Best kids' spots in Tokyo
Whether you're on a longer vacation or just looking for a day's fun, central Tokyo is no easy option.
The crowded, noisy and polluted Big Ringo is notorious for quickly sucking dry all your physical and mental energies. And things get even tougher if you have kids in tow, lost between salaryman legs on crushed commuter trains or in a forest of pedestrians on Omotesando.
So what to do?
Take them to a beautiful garden like the calm of Rikugien? Your children will be bored to tears.
Luckily though, Tokyo has no shortage of kid-centric fun palaces where the little bundles of joy can be entertained, or even better, kept active to the point that they'll go home exhausted.
Best of all, most of the best kids' spots in Tokyo have the added appeal of being free. Read on for a few of the best in our book.
Tokyo Toy Museum
Why go? First established in Nakano in 1984 by an avid toy collector, this veritable toy paradise has been recently shifted by his son into a beautiful elementary school in Yotsuya to become one of the best kids' spots in Tokyo.
Actually, the name “museum” is a little misleading because the museum proper only occupies one and a half rooms. This is the only area where you can look but not touch.
The rest of the place is a huge hands-on playing field. After buying the tickets, you first find a room full of simple wooden toys that everybody is free to play with.
There are two more floors to explore. One of the most popular attractions is the Toy Forest, where you can find, among other things, a big dollhouse, a corner devoted to the abacus (featuring the biggest example we've ever seen) and a sandbox-like area filled with more than 20,000 wooden beads the kids can dive into and roll around.
The Game Room is suited for older children (and young-at-heart parents), as the games here require some thinking and more skilled handy-work. There is also a workshop devoted to such projects as simple toy-making.
Dedicated staff are always on hand to help and explain how to play the trickier games.
Top tip: “Wood” and “low-tech” are the keywords here. When the museum moved to Yotsuya, 80 craftsmen from all over Japan were asked to create 500 wooden toys in building one of the best kids' spots in Tokyo.
Also, the entire floor in the Toy Forest room was made from cypress especially shipped from Kyushu (visitors are required to take off their shoes before entering).
Price: Adult: ¥700 (junior high school and above); Child: ¥500 (aged three and above); Adult and child pair ticket: ¥1,000.
Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (last admission: 3:30 p.m.). Closed on Thursday (unless it is a national holiday) and during the New Year holidays.
4-20 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku. +81 (0) 3 5367 9601.
http://goodtoy.org/ttm/ (Japanese only)
Getting there: From Yotsuya Sanchome station (Tokyo Metro, Marunouchi Line, Exit 2) when you reach the street, turn right and walk straight. Take the third street on the right.
The museum is on the right-hand side. Walking time -- five minutes.
Why go?: This well-organized museum thoroughly covers the history of fire and rescue in Japan, making it a must-visit for pretty much all children -- think of all those bright-red trucks, cars and even horse-drawn carriages.
Start on the sixth floor, devoted to special exhibits, and work your way down.
This way you can follow the history of the Fire Department chronologically, through large-scale dioramas, videos, old and new uniforms, and all kinds of machines and other equipment.
Visitors can actually wear some uniforms and climb onto some of the vehicles. This makes for nice souvenir pictures at one of the best kids' spots in Tokyo.
The third floor features many video games and interactive displays that will keep even easily bored kids busy.
Top tip: It's quite close to the Toy Museum, so if you go to Yotsuya early and manage your time well, you can enjoy both of them on the same day.
Hours: 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Closed on Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday) and during the New Year holidays
3-10 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku. +81 (0) 3 3353 9119.
http://www.tfd.metro.tokyo.jp/ts/museum.html (Japanese only)
Getting there: From Yotsuya Sanchome Station (Tokyo Metro, Marunouchi Line, Exit 2) the B1 entrance is just before the stairs up to street level.
Amlux Toyota Auto Salon
Why go? Older children and teenagers (and their car-crazy parents, of course) are going to have a blast at what claims to be the largest car showroom in the world, but which is also one of the best kids' spots in Tokyo.
