From samurai to sumo, origami to kabuki, Japanese culture is fascinating for children of all ages.
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Japanese culture is unlike any other. People around the world are fascinated by it and it can be especially captivating for children. From sushi to samurai, Japan is like another world for young minds. It’s also a very safe, clean, and family friendly country, making it a great place to visit with children. We’ve put together a list of Japanese cultural activities that children (of all ages) will love. They’re a great way to keep the kids entertained while you travel the length and breadth of this beautiful and unique country using your JR Pass for unlimited travel on Japan’s domestic trains. Let’s get started.
Japanese Culture for Kids
Traditional Japanese culture has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world. Adults and children alike find Japanese culture captivating, and for good reason - it’s beautiful, unique, meaningful, and fun.
Sumo is quintessentially Japanese and the country’s national sport. It’s also steeped in history, theatrics, and features two titanic heavyweights trying to out-muscle the other. What better way to introduce children to Japanese culture? Sumo tournaments are family-friendly, and seating can be booked for you and your children. Find out everything you need to know about attending a sumo tournament in Japan by reading our Guide to Sumo. Another sport to consider attending with your children in Japan is baseball. While it didn’t start out in Japan, baseball is now one of the country’s most popular spectator sports and a great way to see Japanese people letting their hair down and having fun. It’s set to be even more popular after the Japanese national team beat the United States in the recent Tokyo 2020 Olympics too!
Kabuki dates back to around 1603, during the early Edo period, and is a form of traditional Japanese dance-theatre. Featuring glamorous costumes, make-up, and fantastical, avant garde performances, Kabuki was designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. Kabuki remains popular today and is sure to wow children and young people. You can also visit an area in Kyoto that is famous for being one of the birthplaces of Kabuki. Find out more in our guide to Pontocho in Kyoto. You could also take your children to the Edo-Tokyo Museum for more on the beautiful and enchanting Edo period including Kabuki, samurai culture, ukiyo-e woodblock printing, and much more.
Matsuri (Traditional Festivals)
Matsuri - the Japanese word for its traditional festivals - are one of the most colourful and fun experiences you can have in Japan. Japan loves festivals. It really, really loves them. From snow festivals to cherry blossom festivals, religious and spiritual festivals to harvest festivals, from music, food and beer festivals to computer games, cosplay and anime – Japan has festivals and celebrations for all of these and more. Most matsuri are incredibly colourful and lively too and many feature dancing and other kinds of performances that will keep children and adults entertained. There are even festivals with riders on horseback firing arrows at targets, matsuri where people fight each other, bean throwing festivals, and others with huge floats known as nebuta.
Traditional Matsuri feature processions and decorated floats known as dashi, yatai, danjiri, and other regional variations. Kami are sometimes carried from their shrines in mikoshi (essentially a portable shrine carried by the procession), and processions are often accompanied by drum and flute music. However, each matsuri is also slightly different, with its own unique personality and characteristics. While some are serene and peaceful, others are colourful, loud and energetic, and feature dancing and singing. Traditional Matsuri are a great way for children to experience the history and culture of Japan. Read our guide for our list of Japan’s Top 12 Festivals. Your children can also get in on the action by making their own festival decorations such as koinobori carp kites or purchasing daruma dolls and maneki neko - a Japanese figurine shaped like a white cat that is believed to give good luck and which kids will undoubtedly love.
Temples and shrines
Japan is famous for its beautiful temples and shrines, and many are open to families. While it's important and useful to be aware of good etiquette when visiting holy places, Japan’s temples and shrines are very welcoming to children and families. Another fun (and closely related) idea for children might be to do a Torii Gate Tour of Japan - these iconic red gates can be found across Japan and tracking them down could be a fun treasure hunt style activity for your children.
