Things to do in Tokyo with Kids
To visit Japan is to be in a slight state of perpetual disorientation, on the surface so much of what you experience feels familiar – yet it is not. Fabulous and curious – brimming with new discoveries…
Tokyo is the perfect place to begin any visit to Japan with kids
We love to visit Tokyo in any season, although the pre-christmas buzz just before a family ski trip (to Nozawa Onsen or Hakuba) certainly is hard to beat…
Tokyo is large and bustling, however surprisingly family friendly. In a similar vein to many metropolises – the city comprises of manageable, distinct neighbourhoods.
The trick is to decide which best suit your style of holiday, then experience them in bite sized chunks.
I suggest considering the following (in no particular order), if you are travelling as a family with kids;
Ginza – high end shopping and eating adjoining the Imperial Palace gardens (think Woollahra or Toorak). Huge variety of family friendly noodle houses and cafes, try Minoru Diner on the roof top of Mitsukoshi Department store
Roppongi – Casting aside the reputation for a nightlife area, Roppongi has lots to offer families…museums, shopping, parks. Lego Click Brick play centre
Omotesando – a Boulevard that is likened to The Champs Elysee (with boutiques to match), the street leads to Yoyogi Park and the famous Meiji Shrine
Harajuku – adjoining Omotesando, a haven of street cool that older kids will enjoy – Takeshita Dori is lined with the famed 100 Yen Shops and Tokyo ‘youth fashion’
Shibuya – containing both ‘that’ Park Hyatt (Lost in Translation fame…), and the oft photographed Shibuya crossing – it is busy however you will find all you need within easy walking distance
Shinagawa – serving as one of Tokyo’s main train stations, every facility you will need for a family holiday is close by. Also home to the recently renovated Aqua Park
Shiodome – convenient walking to Ginza and Shiodome or Shimbashi train stations. Not as expensive as Ginza.
Do a little pre-trip research, decide how you want to spend your time and choose a suburb close to activities and transport; 15 minutes walk might not sound far, however when dragging tired kids several times a day it ends up being a mammoth effort.
I reviewed getting around on trains and taxis in Japan which you might find useful.
I noticed on my last visit that English speaking guides can now be found at the major Train Stations around Tokyo.
With all this in mind I recommend getting hold of a copy of the book ‘Clueless in Tokyo’ by Betty Reynolds to read with kids prior to your holiday. I bought a copy for our youngest and the whole family loved it. A quirky snapshot of life and culture in Japan.
Things to do in Tokyo with Kids
The Peninsula Tokyo , (Ginza) within 5-10 minutes walk of the JR Train line and the Metro, convenience stores downstairs and on the edge of the Imperial Gardens. A luxurious property that caters well for kids. Fun pool for frolicking (not a given in all Tokyo Hotels), kids will love the in-house Pokemon adventures and Peninsula Academy offering activities from cooking to origami and special nightly turndown gifts.
Mandarin Oriental Tokyo , (Nihonbashi) glamorous, kid friendly and located in a fantastic location if you are travelling with little kids. Metro access from the basement and across the road from a larger shopping centre.
Shinagawa Prince Hotel (Shinagawa) the location of this property is hard to beat (across the road from Shinagawa JR station/Shinkansen – the Bullet Train). Lots of affordable eating options and activities close by. Rooms are on the smaller side and not new – I would suggest this as a good mid-priced option (Prince Hotels & Resorts owns many other properties in Tokyo which are worth investigating).
Park Hotel Tokyo (Shiodome) we stayed here with Grandparents in tow, opting for Tokyo Tower view rooms was a superb decision. Easy walk to Shiodome subway and Shimbashi JR station – with convenience stores and eateries. A huge plus of this property was access to on-site laundry facilities. Extremely well priced for the location and facilities.
