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Japan: Family Travel Destination No. 1?

Nathaniel Meyr

Two friends of mine recently returned from a trip to Japan with their 7-month-old son. Their report: Japan might be the most family-friendly travel destination on Earth.

The friends, 34-year-old Seattle residents Lisa and Nathaniel Meyr, visited at the end of November. Starting and ending in Osaka, they hit three other cities in 10 days. Looking back on the experience, Lisa said she loved the experience for four distinct reasons. I’ve summarized her rundown below.

Convenient time change on the flight.
Jet lag takes on new meaning when flying from Seattle to Japan. For starters, Japan is 17 hours ahead of the Emerald City. Next, the flight between destinations is about 11 hours. Together this makes the journey one of the least disruptive international flights possible. When the Meyrs departed in the morning, the baby was on his normal nap schedule and the family landed in the early afternoon local time. On the way home, the flight was 9.5 hours; because it left in the early evening, the baby fell asleep naturally and slept for almost the entire flight. “None of us really had trouble,” Lisa said. “Especially the baby.”

Easy getting around.
Because the Meyrs planned to take trains from one city to the next, because they prefer to explore places on foot, they left their car seat and their stroller at home. Instead, they avoided cars and opted for the Beco Gemini baby carrier. Lisa said this was a wise choice. “The subways are so crowded, it’s impossible to have a stroller anyway,” she said, adding that unless you need to get across town quickly, there’s almost no reason to ever take a car either.

Restaurants love infants.
According to Lisa, high chairs are like Smartphones in Japan—they’re everywhere. Naturally, then, this makes restaurant dining with little ones a cinch. Another bonus: Many restaurants offer Tatami-style seating, so babies can crawl around and spread out on the ground during meals. “He spent so much time in the pack that meal time was a nice break for him to stretch out,” Lisa remembered. She added that most, if not all, restaurants had changing tables in their restrooms. And that most of these changing tables were spotlessly clean.

Baby-friendly overnight accommodations.
Sure, every Japanese city offers Western-style hotels. But most cities also offer ryokan, traditional inns with futons for sleeping. “The futons were great for the baby because we could pull him into ‘bed’ with us and not worry about him rolling off because it was already on the ground,” Lisa said. Since most of these ryokan have on-site restaurants, Lisa and Nathaniel were able to take the baby to dinner without traipsing all over town for a kid-friendly spot. One night, she said, at a ryokan where their room was literally across the hall from the dining area, she and her husband left the baby asleep in the room and took a monitor with them to dinner.

In conclusion, Lisa’s only regret of the trip (aside from exposing her baby to all of Japan's second-hand cigarette smoke) was purchasing diapers overseas. It’s not that she and her husband couldn’t find diapers; those were available everywhere. But because Japan uses the metric system, Nathaniel had to convert the baby’s weight to kilograms before making a purchase.

With this in mind, the Meyrs suggest heading to the Far East with this conversion already in hand. That’s a kind of pre-trip planning just about every family traveler can embrace.