The family travel market is indisputably strong. The segment now represents a whopping 40% share of the leisure market, according to the latest MMGY Global/Harrison Group Portrait of American Travelers.
But what about traveling with moody teens and young adults? Actually, despite their reputation for being parent-phobic, a surprising number of older kids are hitting the road with their parents, according to Kyle McCarthy, founder of New York-based Family Travel Forum, which publishes vacation planning resources and co-hosts the annual TMS Family Travel Conference.
"We've seen a surge in multigenerational travel the past few years," McCarthy said. "But it interests me how much later in life children are willing to travel with their parents and grandparents."
In an effort to experience this mini-trend firsthand, we recently put the choice of vacation spot into the hands of our two young-adult sons, who bypassed the Caribbean and Hawaii in favor of a week in Japan.
Why Japan? Two words: anime and manga, which, for the uninitiated, are forms of animated films and graphic novels, respectively, that have become among the country's most popular exports.
After a direct flight from Boston to Tokyo via Japan Airlines, we began our journey in Tokyo, where we stayed at the 228-room Tokyu Excel Hotel Shibuya in a zany, neon-lit part of the city teeming with young people and overlooking the famously busy, often-filmed Shibuya crosswalk. What the property lacks in cultural flavor, it makes up for with comfort and a stellar location steps from the train station and from Shibuya Mark, an underground mall with shopping and dining outlets.
On day one, we explored the nearby trendy boutiques on Harajuku Street, where many of the passersby were dressed like anime characters, and Yoyogi, a serene park where the cherry blossoms attracted crowds of picnickers. By subway, we visited the Toei Animation Gallery, the studio behind popular anime such as "Sailor Moon" and the Dragon Ball franchise.
Kyoto was our next stop via bullet train. Although we loved our visits to Nijo Castle, where powerful shoguns once ruled; the Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its corridors of bright orange gates; and Sanjusangen-do, with its 1,000 statues of Buddha, our favorite Kyoto outings were to Toei Kyoto Studio Park (www.toei-eigamura.com/en), a theme park where ninja films are made, and the Kyoto International Manga Museum (www.kyotomm.jp/english), which draws more than a quarter-million fans every year, including nearly 30,000 from abroad.
Here, life-size figures in manga-character costumes vied with the Wall of Manga, which features some 50,000 published works, as well as enormous paintings by some of the most famous artists in the industry. A favorite is the multistory statue of a phoenix by Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy. While wandering the many rooms of the museum, we noticed dozens of international visitors mixed in among the locals, many of whom were — you guessed it — young adults and their parents.