Big in Japan — 5D4N Father-and-Son Japan Holiday
Alex is the thorn among the roses at Taxi Baby Co. and the awesome husband of Elise, Taxi Baby Co.’s founder and head car seat tech. Pete is the first of their three angelic boys.
Pete doesn’t know this yet but I’ve been wanting to take a week-long trip with him so that we can have a bit of father and son time. Japan really ticks all the boxes for us when it comes to experiencing a unique culture (read: eating our body weight in sashimi), snow play on some of the best powder covered slopes, a fun-filled day out in Tokyo plus a visit to Disneyland and Legoland. Can’t wait to see the look on Pete’s face when we get there.
I’ve amassed a fair number of air miles through work travel as well as choosing the right credit cards so now’s the time to spend some of those miles on air tickets for the both of us. It’s much easier to secure redemption tickets if you fly on a random weekday compared to the Friday night before a long weekend or school holidays so keep that in mind.
Day 1: Fly to Tokyo, Haneda Airport
The plan is for us to catch a day flight, land in the evening and head straight to the Disney hotel so that we’re well-rested and can be up early to beat the madding crowd waiting for the Disney gates to open at 9am.
If you’re still trying to decide which airport to fly into for Tokyo, know that with Haneda, you land right across the bay from Disney and there is a very convenient airport shuttle service that takes you straight to the Bayside Hotel Area where there are many popular accommodation choices for Disney visitors. Sure beats the potential bus-train-bus combination from Narita required to get us to the Bayside area.
Source: Tokyo Disney Resort
We will stay at the ‘budget’ Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel where I know that Pete will just love the themed rooms. Alternatively, another really cool hotel to consider in the area if your kid is a fan of dinosaurs is the Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay where there are multilingual robot dinosaurs at the front desk to check guests in.
Source: Henn na Hotel
Day 2: Tokyo Disneyland
Every parent who has been to Disneyland will tell you that a day out will not be cheap. To help you save time and money, here are some “Disney Survival Hacks”:
- Skip the queues and save money by buying tickets from authorised booking sites such as Changi Recommends or Voyagin to be collected at Maihama Station when you arrive.
- Have a huge breakfast at your hotel and stock up on snacks at one of the thousands of Lawson or FamilyMart convenience stores before you go. I’m not saying no to popcorn but having it after an onigiri or two will help those pricey snacks go a longer way.
- Study the map of the park and figure out which rides are priority for you so that you can grab a FastPass for them.
- Finally, check the calendar and avoid Disney on the busiest days of the year like Christmas, New Year’s and Golden Week.
Day 3: Explore Tokyo, including Legoland. Train to Nagano
We plan to spend the third morning in Tokyo before before boarding the Shinkansen to Nagano. Pete loves trains and he will be so thrilled about zipping through the city and past the countryside.
Another thing Pete is crazy about is Lego so I’m taking him to the Legoland Discovery Centre in Odaiba. It’s Japan’s first Lego attraction and they’ve got family rides, 10 different build and play zones and a 4D cinema to keep the whole family entertained, regardless of whether your kids are starting with Duplo or have moved on to Lego and minifigures.
Source: Savvy Tokyo
After a late lunch at one of the many eateries in Kitchen Street located in Tokyo Station, we will board our train to Nagano. Be warned that trains in Japan are extremely punctual and timed to the second so arrive at the train station early and be on the platform at least 5-10 minutes before your scheduled departure. The Hokuriku Shinkansen take us from Tokyo to Nagano in under 2 hours for Pete’s first snow experience. He’s been talking about building a snowman since learning about the weather at school (read: watching Frozen).
A short drive from Nagano, located in the Japanese Alps is the village of Hakuba. Once home to the 1998 Winter Olympics, it is now a population winter destination for families. We will be staying two nights at a charming, Singaporean-owned ski lodge, Uchimaru Hakuba. Perfectly situated within walking distance to some of the best restaurants, bars and convenience stores in the area, this home-away-from-home offers stunning views of the mountains.The wonderful owners will pick you up from the train station or ski resort. Pete is four, so we’re bringing a RideSafer vest to keep him safe in a car or shuttle bus. (Note from Elise: we’re choosing to use a US-certified RideSafer vest, although it’s not recognised as a legal restraint in Japan. If you want to play it completely above board, go with a European-certified mifold or hifold).
Source: Uchimaru Hakuba
Fingers crossed for blue sky and sunshine, the perfect conditions for snow play. We’re heading down the road to Happo One, Hakuba’s largest and most popular ski resort offering great powder skiing and different level runs. Like many ski resorts in Japan, there are also plenty of activities for kids within a safe area on the slopes. They also have a ski school where kids can learn how to ski and snowboard for the first time at Sakka beginner slope with ski instructors. Between December and April 2020, all kids up to 12 years old ski and ride for free on the following days: 15 Dec 2019, 19 Jan, 16 Feb, 15 Mar, 19 Apr 2020. Happo One has really well thought out facilities for families and more information on the day nursery and indoor kids space can be found on their website.
An alternative combo we looked at, is to stay on the slopes at Hotel Montblanc Hakuba and traipse a mere 400m to Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort which offers free tobogganing and activities for kids.
Day 4: Snow Monkeys
On our way back to Tokyo, for a final day out in the snow, we will be making a slight detour to the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi to see Japanese Macaques, also known as Snow Monkeys, in their natural habitat bathing in a hot spring. Although the park is open year round, January and February seems to be the best time to visit.
Can’t wait for our holiday to roll around. I studied in Japan for a bit in my younger years, so I just want to leave you with some tips for an awesome trip to the land of the rising sun.
Alex’s top tips to get more out of your Japan holiday
Trains are a quick and efficient way to get around in Japan. The best place to research train timetables and routes is Hyperdia.
Most train stations offer locker storage for your luggage so you don’t have to lug or wheel them around. Alternatively, check out Stasher to find out where the nearest place is to leave your bags are. Open till late or even 24/7, Stasherpoints are located near all major tourist attractions and transport hubs.
Whip out Google maps if you get lost. Although English is taught at school, most Japanese are more confident with reading and writing than speaking, so if you must ask someone for directions, probably best to have where you want to go written down.
Convenience stores or Konbini will be your new best friend and they are everywhere. Shops like Lawson or FamilyMart are like supersized 7-Eleven, a one-stop shop for literally anything a wide-eyed tourist such may need from delicious snacks and cheap meals to a spare change of clothing. Just be aware that eating while walking is culturally frowned upon so be sure to stop in the store or stand still outside and finished your snack before moving on.
- Finally, you will be doing a lot of walking so if your kids tire easily, bring along a lightweight and super compact stroller like the Mountain Buggy Nano. When folded, the Nano can easily fit into carry-on luggage for planes, trains and cars and the roomy underseat storage holds items you’ll need for the day.