Find out why this city that’s the perfect playground for adults is also an ideal family holiday destination for children and teens. We share the best things to do with kids in Tokyo alongside some tips for making sure everyone has a fantastic holiday.
Japan is fun, energetic and always surprising. Tucked away between the neon lights you’ll find tiny shrines that are an oasis of calm. Melding with the never-ending surge of dark suits emerging from the subway stations are pops of pink hair and disruptive fashion. Alongside Michelin starred restaurants are small Mom and Pop eateries serving dishes of exquisite depth and flavour.
Perhaps most unexpectedly in a city that seems to cater so exclusively to the grown-ups, is the plethora of places, sights and activities to keep the kids entertained and engaged.
Table of Contents
- Why Tokyo is such a great city for family travel
- Things to do in Tokyo with kids
- 1. The colours, tastes and sounds of Harajuku
- 2. Disneyland
- 3. DisneySea
- 4. Akihabara
- 5. Pokemon Centre
- 6. Ghibli Museum
- 7. TeamLabs Borderless
- 8. Odaiba
- 9. Robot Restaurant
- 10. A colourful and fun food tour
- 11. Shinjuku Gyoen
- 12. Seasonal Light-ups
- 13. Boat tour
- 14. Tokyo Skytree
- 15. Imperial Palace and gardens
- Where to eat with kids in Tokyo
Why Tokyo is such a great city for family travel
Travel is about different things to different people. It’s about getting away from everyday stresses, relaxing and forgetting the daily grind. It’s about trying out new things, meeting new people and experiencing another culture. Travelling with others is also an opportunity to create shared memories, have fun and discover together, spend quality time with the family and compromise to find the right balance to make it an incredible experience for everyone.
For most readers, a visit to Japan is going to challenge the status quo. The language is different, the currency is different, sights, sounds, the history, culture and the contradictions of a city like Tokyo are going to provide plenty of fascinating family conversation and learning opportunities.
One of the things that we feel makes Tokyo, and Japan overall, a great place to travel with kids is that it’s very safe. As safe or even safer than home. While all the usual precautions should be observed it’s a great first introduction for children and teenagers to how wonderful and diverse our world really is. If you’re heading off early in the morning you’ll often see very young Japanese children, impeccably dressed and presented, carrying their huge school packs and catching trains all by themselves across the city.
We’ve had many reminders over the years of how safe the city is, from Japan Rail retrieving a forgotten camera from a train several stops later and delivering it to a couple staying in our hotel to a young female work colleague thinking nothing of catching the subway and trains some distance home late at night after meeting up with us for dinner and drinks.
Things to do in Tokyo with kids
Exploring the natural beauty, culture, history and sights of Japan as a family is a fabulous experience. In this post, we are focusing on 15 specific destinations in Tokyo that will appeal especially to the kids but be great fun for the whole family.
1. The colours, tastes and sounds of Harajuku
From the rainbow coloured fairy floss and crepes to the stores and cafes filled with an unbelievable array of cute and quirky, a walk through Harajuku’s Takeshita Street is a must, especially with your teens and tweens.
The spacious and leafy Yoyogi park is another must with its constant free entertainment. After many times here I don’t think it’s possible to visit without something taking you by surprise, whether it’s rabbits out for a walk in their Sunday best, a dozen Elvis lookalikes dancing up a storm, a dog skateboarding past or a hundred other things I just haven’t seen before.
There are buskers, jugglers and j-pop, Harajuku street fashion is an art form and you’ll usually see a few Lolita and Goths dressed up around the overpass although it’s more prevalent on a Sunday afternoon with work or school taking priority during the week.
Disneyland is an obvious choice for families with younger children who will love the familiar characters, rides and shows. Japan Disney was the first to open outside the USA and is a super popular destination with kids in Tokyo.
Tips for your visit:
- The FastPass can be a good choice but exchange it as early in the day as possible for maximum choice of session times
- Time your visit on a weekday and outside of local holidays if possible, it will help ensure fewer crowds
- Plan your route in advance with a park map, there’s a lot to see and do
- If buying food in the park watch out for the unique options available in each of the different areas, they all have signature items and many are really good
Talking of rides ‘it’s a small world’ has recently reopened after big renovations. I still remember so clearly the first time I took this ride as a 10-year-old in Anaheim and the re-opened ride in Tokyo is getting great reviews, this is one not to be missed.
The Disney resort is easy to access by public transport and Tobu Levant, a Tokyo hotel I stayed at recently in Kinshicho had a free shuttle so it’s worth checking with your hotel concierge to make sure you aren’t missing out on anything.
DisneySea is a unique Disney Park located just out of Tokyo. Within its 176 acres, there are 7 ‘ports’ each featuring nautical stories and legends of the sea. Make sure you have the full day available to enjoy it and pace yourself to continue on through to the night show which is a feature you should not miss.
The rides at DisneySea are loved not only by children and teens but adults too so if you have a FastPass use it as early in the day as possible. Journey to the Centre of the Earth and the Indiana Jones Adventure is the most popular and longest lines and if travelling with the family you probably won’t want to make use of the single rider queues which are another way of speeding your way through the queues.
