one hundred must-be-conserved sounds of Japan” by the Japanese government. We experienced some rain which made the walk with our kids a bit more difficult, but we still enjoyed the beauty of the bamboo forest.

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The famous Sagano bamboo forest

5. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion – Kinkanku-ji

The Golden Pavilion is a World Cultural Heritage site and it presumably holds the remnants of Buddha himself. The magnificent Zen temple is situated in the middle of the park. Expect large crowds of people.

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The Golden Pavilion

Rural Japan in the Gifu Prefecture

Japan consists of several prefectures. The Gifu prefecture is known for its traditional mountain town of Takayama and its traditional villages nestled deeper in the mountains where the well-known Japanese Alpine route begins.

1. A town amidst the mountains – Takayama

Takayama’s old city centre and its old wooden cottages take you back in time to the traditional rural Japan. The town has repeatedly claimed the title of the friendliest city in Japan. A walk through town is relaxing and the town itself has a very slow-paced and calm feel to it.

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The mighty shrine in the middle of the town, Takayama

2. Visiting Shirakawa-go, Gokayama and Ainokura – traditional Japanese villages and UNESCO sites

Visiting the remote traditional villages called gasshō-zukuri in the heart of Japan is something many tourists – locals, or foreigners – have on their bucket list. The charming mountain villages are known for their picturesque rice fields and production of Washi paper.

Sleeping in the traditional Alpine villages is extremely popular. In case you decide for this option, we suggest you visit the less commercial and still authentic village of Ainokura. Ogimachi is the most popular and touristy village in the Shirakawa-go region. Large crowds can prevent you from experiencing the real Japanese cultural tradition.

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The traditional gasshō-zukuri house, Ainokura

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The mountain village Ainokura greeted us with snow

If you are travelling with small kids, we suggest you rent a car since bus rides from Takayama to the villages can be quite exhausting, especially when you plan daily trips. This way, you can follow your own schedule and adjust it to your kid’s nap times.

If you wish to rent a car, contact the tourist info point at the train station.

3. Sleeping in a Buddhist temple

We were lucky enough to get the last free room in the hostel situated in one of the traditional Japanese Buddhist temples. This was our first hostel experience with a kid. It turned out to be a great decision since the hostel was better equipped than many other hotels or apartments (especially the kitchen). You also get to meet a lot of interesting folks that give you travel tips. We warmly recommend this hostel to anyone who finds himself in Takayama.

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Zenkoji hostel, Takayama

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Comfortable tatami beds

Website: Hostel Zenkoji Temple (http://takayamahostelzenkoji.com/). The hostel is near the train station and all other major tourist attractions.

The above descriptions are based on personal impressions and information I gathered while travelling with my family. For more information, please contact us at: hello@kidgoround.com

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