A family vacation in Tokyo is an adventure you and your family will never forget! We just returned from five days in Tokyo and had the best time. If you’re thinking about taking a trip to Tokyo with your kids here’s some things to see and do.
The Pokemon Megastore and Café can be found in Nihombashi in the Takashimaya building, just a few floors up from the train station. You can shop all the latest Pokemon toys and plushes plus dine at the Pokemon Café. TIP: you have to make reservations for the café. Ask your hotel concierge to help you with booking reservations. There’s a second Pokemon Megastore location in Ikebukuro at Sunshine City.
Sunshine City is another mega complex with department stores, The Prince Hotel, an aquarium, movie theater, Sky Circus, Namja Town, J-World Tokyo and a number of fun things to do with kids. We didn’t make it here, but the locals told us it’s a super fun place to spend a day or two!
Shopping in the department stores is an experience on its own. The basement of the Takashimaya building in Nihombashi features an endless array of food vendors from local cuisine, fish vendors, local produce to French pastries, Godiva chocolate, a café from The Grammercy, German sausages, cheese counters and so much more. When in Ginza be sure to visit the Matsuya (also in Asakusa) and Mitsukoshi department stores.
The Fish Market in Tsukiji is an experience you can’t miss in Tokyo. Not far from Ginza and Nihombashi, you can start your day early wandering the numerous stalls, sampling sushi, and dining in the local stands. For a more in depth experience book a tour of the fish market so you can see a tuna auction and learn first hand about one of the largest fish markets in the world.
Close by Tsukiji is Kidzania, an interactive environment where kids get to learn about the world by role-playing in over 100 jobs. There are locations all over the world, and Kidzania Japan is one of the best! Kidzania is coming to the US too!!
Just North East of the Fish Market and Ginza is the old downtown area of Tokyo called Asakusa. There’s an outdoor market here with lots of stalls, stands and touristy type shopping. You will encounter a plethora of rickshaw drivers who are happy to tour you around the area. We made a point to wander down the side streets to check out local restaurants and food stands and stumbled upon a world-famous melon pan bakery. Melon pan is a traditional, round sweet bread. We took calligraphy lessons and participated in a traditional tea ceremony at Jidaiya in Asakusa. Our concierge at the Prince Gallery hotel booked this for us. (TIP: The Prince Hotels can be found throughout Tokyo. This hotel is in a business area and is super modern and very cool. There’s a Dean & Deluca in the train station below and it’s easy to navigate Tokyo from this location).
While in the area we made a special trip to Dandelion Chocolate, one of the few shops in the world making chocolate from cocoa beans of single origin. They purchase good quality beans directly from cocoa farms in more than 10 countries around the world, and do all the processes from sorting, roasting (roasting), tempering, molding and wrapping at our factory.
Midway through our trip we switched hotels to the Westin in Ebisu. This is an old-school, European style, family friendly hotel, centrally located above the Ebisu train station featuring endless stores (including a smaller Mitsukoshi location) and some of the best French bakeries (like Joel Robechon) we encountered. I cannot say enough great things about the concierge and staff at this hotel. Yuku at the Service Express counter was a wealth of information, helping us navigate the trains and even the Hachiko “Little Dog” Bus to get around Tokyo.
We took the bus to Daikanyama where we explored the local stores including Rootote, known for their tote bags. This was my favorite area of Tokyo! There are art galleries and boutique stores. We encountered consignment shops and puppy groomers. The Tenoha shopping area featured a home store, bakery and an Italian café called Bondoli Boncaffe where we had the most delicious pizza.
Harajuku is a super fun shopping area made famous by singer Gwen Stefani who dedicated a whole album and line of clothing to this area of Tokyo. Takeshita Dori street is home to numerous stores that are pink, fun and filled with Harajuku and Kawaii style costumes and accessories. There’s stores dedicated to Japanese pop stars, one of the most fun Claire’s we’ve been to, a huge Daiso, numerous crepe stands and Rainbow Sweets Harajuku where you can get multi-flavored rolled ice cream and huge, cotton candy. Are your kids into Instagram pics? There’s pink backgrounds to be found up and down the street. Be sure to visit the photo booth locations where you can take pictures of yourself and edit them “Kawaii style.” The #1 stop for us was directly across from Harajuku station on Takeshita Dori, a store called Picnic where famous You Tuber Doctor Squish used to get a lot of her squishies.
