15 Jan Tokyo with kids – our guide to a family holiday
Our first trip to Tokyo with kids was with Fletcher when he was one and a half. We returned to the city almost exactly 12 months later. On our most recent Tokyo trip, Fletcher was four and we now had baby Declan who was nine months old.
There is so much to Tokyo that even after three trips we have barely scraped the surface. This city is incredibly diverse. There are the areas that are well known for having highrises, being fast paced, anime-filled, modern Tokyo. Then there are shrines, temples and preserved neighbourhoods that show an insight into ancient times. Tokyo also has a number of fantastic parks and gardens around the city.
Here is Our guide to Tokyo with kids.
What to do in Tokyo with kids.
Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea
The obvious and ultimate choice in entertainment for kids. Tokyo Disneyland was the first of its kind to open outside of the United States. Tokyo DisneySea is a Disney theme park with a water theme. It is unique to Tokyo and is said to be more “grownup” then Disneyland.
We have been to Tokyo Disneyland twice. On our recent trip, the day we had tickets, it poured rain! It was such a horrible day, weather-wise. The rain was consistent all day and the wind meant it was impossible to keep dry. It was also the only day that our four-year old didn’t whine, not even once! He walked around, in his Mickey poncho and had an absolutely amazing time, enjoying the magic of Disney.
Official website: http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/tdl/
If your kids have seen Studio Ghibli movies then a visit to the museum would be sure to impress. There are displays of artwork, examples of how animations are made and even a life-size Catbus for children to play on. The museum also has a small theater showing a short film made by Hayao Miyazaki.
At 2.5, Fletcher enjoyed the museum but tired quickly so our time was cut a bit short. I am sure now that he is older and loves a lot of the movies, he would never want to leave. Check out my post on our visit and info on buying tickets here.
Visit department stores
Tokyo has many department stores so you won’t have a hard time finding one. Most have a basement level with a grocery store type set-up. There are pre-packed meals and amazing fancy desserts. One or more levels will be filled with various types of sit down restaurants, this can be fun to look at all the plastic meals displayed out front.
Department stores are a great way to get out of the rain. We found most have a floor that is particularly great when travelling with a baby or child. One day to escape the rain we entered a Tokyu Hands and found along with children’s clothes and toys the floor had a baby room for feeding and changing. Fletcher had fun playing with a train table and looking at all the different toys.
Eat at a themed cafe
We have visited Cafe de Miki with Hello Kitty in Himeji but are yet to experience a theme cafe in Tokyo. There are the known cat cafes as well as other animals now including hedgehogs. There are Alice in Wonderland restaurants, the Kawaii Monster Cafe and there are always temporary cafes popping up.
Look around Tokyo Station’s Character Street
We have been here with Fletcher when he was 2.5 and 4 years old. This place was definitely a winner with him both times. You are wondering why a kid would find a station so interesting? well it’s what’s inside. Tokyo Station has sections such as, kitchen street, Ramen street and the main attraction for kids, character street. An area filled with themed shops. Fletcher loves the Plarail shop which has play trains set up. Other stores include Pokemon, Hello Kitty and my personal favourite, Donguri Garden. This store sells Studio Ghibli merchandise. Tokyo Station’s Character Street is a fun place to see a heap of characters popular in Japan.
See the city’s tallest buidings
Tokyo Skytree stands at 634 metres tall. It is much more than just a broadcasting tower. The area surrounding it is called Tokyo Skytree City. There is a shopping and entertainment complex with many shops and restaurants as well as an aquarium. Tokyo Skytree has two observation decks, shop, cafe and restaurant.
Located close to Asakusa, the Skytree can be seen from Sensoji Temple. It is a nice 20 minute walk from the temple to Tokyo Tower across the Sumida River.
Tokyo Tower is 333 metres high and stands in the centre of Tokyo. It is modeled after the Eiffel Tower, however, air safety regulations means the Tokyo version is a striking shade of orange. The tower’s main observatory is 150 metres high and a special observatory at 250 metres can be accessed at an extra cost. Below the tower there are souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants as well as a manga theme park. The tower’s mascot characters are rather amusing.
When viewing Tokyo Tower, walk a short distance to Zojoji Temple which dates back to 1393. From the temple grounds, Tokyo Tower is visible. This is a classic image that shows the diversity of the city.
View Tokyo from above
Although we have been to the base and viewed each of the buildings above, we haven’t actually entered either of them. We are tight, so opted for the free view. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building has an observatory in each of its two towers. The observatories are 202 metres high and they are FREE. There are windows around the tower that offer wonderful views over the city. During a clear day we were able to spot Mount Fuji in the distance.
Visit some parks and gardens
Tokyo may be a massive metropolitan filled with high rises but it is also full of many gorgeous landscape gardens and spacious green parks. Fletcher discovered a love for Japanese gardens on our recent trip, his main reason was seeing large Koi fish swimming in the ponds.
