Now that my kids are firmly in their tweens, with one about to enter his teens, I can afford to be a bit more adventurous when it comes to choosing family holiday destinations.
VIP and I have always been intrepid when it comes to exploring; in our 20s we both did the whole round-the-world backpacking thing – and 20 years later that adventurous streak is still there.
As if to prove we’re not afraid of long-haul, last year we flew to South Africa and this year we ended up in the States. We try to make a point of not taking the kids to the same destination year-in, year-out because we believe that experiencing different traditions, customs, history and cultures really does broaden the mind – and we’re also trying to instill that sense of adventure in our kids.
One place (amongst many) on my agenda is the Far East; I’ve already been to Thailand and Malaysia, but I’ve long had a fascination with Japan. To me it’s one of those mysterious and intriguing destinations – and that’s enough to whet my appetite to visit.
So what springs to mind when you think of Japan? For me it’s Tokyo, Cherry Blossom, bullet trains, Hello Kitty (yes, really!) and the song ‘Big In Japan’ by German band Alphaville (1984) – hence the title for this post.
But I know that there is so much more to the destination than the aforementioned – and if I’m to one day get there with the kids, then I’d need to be a bit more clued up on what’s on offer.
So here’s what I’ve discovered…
A quick overview
Japan is in northeast Asia and is roughly the same size as California. The destination is made up of thousands of islands (6,852 to be exact) including the four main ones – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.
It’s also a land of forests – and these cover about 25.12 million hectares (or around 66% of the country’s land area – who knew?!) – plenty of trees for hide and seek opportunities then!
Japan is nine hours ahead of GMT, and although the official language is Japanese, Brits won’t have a problem being understood as most residents can speak some English.
The currency is the Yen and although it’s known to be an expensive destination (the cost of living is around 13% higher in Tokyo than in London according to Numbeo), if you plan ahead it’s possible to do Japan on a budget – even with kids.
In terms of getting there, direct fights normally take around 11-12 hours (around the same time it took us to get to South Africa) and average return fares start from around £580, with the three main airlines being All Nippon (ANA), JAL and British Airways.
Where to go
If I were travelling to Japan I’d definitely have to factor in a visit to Tokyo (or another one of Japan’s big cities), just so that I could get the ‘been there, done that’ T-shirt.
Attractions like the 333m-high Tokyo Tower, which resembles the Eiffel Tower, are a must to take in the bright lights of the city. It’s also affordable at around 900 yen for the main observation deck (around £6.40 per person).
But don’t discount other big cities in Japan. Kyoto, which is l