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  • Vivian Teo

(UPDATED) Visiting Osaka (or Japan) with kids? Here are 13 things you must know!

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

13 things you must know - from attraction bookings to train navigation to hotel reservations - when visiting Osaka or Japan with kids!

Osaka Japan visiting tips Dotonbori
Dotonbori, Osaka

UPDATED: 13 August 2023 (Added additional tip on overseas credit card usage, deleted wrong info)

Updating the info I had written on overseas credit card usage after clarifying some details. Do see newly-added tip below on our recommended credit card to use when overseas!


Original post: 30 July 2023

Planning our Osaka trip for June this year was really quite the learning experience for me. If you follow me on IG, you'll know that I'd griped a bit about booking flight and attraction tickets. We always see so many nice attractions and eateries in Japan via social media but what we see are just the glam parts - most people don't show in their posts the blood, sweat and tears they had gone through to get bookings and reservations.


I feel this year, in particular, is really not a good year to go to Japan because everyone seems to be rushing to Japan since it reopened to tourists and as a result, attractions get booked out very quickly. So, I think you really need to plan quite a bit when travelling to Japan this year, that is if certain places are must-visits for you and especially when you are travelling with kids.


I'm definitely not a seasoned traveler to Japan - I've only been there a long time ago when I was kid and another time was for work - but I wanted to share our experience and even the mistakes we made for our recent Osaka trip, so it can help more people with their planning, especially since going to Japan now is unlike the pre-pandemic years. Japan may have reopened to tourists but some of its services have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels despite the tourist influx.


So here are 13 things to know if you're visiting Osaka or Japan for the first time since the pandemic!


1) Book popular activities in advance

I'm sure many of you have seen many nice eateries and attractions in Japan from social media but the thing is many of these really nice places require booking or reservations in advance.


For instance, when we were booking tickets for Universal Studios Japan, most of the express passes with timed entry to Super Nintendo World were already snapped up a month from the dates we had planned to visit. (I have a separate blog post on visiting tips for Universal Studios Japan, do check that out if you planning to go to USJ!) Reservations for Pokemon Cafe are also always taken up swiftly once reservation opens 31 days ahead (Also, I have a separate blog post on how to score a reservation at Pokemon Cafe!)

Osaka Japan visiting tips Pokemon Cafe
Pokemon Cafe, Osaka

So if there's a place that you must visit during your Japan trip, check if it requires booking or reservation. If it does, the attraction's website will usually tell you how early reservations open. To gauge how easy/hard it is to get reservations, you can see if tickets or reservation slots are available with "test" dates before your trip. I did this with park entry tickets to USJ and I noticed that park entry entry tickets were generally still available a few days before, so I booked the park entry tickets for our second day visit to USJ much later than for our first visit.

Osaka Japan visiting tips USJ Universal Studios
Universal Studios Japan

I understand advance reservations are usually required for famous eateries as well. So if you're planning to go to a popular restaurant/attraction, try to book asap once reservations open!


2) Buffer enough time between activities

If you're not a seasoned traveler to Japan, do buffer enough time for commuting between activities because it's highly likely you'll get lost at some point as the trains and stations can get a little confusing for non-locals.


Let's say, if you've researched ahead on google map that it takes you 30 minutes to travel from A to B (including train ride and walking), you might want to add on a bit more time - say add a 10-20 mins to make it 40-50 minutes - to get from A to B. By doing so, it has helped us get to places on time, sometimes a little early, but most of the time, we were just ON time for our reservations.


Here are some good examples why you should do so:

Though there were signs at Shin Osaka Station, we spent a bit of time finding the exit to go to Daimaru Umeda because there are just too many exits there.


We also took a while to find Kirby Cafe even though we were using google map. We couldn't find the building we were supposed to go to as we couldn't find a building name and somehow it just didn't register that we were suppose to go to the sixth floor of the building.

