A city where futuristic technology sits side by side with ancient culture, Japan’s Tokyo is as traditional as it is innovative, and for families, one of the world’s most captivating destinations.
A city of dizzying extremes, Tokyo will leave visitors dazzled and delighted. Mega-crossings, jam-packed subways and blinding neon-lit strips lead the way to serene 1000-year-old temples and gardens, perfect for kids who feel like frolicking in the grass.
If the kids want to climb and slide, Tokyo has no shortage of great kids’ playgrounds. But, like the city itself, they are far from ordinary. Toyosu Park, Asukayama Park and Setagaya Park are three of the best, with Toyosu offering train rides on a mini steam locomotive, pedal karts, a kid-sized shanty town, skateboard park and an outdoor pool, alongside its swings and slides.
Tradition and technology
The contrast of new and old, modern and traditional, is everywhere you go in Tokyo. Take a 10-minute walk from the heaving Shinjuku Station (the world’s busiest station with 3.4 million people passing through each day) and you’ll find yourself in Shinjuku Gyoen garden’s 58 hectares of parklands sipping tea in a traditional tea house. Steps from the futuristic Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest tower at 634 metres, is in Asakusa where you can walk in the footsteps of monks and geisha and visit pretty Sensō-ji, Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple. Find a little Zen among the colour of Harajuku at the tranquil Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken.
Museums and more
Tokyo’s world-class museums will delight kids of all ages. The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, a museum of historic Japanese buildings, is popular with kids keen to learn about traditional Tokyo, while wannabe warriors can visit the Samurai Museum. The Tokyo Toy Museum houses toys and games from around the world, and anime fans will love the quirky Ghibli Museum, a multimedia monument to the art of Japan's famous animation studio. But tech-loving tykes should head straight for the sprawling National Museum of Nature & Science and the hands-on and interactive Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science & Innovation).
Tokyo is also home to epic theme parks. Thrill-seekers can head to Tokyo Joypolis, an ultra-modern indoor amusement centre with a rollercoaster and virtual-reality experiences. Little ones will love the opportunity to build worlds and racers, plus see Tokyo in miniature, at LEGOLAND Discovery Center. Those keen to meet Hello Kitty and her perky pals should head to Sanrio Puroland, an indoor theme park entirely devoted to the kawaii cat.
Eat, sleep and explore
Traditional Japanese delights – including conveyor-belt sushi, known as kaiten sushi, steaming bowls of noodles and crispy ka’arage chicken – are almost universally loved by kids. Even more appealing are Tokyo’s modern themed restaurants, where you might find yourself being served by ninjas, falling down a rabbit hole into Alice’s Wonderland or watching robots battle aliens.
Tokyo’s quirky themes don’t stop at dinner. While location and price are what most families look for in a hotel, in Tokyo it is all about pop culture. Whether you want to sleep under the gaze of a giant Godzilla, stay in a hotel room swathed in images of Hello Kitty, Snoopy or Gundam, or go traditional in a Japanese-styled inn (ryokan), Tokyo has something for every family.
This article appeared in volume 54 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.