7 Special Tokyo Experiences for Families with Kids
We are beyond exited to have started our gap year as full-time family travelers in Japan. We start here because we are fortunate to know some awesome families from Japan whom we have met during our 4 years of living in Spain.
In addition to the luxury of our local guides, we had researched a lot about what we wanted to see and do in this big and intense city.
Here are our 7 best places to visit in Tokyo with kids
If you are feeling jetlagged like we were, Shibuya Crossing is sure to cure it. Renowned for being the busiest crosswalk in the world this amazingly hectic intersection just outside Shibuya Station is truly a representation of Tokyo itself. Action in all directions. Three massive “full wall screens” with neon colors are facing the intersection and flash all day long, while the rest of the area is covered with lights, advertisements, and even more lights. People are constantly racing across the street in literally all directions before time runs out, it quiets down, and the cars, busses and truck race across. Time counts down and repeat itself over and over day in and out. Seen from above it’s like small ants going, stopping, going, stopping. You should go and have a look and get the experience yourself.
Tokyo Tower stands 333 meters tall right in the center of Tokyo. We found it amusing that throughout the Tower it’s advertised that Tokyo Tower is the world's tallest, (self-supported steel) tower and 13 meters taller than its model, the Eiffel Tower. There is a lot of pride in the tower and it served as a symbol of Japan's post-war rebirth as a major economic power. Tokyo Tower was the country's tallest structure from its completion in 1958 until 2012 when it was surpassed by it’s (big) sister tower, Tokyo SkyTree. There are two decks at the Tokyo Tower. The main deck at 150 meters and a higher deck at 250 meters. We opted for the main deck which was 900 Yen in admission vs. the 2500 Yen of the 250-meter deck which is a good solution. Thanks to Tokyo Tower's central location, you get great views from the tower despite being only at a relatively moderate height. For the people loving the heights there are several places with glass floor to walk or stand on. I have to admit, that with age I have become a little weary about heights, but these glass floors were a lot of fun especially for the kids.
We were very lucky to see Mt. Fuji or Fujisan present itself in all its beauty, which is only possible on clear days. We came just before sunset and got the most amazing views and at that time there were not too many tourists. Tokyo in the dark, which is just after 6 pm. is quite spectacular as well. We might have stayed longer than the average tourist as we ended up sitting down by the wall and just enjoying the view, while planning the next few days – no better place with a view to hang out at.
The Tsukiji Fish Market had been at the top of our list since visiting Tokyo last back in 2006. Tsukiji Outer Market as it is now called, is located where the fish market has been for decades. Since 2018 the wholesale market, also known as the “inner market” and famous for its tuna auctions, now moved to a new location in Toyosu. We understood that this is partly due to the increasing tensions between the stall tenders and the inc reasing amounts of tourists making it difficult for them to serve their real customers who are Tokyos restaurant owners and also due to a need for bigger and better facilities.
However, the Outer Market is still a great adventure into Japanese food culture and now boasts a maze of smaller wholesale and retail shops, as well as street food restaurants packed along narrow lanes. The market also offers a wide range of food-related items such as knives and kitchen utensils.
We decided to visit the market with a local guide to get the most out of all the local specialties. We have used Viater.com before and did so again. We payed 3000 Yen pr. person and got a very hands-on experience for 1,5 hours trying delicious, and in some cases very strange Japanese delicacies. Despite the sound of it, dried fishbone marinated in soy was my personal highlight, although less so with the kids. Delicious taste, somewhere between a salty cracker and seaweed. We came at 11 am and ended our tour in what is left in the old wholesale section. As they were closing the stalls down, we got to buy the fresh seafood at 50% discount, so we got our lunch right there eating the best sushi and fatty (toto) tuna at price worth coming back for. A key take-away is to come just before the stalls close at this indoor wholesale to be able to get a deal on the fresh sushi and sashimi prepared to be eaten right there and then (on the roof top on the 3rd floor).
As part of our home-schooling efforts we went to the National Museum of Nature and Science which we had gotten recommended by our friends. First of all, the museum knows how to set you off on a high with the entrance featuring an impressive live size blue whale. Second highlight already before even entering was the admissions. A true bargain at 600 Yen per adult and students/kids are free.
