Three destinations with something for everyone
Travel introduces us to new people and places, but it is also a source of unforgettable memories to share with family. Japan offers a dependable basis in safety and comfort along with many fun and varied activities—making it easy to plan a relaxing trip for the whole family. Whether it’s discovering historical castles, doing hands-on craft activities, soaking in a hot spring, or practicing samurai sword moves, we introduce three destinations that offer a plethora of incredible experiences to share with your loved ones, young or old.
Tottori is one of Japan’s lesser-known prefectures. It is also home to Tottori Sand Dunes, which make it an amazing destination for families with children. The massive dunes form a mini desert rising from the sea, looking completely unlike the coast around it. There are a variety of fun activities to do at the dunes, such as sandboarding, paragliding, and even camel rides. The Sand Museum, a short walk from the dunes, is also well worth a visit. In addition to information on the geology of the area, the museum displays changing exhibits of ornate, giant sand sculptures made by skilled artisans from around the world. A short drive from the dunes, the Uradome Coast features crystal clear water, craggy rocks, and white sand beaches tucked into little coves. There are hiking trails, as well as areas for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. The healing Misasa Onsen to the south of Tottori is a natural radon spring, excellent for soothing joint pain and boosting the immune system.
While Osaka may not be the first place that comes to mind for a relaxing family trip, Japan’s third-largest city has some unique charms which make it a great place to visit with the family. The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the finest aquariums in the world, and a fun and educational destination for all ages. Tanks are designed to recreate regions of the Pacific Rim, allowing you to tour different ecosystems and learn about the animals that inhabit them. The aquarium caters to families with young children, with services such as stroller storage, baby care rooms, and diaper changing facilities. With over 30,000 creatures inside—including Yuki, a famously chubby ringed seal who has inspired numerous cute products—it is easily a half or full-day excursion. Slightly older children will also enjoy a visit to Osaka Castle, which offers panoramic views of the city skyline and some fascinating samurai history. You can even take part in a samurai or ninja experience, changing into a samurai outfit and learning authentic sword forms! The experience is available in 20- or 60-minute courses, and is also offered for children. Dotombori, the bustling arcade famous for street food and shopping, is another great stop. Awash with colors, crowds, and neon signs, there is plenty to entertain—and a wide variety of affordable family-friendly restaurant options. A 20-minute cruise on the Dotombori River is a great way to soak up the dynamic atmosphere in comfortable surroundings.
An easy two-and-a-half-hour journey on the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo, Kanazawa is a place which has all the conveniences and attractions of a larger city but still feels like a hidden gem. The former capital of the Kaga region, Kanazawa has long been an art and culture hub of the Hokuriku Region, and remains a must-see destination for those who love traditional Japanese arts and architecture. It also has a spacious, green downtown which is easily navigable with children and boasts many attractions. One of these is Kanazawa Castle. Originally constructed by the powerful Maeda Clan in 1583, it has since been reconstructed many times including in its current iteration, which was painstakingly completed using original techniques. The green space surrounding the castle is perfect for children to run around, is fully accessible for strollers, and there are nursing rooms and diaper changing facilities in the restrooms. For a small fee, you can tour several of the buildings, learn about the construction techniques used, and see panoramic views over nearby Kenrokuen Garden, which is famous as one of the top three landscape gardens in Japan. Perfectly planned to encompass six aspects of beauty, Kenrokuen is spectacular in every season and provides a relaxing green space with impeccable Japanese aesthetics right in the heart of the city. Though the Kenrokuen entry fee is modest, the castle park and Kenrokuen are open free of charge early in the morning.
A short walk from Kenrokuen is another major attraction of Kanazawa, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. An innovative museum space with cutting-edge exhibits, it also caters to children with experiential displays and a kid’s open studio room. On weekends and holidays, special art workshops are held for children and parents. The museum also offers a nursery (by prior reservation) which will look after children while parents tour the museum or nearby city center. For anyone whose family is eager for more hands-on experiences, the Kanazawa Regional Products Center offers affordable workshops on topics such as making wagashi, or Japanese sweets, which is also fun for children. Finally, it is well worth visiting Omicho Market, a bustling pedestrian market which is a great spot for foodies, particularly those wishing to discover Kanazawa’s premium seafood. On the third floor of the next-door Omemachi Ichiba Building, there is a play space for infants and toddlers.