Is Japan A Family Friendly Travel Destination?
In short, yes!
Japan was our first trip outside Malaysia with our then 18 month-old infant and we were really excited to explore the sights and sounds of a foreign land with our little one.
To tell you the truth, we did not really do much research on whether Kyoto and Osaka are kid friendly but we were pretty confident all our basic needs will be met while on-the-go.
After spending one whole week at these two cities, here’s my break down on what makes Japan a family friendly travel destination.
1. Public Facilities – 5 / 5
When it comes to public facilities for families with young children, Japan has it all figured out.
It’s a given that major train hubs provide diaper changing rooms but I was very impressed that even some smaller train stations have these rooms as well, like the JR Inari station at Fushimi Inari Taisha. We even encountered some subway stations in Kyoto and Osaka that have dedicated nursing rooms where mothers can breastfeed their child and change their nappies.
Major departmental stores like Takashimaya and Daimaru also have “baby lounges,” usually found on the children’s floor. This section typically has private cubicles for nursing, diaper changing stations and bucket seats for babies to sit while being fed. Even the small things that matter a lot like hot water to make milk and a diaper dispensing machine can be found in these lounges – more proof that the Japanese really take everything into consideration.
2. Public Transportation – 4 / 5
As one of the few Asian countries with a world-class public transport system, getting around was a breeze.
All the train stations are equipped with elevators and that really helped us a lot since we brought our little one around on a stroller. The interchange of subways are all underground so we only needed to follow the directions to get on the other line. My only gripe was we had to walk 5-10 minutes along the maze of tunnels just to get to the other line’s station instead of just changing platforms.
Buses can be a bit tricky because different numbered buses can reach the same destination via different routes. We used Google Maps’ Public Transport mode where the app will calculate the fastest or simplest bus routes and pinpoint the nearest bus stop to begin our journey. All the bus stands are equipped with either analog or digital boards showing the estimated time of arrival for the next available buses.
3. Choices of Food – 4 / 5
Japanese food was one of the main reasons we traveled to Kansai and we really had a blast!
Our kid is fond of rice and noodles so he was really happy to consume them every day. Breakfast usually consists of a quick snack like onigiri or rice bowl from the nearest convenience store which filled us up all the way till lunch. We did try everything from ramen in Osaka to yakiniku in Kyoto and were really proud to see our little one enjoy the same meals we ate (not including a daily dose of matcha ice-cream, mind you!).
Due to the influx of many Muslim tourists, Japan has also become more perceptive towards their dietary needs i.e. halal food. Most of the restaurants we went to are certified halal and the taste is as authentic as you can get. Meanwhile, if you’re in need of a palate cleanser there’s not many Western cafes other than the typical fast food joints but American-style diners like Komeda’s Coffee is a good bet for burgers and pancakes.
4. Eating Out – 3 / 5
While we fell in love with the food, the same could not be said for the experience of dining out.
Maybe we were used to eating out in Malaysia (and Southeast Asia) where baby chairs are the norm so it was quite surprising to find out that most of the restaurants we went to did not have a baby chair. I can consider some hole-in-the-wall eateries with a small bar and a few tables but some restaurants with bigger floor space and more tables do not have high chairs too. Meanwhile, the places that do have high chairs do not come with a tray.
Feeding our kid was a bit tough for us because he was at the stage of finding his feet so he moves around a lot but was still iffy when it comes to balancing himself. The tray-less high chair also did not help because the chair was designed more like a mini version of an adult chair without the “bucket” that posed more of a falling risk to our child.
5. The People 4 / 5
As a whole, the Japanese are a really friendly and courteous bunch of people.
We noticed Kyoto had an older demographic and locals seem to adore our little traveler, getting a lot of kawaii (cute in Japanese) throughout our trip. We even had a good chat with an old lady who was on her evening stroll at the ryokan we were staying. On the other hand, Osaka is younger and hectic so we did not get the chance to interact much with locals.
While the lady we met near our ryokan had a good grasp of English, the same could not be said for the general population. There were a few times we asked for directions and we got a reply in Japanese. They were really helpful in trying to use signs with their hands and even used illustrations but sometimes it was too complicated for us to figure out, especially when we asked about bus routes and numbers.
Final Verdict – 4 / 5!
Sure, we did face some issues like the lack of baby chairs and communication with locals but as parents, we were really happy with how easy it is to get around and the accessibility of nappy stations and nursing rooms. Kyoto and Osaka provided our traveling needs as a family and made it convenient for us to really enjoy the beauty and vibrancy of both cities.
So, you don’t need to worry if you’re planning to explore Kansai with your little ones – Japan is welcoming to visitors and travelers of all ages.