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With that long stretch away from the confines of the classroom, travelling in summer can be part and parcel of being a parent. Luckily though, with a whole calendar of events to keep little ones entertained, summer is a great time to pack up the kids and head to Japan.
Japan in summer: Top tips for travelling with kids
One of the best parts about travelling in summer is being around the buzz of the most exciting time of year – festival season. As well as marvelling at the elaborate costumes, thrum of traditional music, games (for the young and young at heart) and mammoth firework displays, kids are often encouraged to join in. Festivals also tend to finish before bedtime, and they’ll certainly sleep well after all that.
Note: You don’t have to make a beeline for the big-hitters of the festival season. They can get very crowded and you might find trains packed with other families all with the same idea – look out for local events for something a little more low-key.
Summer is a stuffy time in Japan, so be prepared. Do as the Japanese do and pick up a cotton yukata for girls, or a jimbe for boys. Not only will the kids look the part, but they’re great for keeping cool too.
It goes without saying, but be sure to keep an eye on those fluid levels. Take a refillable water bottle everywhere you go – tap water is safe to drink in Japan and readily available in every cafe and hotel.
There’s also a reason you’ll find re-hydrating drinks in every vending machine (and vending machines on just about every corner) – they’re a great way to stay fresh on those humid days. Look out for Aquarius and Pocari sweat, packed with magical electrolytes. Plastic isn’t widely recycled in Japan, so we recommend always opting for a can if available.
Next best thing to drinking bucketfuls of water? Swimming, sliding and playing in it! You don’t have to travel far to cool down either – there are plenty of water parks in Tokyo alone.
Try all the kakigori and ice cream
We’ll take any excuse to indulge in one of Japan’s incredible ice creams, and getting a little respite from the heat seems like a pretty solid one to us. Japan has an enormous number of flavours – it could take a whole lifetime to try them all (we’re up for the challenge) – but choose wisely, some are definitely better than others. We’re not sure miso was ever meant to be infused with dairy…
Kakigori is equally as tasty as ice cream and ubiquitous across Japan. One bowl of this flavoured shaved ice and you’ll cool down in no time – just be prepared for a spot of brain freeze…
Take a day trip
Believe it or not, Tokyo is not actually very far from the coast. Leave the capital for some much needed sea breezes in beachy Kamakura or the Izu Peninsula.
It’s not all about subsisting on ice cold desserts, have you heard of somen? Served with a cold broth, this noodle dish is just the ticket in the summer. Even better is nagashi-somen when lunchtime becomes a game – get ready with your chopsticks and catch the noodles as they whizz past in a tube of bamboo.
Don’t do too much
We know what it’s like. You’ve travelled thousands of miles to see Japan, but it doesn’t mean you have to see it all. Rushing from place to place to tick off everything on the wishlist isn’t the best way to explore with kids. Get into the swing of things with a leisurely breakfast, energy you’ll need later in the heat, and allow plenty of time to get around. It is a holiday after all.
Buy hand towels/handkerchiefs
There’s no delicate way to say this: you’re likely to get sweaty. Train rides, walking between sights, stopping to rest your legs…
In Japan they’ve come up with tenugui, a practical, yet pretty, solution. These pieces of cloth, adorned with lovely prints, can be used for just about anything. Headscarf? Check. Gift wrap? Check. Tapestry, souvenir, martial arts accessory? Check, check, check.
Smaller people top tips
With short legs and even shorter attention spans, preparation for tots is essential.
Indoor play areas
While it might go against our natural urge to insist kids ‘play outside and get some fresh air!’, but in the height of Japan’s summer, you’ll appreciate a few hours under the chill of air conditioning. Big department stores have cool indoor play areas where kids can work off some of that energy.
Imagine not being able to enjoy the latest blockbusters on a flight; time would go very slowly. That’s why it’s worth taking as many toys as you can for little ones on the plane. From 3+ they should be fine to watch some kids’ shows, but there’s no harm in packing a few surprise treats too.
On the subject of in-flight entertainment, the best way to pass the time (for adults and children alike) is getting some shut-eye. If kids can stay awake before the flight, they’re more likely to drift off in the air.
Generally, nappies won’t be a problem once you’re at your destination, but don’t underestimate how difficult they can be to get hold of at airports. Once you’re at the gate, it’s game over… (hard-won experience from parents at InsideJapan).
Try Japanese baby snacks
Japan is a gastronomic paradise for adults, but little kids can take foodie journeys of their own. There is a whole host of baby biscuits to choose from and it will be fun for your little one to learn new tastes. Keep an eye out for Kameda Yasai To Ringo No Haihain and Marukai Boro.
Have our top tips left you gearing up for a summer holiday to remember? Drop our Japan travel experts a line and we’ll tailor something to keep the whole brood happy.