Visiting Japan with the Kids
Family vacation in Japan By Michelle Rae Uy
Japan countryside (Flickr: Moyan Brenn)
One of the best things about traveling with the family is having opportunity to experience new cultures and explore different lands, and Japan is perhaps one of the most kid-friendly destinations for it. When the kids are old enough and ready to venture out of the country, this small island nation in Asia offers picturesque gardens and temples, vibrant metropolitan attractions, theme parks and an amazing gastronomy scene that will leave everyone in the family breathless.
Places to Visit
Tokyo Disney Resort (Courtesy Disney)
Whether you’re sticking to one area or hopping from one city to another (an easy endeavor thanks to the country’s extensive train network and the money-saving Japan Rail Pass), the family-friendly attractions are amazingly diverse and numerous.
In the capital, Tokyo, must-visit places include Oedo Onsen Monogatari where you’ll be taken back in time to historical Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum that fans of Studio Ghibli movies will love, Miraikan (The Future Museum), the waterfront commercial complex of Odaiba, the historical Meiji Shrine, the Tokyo SkyTree, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, and, of course, Tokyo Disney Resort.
Fushimi Inari Shrine (Flickr: coniferconifer)
In Kyoto and Osaka, about 3.5 hours and 4 hours from Tokyo by rail respectively, family-friendly attractions include Universal Studios Japan, the Floating Garden Observatory atop the Umeda Sky Building, the Nijo Castle, the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, Dotonbori for shopping and the neon lights at night, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, the UNESCO World Heritage site Kiyomizu-dera, and Universal Studios Japan.
Traditional Tea Ceremony (Flickr: mrhayata)
Japan is a country of traditions and practices, many of which are rooted in their main religions, and vacationing the kids in this country requires a bit more planning. While the Japanese are more forgiving with visitors, it might be a good idea to do some research and find out which customs and rules of conduct are worth knowing and might be expected of you as a visitor before you go. Not only will this give a lasting impression with your hosts, it’s also a good way for the kids to know more about the country and it’s people.
Removing your shoes when entering someone else’s home, not sticking your chopsticks up out of your bowl of rice, pointing your finger at the person you’re talking to, and blowing your nose in public are some good points to remember and practice with your kids.
Asian cuisine is rich and tasty, and generally well received by many; and Japanese cuisine is no exception. However, if it’s not something that the kids are used to or if your kids are picky eaters, a good way to prepare them for your Japan trip is to have a special Japanese dinner night at home. After all, you don’t want to be stuck with only eating fast food during your trip.
A convenient and fun way to explore cuisines around the world is with Try the World, a gastronomy subscription box that sends a curated box of authentic gourmet food right to your doorstep every two months. Try the World’s July-August box, available online now, is on Japan, and contains a box-full of Japanese food products and ingredients that you can use for your Japanese night at home, plus a couple of items for snacking.
Here are a couple of recipe ideas that use some items from your Try the World Japan box.
Chicken and Shiitake Mushrooms Soba Noodles (Photos: Michelle Rae Uy)
Chicken and Shiitake Mushrooms Soba Noodles
- 8 ounces soba noodles (from your Try the World Japan box)
- 1 lb boneless chicken breasts
- Salt & ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1.5 cups cabbage, finely shredded
- 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly slides
- 4-5 scallions, sliced
- 1/8 cup soy sauce
- 1 ½ Tbsp rice vinegar
- ½ Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp mirin (rice wine)
- Lightly season chicken breasts with salt and ground pepper. Set aside.
- Bring a pot of water, lightly salted, to a boil then cook the soba noodles for 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, and set aside.
- Heat vegetable oil and 1 Tbsp sesame oil over medium heat in skillet or wok. Add chicken and stir-fry until cooked, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to cutting board and allow to cool.
- Add remaining sesame oil to skillet and sauté garlic. Add cabbage and cook until soft. Then add shiitake mushrooms and stir-fry for 3 minutes.
- Add scallions and combine well. Remove from heat.
- Slice chicken into 1/4 –inch diagonal pieces and add to the cabbage mixture.
- To make the sauce, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and mirin. Make sure the sugar is dissolved.
- Add sauce to soba noodles and toss.
- Add chicken and cabbage mixture to the noodles, and serve.
- Okonomiyaki kit (from your Try the World Japan box)
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup water
- 1.5 cups cabbage, finely shredded
- 1/8 cup green onion, finely chopped
- Thinly-sliced strips of pork, ground pork, mushrooms or tuna ("okonomi" literally means "to one's liking")
- 2 eggs
- Dried seaweed (from your Try the World Japan box)
- Okonomiyaki sauce
- Mix water and the yam powder from the okonomiyaki kit in a large bowl until powder is dissolved. Add the batter mix from the kit and blend until dissolved.
- Grease pan or griddle with vegetable oil and preheat to 400 F.
- Add cabbage, green onion, tempura crisps from the kit, and eggs into batter. If you’re using ground pork, mushrooms or tuna, mix those in as well. Mix until evenly distributed.
- Pour mix onto griddle like you would a pancake. The mix makes two pancakes, approximately 2 cm thick. Cook one side for 3 minutes or until golden brown.
- If using pork strips, line them up on top.
- Flip the oknonomiyaki pancakes and cook the other side for about 3-5 minutes.
- Apply okonomiyaki sauce on one side with a brush then add mayonnaise.
- Sprinkle with dried seaweed and serve while hot.
Michelle Rae Uy contributed this to MiniTime. She is a travel writer based in Los Angeles and MiniTime's Head of Content, who spends her free time on adventures and film photography.