Japan – with kids? Believe it or not, it works

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The looks of incomprehension became commonplace, from colleagues, friends, neighbours and, most severely, my mother-in-law.

“You’re taking her… to Japan?” they asked, through a variety of similar rhetorical questions.

A trip to Japan should surprise no one, these days. The island state is undergoing an eye-watering boom in tourism, with visitor numbers soaring from 13m four years ago to more than 30m today.

Events such as this autumn’s rugby world cup and the upcoming Olympic games have added to the feelgood factor, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who has built his reputation on a determination to reverse Japan’s decades-long economic slump – planning to attract 40m tourists in 2020.

But while the destination may be increasingly on-trend, most visitors, one suspects, do not choose to drag a 20-month-old toddler alongside their luggage.

FUKUROI, JAPAN – SEPTEMBER 28: Japanese players celebrate their victory after the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

First of all there’s the flight eastwards – in this case a 12-hour night journey across Siberia. Our primary fears were realised when the infant in question woke, crying, with five hours still to go. Thus I was introduced to Japan’s famous levels of hospitality and sheer politeness while still at 30,000 feet; the Japan Airlines crew ushered us into staff-only areas, helping ensure that as few passengers as possible were disturbed by the irritable child.

There is no way to sugar-coat (or matcha-coat) a 24-hour round-flight with a toddler, however. It is tough, but achievable. Stack up on snacks, toys, books, stickers, downloaded cartoons and bank on the airline granting you an empty seat even if you are only paying for two. Crucially, of course, children travel for free (bar taxes) up until their second birthday, so it really is worth considering a long-haul trip of a lifetime. In our case it saved over £1,000 on the flights.

Japan is ideal for such an adventure, partly due to all the boring stuff that suddenly becomes important when you have kids. Cleanliness, reliability, famo

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