Family adventures in Japan
Japan's cities are a flashing, whirring paradise for kids of all ages. In Tokyo alone, your family can enjoy anime masters at Studio Ghibli, take a masterclass in manga drawing, meet Hello Kitty at Sanrio Puroland and get lost in the amusement arcades of Akihabara "electric town".
In the countryside, your family can cycle through rural villages, kayak across to Miyajima Island or feed the friendly deer in Nara Park. There are also endless hands-on activities to try, from martial arts to origami or taiko drumming - inspiring, educational experiences for any age.
One of the safest and cleanest countries in the world, Japan boasts superb amenities and excellent family accommodation, making travelling with children wonderfully stress-free. What's more, dining options encompass everything from all-you-can-eat ice cream parlours to fishing restaurants where you can reel in your own meal - so if your child doesn't take to kaiseki, you needn't worry.
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Family accommodation across Japan
Machiya Residence (Kyoto)
InsideJapan are delighted to offer self-catering stays in a range of Kyoto machiya: traditional Japanese townhouses.
These machiya, all located in the city centre, have been lovingly restored as comfortable holiday rental cottages that sleep two to eight people. This is your chance to slide back a traditional screen door and live like a real Kyotoite in the comfort of your own space for a few days.
Each machiya has a kitchenette, dining area, bathroom, two washrooms and a discreet computer corner (laptop provided). Bedrooms may be Western-style with low beds or Japanese-style tatami rooms with futons, or a mixture of both. Facilities include a Skype phone and TV, washing machine and dryer, kitchenware & tableware, microwave, fridge and air conditioning in all rooms. The houses are usually two-storey traditional buildings with lovely Japanese gardens.
Shiba Park (Tokyo)
The Shiba Park is located in the centre of Tokyo and has friendly, English-speaking staff who are well used to looking after foreign guests.
With Tokyo Tower and Zojo-ji Temple a short walk to the west and Hamarikyu Gardens a pleasant stroll away to the east, this is a great location right in the heart of the city.
The lobby has plenty of space and seating, and the guest rooms are of a reasonable size for Tokyo. The hotel also has its own restaurants, including a Chinese restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, a bar and café. If you would prefer to eat out, there are plenty of great options within easy walking distance of the hotel - just ask one of the hotel staff for recommendations or to make a reservation.
There are several underground and overground stations in the area - the closest being Onarimon, Daimon and Hamamatsucho. A short walk will also bring you to Shibakoen, Akabanebashi, Kamiyacho or Shiodome - so you will be very well connected during your stay.
Keio Plaza Tokyo (Tokyo)
The Keio Plaza is an excellent luxury hotel at the very heart of Tokyo's bustling Shinjuku district.
This 170-metre (560 ft) skyscraper has fantastic views of the city, especially at night from the hotel's sky bar – the perfect place for a cocktail after a hard day of sightseeing! There are also no less than 22 restaurants, serving everything from teppanyaki to tempura, kaiseki, sushi, soba, French, Italian, Chinese and Korean. Phew!
What's more, the Keio Plaza frequently hosts special exhibitions of art, photography and traditional crafts. The hotel also offers various Japanese cultural experiences such as tea ceremony, trying on kimono, and ikebana flower arranging. If you fancy a little Japanese-style late entertainment, there are four karaoke rooms on the 47th floor, with spectacular panoramic views of the city, while the seventh floor hosts a gym and open-air swimming pool during the summer months for those who want to keep active.
As you would expect from a hotel of this calibre, the staff speak excellent English and the service is impeccable. All guest rooms have free Wi-Fi, in-room dining is available, and there are complimentary shuttle buses to Disneyland and DisneySea – amongst a whole roster of other services.
Dating back to 1883, The Mikawaya is a traditional, Japanese-style inn with a proud heritage.
The ryokan has 40 guest rooms spread across the main building, new building and two private guest residences. Most are classic Japanese style, meaning you'll be sleeping on futon mattresses placed directly on the tatami-mat floor, however some rooms do have Western-style beds. Some of the larger suite rooms have sliding doors so you can partition the space into two separate rooms; ideal for families.
The Mikawaya has lovely hot spring baths (indoor and outdoor) including one bath that can be reserved for private use. The ryokan is well known for its excellent cuisine; dozens of intricate kaiseki dishes for dinner and a choice of Japanese or Western food for breakfast.
The ryokan is located at the centre of Hakone National Park, near a road – which does make it a little noisy at times. However, this does mean you'll have great access to the outdoor sculpture museum, the cable car to Owakudani hot springs, and the boat cruise across Lake Ashi. Best of all, Yunessun water park is just a few minutes away on foot.
Yamaichi Bekkan (Miyajima)
Welcome to the Yamaichi Bekkan, a family-run inn just a short walk from both the pier and Miyajima's famous shrine gate.
Simon and Alastair, our company directors, first visited the Yamaichi Bekkan in the early 2000s, when InsideJapan Tours was only just beginning. Ever since then, its warm hospitality, friendly atmosphere and outstanding food have made it a firm favourite!
The ryokan has just four guest rooms (three traditional Japanese-style and one Western twin), all with en suite bathrooms. Downstairs, the ryokan acts as a restaurant as well, and serves superb food: sashimi, tempura, and the island speciality conger eel. The baked oysters, another local delicacy, are a real treat.
The ryokan is a family affair, and the English-speaking proprietress, Shinko-san, is an absolute delight. She and her family will ensure that you feel welcome, and will do everything they can to fulfil your every need and request. The ryokan lacks its own onsen bathhouse but if you fancy a soak, Shinko-san will arrange for you to visit the baths at the hotel a few doors down. Located on the top floor of the building, they boast great views across the bay.
ANA Crowne Plaza (Kyoto)
The ANA Crowne Plaza is a superior grade hotel in a fantastic central location opposite Nijo Castle, one of Kyoto's top attractions.
The hotel offers some lovely traditional touches, with ikebana flower arrangements and front desk staff dressed in kimono. The décor is a little dated, but rooms are clean, comfortable, and generously sized compared to many Japanese hotels. There is a complimentary shuttle service between the hotel and Kyoto Station, a subway stop just around the corner, and bus stops for all the main sites right outside the door.
In your room, you'll find a “sleep advantage” package including green tea, bath powder, eye pads and different types of pillows to help you get a good night's sleep, which is a thoughtful touch. The hotel offers a range of restaurants, and there's a fitness centre with an indoor swimming pool, gym and sauna – although guests must pay extra to use these facilities.
Nijo Castle, right opposite the hotel, is one of Kyoto's most well-known sights. Quite different in appearance to any other Japanese castle, it is famous for its “nightingale floors” – a feudal-era burglar alarm system that still works perfectly today!