Osaka Japan visiting tips Kirby Cafe
Kirby Petit Cafe

Sometimes you also need to wait a while for lifts as the buildings have many levels, so most people want to use the lifts yet there are not many lifts and if you don't want to wait, you just have to take the escalator up like say, 13 floors?


This is also another way of saying don't overpack your itinerary with activities and reservations - you need to buffer time for getting lost and to locate the place you're going to.


3) Set aside time for shopping

If you specifically want to have some time to buy or shop for souvenirs, please budget time into your itinerary for that too. Before going to Osaka, I thought we could just buy and shop along the way when we go from one attraction to another. But we ended up not having time for shopping as we rushed from one attraction to another, so we didn't go to places like Don Don Donki and Muji, whose products are cheaper than those in Singapore. So ya, if you specifically want to go these places to do some shopping, put them into your itinerary!


Also, the local pharmacies are good places to purchase skincare and beauty products - the Japanese brands are definitely cheaper there. These are easier to drop by as there are usually pharmacies along the streets.

Osaka Japan visiting tips pharmacy
Pharmacy in Osaka

4) Tourists can shop tax free

In Japan, tourists can shop tax free for purchases of at least 5000 yen. Please have your passport with you when paying for your purchases and you won't be charged the consumption tax. The shop will seal up your purchases in a bag and you're not allowed to open the bag while in Japan because tax-free goods are for foreigners who are consuming the goods outside Japan, not inside Japan. So if there is anything in your above-5000-yen purchases that you want to use while you're still in Japan, then pay the tax for the particular item, if not, they will seal everything up in a bag for you.

Osaka Japan visiting tips Universal Studios Japan
USJ shop

5) Make use of Google Map

Use Google Map when planning your itinerary. To decrease our commuting time, I checked on Google Map where each place is and then decide on the order we should be visiting the places. For instance, I input Mipig Cafe Osaka, then see how far it is from say, Osaka Aquarium and TeamLab Botanical Garden and looking at the routes, I'd decide if I should go to Osaka Aquarium or TeamLab after Mipig based on which is a more convenient route. This helps to shorten commuting time between places.

Osaka Japan visiting tips train
Train

Google Map works very well when we were navigating Osaka too. Many times we just held the phone in our hands and turned left and right as instructed by the app. We didn't even need to look at road names.


Google Map is also especially useful and accurate for checking the trains and their platform numbers. Unlike the MRTs in Singapore, you can have different trains heading to different places stopping at one platform in Japan. so if Google Map says that you should get on the train arriving at Platform 1 at 210pm heading for XXX, follow the app's instruction even if there may be a train coming at say, 205pm. That's because some trains are heading elsewhere, and some are express services and some are not - Google Map would have calculated for you the correct and fastest journey. We got on the wrong train at times because we doubted Google Map, thinking, "hey but there's an earlier train, we should just get on this" only to realise it was a slower train and would have been faster if we got on the next train which was an express service.


Also, do try to wait near the centre area of the platform if you booked special train rides. We had waited at the end of the platform for a special train to go to Nara but we missed it because it was blocked by station pillars. We didn't even see that the train had arrived - it was shorter than the regular trains because it was a special train. So yes, there's a learning curve to taking trains in Japan!


6) Use IC cards for transportation

You'll probably see some special passes being sold for trains on Klook or travel websites. As the train services are run by different train companies, some of these passes only cover certain railway lines and given that there are many railway lines, it gets really confusing on which pass to buy. So what we did was get the prepaid IC cards which can be used on most public transportation. You can load the card up at ticket machines at trains stations much like the EZ-Link cards we use in Singapore.


The more well-known IC cards are probably ICOCA and Suica - we got the former at the train station opposite Kansai Airport once we arrived. You can purchase cards for adults and load them at the machines but for children's IC cards - which are cheaper than adult cards - you'll need to go the ticketing office to buy them as you need to show your kid's ID. There is also a ticketing office at the station opposite Kansai Airport.


