Road trip in Japan

A Road Trip in Japan with a Toddler

Last Updated: June 10, 2024
Written by Kay

As some of you may know from my article on housing in Japan, we’re currently in the process of looking for land to build a house. Although we have an idea of where we want to live in Kanto, my husband wanted to see whether Kobe would be a viable candidate as he prefers to live closer to his parents. Since time is of the essence, he insisted that we go ASAP despite my reservations given the pandemic.

I gave him a condition — we could go as long as he drove because there was no way I was taking our toddler on multiple trains (or even a plane) with people not wearing masks, blowing their nose, eating, etc., during a pandemic. (And yes, I have unfortunately seen all of that and more when I have to go into the office.)

We figured it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, we could take anything we wanted with us, even the kitchen sink if necessary, and the flexibility in terms of not having to catch the Shinkansen at a specific time was nice as well. However, things always have a way of turning out not quite how you expect…

Heading Out… Later than Scheduled

We planned to leave at 7 AM on Friday morning. I was hoping we could start our journey even earlier since our toddler, Lil A, has a tendency to wake up at 4:30 AM but on that day, of course, she decided to sleep in until 6 AM.

Thankfully, I finished most of the packing the night before, and let me tell you, packing for a trip with a baby or toddler is really something else. I’m fairly certain I spent at least an hour getting her things ready and making sure we had everything. And before someone says, “But Kay, you can buy something if you need it!” … it’s not that easy depending on where you are at the moment and what particular emergency erupts.

What I Packed For My Toddler for a Trip in Japan

□  Four sets of clothing (dresses, leggings, undershirts, socks, PJs)
*I would later discover that this was not enough… 

□  An entire pack of Merries L-size diapers (okay, this is excessive but we had a car so why not take the whole package!) and some overnight diapers

□  Body wash and shampoo

□ Toothbrush and toothpaste for toddlers

□  Thermometer

□  Two bottles and two pacifiers

□  ICREO powdered formula sticks (for her night bottle, which we’re working towards weaning her off soon)

□  Juice and snacks

□  Disposable bibs (I think the best ones I’ve used in Japan so far are bibsters)

□  Portable baby wipes, 手口ふき, and alcohol-free hand sanitizing wipes

□  Toys and books

□  Rain boots and a poncho

We ended up leaving at 7:30 AM, and this was after I went back to the house twice after realizing we forgot something. The road was quite busy and within fifteen minutes, we were stuck in an hour-long traffic jam. I sat in the back with Lil A, who wasn’t doing too badly and wasn’t fussy whatsoever.

An hour later when the traffic started to move, however, one of our greatest fears was realized — A threw up.


Thankfully we had a full-sized pack of 手口ふき in the backseat as well as some antibacterial wipes, so I cleaned up what I could and we stopped by a service area to get A  cleaned and changed.

Service Areas in Japan

One of my favorite things in Japan is service areas. These can be found along highways in Japan and serve as a place for drivers and passengers to have a rest, eat, shop for souvenirs, and sometimes even enjoy onsen or attractions like small amusement parks.

Service area in Japan for road trips

A service area we visited on the way back to Kanto

Of course, this particular stop was not under the most ideal circumstances. My husband ran into Family Mart to grab some wipes to clean the car seat while I changed A. I had one outfit in my diaper bag but I realized that if she threw up again, I would need another and all the rest were in the suitcase in the trunk. I made a mental note to have more than one outfit in my diaper bag for the journey back home.

After getting A cleaned and Febreezing the car (I definitely recommend having a bottle in your car in case something like this happens), we continued on our trip. We still had about 5.5 hours to go when we left the service area, which seemed like it would take forever (especially in a car that smelled like puke) but it went by surprisingly quickly. A fell asleep for two hours and then we stopped at another service area, this time in Nagoya called Kariya Highway Oasis. This particular service area had a small amusement park and I thought it would be a great chance to take A for her first ride on a Ferris wheel.

ferris wheel at service area in Japan

A riding a Ferris wheel for the first time. I’m not gonna lie, she got bored pretty fast.

We also enjoyed some lunch. The weather outside was beautiful so we decided to sit on a bench and eat some onigiri that we bought at a store. A pretty much eats whatever we do now, which makes going out much easier than before as I don’t have to give her formula or baby food anymore! My husband also enjoyed some of Nagoya’s special kushi miso katsu, which was a bit too strong in flavor for me but my husband loved it.

Once we left this service area, A started to get antsy. She had done such a great job sitting in a car seat for several hours so it was completely understandable that she was done. I tried to distract her for a while by reading her some Peppa Pig books and playing some Wiggles Nursery Rhymes but that only lasted for so long before she started to cry.

We got a little back seat car organizer so that A could have access to toys and we could put a tablet inside one of the pockets for her to watch shows. We had downloaded some English-language shows in advance on Netflix (We Bare Bears, Sylvanian Families) so I let her watch those for the last hour of the trip.

