Tokyo with Kids: My top 6 things to do with a toddler and a baby in Tokyo
In May 2016 we went on a family holiday to Japan. My babies were then 10 months old and 2 ¼. Following this adventure I can share with you some of our tried, tested and recommended things to do with young children in Tokyo.
You absolutely can explore Tokyo with very young children. And you must! My day in the Tokyo Fish Market proved to me that if there was something I wanted to do for me whilst in Tokyo, I could manage to make it work with my babies in tow. Where there is a will there is a way, and i'm so glad I did it!
We hit the ground running when we arrived in Tokyo, but the first couple of days were (admittedly) tough, thanks to jet lag being a most cruel mistress. Language aside (yay for heavy use of Google Translate!), and thanks to lots of guidance from my friend on the occasions when I was exploring solo, it was a fairly straightforward city for this country girl to navigate.
So, here are my top 6 ideas of things to do with young children in Tokyo:
Rather than going up Tokyo Tower to see the views of the city, consider instead going up the Mori Tower. Not only is it in a lovely part of town - Roppongi Hills - but it also has a modern art gallery within the building.
The tower is 238 metres tall, one of the highest in Tokyo, and the views are magnificent from the top. Most of the Mori Tower is occupied by office space, the first few floors have restaurants and shops and the top few floors house an observation deck and modern art museum that are open to the public.
The modern art gallery was a lot of fun. I adore modern art, and it was lovely to share this with my children. I still particularly remember one exhibition which enabled my son to throw buttons onto a huge pile of other buttons. They were colourful, tactile, and it was really fun; for adults too. Being a modern art gallery the exhibitions were generally interesting and/or vibrant, perfect to capture the attention and enthusiasm of a toddler, young child, and even baby. Outside there was a huge spider sculpture which was fantastic!
We didn't visit the Mori Gardens but, between the tall buildings of Roppongi Hills, you will find them. I understand that the Mori Gardens are landscaped in the style of a traditional Japanese garden, including cherry blossom trees which would be lovely to see during cherry blossom season.
2. YoYogi Park
My friend was lucky enough to live very close to Yoyogi park. This is is a fantastic and huge green space to take your children to. There are often lots of things going on there so it is worth checking out on the internet when you are planning to visit. A highlight for us was going to the bicycle track, where little ones can hire bikes to ride around.
3. Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market
I had a wonderful experience visiting the historical Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. This famous fish market has been due to close and relocate for a while now. I believe this is now scheduled for October 2018. It is a little tricky to find information online, but I think it is still possible to visit this central and historical fish market at the time of writing. However, if you are visiting after its relocation, I would still go and visit the new fish market as I am sure the experience will be really memorable too.
The Tokyo fish market is probably most famous for the Tuna auctions held very early in the morning. We didn't make it for that, as a 3am start would have been pushing even my adventurous babies! But we got the train later in the morning, and were there just in time to see the main fish sales area packing up, and then explore the huge market and get some lunch.
It is fair to say the Tokyo Fish market is not for everyone, especially not the fish squeamish. It smells, it's busy and bustly and the market aisles are narrow. Despite this, and despite advice to the contrary on the internet, I took a pushchair. I had little option! And my youngest was strapped to me in a carrier. It was a bit crazy, and slow going, but it did work and was great fun! I was glad that I packed a picnic for the kids, so they could eat their peanut butter sandwiches whilst I tucked into an amazing sashimi lunch, in a little restaurant tucked behind a market stall that I stumbled across.
This is a huge, amazing and FREE museum. Interesting for children and adults alike, and really interactive. This museum is conveniently located above Yotsuya-Sanchome station (just 3 stops from Shinjuku Station via Tokyo Metro), and can easily keep the kids occupied for half a day.
As well as many floors of exhibits, there was a fire engine cab the children could get into, dressing up outfits, and other role play activities. It was spacious and a really easy place to visit with young children, who loved it!
Most children love animals, and Tokyo Zoo won't disappoint. My husband took the children to Tokyo Zoo and reported that they had a really enjoyable day out. Of course the Pandas are a main attraction for visitors, but the zoo has so much more to offer too.
And the cost is very reasonable too: currently 600 yen for adults (that's approximately £4 / €4.50 / $5.65) and free for children under 12. The zoo is roughly in 2 areas that are joined by a monorail. You have to pay and line up for this, but you can easily walk in less time than it takes to line up, and save yourself a few yen.
I have my own memories from our holiday to Japan, but friends have questioned us on whether it was worth the expense and the effort of taking the children when they were so young. I don't know if the children will remember this holiday. I am certain that at the time and in the moment they enjoyed the biggest adventure ever. If they don't have memories, we can show them all the wonderful photographs we took and tell them the stories.
Frankly I think travelling like this with very young children is more about expanding their experiences and opening their minds whenever possible. And for me, I will remember 2 things in particular about our time in Tokyo (and Japan) for as long as I live: my 2 year old son taking part in the respectful ceremony of "clap clap bow" and throwing the coin in the temples, and my 10 month old daughter slurping her thick ramen noodles in a traditional (and very delicious) ramen house.
We visited many Temples during our time in Japan, including some UNESCO world heritage sites, and I feel so lucky that we were able to visit them and share those experiences as a family. They are an absolute must when in Japan, and our children loved them.
I cannot help with hotels or accommodation in Tokyo unfortunatly. We are fortunate to have some lovely friends living in Tokyo so we stayed with them and explored from there for about 5 days. My friend was working some of the time we were visiting, and my husband had disappeared off to explore by motorbike, so I did some of this exploring on my own with my two little ones. Don't worry, when he returned I went off for some child free time with my friend too, and after this we had a week as a family in the mountains. It was an amazing holiday where we all got the best of all worlds.
From my mini adventure, I cannot recommend highly enough catching a bullet train and heading to the stunning Kyoto/Arashyima. We stayed in a traditional Ryokan and had wonderful mini break..... that's for another blog though!