BTW you can use the IC cards elsewhere like at family marts, 7-Eleven, on the airport limousine bus service (more on that below) and even at some food courts. So if you loaded your card with too much value, you can still use it elsewhere. Also, I believe the cards last for ten years, so you can still use it when you go back to Japan the next time.

Osaka Japan visiting tips Tempozan Marketplace Wendy foodcourt
Foodcourt at Tempozan Marketplace

7) Check ahead schedules and stops of airport trains and buses

To get from Kansai Airport to Osaka and vice versa, the most economical way would be to take the trains and limousine buses. These stop at various stations and bus stops. Check ahead which station or bus stop is nearest to your hotel. I would suggest you check this through Klook which sells tickets for the Nankai Line Airport Express and limousine buses. Klook is just easier to navigate than the Japanese websites.


I don't think the price differ much for both modes of transport. I can't say for sure which option is better because we didn't try the airport train and went for the bus as friends mentioned that bus is better because you don't have to lug your luggage up escalators when you arrive at the train station, and also you don't have to find space to store your luggage (like you would in a train) as the bus operator would help you with storing your luggage in the bus.


The bus and train frequencies and the stops they stop at had yet to return to pre-pandemic levels when we were there in June. I noticed the airport bus also didn't stop at many of the hotels it used to stop at and the earliest bus we could take from USJ to the airport was at 11am. A friend mentioned that buses used to operate earlier than that and there were more services then. So, do check the timing of the buses/trains to make sure they can arrive at the airport in time for your flights.


If you're taking the bus, do arrive earlier to queue at the bus-stop for the bus, this is especially for the first bus leaving for the airport. Most people seemed to be catching the first bus when we were taking the bus from USJ to the airport, so the bus was already almost full at the first stop. People at the next bus stop couldn't get on and just had to wait for the next bus which could easily be 50 minutes later.


Also, there is no need to purchase bus tickets ahead on travel platforms like Klook, you can easily buy tickets from ticket machines at the airport near the bus stop. If you see no ticketing machines at the stop - which is the case at the USJ stop - a bus attendant will come by near boarding time and you can purchase tickets with cash from him/her. You can also use your IC card to pay for the ticket on the bus itself.


8) Take a taxi if you need to

Taxis are notoriously expensive in Japan and it's usually not necessary to take taxis because Osaka or cities in Japan are very well-connected by trains. But if you really have to take one because you are lugging lotsa bags and have young children, just do it.


When we arrived at the airport limousine bus station in Namba, it would be a 20-minute walk to our hotel while lugging luggage. But by taxi, it was just a 5-minute ride away and cost 1000 yen. It's not that expensive and would avoid a lot of hassle, so we took a taxi to the hotel from the bus station. We saw a few families with children and luggage do the same as well.


You can estimate your taxi cost from Google Map beforehand and see if you're comfortable with the cost.


9) Stay near a train station

When choosing hotels, I did try to find those nearer train stations and stations that hopefully most trains go by so we don't need to change trains too many times. A friend said staying near Shin-Osaka Station is a good choice if you are taking many day trips to places like Nara and Kyoto because that is a major station with many lines running through it.


If you have a packed schedule, you'd probably have to walk and commute a lot in Japan, and when you have children who do not have a lot of walking stamina, it definitely helps to stay near a train station.

Osaka Japan visiting tips Candeo Hotel
Candeo Hotel, Osaka

10) Compare hotel rates between hotel websites

I like Booking.com for browsing hotels as personally, I feel it's the easiest hotel website to navigate and it did offer some of the best rates when I was comparing between websites. But of course, do a comparison of your own between websites after you've shortlisted your hotels.


We chose the hotels which allowed us to cancel without penalties closer to check-in dates. The rates with such options are usually slightly higher than those where you pay upfront with no refunds but we just wanted to play safe in case anything happened near the date of our trip and we're unable to go for it. Also, by doing so, we can still shop around for hotels and if we can find something cheaper or at a better location, we can cancel the first booking with no penalties.


