Have you ever wanted to visit Japan with your family, where the fragrance of cherry blossoms perfumes the air and the majestic Mount Fuji carefully watches over its people?
Well, we’re going to let you in on a secret about travelling to the Land of the Rising Sun. Make sure you add Osaka to your itinerary, just like Andy and Sonia (of AndymetSonia YouTube fame) did recently!
This Australian family is no stranger to travelling with kids. In fact, the couple firmly believes that frequent family trips overseas promote family bonding and offer unexpected learning opportunities for children.
“I think travelling just creates good culture in the family,” says Sonia. “It’s doing things together, with the kids. It is quite different from leaving them behind and just going on our own. We take them with us everywhere.” Andy adds, “Kids can learn a lot from experiencing things, from being out there than a classroom.”
This is why Andy, Sonia and their kids (Jordan, age 3.5, Levi, age one) were very excited to visit and explore Osaka for the first time (you can watch their video at the end of the article!).
Let’s visit this glittering Japanese metropolis with them, and find out what makes it a truly enriching family vacation destination.
Osaka with kids the AndymetSonia way!
Travelling with kids presents its own unique challenges (and joys!), and so before heading to Osaka, Andy and Sonia needed to ensure the destination was indeed kid-friendly. Also, it was little Levi’s first overseas trip so there was no doubt it just had to be an extra-special one!
The family also set themselves an unusual and intriguing challenge: to explore Osaka with kids using the five senses, an idea they got from the website www.LittleBigTravellers.com.
They felt that experiencing their destination in this manner would bring out the absolute best of their trip, both while they were there and also later, as beautiful memories.
Andy, Sonia and the kids discover Osaka through Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste and Smell!
Having never been to Osaka before, both Andy and Sonia were very excited about unearthing its hidden treasures.
It didn’t take long for them to fall in love with the city. “We loved Osaka,” gushes Sonia. “It was probably our favourite destination. It had a good mix of everything. There was a good amount of shopping but it wasn’t too busy like Tokyo was. So we really enjoyed it as a family.”
Also, the challenge of exploring the city through the five senses made the trip a bit more focused and intentional, and they ended up doing things which were off the beaten track.
“Our trip to Osaka was quite memorable. Each activity [that we did] highlighted a sense so it was quite interesting and very different from what we are used to, but it was cool,” says Sonia.
So what did they get up to? Here is a list of their sense-sational Osaka adventures:
1. Let’s hear… the sound of the Taiko drums
Little kids love creating sound by banging things together. While they are usually content with banging a spoon on a table, young Jordan got to do something far more challenging and meaningful with his parents – playing the famous Taiko drums of Japan!
The family’s interest in the drums was deep because, “there is so much history and culture behind it”. Taiko drums have been found in Japan since the 6th century, and have been used for communication, military signalling and in religious and cultural ceremonies.
According to Andy, the Taiko drumming was the most favourite “energy release” for his family.
Recounting his experience with these very special percussion instruments, Andy says, “Definitely that was the favourite one. We walked away rejuvenated. It was like a work out. It was really fun!”
Andy adds, “it was especially so for Jordan. We all like music… we all kind of like hitting the drum, especially Jordan.” We think this sounds like paradise for tots who love making noise!
But, while it was super-entertaining for everyone to get drumming like this, Andy is quick to point out that the learning about the cultural history of the Taiko drums was equally interesting: “It was cool to understand the history behind the art form.”
2. Let’s smell… the divine fragrance of Japanese tea
You can’t go to Japan and not go for a traditional tea ceremony, even if you have two little tots in tow.
Just ask Sonia. She absolutely loved the experience, and described it as “calming and graceful”. While the adults took in the gentle aromas of the freshly brewed green tea, the kids were a little less enthusiastic about sitting still. “It would have been a little more relaxing if the kids gave us a moment but it was still lovely,” Sonia says.
While Levi was too young to join in, Jordan did take a whiff or two of the tea and seemed pleased with what he smelt!
The slow and deliberate nature of the traditional tea ceremony makes one take notice of all the nuances.
Says Sonia, “the whole ceremony had such a beautiful procedure…everything was so intentional. Also we didn’t know there was so much history behind the tea ceremony. We learned a lot by seeing and watching…everything was just new to us. It was very peaceful and we enjoyed it a lot.”
3. Let’s touch… silky-soft Japanese Kimonos
Who doesn’t love dressing up, especially when it comes to donning an exquisite garment like the Kimono.
These traditional Japanese garments have emerged as symbols of Japan (along with ramen, the rising sun and the Japanese fan!), and are steeped in history and culture.
While the boys may have loved Taiko druming the most, for Sonia it was the Kimono wearing experience that was the winner hands down.
Though Sonia loved the feel of the rich fabrics against her skin, it was the whole experience of transformation – including putting on makeup and getting the hair done– that appealed to her.
