The capital of Japan is famously crowded, colorful and charismatic. Toyko is also great fun for families, with a host of attractions that offer maximum amusement for tiny travelers, from giant video game arcades to the anime-focused Ghibli Museum.
Tokyo is also a parents’ dream when it comes to the logistics of travel: the city is clean, safe and comes with every modern convenience. Though the sheer mass of people can be overwhelming and some of the city’s top attractions may not appeal to younger kids, there are plenty of sights and activities that are guaranteed to keep the whole family entertained.
From Disneyland to the gaming arcades of Akihabara, here’s our guide to the top things to do in Tokyo with kids, and the practicalities for exploring with pint-sized travelers in tow.
Is Tokyo a good place to visit for kids?
Visiting Tokyo with kids is not without its challenges: navigating one of the world’s most complex railway systems and trying to extol the virtues of raw fish are just two of the obstacles you may need to overcome. Tokyo makes up for it in spades, however, with its sheer variety of excursions and the childlike energy that permeates modern Japanese culture.
A deluge of never-ending gaming arcade halls, cartoon-character-themed street art, cosplay costumes, stores stacked with saccharine confectionery, pulsating amusement parks and the vibrant absurdity of life in Tokyo are all sure to keep the little ones entertained.
Best things to do in Tokyo with kids
Kids (and kids at heart) will get a kick out of Tokyo’s kidult obsession with toys, anime, manga and everything to do with pop culture. Here’s our kid-friendly Tokyo starter pack.
1. Discover a real-life toy town in Odaiba
Typified by imposing landmarks such as the manga-tastic Unicorn Gundam Statue, a miniature Statue of Liberty and the polychromatic Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba is Tokyo’s vision of a utopian future. Even better, this high-tech district dominating a patch of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay is filled with a hefty assortment of kid-friendly diversions.
For kids with an engineering mindset, the Legoland Discovery Center has the potential to supply hours of brick-building fun – and will recreate the good ol’ days for AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) too. With kids in tow, you can’t skip out on Joypolis, a SEGA-themed indoor amusement park that features fairground games, titular icons such as Sonic the Hedgehog, roller coasters, virtual reality experiences and arcade machines.
2. Find favorite anime heroes on Character Street
In the depths of Tokyo Station, the corridor known colloquially as Character Street is like the Asian version of Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Even if your kids aren’t familiar with all the characters, the colorful chaos of anime soundtracks, action-figure heroes, daikaijū (giant monster) toys, cartoon character teddy bears and gachapon (capsule toy) machines is sure to be a hit.
Of the 30 shops on offer, the Studio Ghibli store, which has some marvelously creative merchandise, and the Pokemon Center are arguably the most recognizable to a global audience. If you want to introduce the kids to some Japanese favorites, look for merchandise relating to Hello Kitty, Doraemon and Ultraman.
3. Get the full theme park experience at Disneyland and DisneySea
Japan has a child-like fascination with theme parks, and Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, located just outside the city in neighboring Chiba Prefecture, are its two most popular. Both Disneyland and DisneySea are well connected to the Tokyo metropolitan area by public transport, and a two-day pass covers admission for both sites.
Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disney resort to be built outside of the United States in 1983, and it follows a similar architectural blueprint to the original Disneyland in California. Of Tokyo’s two Disney parks, it caters far better to younger children, with fewer thrill rides and a focus on family-friendly attractions, such as Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, the Mark Twain Riverboat and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.
DisneySea is more accommodating for older kids, teens and adults. The name reflects its nautical facade, with seven themed areas, known as «ports of call,» sitting within sight of the Pacific Ocean. Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage and Finding Nemo-inspired Turtle Talk should excite smaller children. Older kids will probably favor higher-octane excursions such as Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull or the Tower of Terror.
