Travelling to Japan with Kids – tips for using the transport

Travelling to Japan with Kids – tips for using the transport

It was a penpal I wrote to when I was eight that first introduced me to Japan.

Travelling to Japan with kids, where to stay, what to do, how to get around

Keiko lived in Tokyo and seemed so exotic; I lived in clean, green (and in those days ‘whitebread’) Christchurch, New Zealand. Scenic yes, thriving metropolis no – it may have been on another planet for all the differences in our lives. I loved hearing about beautiful Geisha girls, sitting on the floor to eat, rice for breakfast, cherry blossom trees and Hello Kitty Stickers!

To my children it seems ‘exotic’ that I actually had parental consent for communication with a stranger. It was the 1970’s; when children still wrote letters, an era when it wasn’t ‘weird’ to write to someone you didn’t know from a bar of soap (or hadn’t undergone 25 police checks through the school to establish their suitability)…  I wish I could locate those letters, what on earth did my eight year old self enquire of this girl living half way across the globe?

Why it took me so long to visit Japan is beyond fathom – our recent family holiday just short of three weeks merely scratched the surface – however it fulfilled many childhood dreams.

Japan is an amazing destination for family travel; I mentioned many reasons here.

To help you plan your own trip I have compiled a series of posts detailing the nitty gritty;

  • Transport
  • Hotels
  • What activities to do
  • Where to eat
  • What to buy and where to shop

Here is the first instalment

Using transport in Japan with kids

TRANSPORT – Getting around on trains, buses, taxis and private transfers


Pre-trip I had heard horror stories about the explosion of people onto Japanese trains, I wondered how on earth we would successfully get around with our rudimentary local language skills – lugging large suitcases. As it transpired, by avoiding peak commuter travel hours in the morning and evening, crowding was never an issue. Neither was the language deficit – everyone is willing to help and we made our way safely around the country.

We elected to pre-purchase a seven day Japan Rail pass prior to departure from Australia. It was a slightly more expensive option than purchasing individual tickets for each of our legs (we moved between Nagano, Kyoto and Tokyo), costing an additional AUD$200. However I prefer to have most of my arrangements made before we arrive, one less thing to worry about.

The pass included the Shinkasen network (Bullet Trains), although as you are purchasing a discounted rate you travel on the second tier of scheduling – generally with slightly more stops (adding about 15 minutes to a two hour journey from Kyoto to Tokyo). Our seven day option also gave us access to JR (Japan Rail) trains in the metropolitan areas we visited, so in the end it was about financially even. The metro trains are above ground and a nice way to see the city as you move between the suburbs; occasionally it was quicker to go via subway, single use tickets can be obtained easily from vending machines.

JR send ‘tickets’ upon pre-payment, however you still need to validate and book your passage once you are in Japan. Most of the JR offices are located in the major train terminals and open at 1000am, English is widely spoken and seats can be allocated at this point.

Japanese are known for punctuality – don’t be late, the train WILL leave the station without you.

Cleanliness is the order of the day – even several hours into the journey, bathrooms remain pristine and not a scrap of litter is to be seen. There is plenty of room on the Shinkasen for luggage, and it is easy to transfer around the stations – even wheeling suitcases.


For spectacular views of Mt Fuji (pray for a clear day), book seats on the right hand side of the carriage from Tokyo to Kyoto, reverse for the return.

Food and drinks can be purchased on board the trains; although they run out quite quickly. We bought reasonably priced fruit (the Japanese apples are superb…) and sandwiches etc at the station convenience stores prior to departure


We just made one trip via bus, across Kyoto. Cheap, clean, easy.


Japanese taxis are notoriously expensive. However we discovered  Tokyo has a brilliant taxi system of charging a fixed rate within a certain radius in the metropolitan area. 700 YEN (approx AUD$7.00) regardless of time taken to travel. Fantastic in the afternoons when young legs are exhausted and you want a quick way back to the hotel. Do check with your hotel concierge that this still applies, to avoid any nasty surprises.

When you board a taxi, note that the vehicle’s left rear door is opened and closed remotely by the driver. You are not supposed to open or close the door by yourself, except when using a different door. Furthermore, you are not supposed to tip taxi drivers. If you do not speak Japanese or if your destination is not a well known place, it is recommended to give your driver the address of your destination on a piece of paper or – even better – point it out on a map, since the Japanese address system can be confusing even to local taxi drivers. 


We required transport from Narita Airport (Tokyo) to the ski region of Nagano. There are several options;

  1. We hired a Private Van (Chuo Taxi), as our overnight flight from Sydney arrived at 6.00am and I didn’t want to deal with option two at that time of the morning. The transfer takes about 5 hours (although we arrived in a blizzard so it was slow going). The cost was AUD $700 for our family of four.
  2. You can catch the train to Tokyo from Narita airport (1 hour); transferring to the Shinkasen at Tokyo Station which will take you to Nagano (about 2 hours). On arrival you take a coach to Hakubu village (1 hour).
  3. There is a bus from Narita to Hakuba, however it only departs once per day at 9.00pm.



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