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Family Travel in Tokyo: An Overview

Prayer Cards, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo (Scarborough photo)There is a reason that Tokyo is not normally listed as a “family destination” (whatever that is.)

It is a sprawling metropolis, more a collection of distinct towns than a coherent city, and it has no real city center to help you get your bearings. It is crowded, with over 12 million people hurrying and jostling and crowding themselves into every micron of available real estate.

Despite the tourist brochures and other assurances that you may have heard, it is often difficult to communicate in English. The usual fallback to the language barrier is being able to at least guesstimate signs and other written items, but here you are again stymied unless you can understand kanji, hiragana or katakana.

Still, for those who persist, the rewards are tremendous.

The Japanese are unfailingly polite, and they are courteous and kind to children. Even the drunk salarymen on the subway at 11:00 p.m. are polite. The city is safe, if not always easy to navigate.

The culture is rich and rewarding for those who take the time to understand it. Japan seems to hold a particular fascination for pre-teens (or ‘tweens as I call them) and teenagers. They are huge fans of Japanese serialized comics (manga) and animated movies (anime.) Many kids have taken karate in their hometowns, and sushi has become commonplace in US supermarkets. Even the pervasive Power Rangers have helped spread Japanese pop culture (I think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might be a stretch example, though.)

The Navy posted my family in southern Japan (Kyushu) when my daughter was young, and she joined me in Tokyo this past summer when I was there on temporary Navy duty.

I am very fond of Japan but also quite realistic about its challenges for family travel. If you are thinking about a trip there, or perhaps considering taking family with you on a business trip, I hope my thoughts on this blog can help.