Tokyo's best high-tech kids' activities
From its gleaming skyscrapers to its cuddly robots, Tokyo is no stranger to technological achievement.
For children interested in science and technology -- or for parents eager to spark that interest -- Japan’s capital is the place for kids to get neck-deep in high-tech.
Here’s our selection of six of the best nerdy, educational and, much of the time, astonishing venues to thrill even the most jaded of 21st-century children.
Gas Science Museum
The science and utility of natural gas: boring, right? You’d be surprised.
Essentially a public-relations arm for the Tokyo Gas Company, the Gas Science Museum repurposes games and playground activities to relay the history and benefits of its favorite natural resource.
Grab a helmet and crawl through “underground” fuel tunnels, or cook up virtual stir-fry with a massive wok and some clever audio-visual equipment.
Don’t miss the torches on the first floor, where you can ignite real methane-filled soap bubbles (behind safety glass, of course).
Gas Science Museum, 6-1-1-Toyosu, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0061; +81 03 3534 1111; open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (last admission 4:30 p.m.); closed Monday and year-end holidays; free admission; nearest station: Toyosu; www.gas-kagakukan.com
Tokyo Science Museum
The building may show its age, but the basic principles of light, physics and biology are timeless when explained well, and this place does it better than most.
Across five floors, kids encounter the aurora borealis, optical illusions, racecar engines and the millions of cells that make up human skin.
Film yourself in ultra-slow-motion, or learn how lasers etch music onto CDs.
All information is in Japanese, but most of the exhibits are self-explanatory enough to make it interesting for everyone.
Prime example: the mechanics room. Festooned with cranks and levers, the entire space looks like a factory, with massive steel spheres moving from one contraption to another, solely on people power.
Not only do kids discover how machines work, they get a workout while they learn.
Tokyo Science Museum, 2-1, Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0091; +81 (0) 3 3212 8544; open 9:30 a.m.-4:50 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.); closed on (most) Wednesdays and over the year-end holidays; admission: ¥700 (US$9) for adults, ¥400 for high-school students, ¥250 for elementary-school students, under fours are free; nearest station: Takebashi; www.jsf.or.jp
National Museum of Science and Nature
This gargantuan institution is over 130 years old and home to more than 4 million specimens, including fossil dinosaur skeletons, rocket engines and a display of all life forms found on the Japanese archipelago, past and present. Really.
Many exhibits are designed with young ones in mind.
Others, such as the taxidermy room in the Earth Pavilion, may require a hand to hold as kids get to traipse past dozens of motionless beasts from across the globe. Expect fascination, fright or both.
Unlike most venues recommended here, this museum demands days to see everything.
Ueno Zoo is minutes away if the kids want to see the wildlife in action.
National Museum of Science and Nature, 7-20 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-8718; +81 (0) 3 5777 8600; open 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (sometimes later); last admission 30 minutes before closing time; closed Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday) and during the year-end holidays; permanent exhibitions ¥600 for college students and adults, free for high-school students and younger; nearest stations: Ueno and Keisei Ueno; www.kahaku.go.jp
More on CNN: Best kids’ days out in Tokyo
Sony Explorascience Museum
At this monument to consumer technology, Sony uses its interactive smarts to create games and activities that respond to body movement.
For example, at one display, children cast shadow animals onto a table -- if the shadow’s shape is accurate enough for the computer to recognize, an image of that animal then crawls, hops or slithers across the table’s embedded LED screen.
Several activity stations also deal with sound, encouraging you to identify the noises of your neighborhood, or alter the pitch of your voice from a pixie-like trill to a ghoulish baritone.
Sony Explorascience Museum, Mediage 5/F 1-7-1 Daiba, Minato-Ku, Tokyo 135-8718; +81 (0) 3 5531 2186; open daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (last entrance 6:30 p.m.); ¥500 for adults, ¥300 for children aged 3-15; children two or younger free; nearest stations: Daiba and Tokyo Teleport station; www.sonyexplorascience.jp
Not to be shown up by Sony, Panasonic has its own interactive space in downtown Tokyo.
The oddly named Risupia section is all white walls and rounded edges -- part classroom, part Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Where Sony emphasizes the entertainment value of digital devices, Panasonic uses its technology to make education more entertaining. If you see what we mean.
Mathematical and scientific principles become games: probability is explained with AV-enhanced dice, while prime numbers become the puck in a next-level air hockey game.
In one exhibit, children manipulate sound waves with simple hand movements, while a couple of meters away, resplendent imagery from the natural world explains fractal patterns.
Everyone gets a portable audio device when they enter (Japanese and English available). Simply touch the device to the glowing columns by each exhibit for a breakdown of the topic at hand.
There may be a waiting time for Risupia, but with two other floors of to explore -- a free activity center on the second floor and the actual Panasonic Showroom on the first -- the minutes fly by like so many ones and zeroes.
Panasonic Showroom, 3-5-1 Ariake, Koto-ku, Tokyo; +81 (0) 3 3599 2600; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Last admission 5 p.m.); closed Monday (including holidays) and during the year-end holidays; admission ¥500 (free for children under high-school age and concessions); nearest stations: Kokusai-tenjijo and Ariake; panasonic.net/center
Miraikan: The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
If there were a medal for “most futuristic architecture,” the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation would be a strong contender.
Approaching by monorail is like entering the set of a science-fiction movie, but inside it’s all about the science facts.
Kids experiment with facial-recognition technology, remote surgery and plastics that can conduct electricity. And, of course, gawk at robots of various shapes and sizes.
Most displays are in multiple languages (Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese). Check listings for new exhibitions, but the permanent ones are also worth your time.
Miraikan, 2-3-6 Aomi, Koto-ku; +81 (0) 3 3570 9151; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (last entry 4:30 p.m.); closed Tuesday and during the year-end holidays; admission ¥600 adults, ¥160-¥200 under 18; nearest stations: Fune-no Kagakukan, Telecom Center and Tokyo Teleport; www.miraikan.jst.go.jp
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