If your idea of a holiday doesn’t include a few days schlepping around a capital city, we’d urge you to reconsider when it comes to Japan. This thronging, buzzing city is jam packed with family-friendly activities, from the weird and wacky to the absolutely unmissable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
From the neon-lit shopping districts and towering skyscrapers to delightful green spaces known for their cherry blossom and maples, Tokyo’s main tourist districts of Harajuku, Ginza, Asakusa, Shibuya and Shinjuku are as diverse as they are fascinating. There are plenty of different things to see and do that will leave you equally slack -jawed with awe and wonder.
Whilst most people exploring Tokyo with kids spend a couple of days here, you could easily spend a week and still not see everything. Here’s what we think are the top twelve things to do in the most buzzing capital city on the planet.
(Jump straight to our Japan family holidays section if you want to see itineraries and pricing)
Tokyo with kids – Our Top 12 things to do
1. Walk across the busiest crossing in the world
There are many claims as to which is the busiest zebra crossing in the world but Shibuya probably takes the top spot. Just as The Beatles made Abbey Road’s crossing a ‘must cross’ for music lovers, so joining the throng here at Shibuya when travelling to Tokyo with kids is another.
2. Experience Kid Heaven in Odaiba
Originally built to house a defensive fort, Odaiba, on the artificial island of Tokyo Bay is now the epicentre of kid-friendly heaven. Wild, wacky and down-right weird, you enter the complex via an illuminated Rainbow Bridge and get around on a driverless monorail. En route, you’ll spot a life-size Gundam robot from the TV series, a miniature Lady Liberty and, the latest must-visit attraction, teamLab Borderless, a completely immersive and interactive digital museum where walls move and, as ours did, minds metaphorically explode. For the ultimate in virtual reality amusement parks don’t miss SEGA Joypolis.
Elsewhere, there’s the Legoland Discovery Centre for younger visitors to Tokyo, the Panasonic Center (packed with futuristic gizmos and Nintendo games) and Miraikan, the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.
3. Enjoy the ultimate Ninja experience
As entertaining as it is immersive, the action never stops at this high-drama dinner and show experience in Ninja Akasaka. Once you’ve stepped over the threshold of the unassuming back door, you’ll be escorted to your private ‘hideout’ (table) before watching the theatrics unfold between courses. It’s a 10 out of 10 experience which will keep your entire family entertained for the entire duration. Easily the most memorable dining experience you’ll ever have.
4. Eat Sushi… for breakfast
With sushi being one of Japan’s most delicious and well-known cuisines, you can’t get a more authentic experience than visiting Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market. While Tokyo’s main seafood market moved to its brand new complex in Toyosu in October 2018, the outer market at Tsukiji remains open and a hive of activity. The streets and stalls of the outer market are well worth a wander, with lots of interesting local shops (and weird and wonderful seafood) to see.
With most restaurants opening early in the morning, this is also a great way to take advantage of any jetlag! We’ve exclusively arranged a three-course traditional sushi menu in one of the most popular restaurants in the area to provide you with a meal you’ll never forget. And remember, sushi refers to the rice, not the fish, so they can cater for those who prefer their seafood cooked.
5. Drink a ‘selfieccino’
Tucked away in the heart of Ginza is the showroom-cum-café at Nissan Crossing. Here Nissan display their concept cars to show what the future of motoring will be like, kind of like a Top Gear crystal ball. After a quick glimpse of the motoring future, head to the upstairs cafe for a coffee of the future and enjoy a coffee with your own image ‘printed’ in the foam. It’s all rather surreal but the kids will love it!
6. Kiddy Land
The clue, of course, is in the name, and when visiting Tokyo with kids, you’ll agree the moniker is well-deserved. Kiddy Land is packed with five floors of tax-free toy shopping, from the quirky and nostalgic to the latest children’s must-have. Located in Omotesando Road in Harajuku and dating back to 1950, your kids will delight in finding just about every toy, puzzle or collectible on the planet, from the ubiquitous Marvel and Star Wars characters to Hello Kitty and Pokémon merchandise. It’s hectic and understandably popular, but you’ll all feel like kids in the proverbial sweet shop.