With over 160,000 restaurants in Tokyo there is no shortage of recommendations for places to refuel. Tokyo holds the record for the most Michelin starred locations in the world (although check the child policy before making reservations). Hotel Concierges are also reliable guides of local fare. Here are our highly recommended suggestions, from basic to bliss;
7-Eleven -Every suburb has a multitude of convenience stores rather than larger Supermarkets (these tend to be situated in Suburbs where there is more space). Perfect for on the go snacks (or ‘in room picnics‘ as we enjoy after exhausting days of sightseeing). Stocking good (fresh) sushi, sandwiches, salads, soups (ask them to heat for you), yoghurts, pastries (try the cream buns…), wine & beers (AUD$ 5 for a passable Chilean red) and any other basics you might need. Generally staff have only limited English (all signage is in Japanese) so purchasing is a little pot luck.
Look also for Lawson or Family Marts.
Bird Land Ginza – Michelin Star – We usually reserve this style of restaurant for the adults in the family, however exception was made as it was the Husbands birthday (and we had no babysitter). It took us several attempts to locate, eventually winding our way through a non descript corridor to arrive in the cosy space, popular with locals and business people…it is not unusual to see single diners popping in for their evening meal on the way home (albeit a pretty fancy ‘stopover’).
If you like fowl this is the place for you, Bird Land is renowned for using every part of their free-range birds (predominantly yakatori ‘skewers’). The meat is sublime and fresh, served every which way including raw (the kids gave this and the gizzards a miss)…otherwise their plates were eaten bare. Further demonstrating, if you introduce children to great quality flavours without huge explanations they will generally give most things ago. I urge you to pre-book, the kitchen only prepares a set amount of food each evening, once it is gone it’s curtains…
Department Stores – I spoke of my love of the food-halls in Kyoto, Tokyo has the same array on a larger scale. Choose any and you will not be disappointed;
Takashimaya (make sure you arrive at 1000am for opening, all the staff greet you with deep bows, the closest I will come to feeling like Royalty…).
Mitsukoshi (really excellent bargains at sale time).
We visited the Isetan rooftop at Shinjuku and the kids loved the wide open space – rooftop gardens are the ideal place to take your department store food court finds as the basements rarely have seating.
Muji & Loft Cafe – You are either a lover of Muji stores, or you have not yet discovered them. For readers in the later category, they are vast outlets of cool – taking all that is fabulous about Japanese gadgets and knickknacks and ascribing a Scandinavian spin. Resulting in well priced homewares and fashion.
Essentially that was a round about way of saying you must visit one of their stores…oh and make sure you eat in the cafe – superb value and truly the best miso soup I have sampled – ever… Translation of items to English is light on the ground, nevertheless I recommend taking the lunch ‘plate’ option (approx. AUD$7) with soup, a choice of salads, and warm meal, rice and bakery item…the warm rolls are melt in your mouth good.
Yamoto Teppanyaki – With literally thousands of Teppanyaki Restaurants in Tokyo, this is one we particularly loved in Ginza. So good that we would return. They take reservations, I suggest you take advantage of this as the place was very busy. We choose a banquet menu which was great value and allowed sampling of many of the chefs specialities – a particular highlight was the Scallops. It is a bit tricky to find the location (you enter a lobby and take a lift to the restaurant), best to ask your hotel concierge for a map.
Ramen Noodle Shops – For the Japanese version of comfort food, any one of a vast selection in the laneways throughout the city will no doubt be a good option. Somehow we have always found ourselves in the vicinity of Senso-ji Temple at lunchtime – we return to Ramen Yoroiya.
bills Tokyo – An outdoor garden and great streetscape in Omotesando views make this a good option if you are craving tastes of home (Australia) – the corn fritters are always a popular option. Best to try for a late lunch as the queues are long earlier in the day.
Gontran Cherrier Shinjuku– on holidays I get cravings for croissants and good black coffee for breakfast. Tokyo has some of the best Patisserie in the world – this cafe is no exception. Try the wholemeal croissant, trust me when I say I still dream of it. Limited English spoken by staff, nevertheless the international language of caffeine needs no translation.
Le Cafe Doutor Ginza – I discovered this spot by accident – perched one floor above the main intersection in Ginza (directly opposite Mitsokoshi Department store)…Perfect for people watching through the floor to ceiling picture windows. Perfectly coiffed women sit in groups to chat, young workers grab breakfast and update their social media. The coffee is good, the cakes fresh and delicious, the facilities very clean. Take a seat about 9.00am as Tokyo comes to life.
