First time in Japan with two boys

Jan 3rd, 2017, 05:56 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 315
First time in Japan with two boys

We just came back from Japan and loved the trip! We are a family of four (2 adults plus 2 boys ages 8 and 10).

First practical matters. The best thing we did is that we rented a pocket wi-fi. This way we had access to internet 24/7. We could show taxi drivers maps on our phones instead of explaining to them where to go, we could find good restaurants on the fly etc. It was $60 for 9 days.

Sending luggage from city to city is cheap and convenient. Many trains are not equipped for carrying luggage plus local trains can be very crowded. Traveling light was great.

We could not get money from some ATMs but could also get cash from ATMs at 7-elevens.

I miscalculated our total train fares before the trip. I did not realize that one has to pay for "the right to ride" and then for the seats (even if seats are unreserved). It was not a big deal but still.

The hardest thing in planning was finding hotel rooms where my boys could sleep on separate beds. I ended up emailing many many hotels and found that some hotels have rooms that cannot be found on any websites (while their other rooms are available for booking through the same websites).

Our trip was the following:

We flew to Tokyo and out of Osaka.

Tokyo - 3 nights. We stayed at Royal Park Shiodome. They have suites with two small beds and also with a sofa bed and a roll away. It was great for us. Their Western breakfast is very good and convenient. We had a guide the first day who helped us with buying tickets and orienting ourselves plus we did some sightseeing with her of course. We went to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, Meiji Temple, Shibuya crossing and ate sushi.

The second day in Tokyo we went to the fish market, then to Odaiba. From Odaiba we took a boat to Asakusa. After we walked around there, we made a short trip to the mall at Skytree where my boys were in heaven at the Pokemon center.

Hakone - 1 night. We stayed at a ryokan, Hakone Ginyu. It was a fun experience for the kids and the adults. The dinner was tasty. One of our boys does not eat raw fish and they substituted with tempura. We did a circuit around Hakone, which was fun.

Kyoto - 5 nights. We stayed at Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto. They have 1 one-bedroom apartment that I could reserve by sending them an email. It was super convenient to have a small kitchen. Again the boys got their separate beds, which was important to us. The hotel is not far from the train station, which made it easy with side trips.

We took a tour of Kyoto with a guide the first day, went to Himeji, where we had a free guide, the second day. We did a day trip to Nara on our third day and we visited Arashiyama on the fourth day. We enjoyed everything really. It was good to see deer in Nara and monkeys in Arashiyama for the kids so they would not get templed out.

We went December 17-25. It was not crowded at shrines, temples or gardens. However, it was pretty crowded at train stations, streets with restaurants and on some public transportation. We used taxis a lot in Kyoto. It worked out very well for us.

That is about it. I am happy to answer questions if you have any.
alisa23 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 06:38 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
Sounds like you had a wonderful trip!

Sorry to hear you hadn't realised how the train fares worked - I asked here on Fodors ahead of my first trip and fellow Japan travellers were able to ensure that I understood how to calculate the total fare when referencing the Hyperdia website.

Sounds like the hotel choices worked out really well for you, which is good to hear too.

Which guides did you book, would love to hear more about those.

Also curious to know which experiences/ sights were your favourites and which your family members would pick as theirs.
Kavey is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 07:25 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,561
<> has all this information and spells out both the fares and the seat fees. There are no added seat fees if you have a JR Pass.
BigRuss is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 08:11 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 597
Thanks for your insights. It is always especially helpful to read posts where the adults are traveling with kids. Also, though you did not spend a lot of time on the ground in Japan, you filled it up with some great sights. I also think this is helpful to those folks who just cannot do a 2-3 week trip, but want to explore nonetheless. It helps to read that it is doable. Great report. Thank you.
Lolazahra is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 12:09 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,259
Am happy to hear that you all had a fun trip. Your confusion about the fare did not cost you anything extra because you didn't need a JR Pass for this trip.

HyperDia can be confusing because what it shows as "Seat Fee" includes a limited express surcharge that is required to be paid when taking a shinkansen or limited express train. By default, the value shown includes a reserved seat ticket.

Click on the link below and look at Route1. It has 8210 as the Fare. In the Seat Fee column click on the dropdown. It shows Reserved seat 5590 and Unreserved seat 4870.

That 4870 is the surcharge that you must pay in addition to the fare of 8210. The difference in the seat fees of 720 yen is an optional payment for a reserved seat. Choose Unreserved seat and see that Total drops by 720.

For fun, uncheck Bullet Train in the search parameters and do a search. You'll see that you can get from Tokyo to Kyoto for 8210 on ordinary trains but it will take 9 hours with 5 transfers.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 01:34 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 254
Thank you for reporting back! The train fare confusion is very common. I am so glad your boys enjoyed the trip. From my experience of hosting friends with children/young people in Tokyo, I've been struck by how easily that generation approaches aspects of Japanese culture that sometimes throw the older folk. There is a level of familiarity there already - comes from gaming, anime, manga, tech, fashion, music - not sure but it's always fun to see.
Boveney is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 08:38 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 315
Thank you for comments.

Of course, I used hyperdia for looking up fares but accidentally I focused not on the full fare but only on one part of the fare. And yes, I know how to look it up now And yes, I understand that everything is included in the JR pass. I just decided to mention this because potentially others might make the same mistake (but hopefully won't).

We had backstreet guides in Tokyo. The guide was not very thorough with information but she was very very helpful with orienting us, helping us with PASMO cards, shinkansen tickets. She truly cared that we would have an easy time traveling around Japan after Tokyo. And she stayed extra to help us. We really appreciated it.

We had a Russian speaking guide in Kyoto, who was absolutely fantastic. He talked non-stop for 6 hours and all of it was about history of Japan and Kyoto and about different sights. His name won't be useful to the forum I am afraid. He speaks only Russian and Japanese.

At Himeji we had a free guide whose name we got from a friend. She was very good with the kids. And free! Well, we gave her a tip of course. Unfortunately, she rarely gives tours now because she is older.

Being in Japan for 9 days worked very well for us! We did so much that we were exhausted after 9 days. It was good exhaustion but still. And because we did not move around from hotel to hotel and spent over 4 days in Kyoto, we did not feel that rushed. Although of course, one can stay for much longer in all three places.

It is hard to pick our favorite sights and activities. I think the boys enjoyed Hakone the most (with staying at a ryokan) because it was so different from what they are used to.

The 10-year old also loved the food. He eats raw fish and it certainly helped his experience.

Both boys loved the toilets And the pokemon center in Tokyo. Very intellectual, I know.

I think the monkeys in Arashiyama and the deer in Nara helped us (and especially the boys) not to be completely "templed out and gardened out" in Kyoto.

With the temples and shrines, I loved Fushimi Inari-taisha. We also really enjoyed Kiyomizu-dera Temple. We were not even planning to go there due to the crowds but the crowds were not bad at all in the middle of December midweek.

In Tokyo we really liked the garden that was near our hotel -- Hamarikyu Gardens. Perhaps because it was the first garden we saw and because we went there at 8am when nobody was there. We also really enjoyed a boat tour from Odaiba to Asakusa on a futuristic boat. I am not even sure what was so good on that boat. Just relaxing and observing Tokyo from water somehow felt very good. Again, the boat was empty, which helped.
alisa23 is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 08:41 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 315
Forgot to mention. Otagi Nenbutsu-ji in Arashiyama is pretty neat. Absolutely no people and lots of statues to study. It is described here, for example:
alisa23 is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 11:51 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
Thanks for sharing the favourites, I really loved that. x
Kavey is offline  

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