Manga and Anime
As far as contemporary Japanese culture goes, manga and anime are definitely two of Japan’s most successful exports. They’re also hugely popular among children and young people. In Japan, people who stay home all day reading manga are called otaku - a word that has become an umbrella term for the country’s geek culture. While not all manga and anime is suitable for children, there are lots of family friendly series too such as Pokémon. To find out more, take a look at our guide to the Top Manga and Anime to Read Before You Visit Japan.
Even if your children aren’t familiar with Japanese manga and anime, they probably know Studio Ghibli’s world-famous and completely enchanting, animated films. The Studio Ghibli Museum is perfect for children and there are other destinations across Japan, including the town of Tomonoura and the forests of Yakushima which have their own Ghibli connections. Alongside manga, anime, and the films of Studio Ghibli, Japan is also synonymous with another favourite of children worldwide - computer games. Read our guide to Japan for Gamers and J-Culture Fans for more on this.
Staying in a traditional Ryokan is an exciting and different experience for a child used to Western accommodation. Ryokans are basically Japanese inns and often feature such traditional Japanese staples as shōji and tatami mats. These are an excellent choice for families who want to enjoy a more traditional local experience when visiting Japan. The experience of ryokan is not limited just to the style of the rooms either. Ryokan often include amenities such as onsen, offer traditional Japanese meals, and observe Japanese household traditions. There are many different types of ryokan across the country from traditional to modern to luxury versions. To find out more read our guide to The Best Ryokans in Japan. Other interesting types of Japanese accommodation to consider include capsule hotels and book-themed hotels (ideal if your kids are bookworms!), but ryokans are definitely the most traditional experience.
Japan’s famous and iconic medieval warriors, the samurai, were disbanded in the 19th Century, but their legacy lives on around the world. From their beautiful armour to their iconic swords and noble code, the samurai remain one of history’s most enigmatic and enduring warrior figures. There are many ways to explore samurai history with your children while visiting modern day Japan. You could visit the historic city of Aizuwakamatsu for instance which is known as the ‘Samurai City’ for the way it preserves and celebrates the history of these famous warriors. You won’t find it hard to reach Aizuwakamatsu with the Japan Rail Pass. Travelling from Tokyo, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama, where you then change to the Ban-Etsusai Line for Aizuwakamatsu. Both legs are covered under the JR Pass so you shouldn’t have any worries getting there. Find out everything you need to know in our Guide to Aizuwakamatsu, the Samurai City of Japan.
You’ll also find lots of samurai history in Japan’s castles, which are stunning architectural wonders in their own right. Japanese castles are very different from western castles and children will love exploring inside and reliving the days of the samurai. Read our guide to Five Incredible Castles in Japan to Visit for more. There’s also Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo, which has an amazing Samurai story to tell of the 47 ronin who avenged their master.
While samurai may be part of Japan’s past, there is a present day way to relive some of their exciting exploits - the Japanese martial art of Kendo, known as ‘the way of the sword’. Kendo has its origins in the discipline of kenjutsu, the mastery of swordsmanship practiced by samurai for centuries. While mastering kendo requires years of practice and discipline, it is possible to experience the martial art on your Japan trip. There are several organisations and instructors that offer a kendo experience in Japan, where for a few hours or a day you can learn kendo. Read our guide on How To Experience the Japanese Art of Kendo for more information.
Introduce your children to the joys of Japanese cuisine. Japan is a paradise for foodies and it’s a great place to expand your children’s culinary tastes and introduce them to a whole new world of food. Japanese food is also fun and can seem very exciting to children thanks to the sometimes colourful and quirky way it is presented. From sushi and ramen to streetfood and the country’s ubiquitous vending machines filled with tasty snacks, children will have no shortage of new foods to try. Why not learn more about Japanese Table Manners to help teach your kids before you travel by reading our helpful guide? We also have a great Beginners Guide to Japanese Food and Regional Dishes if you want to discover more. Look out for cooking classes, taster sessions, and more suitable for children and young people while visiting Japan.