Special Occasion Dining
Our holidays in Japan seem to coincide with one family birthday or another – special occasion dining has become part of our visits. These experiences we rate highly;
Afternoon Tea at The Park Hyatt Tokyo – incredible views
Tapas Molecular Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (this is one for the parents…) – fine dining at its most creative
Burgers (and other Grills) at Peter at the top of The Peninsula Hotel – excellent food, views and very welcoming to families
Christmas Menu at The Restaurant on the top of the swish Aman Hotel (we left the kids with the Grandparents for this treat)
Tokyo has a plethora of fabulous museums designed with kids in mind; we didn’t go to many as we had such wonderful mild winter days we spent our time strolling various neighbourhoods. However if a Tokyo Museum is what you are after, Tokyo Tourism offers good suggestions.
My Pick: ‘What to do in Tokyo with Kids’
The Backstreet Guides Walking Tour – yes it is a long day, however in the words of Dr Seuss ‘oh the places you will go…’. From breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Markets, fortune telling at the Shensoji Buddhist Temple, wandering the cobbled streets of ancient Yanaka, and ogling the strange sights of electric city Akihabara.
If you take a tour on your first day in Tokyo it will give you an overview of places to return, a great acclimatiser of Tokyo public transport and introduction to Japanese culture. Our kids were the only ones on our tour – however they kept up and loved the international mix of visitors and our gorgeous, knowledgable guides (I wouldn’t advise taking children younger than 10 years as there is lots of walking involved). AUD $137 per person (inclusive of breakfast, lunch and entrance fees). 9.00am-4.30pm.
Sky Hop – Open Air Bus Tour – if the walking tour isn’t for you then this is another option. We opted for this trip on our second family visit to Tokyo, there is a running commentary pointing out highlights. It allows for a good perspective of Tokyo that you don’t get on foot or on the Train – however without the direct guidance of a local you don’t get to the heart of the city. Good for little legs that need regular breaks.
Urban Adventures – Cultural Curiosities Tour – 3 hours wandering through back alleys and hidden shops that have stood for centuries selling handcrafted goods. The Grandparents and the 11 year old declared this afternoon as a holiday highlight – meeting with local store owners, nibbling on tasty traditional treats, from candies to crackers and buying handcrafted goods.
Tokyo Disney Sea – confession, this is one I leave to the Husband and kids (the shops beckon me…). The boys have returned each time we are in Tokyo. The journey is about 30 minutes by train from Tokyo Station, we pre book tickets through our hotel concierge which is advisable at busy times. The kids said it was cleaner and more fun than our Disney Land Anaheim experience – lots of dressed up fellow park goers (Harajuku girls). TRAVEL TIP – the Youngest found a trick during his online research. If you decide to have lunch in the park at Magellans then upon arrival ask to be seated in the ‘secret room’ (you have to push a hidden button in wall and you are escorted to a small separate dinning room); service and food good.
Cat Cafe – Hapineko, Shibuya – even if you are not a moggie lover this truly rates as one of life’s ‘do it once’ moments…Bookings need to be made at these highly sort after caves of cute. The premise behind the establishment of Cat Cafes is with the majority of Tokyoites dwelling in pet-free apartments, they afford the opportunity for them to mingle with a ‘pet’.
We had no idea what to expect so we asked our hotel concierge for a recommendation to a clean and kind venue, Hapineko is just that. Entry fee includes a drink and snack. Rules are firm – removal of shoes on arrival, no patting cats wearing markers, extra charges for accessories to entice cats to play (fox tails, cat food…). We booked 30 minutes (ample), our visit coincided with the tailend of the New Years holiday and the cats looked pooped. Eventually the boys managed to rouse the interest of a couple of kittens, then a regular visitor arrived and the cats flocked to her (bowls of food will do that…). I am glad we visited, can tick that off the list – no need to return twice. AUD $11 for 30 minutes.