Shinjuku Gyoen is a short walk from Shinjuku station. It has a history dating back to 1603. The large park is divided into three different gardens. A traditional Japanese landscape garden that has ponds, bridges and a Taiwan Pavilion. We entered too close to closing time and didn’t get to see the English garden or the French garden. Shinjuku Gyoen is popular during cherry blossom season and also has a number of trees that give lovely colours during Autumn.
Ueno Park is full of things to keep you busy. Inside the park you will find shrines and temples, five museums, a Starbucks and a small children’s amusement park. There is also a zoo but I am not a fan of small zoos with concrete cages so we have not visited. During our first time in Tokyo we decided on the National Science Museum. Fletcher liked seeing the mounted animals but we didn’t find it to be worth our time. We should have chosen the Tokyo National Museum as it features items culturally relevant to Japan.
We revisited the park this year with my parents, mainly to let the kids run around and for Fletcher to enjoy the amusement park, Ueno Kodomo Yuen. You purchase tickets from a vending machine inside that you then hand over to the ride attendants. It is fairly old and some smaller attractions look like their days are over but Fletcher had fun going on the rides which were well suited for a four-year old.
There is also a small playground, water fountain and a Starbucks in the park.
There are so many more parks and gardens that we are yet to discover. In our three trips to Tokyo we have managed to not enter Yoyogi Park. It is one of Tokyo’s largest and is a popular hang out spot. One year it was closed due to mosquitos carrying dengue fever. I am embarrassed to say on our recent trip we couldn’t find it as we entered the wrong area.
Explore the different neighbourhoods
Tokyo is divided into several wards and each has something different to offer. Walk down Takeshita Dori in Harajuku for pop culture stores and famous crepes. Harajuku is also where you will find Kiddyland, a store selling various character themed items and souvenirs. See the statue of loyal dog Hachiko outside Shibuya station and while you’re there, watch the swarm of people at Shibuya’s ‘scramble crossing’. Akihabara is a world of anime, manga and computer/gaming stores. There are a few ‘adult’ items and stores around so just be aware. Asakusa gives a more traditional Japan feel with Sensoji temple a main attraction. These are the areas most people know about, there are several other neighbourhoods to just stroll around. We walked around Kichijoji for ages after visiting Ghibli Museum.
There are heaps of different things to see so just strolling around can be fun. Our first two trips with Fletcher aged 1.5 and 2.5 we would lay him back in the stroller and walk while he napped. Sometimes he slept for two hours so we would be worn out but we seen so much of Tokyo this way.
Tokyo Dome City
Tokyo Dome City was on our list but we are yet to make it there. It is a large entertainment complex that houses the Tokyo Dome baseball Stadium. Tokyo Dome City has an amusement park, a spa complex with hot spring pools, a hotel, shops and restaurants. There is also other entertainment such as a bowling alley, skating arena, space museum and more. I have always had ASOBono! on my list for a rainy day. It is a large indoor playground with themed areas including one for babies.
Each attraction of Tokyo Dome City has an entrance fee, see the website here.
Ok, I have a post about having a bad day in Odaiba but to be fair it was a National holiday and a bad restaurant experience affected my mood. Odaiba is on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. There are several shopping malls each one with a different theme. You will find Tokyo Joypolis, Legoland discorvery center and a ramen theme park. Venus Fort is a shopping mall in the Palette Town area. It’s design resembles a medieval European village. Also in Palette Town is a Toyota showroom, a 115 metre tall ferris wheel and an entertainment complex with a large game arcade. There are two science museums in Odaiba and a hot spring theme park. Odaiba is also home to many architecturally interesting buildings.
Getting to Odaiba
The journey over to Odaiba could be fun in itself. On a normal day, The Yurikamome would offer great views as you cross over Tokyo’s Rainbow bridge. It is an elevated train with no driver and you can stand at the very front. Unfortunately the day we went, it was crazy busy so we didn’t get to enjoy it as we were squashed in. On our way back we took the Rinkai line from Tokyo Teleport Station which despite its name, is just an underground railway.
Another option for getting to Odaiba is by boat. There are a few different lines available but the most popular is on the Himiko boat which has panoramic windows. See here for information on boat rides.
It is also possible to walk across the Rainbow Bridge into Odaiba.
Ride/watch the trains
Most kids are interested in trains and Tokyo certainly has plenty of them. Ride the Yamanote line which loops around Tokyo’s major spots. Find a spot in he station and watch all the different trains go by. If you aren’t riding a Shinkansen during your trip, you could still view them coming and going.
Go on a day trip
If you are in Tokyo for a while, consider taking a break from the city to explore some of its surroundings. Some of the more popular destinations such as Nikko or the Fuji Five Lakes are 2 hours from Tokyo which can be difficult to achieve in a day with kids. We chose to visit the closer area of Kamakura and Enoshima. It was great to explore a different area, we felt a little short of time but we could have planned our day better. Another option for a day trip less than an hour from central Tokyo is Mount Takao. This gives you a chance to enjoy nature with hiking trails leading up the mountain. There is also a cable car that runs half way up. Read our full day trip post here.