Just a note when comparing hotel rates, these websites give you an estimate of the hotel rates in your local currency (SGD in my case) based on current exchange rate, but you should take note how the payment is collected at the end - the website may charge your credit card on a certain date or you may pay directly at the hotel.


So one hotel I booked through Agoda - La'gent near USJ - was quoted at around 79K yen (around SGD260 per night for a three night stay) when I booked it. So this was to be paid via an automatic charge on my credit card on a certain date near check-in date, based on Agoda's own exchange rate. When my credit card bill came, I saw that I was charged around the of equivalent to SGD300-plus per night, which meant the exchange rate Agoda used was very unfavourable to me like SGD1=92 yen, though at that time, the exchange rate was already at SGD1=105yen.

Osaka Japan visiting tips la'gent hotel
La'gent Hotel Osaka Bay

So the next time I book a hotel, I would avoid those that charge your credit card according to the hotel website's exchange rate and go for those that charge a confirmed amount in your local currency or those that charge at the hotel on day of check in - we paid with credit card for the first hotel we stayed at in Osaka and it was at prevailing exchange rate of around SGD1=105yen, definitely not as unfavourable as the hotel website's own exchange rate.


11) Bring cash

Cash is still widely used in Japan. In fact, some smaller eateries and street food stalls only take cash. So you'll still need to budget some cash to bring along. It's hard to say how much cash to bring because it depends on how long you're staying and what you want to buy or spend on but for our family of four, we brought along SGD1,500 (150,000 yen) for our week-long holiday. This was the same for another friend with a family of four. For us, there was a bit left over near the end of our trip and we tried to pay more in cash near the end of our trip. We also used credit card for places that allows them like at certain restaurants and shops.

Osaka Japan visiting tips  Dotonbori
Dotonbori

12) Use a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees

Quite likely you'd need a credit or debit card when traveling overseas. Banks and credit card networks (like Visa and Mastercard) charge a foreign currency transaction fee when you use their credit cards overseas (though it might not be that obvious in your card statement!). This fee is typically at 2.5-3.5% of your payment, which includes charges by the credit card network and the card-issuing bank.


Honestly, I don't recall seeing such a breakdown in my credit card statement when I used my credit card overseas in the past but I read that banks are not usually very transparent on this unless you read the credit card T&Cs and I don't think most of us bother. (If you'd like to read more on this, Value Champion has a good article on this.) So the advice is to look for cards that has no foreign transaction fees if you plan to use it overseas.


If you're in Singapore, my hubs highly recommends using Trust Bank's credit card when overseas - Trust Bank is a partnership between Standard Chartered Bank and FairPriceGroup. This card has no foreign transaction fees, not even Visa charges. There are other cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees like Youtrip, Revolut, Wirex and Wise but do note that most of these are prepaid and/or debit cards, meaning you need to transfer money to the account first in order to use it. Hubs prefers using a credit card instead as you don't have to bother with transferring money to an account or estimating how much you'd need to transfer. Feel free to research more on the pros and cons of using such prepaid cards but for us, we prefer using a credit card as it is more straightforward.


From the charges in our statement, Hubs said the exchange rate used by the bank is also in line with current exchange rates. So the bank doesn't try to "claw back" something from your because they don't charge foreign transactions fees (ahem, like said travel website above).


We also like that Trust Card earns Link points with spending, even your overseas spending. If you're not already a Link member, a Link membership will automatically be set up for you on approval of your credit card. Link points can be redeemed when you shop at Fairprice, and so far the rebates we've been getting through our Link points are quite substantial because we shop A LOT at Fairprice and we are NTUC members (Note: Link and NTUC memberships are two separate memberships). You can check Trust Card's website on how Link points are earned. Plus, there is no annual fees for this card.