Be sure to spend some time walking the other big street in Harajuku, Omotesando where there are numerous department stores like La Fouret and Ometesando Hills. Looking for something more intimate? Wander off the street into the back alleys where you will find boutique stores, quaint restaurants and smaller versions of upscale European brands. We loved Harajuku so much we spent two days here.
Our #2 stop in Harajuku was Harry the Hedgehog Café where you can pay to pet, hold and feed hedgehogs in 30 minute increments. Pet cafes are big thing in Asia where you can mingle with puppies, cats, hedgehogs and even otters. The second location in Harajuku has the otters.
Visiting a shrine or temple should be at the top of your list while in Tokyo. While in Harajuku be sure to visit the Meiji Shrine. It’s a long walk through the park to get to the shrine but totally worth it for a moment of Zen and a respite from the hurried pace of Tokyo.
Everywhere we went in Tokyo we saw a few people here and there in Kimonos, more on the weekend than during the week. It was a religious holiday that week, so perhaps that had something to do with it. You can rent Kimonos or purchase Kimonos in any of the major department stores. You can also get your picture taken in kimonos. Your hotel concierge can arrange it at a location near you, or you can do what we did and slip into them at the Meiji Shrine souvenier shop and snap an inexpensive holiday memento.
Walking the streets at night in Tokyo is part of the fun. There’s no place more lively than Shibuya, where you will find incredible street vendors, small restaurants, lots of stores and, of course, creperies. Shibuya crossing is one of the busiest intersections in the world. It’s like the Tokyo version of Times Square…but better. Tokyo Hands, a really cool craft and home goods store, has a location in Shibuya.
The Robot Café in Shibuya is one of the hottest tickets in town. Featuring transformers, epic battles, warring robots and a lot of pop music. I would not recommend this for kids under 10.
Visiting galleries and museums in Tokyo offers an array of experiences. The Digital Museum is the most in demand experience right now and sells out early. You need to purchase tickets way in advance to see this illuminated display of lights. Savvy Tokyo recommends these Top 10 museums destinations. We popped into the TOP Museum in Ebisu to see the Sugiura Kunie exhibition and discovered a number of art galleries in Shibuya, Harajuku, Ebisu and Daikanyama too.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland Sea – need I say more? Disneyland…in Tokyo! We didn’t visit this round but I did find all kinds of great info online. Disneyland Tourist Blog offers a guide to the best attractions at the park. TDR Explorer offers 23 things you need to know before visiting Tokyo Disneyland Resort and Pop Sugar says there are 6 things you can’t miss!
A Few Tips
Very few things are open in the morning because Tokyo is a late night city where you can wander the shops and streets until 10pm or 11pm so plan on eating breakfast in your hotel.
Tokyo is immaculate. There are no trashcans on the streets anywhere. You will not see locals walking and eating or drinking. This is not the custom. In Tokyo you eat where you order and throw your trash away there. There are very strict rules for trash separating – plastics, glass, liquid, etc. We dropped ice cream on the street at a Tomago stand and the line of people waiting for Tomago made a big fuss. This is a no no. Eat where you buy. If you must walk and eat, take a plastic bag with you to collect your trash until you find a bathroom where you can throw it out.
Taking the subway is the best way to get around. It may seem daunting but it’s really easy once you get the hang of it. There’s an information booth at every stop. Just ask the person there how much fare you need from start to end point and they will direct you. Plus, the major train stations all feature shops, many are directly under department stores and major business centers, and this is also where you will stumble upon Dean & Deluca, French bakeries, coffee shops and other familiar food places.
If you take a cab, the driver will open and close the doors for you with a button. They prefer to do this task. Also there is a tray to place money or credit cards on instead of handing it directly to the driver like we are accustomed to.
LAURA NIX GERSON is the Founder & Editor of MomAngeles a site she launched because she was planning a lot of playdates and her friends kept asking her where to go and what to do. So it seemed easier just to put it all online in one place. In a past life Laura was a publicist, event marketer and web producer….oh wait, she still is. Laura is a regular contributor to Modern Mom and Babble. She is also the CEO of Nix Gerson Media. Follow her @MomAngeles.