Getting around Tokyo with kids
The Yamonote line circle’s all of Tokyo’s major spots in a loop. Hop on and off where you like.
There are other lines as well as subways connecting the different areas. Trains always run on time and stations are clean. The convenience of Tokyo’s trains is one of the reasons we find travelling the city easy with kids.
Tips for Tokyo trains with kids
- Avoid peak hours in the early morning and evenings.
- Push your stroller straight on. We learnt this from watching the locals do it. The Yamanote line now has designated spots to stand with strollers.
- Bring entertainment and snacks for long rides. Toddlers soon get bored with sitting on the train.
- Get an IC card. So much easier to scan a card on entry and exit rather than bother with tickets.
It may be a large city but many districts are next to each other and walking between them is definitely possible. This was more difficult when Fletcher was four but when he was younger we walked a lot with him in the stroller. On our recent trip we stayed in an Airbnb house that required us to walk to surrounding stations.
Tokyo Taxi rides are expensive and we have so far managed to avoid them. A taxi could be handy for getting to and from the station with luggage.
Buses connect Tokyo with outlying areas. We used a highway bus to get to Tokyo Disneyland when we turned up to a train station during peak hour and found it would have been unsafe to squash in with our kids.
Equipment for young kids
We have found both a stroller and a baby carrier useful when travelling in Tokyo with our young children. Strollers can be a little painful when in crowded areas, in small stores and in train stations. We did use it for walking long distances and fully reclined it for Fletcher to sleep in. When choosing our Maclaren stroller we kept travelling in mind. It is lightweight, folds umbrella style and has a shoulder strap which makes it easy to carry when not in use. Click here to see the stroller we use.
Our baby carrier was handy for places that a stroller just wouldn’t have worked. We were able to go to Tsukiji Fish market with Fletcher strapped in safely against one of us. When shopping in busy small stores a stroller would have been impossible. Both Fletcher at 18 months old and Declan at 9 months old would nap while in the carrier. We had them on our fronts facing into us which made them feel secure. I wished we had a more breathable carrier during our summer trip, like this Ergo one here.
When Fletcher was 2.5 years old it, he was far too independent to want to be strapped to us. He had an abundance of energy and would walk and run around and then we would lay him down in the stroller and walk while he slept.
What to eat
There are many options for eating with kids in Tokyo. We find the easiest to be getting meals from the amazing convenience stores. We also make sure to carry fruit for snacks which we buy from either supermarkets or smaller grocers. Read my post on eating with kids in Japan.
What area of Tokyo to stay in with kids
A common question from people travelling to Tokyo with kids is what area is best to stay in. There is no particular area that is better as the city is so well-connected. Staying near the Yamanote line would be best, especially for a first time visit. This will ensure you can easily commute to the popular areas. We have always been close enough to Shinjuku Station that we can walk with our luggage to get the Narita Express to the airport on our way home.
Some people love staying in Asakusa which is understandable as there are a few things in the area. Here is where you will find Sensoji Temple, Kappabashi shopping street and Sumida River park. It is also a nice walk across the river to the Tokyo Skytree area. We have so far preferred to be close to the areas of Shibuya and Harajuku as we love the energy of these parts.
Choosing family accommodation in Tokyo
It can be difficult to find hotel rooms in Tokyo large enough for families. Accommodation choices are obviously determined by budget as well as what you find comfortable.
On our first trip to Tokyo, we bed shared with 18 month old Fletcher. We booked a king room at Hotel Century Southern Tower. It is in an excellent location, right near an exit of Shinjuku Station. We kept watch and booked during a promotion.
Once Fletcher was older, we wanted him to have his own bed and chose a 2-bedroom apartment through Airbnb. It was a short walk from Yoyogi Station. We enjoyed having an apartment and loved the area.
In 2016 we were now a group of 4 adults, a four-year old and a nine month old. I wanted a kitchen so I could prepare meals for the baby. We again went with Airbnb although we were hesitant as there were issues surrounding it in Japan. We chose to book a house owned by the host and her family. It was a narrow 3-story house amid a residential area. The nearest station was Nishi-Shinjuku and we were still within walking distance to Shinjuku Station.
I believe a house is a safer option for a Tokyo Airbnb. A lot of apartments are sub-leased and the owner of the property can indicate to tenants that Airbnb is not allowed. Other residents in the apartment may not like having Airbnb guests in the building and make complaints. Both of these reasons can see bookings cancelled.
Here is the link to the house we stayed in https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/6953234
Tokyo with kids
We love going to Japan and Tokyo is particularly great with kids. It is a low-crime city and the convenience of excellent public transport makes Tokyo easy to navigate, especially when travelling with kids. There are so many different things to experience, Tokyo will always be interesting.
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