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WTI: 5 Family Day Trips in Japan’s Small Cities


Looking for more on Japan? Check out these posts on Kyoto and Tokyo.

My family has been living in Japan since 2008, and in that time we have returned many times over to a region called Kansai because of the many family friendly things to do in its cities of Kyoto, Nara, Osaka and Kobe. These attractions mostly show Japan’s fun, pop-culture side and provide a nice break for kids if you’ve been spending a lot of time exploring Japan’s history and the more conservative side of its culture.

Here are our five top go-to spots in this wonderful region.

1. Umie and Harborland, Kobe

The large Umie entertainment area overlooks beautiful Kobe harbor, across from the iconic Kobe Tower. Unique novelty and artisan shops line the spacious al fresco shopping streets. Most restaurants here have indoor and outdoor seating with great views in the nice weather. Kids always find their way to the Sega video game arcade where crane games offer the promise of plush dolls, toy key chains, pillows, and even live sea creatures!

the anpanman museum and mall in Kobe JapanA large Ferris wheel next door offers the best views of Kobe bay and the many ships that pass through it.

Next to the Ferris wheel is the Anpanman Children’s Museum & Mall, which is themed around the popular Japanese cartoon character Anpanman and his friends. Fans will revel in the themed toys, stationary and even pastries found throughout the mall.

The museum has fun photo stand-ins, moving miniature models of different Anpanman cities, themed block toys and slides. The museum is small; two hours is plenty of time, including the live show. It’s best for kids aged 2 to 5.

Nearest train station: JR line Kobe

2. Kids Plaza, Osaka

Kids Plaza Exploratorium, Osaka, JapanAs an educator, I highly recommend this “exploratorium.” Our child loves experimenting with magnets, bubbles and water evaporation and learning about the human body in fun ways. There’s a cultural area where you can dress up in different ethnic clothing and even a zone where you learn what it’s like to have a disability by using a wheelchair to enter and exit a train. We found it to be a good place to relax while the kids run around and have fun.

Nearest train station: Tenjinbashisuji line Ogimachikouen

3. Tempozan Harbor Village, Osaka

Our family can easily spend an entire day at this enormous family entertainment district on Osaka Bay. The main attraction is the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan with its hundreds of sea species. The gigantic whale sharks are the main attraction and are featured in daily shows.

the Tampozan mall in Osaka, JapanNext to the aquarium, look for a booth selling tickets for a cruise around Osaka bay in a replica of the Santa Maria boat Cristopher Columbus sailed. There are day and twilight cruises with different prices.

For shopping, head to the nearby Tempozan Marketplace. A Hello Kitty store, Japanese sweets shop, and a 100-yen shop provide ample opportunities to buy inexpensive and fun souvenirs.

In addition to shopping, the ground floor has a fun video game arcade. There’s a Legoland Discovery Center on the second floor, and the Tempozan Anipa petting zoo. Here your family can pet and feed household dogs and cats as well as kangaroos, alpacas, owls, iguanas and capybaras. The animals peacefully coexist all in the same room!

The food court has western restaurants from KFC to Subway for any homesick kids. A spacious Turkish restaurant on the second floor, Bab-ul Hayat, offers a delicious and inexpensive buffet where kids 5 and under eat for free. For dessert, stop by the soft-serve ice cream shop to try Japanese flavors such as cherry blossom, green tea and black soybean.

the deer in Nara park, JapanFor Japanese food in a unique setting seek out Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho, next to the food court. It transports you back in time to 1950s Osaka with peep-through photo boards, period props and more.

Before heading home, take a spin on the large Ferris wheel next door. From the top you can see the bay and downtown Osaka.

Nearest train station: Chuo line Osakakou (Access is also easy from the downtown shopping area of Namba.)

4. Nara Park, Nara

This massive park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, houses the ancient Toudaiji Buddhist temple with its giant bronze Buddha. You might be overwhelmed by its size, but on an excursion last summer our daughter fell in love with the hundreds of deer that roam free outside of the temple complex.

Nearest train station: Kintetsu line Nara

5. Toei Kyoto Studio Park, Kyoto

Toei Kyoto Studio Park, JapanCommonly referred to as Eigamura, this entertainment center offers a unique opportunity to explore a real Japanese movie set. Its main attraction is a replica of a Japanese village during the Edo period (1603-1868) that’s still used for filming. Families are free to explore, even during movie shoots. We had a great time dressing up in Edo period clothing that transformed us into geisha and samurai. There is also a Japanese haunted house, anime museum and ninja shows.

Nearest train station: JR line Uzumasa

I hope you get to explore some of these attractions on your next trip to Japan.

Caleb Parsons is a California native teaching English in Japan and the founder of Kids Travel Japan, a program that creates cultural exchange events that bring together foreign families touring Japan and local Japanese families.

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16 Comments

  1. February 10, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    Love Japan and can’t wait to return. Great ideas for families! Wish we had more time to visit Toei Kyoto Studio Park. Caleb is doing a post for me about Osaka this week 🙂

    • February 11, 2016 at 9:40 pm

      Hi Mary! Thanks for checking out this article here on FamiliesGo! and thanks for letting me put something together for your network. It was great working with you!

  2. January 16, 2016 at 6:15 am

    Never been to Japan, but can’t wait to go!

    • February 11, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      Japan has beautiful and distinct seasons. Next month is cherry blossom season. Everyone goes outside into the parks to have picnics with friends and family while enjoying beautiful cherry blossom trees.

  3. January 11, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    I would love to do another trip to Japan, especially since I missed seeing Nara park when we were there the last time. My kids would be quite happy to know that there’s a Western food court there.

    • January 14, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      if you’re traveling for an extended period, a taste of home can be nice!

  4. January 9, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Love Japan and the fact that there is something for everyone. Great suggestions

  5. January 9, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    A unique list of places and things to do! I would love to visit the Nara Park because of its temples and wildlife. It sounds fascinating!

    • January 11, 2016 at 4:47 am

      If you visit the Osaka region, Nara Park is a must! It’s size alone is awe-inspiring.

  6. January 9, 2016 at 11:20 am

    What a great list of activities – Japan is a dream trip for us!

  7. January 9, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Such a great idea to bring families of different cultures together. We’ve never been to Japan, but it’s been a dream of mine for a long time. The world is just so big.

  8. January 9, 2016 at 6:09 am

    Eileen, Having just come back from Japan myself, there are so many impressive places to go…especially with kids. I loved Nara, but I saw a lot of the deer being super-agressive. They kept biting (nipping) my daughter. It was a little scary, although I certainly wouldn’t not go.

    • January 11, 2016 at 4:44 am

      Hi Corinne! The deer can be a bit rambunctious but I think it’s mostly when they are in groups and think you have food. In my following video, you can see at the end how they all ganged up on one American mother once they noticed the deer biscuits. If you ever come back to the Osaka area, feel free to get in touch!
      https://youtu.be/DJlE0gyYrPo

  9. January 9, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Great collection of activities. My son would love the exploratorium and Legoland.

  10. January 9, 2016 at 12:27 am

    So many wonderful suggestions for things to do with kids in Japan. Our children are teenagers now, but I think they might still enjoy one or two of these places 🙂

    • January 11, 2016 at 4:50 am

      I think teenagers would really enjoy Toei Kyoto Studio Park!