Are you planning a Tokyo family trip? Check out this blog post to make the most of your time in Tokyo with kids beyond Disney theme parks.
Tokyo is the perfect city to visit with kids, clean, safe and easy to get around. A local love of cartoons and gaming means there is plenty for kids to enjoy. A surprising number of green spaces give little legs space to stretch and parents a space to relax.
TOKYO FAMILY TRIP BLOG POST:
This Tokyo itinerary with kids doesn’t include Disney. Tokyo Disney is a world class theme park. But child friendly holidays don’t need to include Disney parks.
Focus your time instead on the aspects of Tokyo that make it a unique destination and unlike any other city in the world. If you are in Tokyo for more time and want to add Disney to you Tokyo itinerary check out the links at the bottom of this post.
The following is a 5 night Tokyo itinerary that will give you a taste of the best of Tokyo. This includes 3 days of activities to allow time for travel.
HARAJUKU AND SHIBUYA
From Harajuku station head into the Yoyogi Park, a spacious forested area with the Meiji Shrine at its centre (under construction until 2020 so some parts are covered). Wide open paths are perfect for children to run and play and the park has a relaxing feel. The tall trees of the mature forest mute the city sounds and provide a soft dappled light.
On the other side of Harajuku station is the famous Takeshita shopping street. Here you will find trendy teenagers dressed to impress. Platform sneakers, white tights, tartan tutus and hair in pigtails, some are wearing more elaborate ‘cosplay’ outfits; dressed like their favourite movie or manga character.Planning a trip to Tokyo. Check out this post for the best family friendly itinerary and other great tips. Click To Tweet
While some of the costume shops along Takeshita street are a bit risqué in nature for children, there are plenty of interesting things to see. My kids were fascinated by the huge variety of elaborate outfits for dogs and begged to buy one for their uncle’s dog (he wouldn’t have been impressed). There are also dollar store style homeware and accessory stores with a lot of cute things you never knew you needed. Poop emoji toiletry bag anyone?
Takeshita street is also synonymous with Japanese crepes. A french style crepe stuffed with your choice of fruit, cream and chocolate sauce. Carefully crafted resin replicas look mouthwateringly realistic and make choosing your favourite easy. There are a number of sellers all down the street so no need to join the long queue at the first one you see.
Kiddyland is a multilevel toy shop located in Harajuku, visit it or avoid it, depending on your kids. We hardly ever buy things in toy shops so I think my kids see it like going to a museum, ie. you can look but not take things home.
You can jump back onto the train or walk to Shibuya.
Shibuya has a different vibe to Harajuku, flashing billboards decorate the sides of the buildings and you’ll find more of the high street stores in the area.
The highlight here is the ‘Barndance’ Shibuya crossing. Being one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world it attracts a lot of tourists, a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s fun to join in the barndance, probably much to the dismay of the commuters as well as watch from above. The Starbucks on the corner has a good vantage point but is popular spot with spectators. The train station also provides an excellent vantage point, and holds a confronting Hiroshima mural, but with gridded windows it’s not good for photos.
Finding family size accommodation can be a challenge in Tokyo, I’ve since come across AllTheRooms a website that gives you accommodation from many different sources.
VIEW TOKYO FROM ABOVE
Plan your time to get at least one view over Tokyo at sunset. There are a number of places to see Tokyo from above. Tokyo Tower and the Sky Tree are the two main ones.
We were staying near the World Trade centre and happened to be passing shortly before sunset so decided to go to the viewing deck here.
No queue, a quick elevator ride and less than $6 each the 40th floor 360deg panoramic deck gives a great view over Tokyo and on a clear day it is even possible to see Mount Fuji.
AKIHABARA ELECTRONIC CITY
People come to Akihabara to buy electronics, anime paraphernalia and for gaming. You’ll find multi-level buildings filled with floor after floor of “spacie parlour” games. My husband was almost squealing with excitement.
Split into sections with multiplayer games, traditional parlour games, live action shooting games, simple and more realistic driving and flying simulators. Hunt out the non-smoking areas since smoking is permitted and it gets pretty foggy in there.
We found some age appropriate games and had a lot of fun without spending too much money.
For something totally different from the futuristic vibe of Akihabara head to Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi a shopping and eating area that is build underneath a railbridge in an unused station. The stores here sell local and hand crafted products, leather, pottery, clothing, jewellery and glassware.
ASAKUSA AND HANAYASHIKI THEME PARK
Asakusa is a lovely area of Tokyo with a traditional feel of Edo era Japan. The low wooden buildings traditional for Asakusa line the Nakamise Shopping Street. This market street has been leading visitors to the Sensoji Buddhist shrine for centuries. Now mostly selling souvenirs the quality and variety of good on sale is good. Beautiful fans, silks, and chopsticks.
Asakusa is also home to the Tokyo Skytree, you can find out more about visiting the Skytree here.
