A fascinating mix of futuristic and traditional influences, the bustling city of Tokyo is an inviting destination for families with little ones in tow. The city is clean, safe and easy to get around, with engaging spots — from theme parks to interactive museums — that appeal to travelers of all ages.
Read on for some useful tips and must-see attractions that will help travelers with kids get the most out of a trip to Tokyo.
The expansive city may seem overwhelming at first, but the distinct neighborhoods are connected through an efficient metro system. Keep in mind that many stations don’t have elevators, so an easy-to-fold-up stroller will be helpful (you can rent one in Japan here!). In terms of getting from place to place, downloading a navigation app on your phone (like Google Maps) is invaluable, indicating the most direct subway routes and even real time train arrivals.
Places to Eat
Tokyo’s comprehensive food scene means that there’s something for everyone, satisfying even the fussiest eaters. Ramen noodles, tempura (fried veggies and fish), yakitori (grilled meats), tonkatsu-don (rice bowls with fried meat on top), onigiri (triangular rice buns) and vegetable sushi are just a few reliable stand-bys. Plus, convenience stores abound with a range of choices for quick snacks, including many of those listed above. Western food favorites are also popping up across the city, especially bakeries with some of the best breads and pastries in the world.
Photo credit: VancityH
Pop into some of the many themed restaurants across Tokyo, including the psychedelic Kawaii Monster Café, and character cafes like Pompompurin Café Harajuku where cute illustrated creatures come to life in the form of miniature cakes, snacks and more. The rainbow food trend in the city’s Harajuku neighborhood thrills most kids (and grown-ups!), with rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches at Le Shiner and oh-so-swirly cotton candy at Totti Cotton Factory.
Families looking for a day trip away from the city center will find no shortage of entertainment at an array of theme parks. Japan boasts two side-by-side Disney resorts, Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. And while the Japanese properties share many similarities with other Disney parks worldwide, they also offer visitors unique rides (like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, the first trackless ride), different character costumes and regional foods, like Mickey’s shrimp tempura. DisneySea is completely unique, with a conceptual layout (similar to the idea of Epcot) that’s separated into seven famous ports.
For a theme park experience that’s totally unique to Japan, travelers can try Sanrio Puroland, a world devoted to Hello Kitty that’s located about one hour from Tokyo Station. Well-suited to families with young kids, the indoor park specializes in energetic live shows — think Hello Kitty and her friends dressed in kimonos telling classic children’s tales — rather than thrill rides. Families have plenty of chances for photo opps, given the meet-and-greets with dozens of characters, including Pompompurin, Daniel and Cinnamonroll, and the twice-daily colorful Miracle Gift parade, complete with plenty of singing, dancing and audience participation.
Even the best little travelers can get antsy, so leaving time the relax and play in nature is always a great choice. The expansive grounds surrounding Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, home to the Emperor of Japan, are open to the public (the inner palace grounds generally don’t allow visitors, but guided tours of the rest of the palace grounds are offered daily, except Sundays and Mondays, in both English and Japanese). Families are also welcome to explore and have a picnic in the Imperial Palace East Garden, a traditional Japanese-style garden surrounded by moats and stone walls. For older kids, consider borrowing one of the free shared bikes available on Sundays and loop the paths throughout the park.
You can also hop onto a swan-shaped pedal boat with the kids in the central pond in Inokashira Park, another picnic-perfect location west of the city center. The wooded park, accessible via subway off the Kichijoji Station stop, is known for its pink sakura (cherry blossom) trees in the springtime, walking paths and ducks. The whimsical Ghibli Museum is also located on the grounds and showcases the work of the famous Japanese animation studio.
For weather-safe options, check out museums like the Tokyo Toy Museum with its indoor play spaces and the Samurai Museum, an interactive experience in Shinjuku that shares over 800 years of history in a hands-on way. Guided tours are included in the cost of admission, led by enthusiastic, English-speaking tour guides prepared to answer questions from curious little visitors. Kids will love the sword fighting demonstrations and the chance to dress up in full samurai regalia and pose like the feudal warriors.
Another unique, Tokyo experience is a visit to an animal cafe. These venues offer patrons the chance to look, pet or feed different kinds of animals. The Hutch bunny café in Asakusa, known for its calm environment, is a favorite with kids who might not be used to holding animals. The knowledgeable staff will help kids hold different bunnies and pick out their favorite for uninterrupted playtime. The cuddly Chiku Chiku café in Shibuya has a similar vibe, but with hedgehogs instead of bunnies.