7. Chill out in Inokashira Park
Exploring Tokyo with kids can be quite manic so if you and your family need to escape the mayhem, head to Inokashira Park for some well-deserved R & R in stunning surrounds. Whilst not as manicured as some Japanese gardens, you’ll feel more relaxed as your kids tear around this green oasis, stretching their legs, probably unaware of the beauty and care taken in curating the many plant species and trees here. If you’ve younger children to keep entertained, we recommend hiring one of the swan boats that sail on the pond, great fun on a sunny day.
The park is also where you’ll find the Ghibli Museum, a tribute to Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli’s director Kayao Miyazaki helped to design the museum, insisting it should be a place where children would be welcomed as equals. From watching animated shorts in the theatre to checking out the 16ft robot soldier and stuffed Cat Bus, families will delight at the quirky details here.
8. Touch the clouds at the Tokyo Skytree
Well, maybe not ACTUALLY touch the clouds, but this towering skyscraper which pierces Tokyo’s skyline is so high it feels like you COULD. At 2,080 feet, the Tokyo Skytree is taller than Tokyo Tower and not surprisingly, the tallest structure in Japan. Whether viewing from afar or walking around the 1,480 feet glass encased skywalk which encircles the tallest structure in Japan (vertigo sufferers, look away now), you’ll be wowed at this feat of modern engineering which opened in 2012. Book tickets in advance through us or arrive early morning to get one of the 10,000 tickets available each day. A definite must on any itinerary in Tokyo with kids.
9. Tokyo Disneyland
A place which needs no introduction, Tokyo Disneyland is made up of two separate theme parks. The first is the eponymous Disneyland and the second is Tokyo DisneySea, which opened in 2001, nearly 25 years after the original. Don’t miss the night-time Electrical Parade Dreamlights, which features characters like Frozen’s Elsa, illuminated in LED. Or DisneySea’s gondola ride to Fantasmic! a water-based extravaganza where Mickey Mouse battles a life-size dragon with lasers, fire and other awe-inspiring special effects. Older children may have grown out of this but younger children will love it.
10. Learn about Samurais in Shinjuku
Just an 8-minute walk from Shinjuku station, you’ll discover the Samurai Museum which explains everything you need to know about these honour-bound feudal warriors throughout their 800-year history. From interactive music, costume and sword fighting displays, anyone travelling to Tokyo with kids can’t fail to be inspired by this ancient class whose spirit still permeates modern Japan today. Guided tours are included in the price of admission and be prepared for the ultimate Samurai photo opportunity…
11. Hang out in the Kitsch capital, Harajuku
This area of Shibuya district is probably the city’s most famous quarter. Its shops, restaurants and galleries are at the very heart of pop culture and a must do on a visit to Tokyo with kids. The epicentre of teen fashion for decades and THE place for kawaii-cute and Lolita girls, your family will enjoy people watching every bit as much as window shopping. This is also the place where you can pick up giant rainbow candy floss. Sublime and saccharine, what’s the quirkiest thing you’ll see here?
12. Step back in time at the Meiji Shrine
Meiji is Tokyo’s most famous shrine, dedicated to the late 19th century emperor who opened Japan up to the West. This is an inspiring, uplifting and spiritual place to visit, and less of a tourist trap than Senso-jii, the big Buddhist temple in Asakusa. The 12 metre Torri gate which marks the 200-acre park’s entrance is made of 1,500-year-old cypress, and there’s another closer to the shrine itself. After stopping at the washing station to cleanse hands and mouth, you can write wishes, as locals do, and attach them to the prayer wall. The park and shrine are free of charge.
More about visiting Tokyo with kids
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We always love to hear from families who have travelled with us, so please do send us your photos and reviews of exploring Tokyo with kids.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel