We are all so very excited about going to Japan. We have travelled as a family internationally once before a couple of years ago and the kids still talk about our experience regularly. I love the idea of the kids experiencing other cultures first hand and realising that our way of life is not the way everyone lives.
Japan is a great destination for our family. The flight from Australia is not too long. We fly out of Melbourne to Cairns (3hr 25min) and then on to Osaka (7hr 50min). The weather going at this time of year is so much warmer than Melbourne which makes me very happy. The time difference is only an hour, so we won’t have jet lag issues to worry about and the experience of spending time in a country that is so different to our own, will give the kids a fantastic and broader perspective of the world.
Getting the kids involved
We like to have the kids as involved as possible with the prior preparation and planning of the holiday. To set the background and give them the framework for our holiday, I put together a little information pack which covers of the following information:
- A map locating Japan
- The when and how we will get there
- The time difference
- Information on the climate
- Information on the currency and some simple conversions with familiar amounts like $2, $5 and $10.
Understanding the Japanese culture
Once we gave the kids the basic information, we have then been researching more about the cultural aspects of Japan. It is worthwhile to obtain some understanding of the culture you are about to visit, so to be prepared and to not cause unintentional offence by running against cultural norms.
Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers’ cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Cash is preferred in Japan. Although major credit cards are accepted at most hotels, many shops and service providers do not accept payment by card and credit card facilities are not widely available, especially outside Tokyo. ATMs that accept foreign cards are not widely available within Tokyo or other Japanese cities, and many ATMs operate only during business hours. Check with your bank as to whether your ATM card will work in Japan and also check with your bank for information and the location of ATM services for your card in Japan. Banks that exchange travellers’ cheques may also be limited in some areas of Japan.
Other useful money tips:
- Tipping is not practiced in Japan.
- If a shop has a small tray next to the till, instead giving the cash direct to the shop assistant, money should be place on the tray.
- It is considered rude if you count your change.
The minimum age for purchasing and consuming alcohol in Japan is 20. Japan has a national zero per cent blood-alcohol level standard for driving.
Some prescription and over-the-counter medications cannot be imported into Japan. Japanese Customs may detain travellers possessing prohibited items which include products containing pseudoephedrine, found in cold and flu tablets, and codeine.
Local police are authorised to request identification at any time. Travellers visiting for less than 90 days are required to carry their passport at all times. Foreigners with resident status must carry their residence card at all times.
Chopsticks are standard in Japan and most information suggests knives and forks are only used for Western food. Thanks to Jasmine for her tips on my previous post about Japan, for the heads up on this and the suggestion to take some forks and spoons for the kids.
Some other useful tips for eating in Japan I found on my internet travels are:
- Use the opposite end of chopsticks to which you have eaten to pass food.
- You can raise your bowl to your mouth to make it easier, particularly with rice. We have been giving this a practice at home with the kids.
- The low traditional tables where you sit on pillows on the floor are known as zashiki. In some restaurants they have both styles of seating, but if we choose zashiki we will need to remove our shoes before we move on to the seating area.
- It is traditional to say gochisosama deshita (“thank you for the meal”) when you leave the restaurant.
- It is considered impolite to eat or drink something while walking down the street.
- It is not okay to pour soy sauce on rice.
- Slurping sounds when eating noodles is normal in Japan (my kids should be okay with this one!).
In pretty much everything I have read about Japan, there is always mention of the politeness of the Japanese. Here are just a few things we need to know to make sure we too are polite in public:
- It is considered rude to use your mobile phone on trains and buses.
- Bowing is the customary greeting in Japan, but as a foreigner in Japan, apparently we are not necessarily expected to know the specific bowing etiquette. Types of bows and how to bow differs and can range from a small nod to a full ninety degree bow.
- Blowing your nose in public is considered bad manners.
There are two different types of toilets used in Japan, one which requires squatting and the western style we are used to. Apparently toilet paper is not always provided in public toilets and I have seen it written a number of times to carry small packets of tissues with you just in case.
It is customary when entering a Japanese home, restaurant or temple to remove your shoes. Apparently it will most likely be evident that this is needed, with a raised step and a rack for shoes. Often there are indoor slippers for you to wear, but there are different special toilet slippers that should be used for going to the toilet. And it is important to remember to swap out these slippers when you leave the toilet!
Pre purchasing activities in Japan
There are many resources on the internet highlighting family friendly activities for Japan. Jetstar has a Travel Inspiration section on their website which is crowd sourced reviews from the My Jetstar community and also an area where you can purchase packages for day trips and special events.
As we are going to be in Japan for less than a week, we chatted with the kids about what activities we would like to do and then let the kids research activities and come back to us with what they would like to do. Thankfully we were pretty similar in what we were after!
To make sure we can do the big items on our list we have pre-purchased tickets, printed them out and have them ready to go!
Before we leave for Japan
There are some simple but key activities that the adults of the house need to undertake before we depart:
- Check visa requirements – no visa needed for less than 90 days.
- Check travel advice – there is a warning for local travel “a new leak of radioactive water at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant facility has prompted Japanese regulators to issue an INES Level 3 rating). The overall level of advice for Japan has not changed.” From smarttraveller.gov.au
- Travel insurance – while it can seem like a big cost when travelling as a family to purchase travel insurance, to me it is a mandatory. You can never tell when kids will get sick or when accidents will happen. You can easily purchase insurance when you purchase your flights.
- Photocopies of valuables – always a good idea to photocopy passports and tickets. We will keep one copy with us and one back in Australia.
- The dog – very big thanks to my in-laws who are kindly looking after our dog for us while we are away.
- Mail, rubbish bins etc – we have great neighbours and we help each each other with this type of stuff as needed.
If you have been to Japan, feel free to add any other tips you think will be helpful for us.
The Planning With Kids family is flying to Japan courtesy of Jetstar.