Our 18-Day Japan Destination and Accommodation Guide for Families
Below is our family gap year travel itinerary using a 14-day Japan Rail Pass.
1. Tokyo (3 nights)
Where to Stay:
Toco Hostel in Tokyo: Although we never were able to stay here it looks fabulous. You have to book ahead or you will have the same fate as ours.
Train Tokyo to Kyoto 2 hours and 45 minutes: Take a bullet train between Tokyo Station and Kyoto Station
2. Kyoto (4-nights)
Kyoto is beautiful and one of the highlights of any trip to Japan. It combines raw natural beauty with a slow pace and all the things we associate with traditional Japan. Specifically wonderful Japanese foods, traditional houses, bicycles and Kimono.
Where we stayed:
- Spend a day exploring the Higashiyama area
- Spend the day strolling through the bamboo groves of Arashiyama and Sagano.
Kyoto to Nara 45 minutes: Take the JR Nara line from Kyoto Station or Nara Station.
3. Nara (day trip)
Making friends with one of the hoards of deer in Nara
Visit the Nara Koen DEER – Feed them biscuits!
With an enormous Buddha, hoards of deer plenty of greenery and lots for the kids to do. Japan’s most rewarding destination.
Nara to Kyoto (45 minutes) then
4. Hiroshima (3 nights)
The Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome
Hiroshima is an essential stop for anyone with an interest in Japanese history. The displays at the Peace Park are both sobering and saddening, but the vitality of the modern city will give you faith in the ability of the human spirit to bounce back from tragedy. You can stay overnight in Hiroshima, or on the nearby island of Miyajima.
You won’t find better hosts than the family who runs the 88 house in Hiroshima
Where we stayed: 88 hostel Hiroshima
: A wonderful family run homestay on the outskirts of town. Despite the $6 bus ride and the distance from Hiroshima station, this was one our best stays in all of Japan. Is it worth the effort to get here? If you have a few days the answer is yes, trust me, you will be rewarded for your efforts.
5. Day Trip to Miyajima
A wedding in Miyajima
You’ve probably seen pictures of the famous floating torii (shrine gate) at Miyajima. In addition to this superb site, there is plenty to do on the green and mountainous island.
Where we stayed: 88 hostel Hiroshima
: I recommend Miyajima as a day trip from Hiroshima, the lodgings in Miyajima are slim and very expensive on the island itself. This is best done as a day trip, which is free if you are using your Japan Railpass.
Our kids really loved the Legoland Discovery Center in Osaka
We ended up spending a night in Osaka because we were out of hotel options and decided to take a quick trip to the Legoland Discovery Center. Although this isn’t a bit draw for the big kids if you have kids under the age of 10, it’s worth the reasonable admission and makes for a fun day. Our kids made it all the way to closing.
Where we stayed: Plaza Osaka
This is a huge, tourist bus magnet, but we had a free night stay through Hotels.com and everything else in all of Osaka was booked. It definitely suited its purpose, but I am sure there are nicer places to stay in Osaka, especially if you are spending a couple days here. Plaza Osaka is a transfer away from the main Osaka train terminal, but close to just about everything.
7. Takayama (The Japan Alps)
Our amazing homestay at the Takayama Hostel
It’s so weird you never know where you are going to end up when you travel. Because we were a bit too late to purchase tickets for the Sumo event we decided to head to the Japanese Alps for a couple of days and home-based in the town of Takayama. We found a beautiful homestay with beautiful people and had a delightful stay. The area is quaint, wonderful for biking with easy train transport. If you want to get around the Alps you are going to have to take a tour bus or rent a car.
8. Back to Tokyo
A great day at Tokyo Disney
Do all roads lead back to Tokyo? Yes! But we were delighted to spend the last few days of our trip here in an amazing hostel right next to the Tokyo tower. We spent a day at Tokyo Disney and had fun eating our way through some of the neighborhood side streets and taking in the sites. Tokyo is big, modern and busy, but I love it!
9. Side Trip to Nagano
Because I had a day to kill and 24 hours left on my rail pass I took a solo trip to Nagano to see the site of the winter Olympics. You aren’t going to see the Olympic dome unless you have a little more time to kill, but the city is pretty, easy to walk and sports a fancy-pants temple.