Solo dad and his “devil twos” daughter take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto – is this a recipe for disaster?

The Shinkansen is Japan’s fastest rail network, but that actually means that you’ll probably be on the train for a good chunk of time, since the bullet train lines aren’t used for getting around a single town. Instead, the bullet train is for travelers headed to different regions of the country, and even the ride between Tokyo and Kyoto will take you more than two hours, and that’s a lot of time to be stuck on a train if you’re traveling with a kid who’s cranky or otherwise upset.

That was the worry our Japanese-language reporter Yuichiro Wasai was grappling with at the start of Japan’s recent Golden Week vacation period. With time off, Yuichiro, who lives in Tokyo, wanted to visit his parents in Kyoto, and to bring his daughter so Grandma and Grandpa could see her too. But while Yuichiro’s daughter is cute as a button, she’s also two years and three months old, putting her squarely in the “terrible twos,” or, as they’re known in Japan, the “devil twos.” Yuichiro estimates his kid says “I don’t like it!” about 500 times a day, resting in scenarios like this.

Yuichiro: “Time to eat.”
Yuichiro’s daughter: “No! I don’t want to.”
Yuichiro’s daughter (after some coaxing): “I only want to eat bread!”
Yuichiro: “OK, here’s some bread.”
Yuichiro’s daughter: “No! I don’t like bread!”

So Yuichiro was more than a little concerned about the possibility of his kid throwing a fit for the entire Shinkansen ride to Kyoto. Adding to the degree of difficulty: because their schedules didn’t mesh, Yuichiro’s wife wouldn’t be going with them, so Daddy was going to have to keep the kid entertained and happy all by himself, with no support along the way.

But vacation times are few and far between in Japan, so Yuichiro concocted a multi-part plan to put the odds in his favor for a peaceful Shinkansen ride. He knew that preparation was going to be critical, so let’s take a look at everything he did before boarding the train.

Step 1: Picking a departure time

Shinkansen don’t run as frequently as local commuter trains, but there are still enough that you should have a handful of departure options that’ll get you to your destination by the time you want to be there. So out of those options, you’ll want to choose a train that’s leaving just a little bit before the time of day when your kid takes a nap, so that hopefully they’ll be asleep for at least part of the ride, and in the case of Yuichiro’s daughter this meant a mid-afternoon departure from Tokyo Station.

Step 2: Takyubin delivery

Riding the Shinkansen with a young child also means navigating Shinkansen stations with a young child, and those stations tend to be crowded and hectic, especially during peak travel seasons. Figuring he’d have his hands full looking after his daughter, Yuichiro sent his large suitcase with the clothes they’d need during their stay to his parents’ house by takyubin, Japan’s delivery service that also handles suitcases. Takyubin companies can also deliver suitcases to/from hotels, so if you’re traveling in Japan the front desk staff of wherever you’re staying can often help you coordinate sending your bulkiest bags by takyubin to your next destination, so that you don’t have to lug them through the station and on/off the train while your kid needs your full attention.

Step 3: Springing for a seat

On the Shinkansen, children under six ride for free. The catch to this, though, is that if they’re riding for free, they’re supposed to sit on the lap of their paying parent. If you’re worried that your kid might get fussy and squirmy, purchasing a ticket for under-six riders is an option (paying the reduced-rate child fare, which is ordinarily for passengers aged 6-11). Having their own seat gives your kid some extra room to stretch out if they want to, and since some Shinkansen layouts have only two seats on one side of the center aisle, this could also give you and your kid an entire half of the train, with no neighbor to worry about. However, this is a lot of extra expense, so Yuichiro’s recommendation comes with the side-note that it’s an optional one, and whether or not it’s worth it will probably depend on your kid’s individual personality and willingness to sit on your lap for a few hours.

Step 4: Not just toys – New toys

Key to keeping your kid happy is keeping your kid entertained. You could let them pick out a few favorite toys to take with them from home, but the even better option is to have a selection of new toys, since they’re more likely to grab your kid’s attention. Yuichiro recommends having a variety and bringing them out one at a time, so that there’s always something new to focus on.

