Tokyo is a great destination for families, with many activities and attractions geared just towards them. Japan even has a fun custom for remembering the places you visit that’s a hit with children—a table or counter with an inkpad and stamp near the entrance to museums, shrines, temples and other attractions, so be sure to give your little ones a small notebook so they can collect stamps to commemorate their trip. The only caveat about families traveling in Tokyo is the crowded trains and subways during morning rush hour (weekdays until 9am). If possible, plan your outings after rush hour, but if you must, there are special compartments for women and children weekday mornings until 9am. Other than that, one of the great joys of being in Tokyo is that it’s one of the safest cities in the world.
To help your family grasp the enormity of sprawling Tokyo, one of the first things you might want to do is visit Tokyo Tower, erected in 1958 and the capital’s most iconic landmark. In addition to two observatories, it has souvenir shops, a small aquarium and a game/theme park with simulator rides, a slingshot gallery and more.
You’ll also want to visit some of Tokyo’s top sights (see the Tokyo in 2 Days itinerary), but good to know is that two of the biggest destinations—Asakusa and Ueno—also have children’s attractions you can combine with the must-sees. In Asakusa, near famous Sensoji Temple, there’s Hanayashiki, a delightfully old-fashioned amusement park with a kiddie Ferris Wheel, carousel, roller coaster and other with rides geared toward younger kids. Ueno Park is home to the Tokyo National Museum with its unparalleled collection of art and antiquities, but you can also see pandas, gorillas and other animals at Japan’s oldest zoo, gaze upon dinosaurs and a Japanese mummy at the National Museum of Nature and Science, and learn how townspeople lived more than 100 years ago at the Shitamachi Museum.
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How common people lived during the days of the shogun and samurai is even more extensively portrayed at the Fukagawa Edo Museum, with almost a dozen full-scale tenements, merchants’ stores and other wooden buildings arranged in a village setting and enhanced with audio-visual effects. It’s off the beaten track, but worth it. If you have anime (Japanese animation) fans in your family, you might also want to make the trek to the Ghibli Museum, an architectural wonder that mirrors the creativity expressed in Hayao Miyazaki’s films and describes the anime process. Note that visiting the Ghibli Museum, located outside Tokyo, requires tickets be purchased in advance.
More easily accessible for anime fans is Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba, an indoor amusement center devoted to the Gundam action figure and featuring 3D movies, virtual reality experiences and a display of every Gundam model ever made. There are also many other family diversions in Odaiba, including showrooms for Toyota and Panasonic, shopping malls and Miraikan—National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, with imaginative displays that cover everything from stem cell research and the living quarters of the International Space Station to noninvasive surgery. But for teenagers, the biggest Odaiba hit is probably Tokyo Joypolis, a large indoor theme park with 3- and 4-D virtual thrill rides, horror houses and more.
Of course, the big name in amusement parks is Disney. Tokyo has not only a Disneyland but also DisneySea, the only such park in the world and offering unique rides and attractions based on the themes of ocean myths and legends, laid out in a gorgeous setting and appealing especially to teenagers and adults. If parks rather than theme parks are your thing, Tokyo has plenty, including Shinjuku and Yoyogi parks. Tokyo’s biggest park, however, is Kasai Rinkai Park, located on the Tokyo Bay waterfront and offering hiking trails, an observation deck, Japan’s largest Ferris wheel, bird sanctuaries and, best of all, Tokyo Sea Life Park, Tokyo’s largest aquarium.
Finally, there’s the bustling neighborhood of Harajuku, a teenager’s paradise filled with clothing and accessory stores and lots of young people sporting their own street fashion and style, plus lots of inexpensive eateries.