For the young, young at heart and lovers of electronics and manga, a visit to Akihabara is a must. Known by many as ‘Electric Town’ this flashy and colourful part of the city is worth a visit both by day and night. Welcome to the world of neon, Otaku culture and electronics shopping.
It’s a fun part of the city to wander around. This is where you’ll find most of the Maid Cafes, while they aren’t designed for children it’s not a red-light district and walking past the maids in costume and the cafes isn’t likely to result in any questions from the younger kids that you don’t want to answer. Many of the cafes would actually allow children in, it’s just not designed with kids in mind.
5. Pokemon Centre
There are three Pokemon Centres in Tokyo itself and they each have their own appeal. Nearby prefectures of Yokohama and Chiba also have a store but they will be less convenient for most visitors to the city.
This escalator below is on the way to the Pokemon store in Ikebukuro and is known as the Pokemon Centre Mega Tokyo and it really is MEGA. It’s upstairs in the Sunshine City shopping centre and pretty much has everything “Pokemon” you can imagine. I like Ikebukuro, it’s a fun part of town to visit with lots of interesting food options and shopping, the Pokemon store is open till around 8 pm along with many of the other stores in the centre so it can be a good option to head out there for dinner and a wander around.
In 2018 the Pokemon Centre Tokyo DX (or deluxe) opened in Nihonbashi complete with a cafe. It’s the biggest Pokemon store so far and includes some interesting history and an interactive display. Its selection is also huge, as big as the Mega Centre.
The third store is at Skytree Town. In addition to the Skytree viewing tower and a fabulous array of restaurants, there’s a food floor that left me without words, a large shopping centre with all the usual things and downstairs there is a section that’s perfect for your souvenir shopping which includes the Pokemon store. It’s a smaller version than the others but still has a great variety.
There’s a lot to do in the Asakusa area of Tokyo so this one is really easy to add to a day’s exploring or combine with trying out a restaurant upstairs for dinner.
6. Ghibli Museum
The museum isn’t large but it’s beautifully presented with so much Ghibli packed into the available space. From the moment it comes into sight you are transported to the world of anime and it’s not surprising this is one of the most popular attractions for families in Tokyo.
The museum exhibit labels and films are entirely in Japanese but that won’t matter to fans of Ghibli, it’s an experience that transcends language barriers and Totoro lovers will be in their element.
There is a cafe on site but you’re welcome to bring your own snacks and eat on the patio or there is a nice park nearby.
To avoid disappointment when planning your visit to Ghibli you need to book well in advance to get tickets for the day you want. Visitor numbers are limited for each day and there are no same-day tickets available at the entrance so you do need to book ahead. Sales are for a specific date and ticket sales open up 3 months in advance so we highly recommend booking online well before you leave home to avoid disappointment.
7. TeamLabs Borderless
Located in Odaiba this digital art exhibition is open daily from 10 am until 9 pm. It’s an interactive immersive exhibit featuring multiple rooms, themes and light effects. It’s not Japanese specifically but it is unique and not something I’ve come across elsewhere on this sort of scale. Once inside there is no one path to follow, it’s like a free-form maze to explore and you will want 2-4 hours to do it justice. There’s also a very unique tea room to experience.
To get there at its least crowded either early or late in the day is best and if you can, select a weekday over a weekend or holiday. It’s also suggested to get tickets in advance as same-day tickets are often not available. Even with tickets, you should anticipate some queue to get inside.
If you want to experience BORDERLESS and we highly recommend you do, then you’ll need to get in before 31 August 2022 when it will close for good, there will then be a short wait until the highly successful design team reopen a new experience in a new venue in 2023.
Odaiba is a great family day out due to the variety of things to do over here. The family fun starts on the Yurikamome train as you cross the Rainbow bridge with views of the harbour and futuristic Odaiba beyond.
What is now known as the playground of Odaiba was once a series of forts built to protect Tokyo from the sea. Since then they have been joined together to reclaim land for the entertainment precinct that is housed here today.
Once you arrive in Odaiba there are plenty of things of interest for everyone, explore the waterfront, visit the city beach and parks, go shopping, and interact with robots at the science museum, the Mori Digital Art Museum and the Joypolis games centre. Fans of anime will want to keep an eye open for the giant Gundam statue while others will be drawn to the scale replica of the Statue of Liberty. There’s also a viewing deck in the distinctive Fuji TV building.
For a reasonably priced lunch or dinner the 5th floor of Aquacity houses a floor of ramen vendors featuring styles from all across Japan. The buttery Sapporo style with perfectly tender chāshū is my choice. If you are undecided and don’t have time to visit every prefecture this could help you target your foodie cravings. There’s also a good view of the Rainbow Bridge from the deck here.
9. Robot Restaurant
The Robot Restaurant has announced a temporary closure while Japan’s borders remain closed. We will continue to monitor this and add updates as we receive them.
A riot of colour, lights and crazy fun. Yes this is definitely one for the tourists and due to that it’s one of the few attractions in Tokyo catering specifically to English speakers but that doesn’t stop it from being fab and fun. There are daytime sessions if you want to avoid little ones being overly stimulated too close to bedtime and they provide noise-cancelling earphones for children to wear if they are too overwhelmed but most don’t seem to need or want them.
It’s crazy and silly, there are a lot of flashing lights, sounds and dancing, dancing, dancing. A great choice for lovers of anime and all age groups.
10. A colourful and fun food tour
Japan has a wonderful diversity of traditional food and cooking styles but it’s also known for its kawaii (cute) food. One of the best places for that is the Harajuku and Shibuya area. From cones of multi-coloured fairy floss that are bigger than your head to loaded crepes, desserts that are individual works of art and steaming cups of matcha with a marshmallow flower blooming dramatically on top. You can find so much fun food in Harajuku and surrounding streets.
While you can explore on your own trying out the treats you spot that take your fancy, the Kawaii food tour with Arigato Japan is one of the most popular with families for good reason. Not only will you try out many different treats you’ll be immersed in the area with a knowledgable English speaking guide who can fill in the gaps and help you understand the culture and history as well as the food.
11. Shinjuku Gyoen
Shinjuku is a popular part of Tokyo for families to stay but the garden is also an easy walk from either Shinjuku Station (JR) or the Shinjuku-Gyoemmae Subway station. It was historically used by the Imperial family and their guests but following WWII it was rebuilt and opened as a public park.
There are lots of walking paths, wide-open grassy spaces, gardens and this enormous tropical glasshouse to explore. Unlike many parks you are allowed on the grass, take snacks and picnic under the trees, or let the kids run around for a while. In springtime, this is one of the city’s top cherry blossom viewing spots and it’s equally pretty during the autumn colour season.
12. Seasonal Light-ups
The days are short during winter in Tokyo but the evenings are even more fun than you might expect. There are light-ups that take place across the city between November and February. This one is at Shiodome and is easily accessible from nearby hotels such as Tokyo Park Hotel, one of our favourite bases in the city or from the nearby train and subway stations. These events are very family-friendly starting around 5 pm so they can be great free pre-dinner or after-dinner entertainment.
This site updates the current year light-up dates, times and details well before they open each year.
13. Boat tour
A cruise on the river is fun for the whole family. We did the cruise from Hamarikyu gardens to Asakusa during the cherry blossom season and combined it with lunch and exploring the Asakusa area which is another top spot with kids as there is lots of colour, things to see and kid-sized snack food along the Nakamise.
Many of the boats themselves are pretty unique and enough to inspire young imaginations. One is the space-age silver ship below and another looks like it’s straight out of a cartoon. They now run between Asakusa and Odaiba, two great family destinations. Pricing and booking info for Sumida River Cruise
14. Tokyo Skytree
This leafy view of Tokyo Skytree was taken on a morning walk through the Kinshicho area, just across the river from Asakusa. At 634 metres Tokyo Skytree is the world’s tallest tower and offers some incredible 360-degree views of the city and its surrounds. On a clear day you can see right out to Mount Fuji and from the glass floor down between your feet there’s a disconcerting view of the world below.
15. Imperial Palace and gardens
The historical centre of Tokyo is the Imperial Palace and it’s easy to get here from Tokyo Station which is easily accessible by subway or train. You can take a free tour of the palace grounds, explore the ruins of the old castle turret and spend time in the extensive park known as the East Garden.
Read more about the things to see and do at the Tokyo Imperial Palace in this article.
Where to eat with kids in Tokyo
Without a doubt, life is going to be easier if your family are happy to try Japanese style food. There are plenty of easy to introduce and cost-effective options.
Kaiten-zushi is a good place to start. Directly translated it means conveyer belt sushi where the plates are constantly being made and added and you simply choose what you want to eat, take it from the belt and at the end of the meal the price is calculated based on the colour of the plates. The prices in Kaiten-zushi are much lower than in more traditional sushi restaurants and you can select only what appeals to each personal appetite. They often have more international style sushi options available such as tempura which can be an easier transition for younger children.
Ramen and Katsu-curry houses are well-priced options. These meals are usually tasty and made with good quality ingredients. Like most Japanese food they tend not to be heavily spiced and the familiarity of these options can make them an attractive option for the whole family.
Like almost everywhere around the world, there are international restaurants and fast food places. While Mcdonald’s and KFC are going to provide an almost identical experience to at home, visiting an Italian restaurant, for example, will be a Japanese interpretation of the cuisine tailored to local tastes and ingredients. The Japanese do have a fascination with French baking though and the cakes and pastries you can buy in Japan will rival those you can buy anywhere for their beauty and flavour.
Japanese convenience stores are a good source of snacks and meals when you are tired after a long day and the food is very affordable, fresh and of good quality. If you are in an area with a Japanese supermarket these also stock ready to eat meals and in the afternoons you can pick them up at a very good discount as everything is fresh each day. Two other options to keep in mind are bakeries for affordable picnics, lunches and breakfasts and the food halls under the department stores like Daimaru and Tobu in Ikebukuro.
Looking for even more ideas for your time in Tokyo?
- 50 more things to do in Tokyo
- The best day trips out of Tokyo
- Using the Tokyo subway system with confidence
- Favourite foods to try in Japan
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