The crazy, pulsating megalopolis that is Tokyo may seem a little overwhelming for little people, but try to put those commuter-crushing fears aside and embrace the neon city. Here are our five Top Picks: look out, too, for a full Destination Guide, coming soon.
Tokyo Toy Museum
Inside the classrooms of this unassuming elementary school in Shinjuku is a wonderland of wooden toys. About 10,000 different types of toys in fact, all from different parts of the globe. Toddlers can wander through the sweet cypress-smelling Toy Forest and jump into a bath of wooden balls, or fuss around the toy kitchens and dolls houses. Upstairs older kids will love the top floor with its impressive selection of board games and action toys (sans batteries!) – the giant foosball table is pretty popular. The Toy Factory is another highlight: where children can take part in toy-making workshops. There are plenty of ‘toy curators’ on hand to actively encourage kids to interact and play.
4-20 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; Yotsuya-Sanchome station (Marunouchi line), exit 2.
It’s easy to be under the impression that Tokyo is a super-future mass of shiny skyscrapers, neon lights, and heavy traffic but there are actually some incredible green spaces. Take a visit to Ueno Park, which aside from the lovely trees and the great people-watching, has an array of activities that will keep kids entertained for much of the day. While there’s plenty of museums, shrines and galleries within the park, children will no doubt make a beeline for Japan’s oldest zoo (kids under 12 are free) where they can see the giant pandas and get close to the critters in the petting zoo. There’s a small amusement park, plus you can take a boat out on the lotus-covered Shinobazu Pond, which during winter is visited by migratory birds. Ueno is also one of the liveliest places in Tokyo to view cherry blossoms when they are in bloom in March and April.
Also known as La Pupa Klubo, this long-running puppet group has had regular performances for over 80 years in their charming Shinjuku theatre, complete with miniature furniture and stage. Depending on the show the group use rod puppets, hand puppets, shadow puppets and traditional Japanese puppets. The performance schedule and tickets are available via the group’s website, uploaded in both Japanese and English.
Part playground and part hands-on gallery, the atmospheric Ghibli Museum showcases the fairytale world of animation great Hayao Miyazaki, who directed the Academy Award winning Spirited Away among other films. Explore the maze-like arrangement of passageways, staircases and mysterious doors, which were all designed especially for kids. Inside are displays of Studio Ghibli’s work, reproductions of its animated characters and a small theater that screens original short films. Tickets to the Ghibli must be purchased in advance, and you need to choose the exact time and date you plan to visit. Tickets are available within Japan at Lawson convenience stores (a bit of Japanese language needed to navigate the machine) or an easier option is buying them in your home country through a travel agent. Visit the website for more details. The Museum is about 20 minutes from Shinjuku. It’s then a 15 minute walk along the canal to the museum, or you can take a mini-bus which leaves every 20 minutes from the station. Combine a trip to the Ghibli with a wander through Inokashira Koen, a gorgeous park with swan boats on the lake, a small zoo and some cute cafés.
Mitaka station (JR Chuo Line)
National Children’s Castle
Controlled chaos is the words we would use to describe the five-storeys of super-duper fun at this play hall near Shibuya. Great for elementary/primary school aged kids or younger, there’s a music room, an art studio and a widely popular ‘playport’ jungle gym in the roof garden. You can even jump on a unicycle! Various programs are offered throughout the week including puppet shows, fairy tales, live music performances, and origami presentations.