Despite its enormous size and crowded streets, Tokyo is one of the world’s most family-friendly big cities. It’s got loads of museums, theme parks, play spaces, parks and enough restaurants for even the pickiest five-year-old eater to find something suitable.
Get stuck with your stroller and passersby will quickly aid you. Stop to change a dirty diaper, and you’ll find immaculate public bathrooms. Jump on the subway, and you’ll fend off kind offers of a seat.
Though this sense of warmth is true Japan-wide, the following places prove that Tokyo goes the extra mile to ensure that your brood is happy.
That you need to book tickets weeks or months in advance and take the subway 35 minutes from Tokyo Station should not deter you from bringing your family here. There’s a reason admission is so hard to come by: Ghibli Museum — which showcases the work of legendary Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli — is unparalleled.
Even if your kids aren’t gaga for Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle, they’ll dig the animated shorts, the fun exhibition on the history of animation and the galleries of books, toys and drawings.
After your little ones climb all over the replica of Catbus (from seminal film My Neighbor Totoro), head up to the rooftop garden upon which stands a 16-foot robot. Grab a bite at the café, where parents can kick back with a bottle of exclusive Ghibli craft beer.
Just a five-minute walk from Azabu-Juban metro station is this well-shaded park with a tidy bathroom. The playground here is a small-but-clean place for tykes to trample around and for parents to relax on one of the benches that surround the fountain.
There’s climbing equipment with a slide, swings for babies and older kids, and an enclosed sandbox. There are also two red tori (a traditional Japanese gate). Pick up lunch at Nissin World Delicatessen, located near the metro station, to have a picnic at the playground.
You could spend the entire day in Ueno Park, visiting its various temples, shrines and museums, and sitting down to a picnic — and this is indeed what people do during cherry blossom season. For families, though, the three best spots are the National Museum of Nature and Science, Ueno Zoo and Shinobazu Pond.
The science museum boasts a 360-degree cinema showing short films, impressive dinosaur skeletons and engaging exhibitions on Japanese history that appeal to kids through colorful displays and models.
Ueno Zoo, free for children under 11, is home to 2,600 animals from more than 450 species. After ogling Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, red pandas, Western lowland gorillas and myriad smaller animals, board the monorail to the small petting zoo.
Pounding the pavement in Tokyo will leave little legs and feet tired, so renting a rowboat or swan-shaped pedal boat for 30 minutes makes for a fun, easy break. Float languidly around tree-ringed Shinobazu Pond and you’ll get in some excellent people watching as well.
Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
With admission for kids just $2 (and adults only $6), a visit to this museum is one of the best values in Tokyo. Better known as Miraikan (“future museum”), the attraction is fun for adults but is really aimed at getting the young ones excited about science.
Among its coolest features are the real-time displays of data from seismometers across Japan, a country known for its earthquakes, and Asimo the Honda robot, which puts on amazing 10-minute performances three times daily. Past exhibitions here have included one on video game technology and another on robots and their role in the future.
Tokyo Toy Museum
Its Shinjuku location makes this the perfect place to take a break from shopping. This museum is a wonderfully interactive play space, best for kids under nine.
The venue is full of handsome wooden toys, animal figurines, trains, puzzles, blocks and games. There’s a wooden ball pit, climbing equipment and a foosball table that’ll have grown-ups elbowing their way over. Lovely, engaging staffers man the small arts and crafts area so parents can take a breather.