The museum focuses on the evolution of life from the big bang at the bottom floors and continue all the way through man discoveries of nature through to the top floors.
The boys got a lot out of the hands-on approach to the experiments about lunar and solar eclipses. Such a great way to do some actual classical home-schooling, and initiated lots of conversations in the days after as well.
Nezu Shrine is one of the best places to visit as a tourist. We were so lucky to have our Tokyo friends show us the beautiful Nezu Shrine. Among locals, it is apparently known as one of the best hidden gems of Tokyo and seriously underrated. It’s not well known that at Nezu you can enjoy the gorgeous view of the infinite tunnel of the orange vermilion torii gates which are iconic from Japan, but more well-known from Kyoto.
Nezu is originally founded in 1705 during the Edo Period, and it’s one of oldest shrines in Japan. The site of the shrine is wide, considering the location in Tokyo, and rich in green and a great place to enjoy a bit of peace and quit. We strolled the grounds, which also features large fishponds with turtles which was a hit with the kids and their friends, whom they hadn’t seen for 6 months since we both have left Barcelona.
Since the shrine and indeed most shrines and temples in Japan are places of worship, we were introduced to the ritual of praying which also tourists can take part in, if the local customs are observed. You start at the temizuya (a fountain) to purify yourself. First you wash your right hand, then your left and finally your mouth. Don’t ever drink the water – always spit out into the basin around the fountain, and finally rinse the spoon you poured the water with.
In a Shinto shrine, prayer follows a specific pattern. First, put or throw a little change into the box and ring the bell. Bow twice, then clap your hands twice to signal your presence to the local deity. After you have a moment of silence while making a wish, you bow one last time. It’s all done quite slowly. You never rush these things.
The approach is similar to a Buddhist temple, but don't clap your hands. It may be that there are incense sticks available at the temple as an offering. Do not hesitate to fan the incense smoke around your head and body as it’s believed to have therapeutic and purifying properties.
This process brings a certain calm with it and we have greatly enjoyed being able to do this at all the shrines and temples we have visited since.
National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and the surrounding Bay Area was another home-schooling project, we journeyed to what is known as Japan's premier science museum, nicknamed "Miraikan," to learn about humanity's relationship to the universe and experience Japan’s progress in the cutting-edge technologies like robotics.
We got to experience and have a conversation with the latest in human service robotics, controlling the movement, speech and mood (sad, happy, angry) of a very human like robot. Especially impressive to the boys was the most advanced human robot in the world. A man size robot playing football and jumping on one leg. We got to see how Japan sees these technologies integrated into daily life as well as on space missions. Hugely impressive and intriguing museum. We arrived in afternoon and got to spend only 2,5 hours there before closing but could have easily spend the entire afternoon.
Afterwards, we continued exploring the many shops and sights of Odaiba and the surrounding Bay Area which consist of man-made islands. There are lots of malls there as well as an outlet heaven. Yes, we did buy three new pairs of shoes…. and none of them was for mom😉
We had been looking forward to showing the boys to Asakusa to see the Sensoji Temple which is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa and absolutely one of Tokyo's most colorful and popular temples.
The legend says that in the year 628, two brothers caught a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, in their nets, fishing in the nearby Sumida River. Even though they threw the statue back in the river many times, it always returned to them. To honor the statue, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645 hence making it Tokyo's oldest temple.
We aimed to enter via the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) with the giant iconic Japanese lantern hanging from the gate welcoming you to Sensoji Temple and the symbol of Asakusa and the entire city of Tokyo. Beyond the gate is the traditional shopping street called Nakamise with typical Japanese souvenirs such as the fan yukata, various traditional local snacks from the Asakusa area. All though it seemed quite touristic, the shopping street has a history of several centuries and we of course tried various snacks which were yummy, but worst was a freshly squished lemonade which turned out to be Sprite with half a lemon in it. They saw a real tourist from far away apparently 😊
Beyond the Hozomon Gate stands the temple's main hall and the iconic five storied pagoda. Destroyed in the II World War, the buildings have been reconstructed since but most of the Asakusa Shrine, stands as built in the year 1649 by Tokugawa Iemitsu. We are watching the iconic 1980 tv-series Shogun at the moment, so we are getting quite wise around 17th century Japanese history 😊