There are other perks like free coffee at Vivocity's Fairprice (Ella coffee btw and it is so good!), free gifts and promo prices for items (bought Starbucks instant mix and anti-bacterial wipes at 58 cents each!) with minimum spending at Fairprice. You can see what other perks it has at Trust Bank's website. These are nice to have but not a must-have for us. Trust Card's biggest draw for us is still the no foreign transaction fees and Link points earning.


You also get a S$25 Fairprice voucher when you make your first card spend as a credit card customer. And if you use a referral code when signing up, you and your referrer both get an extra S$10 in Fairprice voucher. You can use my referral code: DJE3HF2H - so we both get an extra S$10 Fairprice voucher each! More details here.


Applying is very easy too. You just need to download Trust Bank app on Google store and application is through your Singpass.


BTW this is not a sponsored post by Trust Bank. It's just that during our Japan trip-planning, we had been wondering and asking around what's the best way to pay for things when we there. Hubs did some research and decided on Trust Card. So far, we are really happy with its perks, so we're sharing this with everyone. Of course, when you're applying for the card, I'm also hoping you'll use my referral code too so we both can benefit from the extra Fairprice vouchers! :D


13) Check if those all-in-one passes have places you want to visit

You'll probably have heard of passes in Japan that allows you to visit several attractions. Like for Osaka, it's the Amazing Osaka Pass that's sold at Klook. I had considered whether we should get these and after checking some of the individual entry tickets, I calculated that the pass would be worthwhile if we plan to visit at least 3 of the attractions listed under the pass.


However, I decided not to buy this because they are not attractions my family really want to go. If we buy the pass, we'd feel obliged to go for the attractions in the pass to make it worth our while, but there are other attractions not under the pass that we'd much rather visit. Also, usually attractions have cheaper tickets for children, so I estimated my girls would have to visit at least 5 attractions in the pass to make it worth their while.


So if you're considering these passes, see if the attractions in the passes are places that you really want to visit and compare with how much it costs to buy individual tickets for them.

Osaka Japan visiting tips
On the way to Dotonbori

Okay, so that's all, folks! I hope the tips above are useful for your Osaka/Japan trip. I'll update if anything else pops up!


This is probably the last post from our Osaka trip. If you want more specific reviews and tips for attractions in Osaka, here are the links to my other Osaka blog posts and Instagram, where I shared shorter tips:


Osaka Japan visiting tips Universal Studios Japan USJ
Universal Studios Japan

Osaka Japan visiting tips USJ Kinopio Cafe Universal Studios Japan
Kinopio's Cafe at USJ

Osaka Japan visiting tips aquarium
Osaka Aquarium

Osaka Japan visiting tips Pokemon Cafe
Pokemon Cafe, Osaka

Osaka Japan visiting tips Mipig cafe micro pig
Mipig Cafe, Osaka

Osaka Japan visiting tips Kirby Cafe
Kirby Petit Cafe

TeamLab Botanical Garden Osaka - https://www.instagram.com/p/CuGY_tqSrUE

Osaka Japan visiting tips TeamLab Botanical Garden
TeamLab Botanical Garden Osaka

Osaka Japan visiting tips Nintendo store Daimaru
Nintendo store at Daimaru, Osaka

Osaka Japan visiting tips  Hogoken Cafe dog
Hogoken Cafe, Osaka

Osaka Japan visiting tips Dotonbori street food
Dotonbori street food

Kyoto kimono/yukata photoshoot - https://www.instagram.com/p/CvL9v2KtOV-/

Kyoto Japan visiting tips photoshoot kimono yukata rental
Kyoto photoshoot
Nara deer park Japan
Nara Deer Park
Arashiyama bamboo forest kyoto japan

Japanese goodies to buy - https://www.instagram.com/p/CvoVUg9NSWr/

Japanese snacks desserts Japan

Disclaimer: We paid for our trip & purchases, and my opinions and reviews here are strictly my and my family’s own.


©Vivian Teo. All content and photos are copyrighted to Vivian Teo unless otherwise specified.


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