25 May Planning our first family holiday to Japan
Hi, welcome to Strolling Adventures and my first post about our family trip to Japan. We are a family of three, me (Elisha), my husband (Tim) and our little one (Fletcher). Our first trip to Japan was in October 2013. This would be our second international holiday as a couple, following our Thailand honeymoon and our first as a family with a toddler.
I’ve decided to write about our experience to re-live and document our memories and hope that others may find it useful in planning their own Japan adventures, especially those with small children.
After a short holiday in 2013 we returned to explore Japan again the following year. We had learned from some mistakes we made the first time and I will share these as well as full trip reports and photos from both holidays.
There was never a discussion of where to go. I’d been interested in Japan since learning about the country in my high school Japanese class. I made the suggestion and my husband agreed it seemed like a great place for us to visit.
People always ask us why we chose Japan and to be honest we never really have a good answer. We love Japan and after visiting the country twice, we still can’t pin point exactly why. There are many things about Japan that fascinate us and many reasons why we think it makes a great holiday destination for our family.
Firstly, an interest in the Japanese culture both old and new. The country has a rich history and is full of beautiful ancient temples and shrines. There are also plenty of places to enjoy gorgeous scenery. Then there’s modern Japan with it’s bustling cities, tech gadgets, crazy fashion and speedy bullet trains. On the more practical side of things, we find Japan an easy choice for international travel due to it’s very low crime rates, making it a safe country for our family to travel in. Coming from Australia the flight time is relatively short compared to many other countries, therefore much cheaper also. We don’t have to deal with time difference problems given Japan is only 1 hour or 2 behind us depending on whether we are in daylight savings.
When to go? How long for?
Before booking flights we needed to choose how long our holiday would last and what time of year it would take place. We wanted enough time to see both Kyoto and Tokyo and somewhere in between. At the same time we had to limit it due to time Tim could take off work, affordability and not wanting to take Fletcher away from home too long for the first time. We ended up with a total of 12 nights in Japan.
We decided to go in late October / early November , after the hot humid summer had finished and the main typhoon season was over, but before the winter cold set in. Japan is beautiful in autumn with lots of trees changing colour but it also gets very crowded in particular spots when the leaves are reaching their peak. We chose to go earlier than peak season and were still able to see some pretty colourful foliage during our time there. Although I was aware of the major holidays in Japan, I somehow managed to overlook a national holiday falling on a Sunday, with an observance day being on the Monday. We would be in Japan during a long weekend. Luckily I discovered this during planning so at least we could avoid certain places. I’d hate to see what Disney Land would’ve looked like!
Now that we had chosen a rough time frame, the next step was to lock it in, book the flights! We had dropped into our local travel agency to pick up some Japan brochures to get ideas on places to travel, so decided to see what flights and accommodation they had to offer. As expected, the quotes were more than we were willing to pay and the accommodation suggestions not really what we were after. We could have asked them to come up with other options but we were confident our internet searching abilities would land us what we wanted. However, one option they did open us up to was an open-jaw flight, flying into Kansai International Airport, close to Kyoto, and out of Narita Airport in Tokyo.
We found out the cost of a Japan rail pass, which we would use to cover the return trip between Tokyo and Kyoto if we were to fly in and out of one city and kept the figure in mind when searching for flights.
We attempted to find ‘good’ flight times for a toddler, these didn’t exist. At the time there were no direct flights from Melbourne. There were a few airlines that had early morning flights departing at around 6 am. This would mean having to get to the airport by 3 am, I couldn’t see it working out. Our closest city is Melbourne and it’s a 3 to 4 hour drive from home. We found a deal through Malaysia Airlines and it worked out cheaper to go with the open-jaw flight. The departure times were more reasonable, the layover on the way was 2 hours 40 min, although it was late in the night hmm. The returning flight layover was 5 hours, eeek did we make the right decision?
After much discussion we decided to just go for it and book the flights. In order to do this we had to input everyone’s passport numbers, oops we hadn’t yet organised one for Fletcher. We already had the necessary paper work, just had to fill out the form and get his photo taken. A photo where he had to have his eyes open, mouth closed and be looking straight on to the camera. Easy. We considered taking it ourselves at home but were put off by the technical requirements. A lot of professional photo stores won’t even attempt to take child passport photo’s. We chose a quiet time at the local post office and let them do the work. They were great and the process was completely painless. They had a back drop that came down behind us and I was able to hold Fletch as long as i wasn’t visible in the shot. Photo done and passport application in.
About 2 weeks later we received his passport and could now finalise our flights. We booked 2 adult tickets and an infant ticket, this being the only online ticket option for a child under 2. After booking, paying and receiving confirmation we realised our mistake. An infant ticket would mean our 1 and half year old son would be sitting on our laps for about 13 hours each way. He wouldn’t have his own space and ours would be seriously compromised. We also weren’t sure about the safety which made us uncomfortable. Tim and I each had a difficult conversation over the phone to people from Malaysia airlines who couldn’t seem to understand that we wanted to book a seat for our ‘infant’. Third time lucky Tim managed to get a lady that understood what he wanted to do and changed our booking so we would now have 3 seats.
Flight booking finally finalised, we were now ready to start organising our itinerary and accommodation.