4. Dive into a vision of the future on Tokyo Bay
Tokyo is famously obsessed with the future, and the world depicted in robot-themed manga comics feels tantalizingly close at the National Museum of Emerging Science & Innovation (Miraikan) on the edge of Tokyo Bay. Here, while exploring with a video game-themed smartphone app, kids with a scientific bent can view the latest in robot tech, including regular demonstrations by the startlingly human-like ASIMO.
Teens will also appreciate the remarkable digital art installations at teamLab Borderless, which bring to life a surreal vision of the future that draws on Japanese sci-fi (but will also look familiar to fans of Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell). A short journey north at Tokyo Dome City, TeNQ takes the interactive journey into space, with exhibits that aim to create a sense of wonder, rather than just static displays of space memorabilia.
5. Take in all of Tokyo from the top of Tokyo Skytree
At 634m (2,080ft), Tokyo Skytree is the second tallest free-standing tower on the planet, so you can expect stupendous views from the top. From its two observation decks, kids can enjoy a genuine ‘floating in the sky’ experience. Observing the suburbs racing towards the horizon in a jumble of concrete blocks, you’ll get a real sense of just how outrageously expansive Tokyo is.
If the skies are clear, you’ll also get unimpeded views of Mt Fuji, standing god-like over the capital. If the kids aren’t enthused by the urban sprawl and Tokyo’s majestic volcano, the higher of the two decks features frequent art exhibits based on popular anime and video game titles. As a fallback option, the Pokemon Center on the 4th floor could be your saving grace.
6. Find anime heaven at the Ghibli Museum, Mitaka
The Studio Ghibli anime empire, co-created by legendary cartoonist Hayao Miyazaki, is a central pillar of Japanese pop culture, and a trip to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka-shi is an enchanting experience for adults and tiny cartoon fans alike. Residing in a toy-like house that’s covered in vines and popping with pastel colors and quirky architectural features, the museum is a treasure trove of objects relating to such movies as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.
For those unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli’s output, it’s worth visiting the museum as an abstract curiosity in its own right. Everything at the museum is perfectly in tune with the studio’s surrealist method of storytelling, from the interior design and the creaking study full of Miyazaki’s original concept art to the in-house cinema screening Ghibli’s latest short films.
Best neighborhoods for kids in Tokyo
Part of the fun of a trip to Tokyo is exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods. While the pop-culture-obsessed district of Akihabara is crammed with video game iconography, a trip here can feel a little like rolling the dice. Visually, its rainbow-splashed main street is sure to impress, as are the flashing hordes of arcade machines and mechanical claw games – they don’t call it “Electric Town” for nothing.
Take a wrong turn, however, and you could be stumbling into a lascivious maid café, a room full of middle-aged men hypnotized by screens and puffing on cigarettes or actual cartoon porn. To avoid such mishaps, stick to the bottom floors of buildings and follow English-language signage.
West of Shinjuku, the Nakano district is great for older kids who have an interest in Japanese pop culture. The Nakano Broadway shopping complex, located at the end of a traditional shotengai arcade, is full of anime and manga (comics) stores peddling rare and retro collectibles.
Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori, home to hole-in-the-wall crepe stores and colorful confectionery parlors, is a popular haunt for tourists and Tokyo’s bohemian youth. However, it’s best to avoid Harajuku on weekends, when the pedestrian-only main street becomes so packed it’s almost impenetrable.
If you want a taste of Tokyo’s cosplay culture, you can see devotees of fancy-dress parading as manga, anime and pop culture characters at the Jingubashi bridge, by the entrance to Yoyogi-kōen park, which is also a great place for kids to let off steam. Come on Sundays for the best costumes and characters.
How to get around Tokyo with kids
Tokyo’s train system is a complex beast and certain stations – Shinjuku deserves a special mention – can take years of experience to master. However, rail is by far the cheapest and most efficient method of getting around the city. Most lines are color-coded, all Tokyo stations now have English-language signage, and station officials will always try to help regardless of language barriers. You can expect a lot of “are we there yet” from the kids though, and the crowds can be exhausting, so try to avoid traveling at peak times (morning and post-work rush hours).