Part of Japan’s annual cultural calendar, Children’s Day takes place each year on 5th May during Golden Week in Japan - a special week in Japan between April 29th and May 5th where four national holidays take place. Find out more in our guide to Golden Week: Dates and Travel Information.
Children’s Day, as the name implies, is meant to celebrate the children of Japan. Previously, the holiday was called Tango no Sekku (Boy’s Day), and historically celebrated only the boys of Japan. The practice can be traced back to the Nara period (710-794 CE) and now includes all children. In the modern-day, the festival is traditionally celebrated by raising koinobori (streamers shaped like koi fish), to represent each member of the family and to bring luck to their children. Inside Japanese homes, samurai helmets and dolls are displayed, as well as Iris flowers. Traditional snacks for the holiday include kashiwa-mochi and chimaki.
Origami has long been associated with Japanese culture and became a form of entertainment around the 16th Century. Using special washi paper, origami can be used to create almost any shape including the famous Japanese paper crane. The art of paper folding can be a fun and educational activity for kids and there are many children’s classes available to international families and visitors while staying in Japan. An additional (and related) recommendation is the Art of Japanese Calligraphy, which can also be tried while in Japan and which may also interest creative and artistic children.
Things To Do With Kids While Visiting Japan
As we mentioned above, Japan is a super family friendly country to visit. It’s safe, clean, friendly, and there’s a huge amount for children of all ages to see and do. Here are a few quick recommendations, but you’ll find a full list of tips for visiting Japan with your family in our detailed guide to A Family Friendly Holiday to Japan.
Thanks to the Japan Rail Pass, you can travel all around Japan with just one ticket. Children love trains (including big kids), and Japan’s trains are believed to be the best in the world. Just travelling from A to B on one of these futuristic trains is an attraction in itself, especially in a country as spectacular and different as Japan. Whether it’s the country’s newest and fastest bullet train, the N700S Shinkansen, or something more colourful like the Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty trains, the country’s rail network will delight families. You can even get special Japanese lunch boxes called Ekiben to enjoy on your journeys.
- Green spaces
While Japan is famous for its huge, futuristic cities, it is also packed with beautiful green spaces, both within urban centres and throughout the country’s plentiful rural areas. From city parks like Yoyogi in Tokyo to national parks, tranquil lakes to wild, mountainous forests, Japan is much greener than you might think and perfect for children to explore.
- Theme Parks
Japan has some of the biggest and best theme parks in the world, including DisneySea, which is unique to Japan, Universal Studios, home-grown attractions like the aforementioned Studio Ghibli Museum, and brand-new parks like Super Nintendo World. The country is something of a mecca for theme park enthusiasts and will definitely keep children entertained!
Alongside the traditional Japanese culture, we’ve featured above, Japan also has a huge amount of family friendly attractions and activities that will appeal to families from amusement parks to aquariums, parks and gardens, cycling, castles, animal attractions, sightseeing, and more. Here are a few bonus recommendations:
- Arguably Japan’s most famous animal, the Japanese macaque or snow monkey is a firm favourite among children and can be seen bathing in hot springs at various parks across the country including world-famous Jigokudani Monkey Park.
- As an island surrounded by oceans and seas, Japan has some incredible sea life and some of the best aquariums in the world for families. Read our guide to Japan’s Best Aquariums for everything you need to know.
- We all know how important it is to keep children active, so why not head out on a family bike ride? Japan has some of the Best Cycling Routes in the world.
- Japan has more than 30 National Parks and some beautiful green spaces in its big cities, such as Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, which is ideal for family picnics, and Nara Park in historic Nara, which also has the bonus of free roaming deer.
- Make sure you stay connected to the internet during your family holiday so you can keep the kids entertained during those quiet moments. A Pocket Wifi device gives you unlimited internet on up to 10 devices wherever you go in Japan. It’s indispensable when travelling with children.
If the thought of visiting Japan for the first time with your family seems daunting, why not use our special Meet and Greet Service to give you a helping hand on arrival? It’s like having an expert on Japan as a personal assistant for your holiday.