On a recent family trip to Japan we were greeted with a frankly epic downpour that lasted for three days straight. Caught on the back foot, our temple-hopping plans were quickly shelved in favour of some indoor child-friendly distractions, keeping us out of our (typically tiny) Japanese hotel room and keeping everyone sane!
Here’s our fave five from the trip:
1. Tokyo Fire Museum
Start here and combine with number 2 on this list for an easy morning of entertainment. This museum covers six floors and delves into the history behind Tokyo’s fire service, making for an interesting read for parents. There’s a dress-up corner where kids can play the hero, but the real draws here are, of course, the nee-naws! With genuine vintage fire trucks galore (some that you can climb into), and even a helicopter, there are plenty of photo ops to be had and bells to be rung to sound the alert. Heaven!
Where: Tokyo Fire Museum, Yotsuya 3-10, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
How much: Free!
Getting there: Jump on Tokyo Metro’s Marunochi Line to Yotsuya Sanchome Station. Exit 2 takes you to the museum entrance.
2. Tokyo Toy Museum
It may come second on our list, but the Tokyo Toy Museum should be first on everyone’s Tokyo sightseeing list – it’s that good! Don’t let the word ‘museum’ fool you as only a small number of displays here are off-limits for little fingers, making the majority of the three-storey space a totally hands-on experience. Packed to the rafters with gorgeous handmade wooden toys, musical instruments and games, the friendly museum staff are more than happy to get down on their hands and knees and show your little one just how everything works. This is low-fi play at its best with not a screen to be seen – and you absolutely have to see the ‘sandbox’ area comprising over 20,000 perfectly polished wooden pebbles. The separate toddler room is packed full of tactile wonders, making it a perfect hangout for the under-twos, and there’s a whole game and puzzle zone for older kids. Many of the toys are available to buy from the in-house shop at the end of your visit, cutting down on potential home-time tantrums.
Where: Tokyo Toy Museum, Yotsuya 4-20, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
How much: ¥700 for adults, ¥500 for children aged 3 and over, or ¥1000 for a parent and child combined ticket.
Getting there: As with the Fire Museum, head to Yotsuya Sanchome Station and take Exit 2. Turn right at street level, then take the third street on the right and continue for around five minutes until you come to the museum on the right.
3. Toyota Megaweb (and the train ride there!)
Another one for the vehicle enthusiasts! Megaweb is a giant Toyota car theme park-cum-showroom, which, in itself, doesn’t sound terribly interesting. But for a car-obsessed toddler, this was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon. Parents can enjoy playing on the futuristic ‘personal mobility’ pods that you can drive around a purpose-built track winding its way around the showroom, and older kids can experience high-speed racing in the driving simulators and virtual reality theatre.
Added bonus activity: We arrived at Megaweb via the metro line that runs along Tokyo’s waterfront. Anyone who’s travelled on London’s Docklands Light Railway will be familiar with the setup – it’s an automatically guided rail system that allows you to sit right at the very front, giving you the driver’s-eye view of the tracks and stations ahead. This kept a little boy who usually has ants in his pants quiet and perfectly still for nearly 40 minutes, making this an essential bolt on to the visit!
Where: Toyota Megaweb, 1-3-12 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo.
How much: Free!
How to get there: Take the Yurikamome line to Aomi station and Megaweb is right in front of you as you alight.
4. Tokyo Tower and Aquarium
Another rainy day to kill, and this one just happened to be local to our hotel, making it a shoe-in for the list. The Tokyo Tower is a great point from which to orientate yourself and is a landmark in its own right, being somewhat reminiscent of another, (more famous) tower overlooking the Seine! The huge orange and white structure looms over Shiba Park and offers a birds’-eye view over the vast megalopolis that is the Japanese capital. Staff are extremely helpful and ensured that our stroller-toting party was bumped to the front of the queue for the high-speed lifts.
Once we’d tired of the view – which includes Mount Fuji on a clear day – and the (unnerving for mama) glass floor, we decided to investigate the small aquarium on the tower’s ground floor. Although nowhere near as impressive as our own Ocean Park, this did offer some child-friendly distractions, including a small display of jellyfish that fascinated my son for quite some time, and an open seashore exhibit with hermit crabs scuttling around in psychedelically decorated shells.
Where: Tokyo Tower, 4-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato-