Travel Tips

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan pin

Japan is a fascinating family-friendly country to experience for all, including children with autism. Before traveling, parents should understand its customs and culture better to help everyone have an enjoyable visit.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan kitty


 The Japanese toilets can be scary

One of the first things travelers will encounter in Japan are the plug-in Japanese toilets. The commode facilities have individual settings for sound and heating which may freak some travelers with autism.
Our son with autism was frightened he might get electrocuted when he saw the toilet plugged into the outlet. Though we tried to reassure him repeatedly that it was safe, his fear never really went away.

Furthermore, visitors may encounter a traditional Japanese squat toilet that looks nothing like the western ones. This ground level commode requires balance that people with autism might not have and presents a challenge to use.


Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan toilet

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Show your kids pictures or videos of the plug -in Japanese toilets before visiting so they understand they are safe to use.
  • If your kid is uncomfortable with using, the plug-in toilets remember they can be unplugged.
  • Parents should bear in mind that hotels and restaurants have Western toilets to use for free if the traditional Japanese facilities are too scary.


The Japanese food is different

Food in Japan is quite different than in other countries, with many dishes either being saltier or sweeter than travelers might be accustomed to in their countries of origin.
Visitors should understand that restaurant portions are smaller than in the US or Europe and that the options of free drink refills and returning food to the kitchen if disliked aren’t offered.

Also, parents should be aware that many of the budget friendly restaurants only provide chopsticks which may be challenging for kids with autism.


Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan food

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Travelers should always ask the price of the dishes before ordering.
  • Some venues have plastic replicas of the served dishes displayed in the front window, so visitors can see what they are about to order
  • Avoid American chain restaurants as their fare is usually adapted to local taste preferences which could disappoint kids used to particular flavors and textures.
  • Parents should prepare their kids for the possibility they might not find their favorite pizza selection since Japan isn’t big on cheeses (many people in Asian countries are lactose intolerant.)
  • Tourists should check out the local supermarkets for cheaper food and samples of the local dishes.
  • For kids that can’t use chopsticks, parents should pack plastic cutlery to facilitate easy eating.

Mind the trash

Japanese streets are immaculately clean with virtually no litter on the streets. Surprisingly enough, as we discovered during our visit, there weren’t that many public bins to dispose of waste, which made it cumbersome to dispose of any trash after enjoying street grub.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan street grub

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Carrying a plastic Ziploc bag in one’s pocket for unexpected garbage may be a good idea when touring Japan.

There’s quite a bit of smoking

Japan still allows smoking in public places. Therefore, parents need to request non-smoking hotel rooms and restaurant tables ahead of time to avoid unnecessary snafus.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan lines


Autism Travel Tips:

  • As customer service is excellent in Japan, travelers can always ask to change their room or table even at the last minute.

Crossing the road is complicated

The major cities in Japan have intersecting crosswalks that can be downright daunting for tourists from other countries. During our first visit to Tokyo, we stood at a Shinjuku crossing for a few minutes trying to decipher which way we should go. Because of this, parents should reiterate to kids the importance of staying close to them and not darting into traffic which in these cases can come from multiple directions.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan crosswalk


Autism Travel Tips:

  • Familiarize your children by showing them pictures and videos of this type of many crosswalks.

Navigating public transportation takes practice

Navigating the subway in the large cities like Tokyo takes a bit of practice. Travelers might find themselves lost or unable to pay the fare the first few times, as the machines aren’t exactly user-friendly. In addition, many subway stations are so large that passengers might easily find themselves walking a mile from one exit to the other. All these factors can lead kids to autism to unnecessary frustration and meltdowns if not planned for in advance.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan maps

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Parents should pack two pairs of comfortable, broken-in walking shoes for their kids.
  • Travelers should try to get acquainted with using the fare adjustment machines on the subway the very first day.
    If they find it complicated, they should ask for help and videotape the process to help memorize the steps. A budget friendly option when using the subway is purchasing the cheapest ticket and then paying for fare adjustments during the day.

Anime and Manga might not be PG

Japan is famous for its anime and manga comics and characters, translated into many languages around the globe. What many parents don’t realize is that some of the comics easily fall into the soft porn category.
Moreover, those visiting certain neighborhoods like Tokyo’s Akihabara might be taken aback by the young girls in manga uniforms soliciting customers.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan manga

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Depending on the kid’s level of comprehension parents can decide whether to expose their child to this genre of entertainment.


Japan is very Autism Friendly

Many museums and tourist attractions we’ve visited offered disability passes, which helped us with discounted pricing and bypassing long lines.
Moreover, everybody was incredibly respectful and helpful with our son even when he experienced a meltdown.
An excellent example of Japanese hospitality and kindness was when we couldn’t get tickets for Ghibli Studios. Our disappointed son was crying in the middle of the street, and several people approached us offering to help. The person who finally succeeded in calming him down was a gentleman who spent over twenty minutes of his time figuring out a way to order the tickets through an automated machine.


Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan train

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Tourists should download apps that show maps and basic words in Japanese.
  • Parents should teach their children to thank people in Japanese when they get help.  (ありがとう Arigatō)


Have you visited Japan? Come and share your tips with us!


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Margalit Sturm Francus
A reformed dentist who gave up pulling teeth to show her son the world! Need tips on how to #travel with #autism? Follow me on Instagram & Facebook
Margalit Sturm Francus

Margalit Sturm Francus

A reformed dentist who gave up pulling teeth to show her son the world! Need tips on how to #travel with #autism? Follow me on Instagram & Facebook

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