Apart from about 70 models scattered over five floors (each one devoted to a different driving theme), there are several interactive displays, including a couple of cool driving simulators.
The main feature on the first floor, though, is the futuristic Amlux Theater showing car-related short movies galore (only on weekends and national holidays).
On the second floor there is a Kids' Corner (with a Nursing Mothers Lounge), where toddlers can play while their older siblings run amok elsewhere.
Top tip: If you visit Amlux on a lazy weekday, chances are you will have a row of arcade-type PlayStation Gran Turismo video games all to yourself.
Hours: 11 a.m.–7 p.m. (1/F,B/1F 11 a.m.–9 p.m.). Closed on Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday) and New Year holidays.
3-3-5 Higashi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku. +81 (0) 3 5391 5900.
Getting there: From Ikebukuro Station (JR Yamanote, Tokyo Metro and other lines, East Exit, staircase 35) walk straight out from the exit along Green-oodori to the first corner.
Turn left (take the street with a Lotteria on the left corner) and go straight ahead. You will see a blue building with an archway on the top. This is Amlux. Walking time -- five minutes.
Why go? TEPIA means “Technology Utopia” and, this being Japan, dry scientific explanations are discarded in favor of easy-to-understand exhibits and hands-on displays to create one of the best kids' spots in Tokyo.
From face-recognition technology to high-definition TV, 3D digital cameras to machines that turn shredded paper into toilet rolls, each display becomes a source of fun and wonderment.
Needless to say, the most popular activity is the ever-present driving simulator.
Top tip: The library on the second floor is a treasure trove of information, accessible through state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment. It features about 2,800 tech-fun films, including nearly 200 in English.
Hours: 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (10 a.m.–5 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and national holidays). Closed on Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday).
2-8-44 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku. +81 (0) 3 5474 6111 (5474 6123 to reserve an individual or group tour).
Getting there: From Gaienmae Station (Tokyo Metro, Ginza Line, Exit 2) go up the stairs, turn rightand right again at the corner. TEPIA is straight ahead. Walking time -- five minutes.
Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Hall
Why go? This is Tokyo’s largest public facility for children of any age. If you only have enough time to visit one kid-friendly place, this is definitely among the best kids' spots in Tokyo.
However, click on the website link below and you'll discover it's still closed while post-March 11 earthquake damage checks and safety certificates are sorted out.
Although the process is taking longer than expected, the word is that the Hall will reopen soon, hence it makes our list -- keep checking the site for updates.
When you do finally get into this gem of a playground, you'll find its five floors jam-packed with gear your children will enjoy. From art and craft rooms to computers, musical instruments, table games and even a roof playground (open on weekends and national holidays) where they can try their hands (and feet) at unicycles, skating and other outdoor activities, it's all here.
There's also an emphasis on learning through play -- the international library has thousands of books in different languages. You can check out up to six books for two weeks.
This place is well-known by the local expat community so the staff is used to dealing with foreigners -- even those who can’t speak Japanese.
People who only know Tokyo’s slick and orderly side will be delighted to experience the rather rougher quality of what could be called an exercise in “controlled chaos.”
Top tip: If possible, it's best to avoid the weekends when the hall is thronged with visitors Still, it is so big that you rarely have to wait in line to do anything.
There's a rich monthly calendar of events, concerts, theater plays and classes that you can attend for free, but you sometimes have to book in advance. The Metropolitan Children’s Hall website has all the information you need.
Price: Free (a few hundred yen to cover the cost of the materials if joining a handicraft workshop).
Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. (last admission: 4:30 p.m.). Closed two Mondays a month. Call first or check the website.
1-18-24 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. +81 (0) 3 3409 6361.
Getting there: From Shibuya Station (JR Line, East Exit, and Tokyo Metro, Hanzomon Line, Exit 11) walk straight up Meiji-dori and turn right at the third corner.
The Hall is on the left-hand side of the street at the first traffic light. Walking time -- five minutes.