So we recently had a trip of a lifetime to Japan with our two your children and my Mum. It was one of those bucket list things that we had wanted to do for years but for whatever reason we never managed. I never thought that we would end up doing it with our 2 kids at such a young age but the timing was right. We had most of March free, our eldest Charlie starts school after the summer so taking him off for 3 weeks during term time would no longer be an option and Harry being 1 year old was still free to fly. We invited my Mum along, we travel with her often. My Dad died 10 years ago and they used to travel all over together so it’s nice for her to come along with us. We didn’t ask her to be a babysitter but there were a few occasions that she did watch the kids for a few hours for us and without her there Craig and I would not have been able to have some of the incredible experiences that we did so we are eternally grateful to her for that also. So, we started planning our trip and soon realised that we might never get back to Japan again and it became obvious that this would be quite an adventure with a lot of travel if we wanted to cram everything in. So many people told us that we were crazy to organise a trip like this with our 2 kids in tow but then others thought it was a great thing to do. We got a lot of advice from family and freinds that have visited Japan previously and that was extremely helpful for our planning. I wanted to write this blog post to be completely honest about the ups and downs of our trip, travelling across a very foreign country with kids and to share some of the amazing experiences that we had also. It’s a long one so scroll past if your just in it for the pictures.
A few weeks before we left we decided to get a front facing baby carrier for Harry. This was the best buy we could have got for our trip, Harry loved it, he could see everything and had no complaints in it at all, unless we were on a train journey where we couldn’t let him out but those tended to be short and sweet. I also noticed that everyone baby carries in Japan, I hardly saw any buggies or prams. It makes sense in busy cities, I can’t imagine getting a pram through any of the busy stations. Also we had to pack super light. As photographers it was tempting to take all our gear and there were certainly times when we wished we had either a zoom lens or wider lens but the trip was not about photography it was about the experience so we decided to take our Nikon d750 with a 35mm lens. All the images taken were with this set up. We also invested in a single strap harness made by my very talented friend at gunslinger dual camera harness she also made me a bespoke camera case to protect it. We got a fly legs up for Charlie but ended up in the seats with a wall in front of you instead of other passengers because of the basinet for Harry so found that was a bit of a waste of money. The kids did amazing on the fights to be honest, I could not believe Harry slept in that tiny little basinet and Charlie was really happy playing the games on the wee plane T.V. They didn’t have earphones suitable for him, they kept falling out of his ears so I would invest in my own earphones if I were travelling long haul again. Charlie had a small rucksack with him and we gave him some spending money but was told if he wanted to buy anything for himself he had to carry it home in his rucksack. We got pocket wifi called Japan wireless so that we could have the internet wherever we needed it. This was helpful for us to check emails but mostly it was so the boys could access their favourite T.V programmes and Youtube on the tablet. This was pretty useful on longer train journeys or if we needed Harry to stop running about the restaurant that we were in (Japanese kids don’t seem to do this) and with activities all day everyday the kids needed their downtime too. Nothing quite like an episode of Hey Duggee to give them some familiarity. We also got a Japanese rail pass. It was pretty expensive and had its ups and downs. In the stations if you show your rail pass they are very helpful in helping you out and everyone at the Japanese rail offices and desks speak English. For that alone it was worth it. But it doesn’t get you on all the trains and sometimes travelling by train meant you had to change stations a few times. There seemed to be quite a long walk between stations especially in Kyoto, when we went to the bamboo forest Charlie was knackered by the time we arrived. We ended up getting a lot of taxis in Kyoto to preserve the boys energy so we didn’t get the full benefits of the pass. Generally in Japan everyone is super helpful and friendly and they loved our kids, especially Harry, he was like a celebrity baby. People would stop and scream ‘Kawaii’ (means cute) and want their photo taken with him. He loved the attention, I actually think he’s missing it now we are home. We were worried about the food in Japan as we have 2 fussy boys but there is plenty of western places if you want pizza and chips. However the Japanese food is amazing and the boys surprised us by trying sushi and noodles. The best meal we had was a Yakiniku restaurant where you grill your own meat slices. Charlie loved the novelty of this and the food was truly amazing. We did have a few moments of lows, Harry decided halfway through the trip to be awake from midnight till 3am for 3 nights in a row and we had an unforgettable journey on the bullet train where he screamed the whole way, Charlie also had a bit of sickness by the time we got to Ishigaki and I felt guilty about all the travel we put them through, what can you do though, we knew there would be tough times too. Charlie handled jet lag amazingly and we are all recovered now we are home and the boys got back into a routine fine. We walked a lot! Japan is the only holiday I have had where I over indulged in food and wine but actually lost weight. It’s actually made me motivated to be more active now I am back home. We thought we had researched the travel well but it ended up being a bit more than we had anticipated getting from place to place but you just had to get on with it and apart from a few stress moments with the boys they actually adapted amazingly well with all the travel and they had a fantastic time, when I ask Charlie what his favourite bit was he just says “every single thing”.