As a busy mum of two, Sonia says she usually does not care about how she looks or what she is wearing. The fact that she had the opportunity to dial down the chaos and actually take time to get dressed in the traditional outfit, “made me feel pampered. They did the hair and the makeup, and it felt nice.”
And it was not just Sonia – Andy and Jordan happily slipped into their rather striking kimonos with equal gusto. In fact Jordan was quite fascinated with his outfit, while Levi was happy to be crawling about.
According to Sonia, they also had the option of walking down the streets of Osaka in their Kimonos, but because of time limitations they didn’t get the chance to do that: “If we had time we would have loved to walk the streets, dressed like that. We felt royal!”
Well, there’s always next time, isn’t there?
4. Let’s taste… warm deliciousness at the Cup Noodle Factory
Osaka is known as “the National kitchen” of Japan for many good reasons (such as sushi, sashimi and donburi). But one Japanese culinary delight that tickles the taste-buds of people around the world is ramen noodles.
These noodles are probably one of Japan’s most famous exports and a great contribution to the global fast food industry. Adults and kids alike love the warm deliciousness of a bowl of Ramen. So it was no surprise that Osaka’s Ramen museum – which is dedicated to the founder of ramen noodles – offered true gastronomic delight for Andy, Sonia and their two boys!
While mum and dad were enthralled by the history of instant ramen, little Jordan was most excited about being able to make his own special cup of ramen. We hear that he especially loved sniffing the spicy aroma of the noodles and then slurping it all down!
5. Let’s see… the visual splendour of the Fushimi Inari Shrine
Andy, Sonia and their boys took an easy day trip to nearby Kyoto to visit the gorgeous Fushimi Inari Shrine for a dose of culture and colour. And what an incredible sight greeted them! The whole shrine glows bright orange and vermillion and is set in the backdrop of nature’s lush green.
Culturally, this is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto, visited by thousands of people throughout the year who hope for good luck and bountiful harvests. This shrine is also famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind the shrine’s main buildings.
Andy could not stop admiring the vibrant colours and intricate architecture of the shrine. He also advises families with young kids visiting here that, “the climb up the shrine was a bit steep.” As such, it’s best to pop your little one in a baby carrier when you head here, for a fuss-free experience.
Key Takeaways from the Osaka trip
Create shared memories
“We definitely realised that Jordan came back with a lot of memories,” says Sonia. “He remembers a lot more than we thought he would. He still talks about Japan and what he did in Japan. He remembers these activities quite vividly.”
How wonderful is that!
“Its lesson to us is that it’s a bit challenging to take the kids out,” Sonia shared. But, “the more they experience, the more they learn and have a good time. They are going to learn more and soak in more from different cultures and they are going to be exposed to the world outside of just our home and what they know.”
Andy adds, “Jordan shares these memories with his classmates and he tells them these stories, these moments that he had overseas. For example, when he has ramen here (in Australia), he is able to tell stories about the ramen museum that we visited in Osaka.”
Enjoy the sensorial approach to travelling
“It is a good guideline,” says Sonia in relation to the unique sensorial way with which they explored Osaka. “When you are researching (a place to visit) you have no idea – you are just doing what the tourists are doing,” she says. But when you allow your senses to inform and guide you, this “heightens the travel experience.”
Find activities to keep your kids occupied
Holidaying with kids comes with its own challenges, and one of these is finding a destination that offers plenty of activities to both entertain and educate children.
“Andy and I want to relax and do things like we want to unwind but Jordan is so energetic; he is at an age where he wants to explore, he wants to see new things and experience new things,” says Sonia.
“So, we are constantly trying to find activities that will stimulate him and excite him. So, we have to constantly try to find something that we may not enjoy but kids would like it and keep them occupied.”
Find a good travel resource to guide you
There are plenty of online resources related to various travel destinations, but finding a family-friendly one can be a bit challenging.
One of the resources that Andy and Sonia found quite helpful as a family vacation planning tool was Holiday Inn’s Little Big Travellers website. It suggests family-friendly activities in various destinations around the world.
Andy explains that if not for this website, they might have just gone to a noodle restaurant instead of visiting the ramen museum. Also, it helped them choose activities that were suitable for kids (such as kimono dressing), which they may have avoided otherwise.
So where to next for this globe-trotting family and what have they learned from visiting Osaka with kids?
“We have always wanted to go to Iceland… but it’s not your usual family-friendly destination,” says Sonia. “Our trip to Osaka has given us a lot more confidence in being ambitious in travelling to adventurous places with kids.”
WATCH! Andy, Sonia and their munchkins experience Osaka:
We hope their wonderful Osaka experience has inspired you too to start planning your own sense-sational trip to this family-friendly destination!
This article was brought to you by Holiday Inn®. Explore Osaka for more unique experiences to have with your kids at www.LittleBigTravellers.com. At Holiday Inn®, kids 12 and under stay and eat for free! Discover the Joy of Travel with us today.