Arriving in Kobe

We arrived later than scheduled, which was no surprise because when you have a small child, you’re bound to be late. We had dinner reservations at 5:30, which meant we had a little over an hour to check into the hotel and look around the city.

And then, when we were two minutes away from the hotel, it happened again.

Despite Google Maps telling him otherwise, my husband decided to suddenly stop the car to see if a particular hotel was the one we were supposed to check into and… A threw up again. And this time, she didn’t just vomit. She projectile vomited. Repeatedly.


After her first incident, I had put an apron bib on her (which I had to keep putting back on after she ripped it off several times) but this did not help. The puke was everywhere, including me. Needless to say, I was not thrilled with my husband.


My husband quickly drove up to the beautiful hotel (did I mention that we had been only a two-minute drive away?!) and a staff member was treated to a puke-covered toddler, an upset mother, and a panicked and regretful father. They gave us a bunch of towels to clean up what we could and then I waited in the reception awkwardly, trying to make sure A didn’t touch the lovely couches.

Staying at Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland with a Toddler

We stayed at two hotels in Kobe, the first being Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland.

The staff were very kind and didn’t seem irritated at all that my daughter had thrown up and smelled. Instead, they tried to talk to her, which I appreciated.

The room was quite large with two double-size beds, a jacuzzi bath, and came with amenities for my daughter. The view of the harbor was also spectacular and helped me to calm down after giving A a quick shower and changing us both into fresh clothes. The only downside was that the staff walked inside the room with their shoes, so I made sure A was wearing socks the entire time. The hotel was a bit dated as well, but it was kept quite clean.

Bed at La Suite Kobe Harborland

Amenities for Kids at La Suite Kobe Harborland
A’s amenities included a kid’s toothbrush, toothpaste, and a doggie loofah to wash up with.

Amenities for Kids at La Suite Kobe Harborland

A little puppy to wash her body with. She was not nearly as impressed as I was and dropped it when I let her hold it in the shower…

View from La Suite Kobe Harborland

The jacuzzi bath with a gorgeous view. The only downside is that people can see you so we kept the blinds lowered, which sort of defeats the purpose…?

Thanks to the little incident we had earlier, there was no time to look around outside as planned so we headed straight to the restaurant where A had her first taste of Kobe beef at a teppanyaki restaurant! (Yes, I know, it’s extreme for a toddler but we were in Kobe after all!) There were no other customers in the restaurant as our reservation was for right when they opened, so it was like getting our own private teppanyaki experience.

The chef was really nice and set aside some of my beef as well as my husband’s for A. He cooked it thoroughly and then cut it up into perfect bite-sized pieces for A. She loved her first taste of Kobe beef, which was shocking because trying to get her to eat meat can be a struggle. I guess the quality of meat we typically give her isn’t high enough! (Sorry, A, you are not getting Kobe-gyu again for a long time!)

After dinner, we went shopping at Kobe Harborland umie because I started to worry that I didn’t have enough clothes for A after all. I found a cute solar system shirt and a simple pair of pants on sale at Baby Gap and paid a grand total of 700 yen for both (score!).

It was a little past A’s bedtime when we got back to the hotel at 8 PM. I gave A another shower as it’s part of her nighttime routine and how we try to stay safe during a pandemic. I also tried to introduce her to her first jacuzzi bath but she got scared when I turned on the bubbles and started to cry (oops).

My husband slept with A next to him for the first half of the night and then she slept next to me for the other half, and let me tell you, co-sleeping with a toddler is something else. She decided to toss and turn, head-butting or kicking us throughout the night. It was not pleasant.

In the morning, we got ready and packed as we would be staying at another hotel for our second night. Breakfast was brought to the room and it was amazing. My husband chose a Japanese-style breakfast while I went for Western.

Breakfast at La Suite Kobe Harborland

Look at all this glorious goodness! The bread also had a takeaway bag so we could pack whatever we couldn’t finish.

Breakfast for Kids at La Suite Kobe Harborland

A’s breakfast. As a Canadian, I can confirm that the maple syrup was top-notch. I would have straight-up drank that if it didn’t set a bad example for my kid!

After finishing everything except for the bread, I took a croissant and a cup of coffee out to the balcony to enjoy the beautiful morning view of the harbor.

View from La Suite Kobe Harborland

I could wake up to this every day!

View from La Suite Kobe Harborland

Despite it only being 8 AM, though, and far from when we had to check out, I cut my time outside short as we did have a schedule to follow.

Update: We ended up moving to Kansai and now go to Kobe frequently! For those wondering what to do in Kobe with kids, you’ll want to read this article.

Checking Out Land in Kobe

There were three areas that my husband felt we should check out: Nada-ku, Higashi Nada-ku, and Tarumi-ku.

