by Jason Brick
The adventure of foreign travel becomes even more adventurous when travelling with children. Between the logistics, safety concerns an simple energy output, it’s important to choose destinations that make your trip as safe and easy as possible. If you leave the English-speaking world, Japan can be one of the best destinations for family travel. The cultural differences will broaden your kids’ horizons, and the country is among the safest in the world. You can make the most out of your family trip by keeping in mind a few simple tips.
Japan is crime free
So much so that subway graffiti is literally front-page news. It’s also a cash economy, with few ATM machines and few vendors who accept credit cards. You can safely carry cash, and relax your vigilance for abduction and other predators.
Japan is less safety-conscious
You’ll find fewer guard rails, traffic signs and other objects designed to prevent accidental injury than you are accustomed to seeing in North America and Europe. Use the extra mental energy you have from not watching your wallet to keep a closer eye on your kids when you’re near potential hazards.
Navigating in Japan is a challenge
Signs are in kanji – Japanese writing. Not all streets have names, and building numbers are in chronological rather than geographic order. Plan your routes ahead of time and always carry a map. It also helps to make a quick sketch of the key kanji you’ll need for your trip – such as city and station names.
Observe a hands-on policy in crowds
Especially on public transportation, it can be easy to lose track of your family in infamous crowds of Tokyo and other Japanese cities. Keep a hand on each other as you move, especially in situations where you could become separated.
Be ready to talk about sex
Sexual media is commonplace in Japan – in the daily papers, in comic books, in vending machines and on posters. Most towns have at least one fertility shrine in the form of a giant statue of a penis or vagina. This doesn’t have to ruin a family trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, but you should prepare to have a conversation about all of these images.
Eat a variety
McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken have a strong presence in Japan, enough that you might be tempted to buy your kids off with American fast food for many meals. This would be a mistake. Instead, try the local food stalls, sushi shops and yakitori restaurants. Japanese food is some of the most diverse cuisine in the world. Even if your family doesn’t love it, you’ll have a story to tell when you get home.
Carry your phrasebook
Most Japanese took a few years of English during school, but few speak the language well enough to really communicate. You can read phrases from your pocket dictionary, or use the time-honored trick of pointing to the phrase and letting the helpful locals read for themselves.
A trip to Japan will be a great adventure for your family, and a memory you all can cherish well into their adult years.
One of Jason’s first memories is pretending to write while in preschool. When not writing, he enjoys martial arts, board games and dancing with his wife.