Family holiday in Japan - Exploring Tokyo & surroundings

Hey lovely! Wanna know when might be the best time of the year to visit Japan? Where to go and what to do? I got you all covered! In this post, I will be introducing my home country Japan, especially the city of my birth, Tokyo and its surroundings.

When to go

One thing I really miss about Japan is the beautiful change of scenery depending on the season. Personally, my favourite time of the year to visit Japan is spring (March to May) especially when cherry blossoms are blooming. (Around the end of March to early April) Autumn (September to November) is another beautiful time of the year with leaves turning yellow & red (this is called koyo 紅葉). Summer (June to August) is hot and humid but you may be able to check out local summer festivals (usually held in August) when locals dress up in yukata (summer kimono made of cotton) to enjoy fireworks display. If you’re into skiing/snowboarding, then winter would be great for you for the snow, but remember, only in certain areas of Japan (northern parts including Hokkaido & Tohoku region or Hakuba, the host of 1998 winter Olympics) people get to enjoy the snow. Two more things to keep in mind when visiting Japan is the rainy season called tsuyu (梅雨 in Japanese. June-July) and typhoon season (August-September). We were actually having holiday in Tokyo around mind June in the middle of the rainy season for about 10 days this year, but we were quite lucky with the weather with only a couple of days of rain. I remember flying to Tokyo in September years ago and unfortunately, I happened to arrive at the same time as typhoon and had the scariest flight ever (I serious thought the plane was going to crash!!) so I will probably not try September again…

Where to go

My favourite city is Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. If you’re into history & culture, I’d say this is the best place to explore. Another place I love is Okinawa, southern islands of Japan away from the mainland Japan. It’s a bit like Hawaii of Japan and mainland Japanese love to travel there to escape cold and enjoy beautiful beaches. Okinawa has subtropical weather and warm all year around, but it often gets hit quite badly by typhoon in summer time. Tokyo is great for shopping and dining experience and connected by major cities in the world so it’s probably the easiest city to fly to and from. In this particular post, I will be focusing on introducing Tokyo, my birth city and save my favourite cities for another time.

What to do

There are so many things you can do in Japan and this answer will totally depend on your interest. As mentioned earlier, I’m gonna focus on Tokyo & surroundings in this post. If you’d love to see history/culture, Senso-ji, (浅草寺) an ancient Buddhist temple in Asakusa (浅草) is a popular spot. We also enjoyed the contrast of Tokyo Tower and Zojo-ji, (増上寺) an ancient Buddhist temple. Speaking of towers, the view from Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest tower at present was amazing especially around the sunset and beyond. You can see Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan in the distance too.

If you’re into nature, exploring hot springs (called onsen 温泉in Japanese) might be nice. We’ve taken a little trip to Hakone (箱根) , from Tokyo in the past. I think it took us about 90 minutes to 2 hours to get there but it was lovely. Head to Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖) where you can view the beautiful MountFuji. If you have kids, a great place for a day trip is Kodomono-kuni (こどもの国) in Yokohama. The place means children’s country, and this is where I used to go a lot as a child. It’s a nature park including Yokohama’s longest slide, some affordable rides, water activities around the lake and children’s zoo. We loved our time there especially because it’s fairly low-key and not crowded with tourists. You may see local kids on excursion but compared to Disney Land or Disney Sea where you’d end up spending all the time queuing (at least half an hour to an hour), there was hardly any wait time there. I’d recommend packing your own lunch for picnic as you can easily spend all day there. Be mindful they are closed on Wednesdays.

If you’d love to see a coastal area of Japan, Shonan (湘南) isn’t too far. Enoshima (江ノ島) is a popular little island (connected by land) in this area with a lighthouse called Sea Candle. The view is lovely from up there. In this area the sand is much darker than the one in Australia. I much prefer going to Okinawa for the beach but it’s a bit of travel from Tokyo (about 2 and a half hours flight) so maybe save it for another occasion especially if it’s going to be your first time to Japan.

If you’re up for some fun, try karaoke! You get to have your own room, so you don’t need to worry about embracing yourself in front of strangers! We also loved this art gallery called trick art museum in Odaiba during our recent holiday. You get to be a part of fun paintings! Odaiba also offers a bay beach, ferris wheel and multiple shopping malls. For shopping and dining, we love going to Shinjuku (新宿) My favourite place to dine is Chaya, a macrobiotics restaurant in Isetan (伊勢丹) and Mr Farmer in Mosaic Street as they offer good vegan & gluten free options. Walking around Harajuku (原宿) and Shibuya (渋谷) including Omotesando (表参道) might be fun too. You will find alternative fashion style in this area as well as stylish boutique stores. If you end up visiting this area, it might be worth checking out Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), a Shinto shrine.

If you have 1 - 2 weeks to enjoy Japan, I’d definitely catch a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto to spend some time in this ancient capital of Japan. It might be beneficial to organise a JR pass prior to arriving in Japan (purchase can only be made outside Japan) if you’re planning on stopping at multiple cities along the way or thinking of travelling even beyond Kyoto. My favourite city Kyoto deserves lots more words so I’ll save it for another time.

What to avoid

Wherever possible, avoid travelling during peak hours in big cities of Japan. Trains will be jam-packed and it’s just not the pleasant time to be travelling especially with your little people. If I were you, I would avoid travelling around 8am-9am and 6pm-7pm.

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed the post and it got you excited about the idea of visiting my home country Japan one day! People are polite and genuinely helpful even though their English skills might be limited. If you stay in major cities, there would be English signs everywhere especially around the train stations so you don’t need to worry too much about getting around. Japan offers great transportation options as that’s how most people travel from A to B. If you enjoyed this post and would love to see more travelling posts like this, make sure to like this post or leave a comment below!

About Chika

Chika was born and raised in Japan and lived in numerous big cities in Japan including Sapporo, Yokohama, Hiroshima, Sendai and Osaka. Her mum is from Tokyo and her parents used to live there so she often travelled to Tokyo to visit her grandparents. Chika moved to Sydney, Australia in 2004 to study at uni and has been enjoying Australian life since. She teaches yoga & mindfulness in Sydney and has multiple interests including travelling, plant-based cooking and sustainable living.

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