This might seem like a lot of trouble and expense to go to, but Yuichiro says that the 100 yen shop is your best friend here. Daiso, Seria, and all the other major 100 yen shops all have a toy section, where you can find figures, picture books, crayons, stickers and the like for 100 yen each, so it’s a minor investment with some very big benefits, and as a plus, most of the toys are pretty compact and lightweight, making them easy to hide until you surprise your kid with them, one by one, after you’re on the train.

Step 5: Snacks, especially chewy snacks

It’s a pretty sure bet that your kid is going to get hungry at some point during the ride, and with food carts no longer going up and down the Shinkansen aisle, you’ll want to have your snacks sorted out before boarding. Assuming your kid’s Shinkansen trip is a rare, special occasion, it’s best to throw nutritional value to the wind and instead pick snacks that will keep them occupied for as long as possible. So in addition to the box of apple juice and bag of biscuits in the above photo, Yuichiro also brought a bag of dried beni haruka sweet potatoes.

By the way, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a special mention to the famous super-hard Shinkansen ice cream, which due to how long it takes to chisel into, has been praised by parents as a fantastic attention-occupier for years. However, while the Shinkansen ice cream is available for purchase on some bullet train station platforms, it’s so hard that it might take some time before your kid can carve out a whole spoonful, which could be more frustrating than fascinating, so something chewy that they can still pop into their mouth right away might be ideal.

Step 6: Obviously, a tablet

At home, Yuichiro and his wife don’t show their daughter many videos, instead nudging her to other styles of entertainment and play. Still, he has to admit that there are few ways to get a kid to sit quietly ASAP than with a screen with videos playing on it, so he had his iPad on standby, as a potential last resort. He also signed up for YouTube Premium ahead of time to allow offline viewing.

And with that, Yuichiro had done all he could, so it was time to get underway!

Things got off to a smooth start…maybe a little too soon, even. This was his daughter’s first time to ever be on the Shinkansen, and she was clearly excited as they got onboard and took their seats, and Yuichiro was worried that excitement would make her skip her nap.

We should note that as a kid who’s growing up in Japan, Yuichiro’s daughter already knew the Shinkansen basics (“It’s a cool train that’s really fast and takes you to fun places!”). On the other hand, if you’re visiting Japan from overseas your two-year-old probably doesn’t have any preexisting image of the Shinkansen, so you might not have the same issue Yuichiro did. Alternatively, though, if your kid is still young enough to get fussy but too old for naps, you can hype up the Shinkansen’s cool factor ahead of your trip and reap the mood-improving benefits of that “Whoa, we’re on the Shinkansen!” wonder.

Seeing as how his daughter wasn’t acting sleepy at all yet, Yuichiro revealed her first surprise from the toy bundle: a sticker set with a book to put them in.

Success! She was smiling and happy, and…


OK, if you’re going to give your kids stickers on the train, you’ll need to keep an eye on where they’re sticking them. Thankfully, Yuichiro was able to spot this one quickly enough so that he could peel it off the tray before the adhesive really set in, and they transferred it into her book.

“All right, where should we put the next one?” Yuichiro asked, communicating with his daughter as one sticker after another caught her fancy. Then, less than 30 minutes into their ride, she turned towards Daddy, snuggled up against his chest…

…and dozed off.

The Shinkansen’s speed is what gets the most attention, but it’s also incredibly smooth and quiet. Once your kid does fall asleep, there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll be out for a while, and Yuichiro’s daughter slept peacefully all the way to Kyoto.

We suppose you could say that Yuichiro ended up extremely overprepared for the ride, but hey, that’s better than being underprepared, right? Also, having not used up all of his stock of toys and snacks meant he could use the leftovers on their return ride to Tokyo a few days later, which was also problem-free.

So if you’ve got travel plans in Japan and are worrying about taking your kid on the Shinkansen, Yuichiro says to put your mind at ease, just as long as you put some thought into your pre-ride prep.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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