These were our impressions:

Nada-ku: The land here was affordable but all were up steep inclines. I did not want to have to climb up a massive hill every day, especially in the summer, and all the land we looked at were all far from the station, so that was ruled out.

Higashi Nada-ku: I liked this area the best. Many homes were a bit of a walk-up but didn’t seem as bad compared to Nada-ku. Most of the land for sale had a view of the harbor and within a ten-minute walk to a train station. There’s also a school in this area that we would like to send our daughter to if we end up moving there. The land here, though, is quite expensive.

Tarumi-ku: This area had the most affordable land out of the three areas we looked at. It had a lovely view of the ocean but I wasn’t the biggest fan of the area.

Of course, we won’t be buying any land without living in Kobe for a year or so first, we just wanted to get a feel for the city to see if we want to move to Kobe to begin with. If anyone living in Kobe is reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these areas as well because we only had a day to take it all in!

Staying at Hotel Setre with a Toddler

For our second night, we stayed at Hotel Setre.

Compared to the hotel that we stayed at the night before, this one was a bit of a disappointment. It was raining when we drove up but there was no cover for cars or any staff at the entrance, so we had to bring out our luggage from the car in the rain.

We also had to carry our luggage to the room ourselves, which was a bit of a struggle with a toddler. Maybe it was a COVID measure? This hotel was more expensive than Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland so it was strange that the service was subpar and similar to that of a business hotel (I was so unimpressed with the room that I didn’t even take a picture of it).

Breakfast at Setre Hotel Kobe

Although the view from the room of Akashi Kaikyo Bridge was very beautiful and the breakfast was spectacular, the hotel wasn’t child-friendly at all. They had adult-sized amenities for our toddler and there was no option to add breakfast for our daughter (thankfully, I still had some bread from the breakfast the morning before, so she had that and some of the spread pictured above).

The tile in the shower was also very slippery so I had to hold onto A so that she wouldn’t fall. I wouldn’t recommend this hotel if you have a young child.

Surprise Stop in Kyoto!

Because we had such a huge breakfast the day before, we ended up skipping lunch and seeing everything on my husband’s list in one day. We planned to head back to Kanto right away but my husband surprised me by making a stop in Kyoto!

He knew I wanted to see Byodoin, the temple that graces the 10 yen coin, and despite the rain, it was absolutely worth it. The temple surrounded by water was stunning, especially with the cherry blossoms. There were also hardly any tourists.

Uji in Kyoto Japan with toddler

Byodoin and sakura in the rain 

Uji in Kyoto Japan with toddler

The bridge to To-no-shima island

We also checked out a bit of To-no-shima island, which had a bunch of cherry blossom trees in bloom. The rain had stopped briefly at this point and there was absolutely no one there so A had a nice time running around and we took a lot of photos.

It was so peaceful and reminded me of when I first visited Kyoto before the tourist boom happened. I wish we could have seen more of Uji but we simply didn’t have the time.

If you’re looking for recommendations on what to do in Kyoto with kids, I’ve got you covered.

Heading Back to Kanto

Driving back, we were lucky enough not to be caught in any traffic jams unlike on the way there. However, A was in a mood. She was fed up with the car and did not want to be in there, so naturally she cried for the majority of the 6-hour drive back. I wish I exaggerating. The only times she didn’t cry were when I gave her toys (which she either threw or dropped and I couldn’t get for her until we stopped at a service area, which caused her to cry again) or when she was sleeping. I should have brought noise-canceling headphones!


I had a sick bag ready this time in case she threw up again, so I watched her like a hawk with the bag in hand. I also didn’t let her watch shows on the tablet just in case that made her feel sick. Thankfully (and miraculously), she did not throw up again.

By the time we got home, everyone was exhausted but we couldn’t be happier to be home. Although it was nice being able to have everything on hand for A in the car, have the freedom to go wherever we liked, and not have to take public transportation during a pandemic, taking a road trip with a toddler is not something we want to do again for a very long time. My husband and I would both recommend taking the Shinkansen if you can.

If I were to give any advice to parents who are thinking about taking a toddler on a long-distance road trip:

  • Have someone sit in the back if you can to help entertain the toddler or clean up any sudden, unexpected messes
  • Have easy access to at least two sets of clothing and perhaps an extra pair of shoes because you never know (and it doesn’t hurt to over-prepare since you’re traveling by car, after all!)
  • Prepare some books and toys, and a tablet with their favorite shows (but keep in mind that your child might get sick from watching something in the car)
  • Make stops every two or so hours to change your toddler’s diaper, feed them, and let them stretch their legs a bit, and get some fresh air (it’ll be good for you, too!)
  • Have a sick bag ready in case your child throws up


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Hi! I'm Kay

I’m a long-term Japan resident and parent who loves writing and traveling. My goal is to help parents from around the world navigate living and traveling with kids in Japan.

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