If there’s a perfect motto for Tokyo, it’s character counts, but not in the traditional sense. The first thing visitors see when they arrive at Tokyo Central Station from Narita Airport is a maze of themed “character stores” selling toys ranging from cuddly cartoon animals in the Hello Kitty vein to robots and superheroes.
While the ultra-photogenic city has an embarrassment of riches in museums and lushly landscaped parks, it’s inevitable your kids will be pumped about encountering Japan’s pop cultural juggernaut and compelling history on its home turf.
Toddlers to 5 years:
It’s never too early to get kids interested in getting their passport stamped! Top attractions from Meiji Shrine to the National Museum to the grounds of the Imperial Palace have stations with inkpads and specially designed stamps. Before embarking on your journey, purchase a notebook or scrapbook where your kids can collect their stamps along with selfies.
Through the Edo Tokyo Museum, travel back in time to the city’s early years, captured in miniature recreations of buildings and streets, vibrant kabuki theater costumes and props, Samurai attire and weapons and English language guides (available on request). Little girls who want to dive into a land of make-believe will love Sanrio Puroland, the surrealistically cute home of beloved cartoon feline Hello Kitty and her friends.
The Fire Museum is tailor made for boys (and girls) more interested in the action-packed life of Tokyo police and firefighters, with costume uniforms to try on and fire trucks and helicopters to climb on. The Ueno Zoo is noted for its surprisingly wide array of animals, including its elephants, pandas and tigers.
Ages 5 and up:
Kids can play-act their favorite careers at KidZania with full uniforms and lots of real-world accessories, from dentist to cook, engineer to fireman (40 different careers in all). Booking tickets at least a month in advance is strongly recommended, especially for Wednesdays when English-speaking guides are available.
At the Ghibli Museum, younger anime fans can immerse themselves in the magical imagination of animator Miyazaki Hayao, best known for acclaimed films such as Ponyo and Spirited Away. This museum requires advance tickets, which can be booked up to three months before your visit.
Arigato Tours, which offers vibrant glimpses into local life and cuisine in major Japanese cities, just launched its Crazy Kawaii tour, which opens budding foodies up to the culinary surprises found within the ultra-trendy Shibuya neighborhood.
With ninjas, sumo wrestlers and samurai still capturing the imaginations of kids around the globe, Tokyo presents many opportunities for kids to step into the shoes of these legendary figures. The Sumo Museum next to the Edo Museum, tells the story of the sport’s history through photos and memorabilia, while Sumo Practice Session, offered through GoVoyagin.com (an online store specializing in experiential Asian tours) allows kids to learn a few secrets from these modern-day warriors.
Ages 13 and up:
Various popular-with-local-teens experiences recommended by Best Living Japan include glow-in-the-dark bowling and karaoke in Shibuya, checking out teen fashion, music trends and unusual restaurants in Shibuya, Ebisu and Harajuku, routing your car enthusiasts to the Toyota Megaweb car showroom and museum and taking your manga fans (with adult supervision) to Akihabara, the unofficial capital for all things anime and then some. One of the more family-friendly stores in this location is the Yodobashi Camera Superstore. If you want to mix all of this up, take a tour with MariCar, dress up as a Mario Brothers character and hit the streets with your costumed guide in go karts.
If your family regularly goes out for gyoza, sushi or soba noodles, or is itching to learn how to make something a little less familiar (like okonomiyaki, an Osaka-style omelet stuffed with different fillings), take advantage of many cooking classes throughout Tokyo. Some of the best are offered at Simply Oishii Japanese Cooking Class taught by television personality and chef Mayuki Suyari in her home. Arigato Japan Tours, which offers vibrant glimpses into local life and cuisine in major Japanese cities, just launched its Crazy Kawaii tour, which opens budding foodies up to the culinary surprises found within the ultra-trendy Shibuya neighborhood.