The highlight on Asakusa for us was Hanayashiki, the oldest amusement park in Japan.
Hanayashiki opened in 1853. The amusement park was designed to maximise its tiny sight in downtown Tokyo. The rides seem to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Perfect for little legs that need a rest, minimal walking is needed between rides.
There are rides suitable for all ages but the park is best suited to preschoolers. Visitors pay an entrance fee and then buy tickets to exchange for rides. Or you can purchase a ‘Free Ride Pass’ for unlimited rides. One adult can ride for free when accompanying a child under 4 years old. The Space Shot was the highlight for us. Launching riders up to a brief, yet spectacular, view out over Asakusa and to the Tokyo Skytree.
There are a number of “ghost rides” throughout the park without age limits, exercise caution though, some of the zombie like creatures were extremely realistic and a bit too much for our sensitive children.
There is a self pedalled helicopter ride, small rollercoaster, fast spinning disk, ferris wheel, merry go round and many more rides.
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
Tsukiji Market opens for the Tuna Auctions at 5am, visitor numbers are restricted to 120 per day so even if you are there early enough you are not guaranteed a spot. Unless seeing the auction is a bucket list experience for you head to the market around 10am when the inner market opens to the public.
The outer open air market is a maze of small side streets lined with restaurants and stands selling fresh fruit, some seafood, kitchen implements and our favourite, fake resin food! We purchased a prawn nigiri for our play kitchen. White strawberries were in season when we visited, the expensive fruit are a springtime delicacy.
The market is a busy place with narrow lanes, I recommend leaving the stroller at home and instead using a baby carrier.
The wholesale seafood market opens to the public at 10am.
The climate controlled building was clean and more spacious than the outer market, there also wasn’t such a strong odour, as is sometimes present in fish markets. It is still a place of business so keep kids close and leave space for trolleys to pass.
The kids loved seeing the different varieties of seafood for sale, fresh tuna, crab, oysters, fish, sea urchin and even whale meat. Eating is not allowed in the market but you can purchase food and take it up the the roof terrace to picnic. We took some Tuna Sashimi and Oysters, it was fresh delicious and well priced (the Oysters cost about $1 each).
The market is closed on Sundays, holidays and some Wednesdays. It is moving to a new site in late 2018.
VISIT ONE OF THE MANY PARKS IN TOKYO
Spend some time in one of the many beautiful parks around Tokyo.
We were lucky enough to be in Tokyo in Cherry Blossom season so spent an entire afternoon relaxing and enjoying the Blossoms at Hama-rikyu Gardens.
Other beautiful parks in Tokyo include:
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden a short walk from Shinjuku Station with French, English and Japanese landscaping.
- Yoyogi Park, as mentioned before near Harajuku,
- Imperial Palace East Garden the free gardens hold the ruins on an Edo castle
- Ueno Park, Tokyo’s most well known park which is also home to museums, a zoo, shrine and hosts a cherry blossom celebration in the spring.
FAQ FOR YOUR JAPAN TRIP:
1. Should I hire a portable Wifi device?
Free Wifi is still not common place in Japan and having access to the internet to find your way around makes travel in Japan much easier. Just order your device online and pick it up at the airport when you arrive and you drop into into the post of a drop off point when you leave. Multiple devices can also be connected at the same time. We used Ninja Wifi and I asked them for a discount for my readers:
Use the coupon code: BestWifiJapan10 valid until 2019/12/31. Click here for terms and conditions.
2. What transport pass should I get?
Consider purchasing a JR pass, this is a train pass that lasts 7 or 10 days and allows you to use the subway, trains and Shinkansen (bullet trains). You need to purchase the pass before you enter Japan so be sure to do this a few weeks in advance.
There are online calculators can can use to work out if purchasing the JR pass is the most economical way to travel. It is certainly convenient so unless you get a significant saving by purchasing individual tickets then I would recommend it.
3. I’m not doing enough trips to justify a JR pass is there a cheaper alternative?
If you are not planning on taking the Shinkansen, bullet train then buying a Pismo or Suica card is very convenient. The card can be purchased at the subway station, there is a refundable deposit, load the card with credit and then swipe the card as you enter the station and it will calculate the fare for you. You can find out more about these cards here.
4. What is the best website or app for find public transport routes in Japan?
The Hyperdia app is the most popular public transit app available in English. The great thing about Hyperdia app is that you can filter the results to exclude the Nozomi and Mizuho trains which are the lines not included on the JR pass.
5. Are credit cards accepted everywhere in Japan or should I carry cash?
For such a technologically savvy country, surprisingly many places still don’t accept credit card or EC cards. ATMs at the airport and major train stations usually accept western cards and you can withdraw cash. For example there was only one ATM machine at Kyoto that would accept our card, we were directed there by the local tourist information centre. Carry enough cash to last you until you are at your next major destination.