There are many friends, colleagues, and readers who contact me every time they want to plan things to Japan. I am beyond grateful to help assisting them having a perfect trip because I love to see people enjoying Japan to the fullest. One of the most common topics among them is how to plan trip when they bring their whole family
If you travel with your friends who are around the same age, you're much more free to wonder around Tokyo or other parts of Japan because, you usually have the same strength, interest, and food preference, same generation after all. But if you bring your parents or kids, it might be much more tricky than that. I have never brought kids to Japan but I have brought my parents, brother, and aunt altogether in one trip to Tokyo last 2016 and it's much harder than arranging my Kawaii Tour
Upon trial and error, here are my tips to arrange family trip to japan!
1. MAKE SURE WHAT THE FAMILY WANTS
Is it shopping? Is it food? Is it photoshoot? Is it scenery? Ask the priority of what your family wants. For kids I believe they want to have good time at theme park and see cute stores, but for parents might be tricky. My mom really loves cityscape compared to nature (like me and dad) so by adjusting schedule for everyone, we can make everyone happy. Also list things that your family can and cant eat. Go for basic meals first before introducing them to weird foods, get some gyudon, ramen, takoyaki, and if they're brave enough, for sushi (I know not every elders can handle it). Get your priority straight and don't go for things that they wont enjoy. Lets say if they dont like rides and you insist to visit Disneyland, they might not enjoy the value of it and it's better to use the money for treating them for Kobe Beef
2. NOT TO BE STINGY IN TRANSPORTATION
I have traveled countless times alone to Japan and I can tell you one thing that I have changed the most in the past few years, stinginess in transportation! Back then I would drag my luggages on train, walking in harsh weather with my nails broken. And sometimes some stations dont even have lift or escalator so you have to carry it by yourself. Don't let a little bit of money hurt your back, or even worst your parents back. In Indonesia we have a saying 'jangan kayak orang susah', and that's true. Youre there to have holiday, save some money on somethings but dont be stingy on transportation cost. Get BUS and TAXI! It's better to go straight to your hotel/apartment using shuttle bus from airport, and go to the nearest station. From there onwards, grab taxi and you can reach your place nicely. If your apartment doesnt have lift and require some help (my usual apartment is on 2nd floor and no lift), the taxi driver will be glad to help you with that
Anyway, taxi in Japan is getting cheaper as well if you're going for short distance. Starting fare is 440 yen and adds 80 yen per every 230m. If you just need to go across 1-2 stations away with 4 people, it's not worth the hassle to travel via train or subway. All the stairs, catching up train, and crowd... So let's stop being stingy on that and enjoy automatic taxi door!
3. STAY ONLY IN 1 CITY
I really recommend people to stay only in 1 city and my best bet is always Tokyo because it has so many things to offers! But if you want to stay in other part of Japan, Osaka is also good because you can have day trip to Kyoto as well easily. It is to avoid hassle of moving your luggage and wasting time. I know not everyone can take long family trip together and some people have really limited time. Calculate the time of packing, transportation length, checking out of hotel, finding the hotel, checking in, and packing again, and you have wasted at least half a day and not to mention the sweat. I recommend staying in 1 city and maybe just visit a few nearby cities for day trip
4. STAY IN MAIN STATION AREA
I know staying in main station area means that you have to spend a little bit more money compared to finding cheap airbnbs in a far far away stations, but unless your family is really in tight budget or they are strong to walk and climb stairs, I wouldn't recommend it. Go for easy stations that are accessible with Airport Shuttle Bus and nearby places that you will be visiting a lot. I truly recommend you all to stay in Shinjuku or Shibuya! Shibuya has many interesting places to visit and it's close with Omotesando and Harajuku which means you can take taxi to those places, and if you're tired bringing all the shopping bags to your stay, taxi catch won't be that expensive! Shinjuku also offers amazing shopping and food destination especially if you want to stay late at night, and it also has bus trip station for day trip! For Osaka, I believe staying in Namba or Shin Osaka are the best choices!
5. GO FOR A DAY TRIP WITH BUS
If you really need to see other places and don't want to be troubled with all the hassle of moving places to stay, considering going for a day trip! From Tokyo there are many day trips using bus that you can go to such as Kawaguchiko, Hakone, Nikko, Yokohama, and Kamakura. If you stay in Osaka, consider going to Kyoto and Nara for day trip. You can use train as well and compare whichever way is easier for your family!
6. PLAN ONLY 2-3 SPOTS A DAY
There will be a few people in your group and your kids or your parents might not have the same power like you, hence consider going to only 2-3 spots in a day at max. They also might get distracted with certain shops, or need to rest at some coffee shops to enjoy the city. Don't try to put too much list in one day because you want them to experience everything. Think again, is it your list or their list? Perhaps you want to give the best by showing them every good things Japan offers but perhaps they're happy after all just by enjoying a warm matcha with you by sitting peacefully overlooking the city
7. GET SIM CARD
I know some people consider getting WiFi Pocket to share among family members to stay connected. It's cheaper, and shareable. But I am always a sim card person because of its efficiency! It's of course might be a little bit expensive if youre traveling in short time, but a good investment if you're traveling more than a week. Also, it comes in handy if you want to separate and do your own things (maybe the girls want to go shopping and the boys want to visit Gundam). At that point, having WiFi is troublesome because once they separate, they find it difficult to contact each other. I mostly get simcard named Bmobile and now it's priced at around 3200yen for 5GB 21 days, and it's the cheapest one for my long stay. There are other options and you can choose any of it at Airport or BigCamera!
8. EXPECT LESS
And with all the preparations, money wise, and efforts, I know the expectation for family trip must be high but there's nothing more that I would like to concentrate than expect less or even nothing to this trip. Family trip is not really about rainbow and smiles, and you might face clashes at certain points. When you expect less, it becomes much more enjoyable and you have no burden to carry. And if the plan goes bad, it is not your fault who arrange it, but just laugh about it. I always say to everyone that we can learn the most from bad experiences, that's why when something bad occurs, I try to see it in positive way. And when something unexpected happens, it's usually the thing that you will remember the most. Once I gave my mother a ski experience and she was crying hard because she thought I left her alone (while in fact I was sliding automatically on my own and almost died as well lol). Once we reached the foot of mountain, she was pulling my hair and scolded me for giving her the experience. My response was only, laugh.. Because I try to see it in funny way. I told her that she would remember the experience a lot and she would have good story to tell to her friends. Fast forwards it's 3 years later and she still cant forget it ^^
So that's my tips on how to arrange family trip to Japan, and I believe some of the tips can be used as well even at other destinations! Enjoy while you still can go for family holiday because it's precious moment that should be treasured. And be grateful. Eat a lot. And take many pictures
All in all I hope you would find this tips helpful