So here’s what we had planned in no particular order, a few days in Tokyo, Charlie loves Godzilla so we found the statue in Shinjuku and did some shopping then went to Team Lab Borderless, a digital art museum. It was incredible. A real highlight for us, its very hard to explain how incredible it was and it was dark so hard to get good pictures but I have included a link to the website for anyone that is interested. Harry loved this and would become very vocal when he got excited shouting “dat” and “gahh” we also planned a trip to Disneyland but we are not sure if we researched this enough. It was just like Florida or California Disneyland but 3 times busier. We went on a Wednesday but it was full of kids so we are really unsure if we just picked a public holiday or if it was always like that. There were 30 minute queues just for popcorn and the fast passes seemed to finish after a few hours. We couldn’t really make the most of it and Charlie was also a bit too young to really appreciate where he was. We didn’t take the camera that day and we were glad of it. I think we were all the most exhausted after Disney than anything else. We had hoped to catch some Cherry blossoms but they were just starting to bloom. We also managed to get lost in Tokyo trying to find a park, that was fun! We had planned a lot of stuff in Kyoto, there’s so many things to do there, lots of temples, Charlie enjoyed pretending to be a ninja when we visited them, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Fushimi Shrine, Nishiki market, The Golden Pavilion, The Gion district, we didn’t see any Geisha’s there but lots of people get dressed up in kimonos, its very pretty and a day trip to Nara to see the deer. They were everywhere! We would have liked to hire some bikes with seats for the boys and do some cycling there but didn’t find the time in the end. We decided to travel to the island part of Japan also, Craig and I love snorkelling and when we researched it we found that Ishigaki had some of the best snorkelling spots in the world. Ishigaki is what I would call hippie Japan, everything was slower (the speed limit was 25mph!), the fashion was different it was quite a contrast to the busy cities that we had visited. We went out of season so we had an entire beach to ourselves most of the time. We even had a secret beach 5 minutes from our apartment that you had to climb down a jungle cliff to get to. It was a cozy 23 degrees but overcast most days. We hired wetsuits and Charlie was desperate to try snorkelling so we taught him how to use the snorkel in the bath. At Yonehara beach you can snorkel in the really shallow waters so it was quite safe to take him in and after a one or two meltdowns, mostly about the snorkel mask being too tight, he did it and even saw clown fish (nemo to Charlie) It was amazing to see him experience that. That was one of the things that would not have been possible without my Mum watching Harry on the beach for us. We also wanted to see the snow monkeys in Yudanaka. This was the biggest highlight of the trip for us. We stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan, this is an inn that typically features tatami-matted rooms with futon bedding and onsen’s, indoor or outdoor baths. This experience was amazing and we would highly recommend doing this if your planning a visit to Japan. The boys loved it here too, even the way the snow fell seemed magical. The Jugokudani Monkey Park was a 2km hike to get to so it was no easy task in the snow but Charlie did so good. I actually feel like I watched him grow up a lot on this trip. Normally he would whine at all the walking but he was so excited to see the snow monkeys it didn’t matter as much. Once we got there we were all quite surprised how close the monkeys actually got to you. They just walked right past you without a care. Whilst researching the snow monkeys I came across another photographers image of people bathing in an onsen with the snow monkeys. It looked like something out of a dream and I emailed them to ask if this was the same place. They kindly let us know about the Ryokan right next to the monkey park where you can use there outside onsen and if your lucky, the monkeys might join you. We headed over there to get some noodles and hot lemonade to warm up before walking back down the hill and spotted the onsen. There were no monkeys in it but while the boys were warming up we snuck off to go in anyway because a hot bath in amongst snow covered mountains was amazing with or without the monkeys. Once we got outside we saw the monkeys appear and literally had a hot spring bath with them. It was the most surreal thing ever but also one of the most amazing experiences we have ever had. We didn’t stay in long incase the boys started kicking off for my mum but we managed to get a few pictures for our memories.
All in all the trip was incredible. I’m so proud of all my boys and also my amazing Mum traveling Japan with us at 69 years old, she rocks! We made some incredible memories and Japan will always have a special place in our hearts. If your in two minds about travelling with kids we would say go for it. Life’s for living and the incredible experiences definitely outweighed the stressful times. If you can convince an extra pair of hands to join you then we would advise this also.