Park Hyatt Tokyo – I have a bad habit of viewing landmarks from the ground as I cannot stand waiting too long in lines (yes this applied to the Eiffel Tower too…). Tokyo Sky Tree is an amazing structure from which to gaze at the city, however the view of the Tokyo skyline we enjoyed from the top of the Park Hyatt whilst supping on afternoon tea was equally spectacular (quite a delightful selection of pastries).
Akihabara – electronics paradise…This suburb embodies all that is different (and strange) about Tokyo. Neon lights, anime, electronics, Hello Kitty – youth culture and psychedelic Robot Shows. Some aspects are seedy (our tweens thought is was hysterical to see signs for six story sex toy shops…hmm); and I didn’t visit a Maid Cafe. Go for a stroll along the crazy streets, just be prepared to walk quickly past some sights if you have little ones in tow.
Aqua Park Shinagawa – recently refurbished and adjoining The Prince Hotel (discount on entry if you are a guest). A good ‘filler’ activity before dinner or on a rainy day.
Legoland Discovery Centre – an indoor theme park all about Lego. Small yet ‘lots of fun’, as reported by our tweenager (he was at least 5 years older than most other kids). It features a number of attractions and rides including a 4D cinema, laser shooting cars and hands on activities like the build and race test.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – for a fantastic view of Tokyo (Mount Fuji on a clear day), go up to the 45th floor, entry is free.
Bullet Trains (“Shinkansen”) – for a close-up look at the bulllet train buy a ticket from the Shinkansen Ticket Office in Tokyo Station (“niujyoken” platform ticket costs 130 yen and allows you onto the platform for up to 2 hours). Or take a trip to Kyoto!
Tokyo Greenspaces – vast amounts of fresh air and parks can be found around Tokyo. Spring and Autumn colours are naturally the most magnificent – our favourites are; Imperial Gardens (Ginza), Hama Rikyu Gardens (Shiodome – look for the Tea House for afternoon tea), Ikedayama park Shinagawa (gorgeous flowers February-July).
Karaoke – our teens enjoyed 1 hour of singing and dancing at Big Echo, outlets for this chain can be found throughout Tokyo.
Shopping is a national pastime in Japan, the selections I have listed do not even tickle the surface of opportunities to part with Yen. With young boys to amuse I sadly did not spend time in the myriad of handmade paper shops, fabric boutiques or ceramic stores. Next time…
Chicago – a chain of vintage clothing shops, I found amazing (well priced) Hermes silk scarves and vintage Kimono’s for the whole family. Their branch in Omotesando seems to have the largest selection – the website is hard to navigate as it is predominantly Japanese. I have included a link to Jenny’s Retro, Tokyo Vintage Guide for more detail.
Antique Mall Ginza – my youngest is obsessed with all things retro and antique, visiting local antique shops is high on any of our itineraries. As we were in Tokyo at the beginning of January many locations were closed, we stumbled upon the Antique Mall Ginza. If you love antique watches and Asian artefacts (and jewellery), you will be in heaven. Prices were not cheap, as you would expect with items of this quality, nevertheless I unearthed gorgeous circa 1940’s silk kimono and velvet ladies coat for approx. AUD $35 each at the Wing Kimono stall.
Tokyo Department Stores – all of them equally fabulous so choose the one closest to your accommodation and go wild. HINT: a good spot for any present buying is the scarf/handkerchief/bag departments…so much to choose from, lightweight and every item is exquisitely gift wrapped.
Uniqlo – yes every major city in the world boasts a Uniqlo – however the Ginza store rivals any other experience. For quality clothing for every member of the family – you must try their lightweight down products which are brilliant for travel.
Flea Markets & Retro Treasures – my youngest collects all manner of antiquities, fabulous for vintage Kimono, electronics, books and art.
Budget Shopping – from Daiso to 100 Yen Shops – no trip to Tokyo is complete without stocking up on stickers, quirky household products and excellent gifts.
I would love to hear of your own experiences to add to ‘Things to do in Tokyo with Kids – Travel to Japan’ (don’t forget to take a look at what we enjoyed in Kyoto).