Thursday, October 25, 2018

5 Tips for Planning Japan Trip (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara) with Children

Our children have experienced the early summer of Japan (read our experience at Okinawa, Kyushu and Central Japan). This December, we are visiting Japan again, and this is their first time experiencing the winter of Japan! We will be exploring Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara.



As usual, our family overseas trips focus on experiential learning. Some of the highlights of this trip include:
  • Winter illuminations (see Tips #4) in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe
  • Kasuga Wakamiya On-Mstsuri 春日若宮おん祭 (a Japanese traditional shrine festival) at Nara
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine and Arashiyama in Kyoto
  • Cup Noodles Museum (Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum)
  • Kidzania Koshien
  • Kids Plaza Osaka (educational museum for children)
  • Spa World (hot spring theme park) 
  • Asahi Beer Factory tour 

Let us share with you our tips for planning a trip to Japan (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara) with children:

Tips #1. Booking accommodation in Kansai area

As I mentioned in my post on "10 Tips for Planning Okinawa (Japan) Self-drive Trip with Children", many hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) charge per head, including children. Looking for an accommodation for a family of 4 or even bigger can be quite challenging.

If you can read Japanese, I would recommend you use a Japanese booking platform called jalan.net. One thing that I like about this platform is, there is no need to input credit card number, unless you are getting offers that require online payment. We can pay at the accommodation when we check-in. But of course, if you have to cancel the booking, it is a basic courtesy to cancel the booking in advance. We used jalan.net to book a hot spring hotel in Beppu, Kyushu

For this upcoming trip, we have booked Toyoko Inn in Osaka, which is a chain of business and budget hotel. It is one of the few hotels that allow two children below 12 years old to sleep-share with two adults in a twin room without extra charge. What's more, there is simple buffet breakfast that is free! Read our review on Toyoko Inn in this post.

During our previous trips to OkinawaKyushu and Central Japan, we moved from one accommodation to another as we covered a large region. This time round, we decided stay at only one accommodation in Osaka, it is convenient to travel from Osaka to Kyoto, Kobe and Nara by railways. For once we do not have to look for coin lockers at the train or bus station!

We decided to stay at Namba 難波 located at southern part of Osaka because it is easily accessible via many railway and metro lines, and there is a direct train (Nankai Electric Railway) and a direct bus to Kansai International Airport. The area is also vibrant with food street Dotobori 道頓堀 and shopping street Shinsaibashi 心斎橋.


Tips #2. Saving money on transportation

Other than Japan Rail (JR), there are many different private railways operating in Kansai area, for example, Nankai, Hankyu, Hanshin, Keihan, and Kintetsu. In addition, there are a few Osaka Metro lines running inside Osaka.

When you are taking train in Osaka, please check carefully which station and which line to get to your destination, because it can be quite confusing for the first timers.

At Namba area, there are JR Namba Station, Osaka-Namba Station (Kintetsu and Hanshin Namba line), Namba なんば Station (Osaka Metro Midosuji line, Yotsubashi line, Sennichimae line) and Nankai Namba Station (Nankai Electric Railway). At Umeda, there are Osaka Station (JR), Umeda Station (Hankyu), Umeda Station (Hanshin), Umeda Station (Osaka Metro Midosuji line), Higashi-Umeda (Osaka Metro Tanimachi line) and Nishi-Umeda (Osaka Metro Yotsubashi line). Sound confusing, right?

Fret not, you can use Google Maps, or transportation websites and apps like Jorudan and Navitime.

Other than the railway networks, the number of discount transportation tickets available can be overwhelming too! I would suggest that you plan your itinerary first, don't try to force fit your itinerary by restricting yourself to use a particular pass.

Here are just some of the discount tickets that I have researched on:

Osaka Amazing Pass:
Osaka Amazing Pass One-day pass costs 2500 yen and two-day pass costs 3300 yen (no child fare). Other than unlimited rides on Osaka Metro and some parts of private railways, you can visit many places of interest for free, or at a discount! That sounds really amazing!

Enjoy Eco card:
Enjoy Eco card covers unlimited Osaka Metro and Osaka City Bus rides in one day, adult fare is 800 yens on weekdays, and 600 yens on weekends and holidays, while child fare is 300 yen. In addition, you can enjoy discount at some places of interest.

Yokoso! Osaka Ticket:
This consists of Nankai Electric Railway Train ticket with Limited Express Rapi:t reserved-seat ticket (one-way) as well as Osaka Subway and Osaka City Bus 1-day unlimited pass (for the date of issue or the next day). It costs 1500 yen (no child fare) when you purchase online. This ticket package is useful if you are exploring Osaka on the first or second day of your trip.

Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus One-day Pass:
In Kyoto, the bus network is extensive and you can get to different places of interest by bus easily. Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus One-day Pass costs 600 yen for adult and 300 yen for child.

Kobe City Loop Bus
In Kobe, if you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus for 3 times or more (each trip is 260 yen), then it is more worthwhile to get Kobe City Loop Bus 1-Day Pass. The adult fare is 660 yen, child fare is 330 yen.

Nara Kotsu Bus Pass
In Nara, you can enjoy unlimited bus ride using Nara Kotsu Bus Pass. There are 3 types - 1-Day Pass (Adult 500 yen, Child 250 yen), 1-Day Pass Wide (Adult 1000 yen, Child 500 yen), and 2-Day Pass (Adult 1500 yen, Child 750 yen).

Hanshin Tourist Pass (1 day):
If you are travelling between Osaka and Kobe for a day trip, Hanshin Tourist Pass (500 yen) can be considered.

Hankyu Tourist Pass:
Hankyu Tourist Pass covers Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. 1-day Pass costs 700 yen, and 2-day Pass costs 1200 yen.

JR West Rail Pass / Kansai Thru Pass / Kintetsu Rail Pass
If you are travelling over a long distance in the region (e.g. from Osaka to Wakayama, Hiroshima and so on), then you can consider getting JR West Rail Pass (Japan Rail, there are many types of passes), or Kansai Thru Pass (covers many private railways) or Kintetsu Rail Pass (Kintetsu Railway).


Tips #3. How to get from Kansai International Airport to Osaka / Kyoto / Kobe

To get to Osaka:
You can take either JR train, or Nankai Railway, or limousine bus, depending on which area you are staying. If you are staying at Namba area, then it is more convenient to take Nankai Railway (Airport Express 50 minutes, or Limited Express Rapi:t 40 minutes). If you are staying at Umeda area, then it is advisable to use JR (Kansai Airport Rapid Service 65 minutes). Alternatively, you can take limousine bus.

If you are taking JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service from Osaka to Kansai International Airport, please take note that you have to use the first 4 cars, because the train will separate at Hineno Station, and the last few cars will head towards Wakayama instead of the airport!

To get to Kyoto:
Take JR (Airport Express Haruka 75 minutes)

To get to Kobe: 
Take high speed vessel, and then transfer to Port Liner. Alternatively, you can take limousine bus.


Tips #4. Visit the winter illuminations (light festivals)

There are many winter illuminations around Japan at the end of the year. Since we are going to visit Kansai area in this December, we have shortlisted a few winter illuminations that are easily accessible by public transportation.

Festival of the Lights in Osaka 大阪・光の饗宴
There are two events under Festival of the Lights in Osaka - Osaka Hikari Renaissance and Midosuji Illumination. One of the highlights is Wall Tapestry Lighting Show at Osaka City Central Public Hall.

Date: 4 November 2018 - 31 January 2019
Website: http://www.hikari-kyoen.com/index.html

image source: Hikari Kyoen

Kyoto Arashiyama Hanatouro 京都・嵐山花灯路
Arashiyama is a beautiful area in Kyoto, you may have seen photos of the bamboo forest in this area.

Date: 8 - 17 December 2018
Website: http://www.hanatouro.jp/arashiyama/index.html

image source: Hanatouro


Kobe Luminarie 神戸ルミナリエ
Held in memory of victims of the earthquake that took place in 1995, Kobe Luminarie is held annually in December in the area from Former Foreigner Settlement to Higashi Yuenchi Park.

Date: 7 - 16 December 2018
Website: http://kobe-luminarie.jp

image source: Kobe Luminarie


Tips #5. Useful websites and apps for Japan Travel

Here are some websites I find useful:

Here are some apps that I find useful:
  • Google Translate (iOS / Android) - You can snap a photo or speak, and the app will translate for you
  • Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi (iOS / Android) - Sign up an account or log in on the day before you travel to Japan, then you can connect to free Wi-Fi in Japan for the next 90 days
  • Travel Japan Wi-Fi (iOS / Android) - Another free Wi-Fi connection app in Japan
  • Gurunavi (iOS / Android) - Search for good food when you are planning your trip, or when you want to locate nearby eateries when you are in Japan
  • Google Map (iOS / Android) - Build your Google Map before your trip, so that you can use your customised map to locate the places that you want to visit
  • Tenki.jp (iOS / Android) (Japanese) - You can set the areas that you are visiting, and check the weather on the go
  • Jorudan (iOS / Android) (Japanese) - Transit planner which searches for the route, fare and schedule of trains and airplanes in Japan
  • ロケスマ (iOS / Android) (Japanese) - It can locate eateries, shops (e.g. convenient stores, supermarkets and 100 yen shops) and service facilities (e.g. petrol stations)

Stay tuned to our Japan Travelogue December 2018!

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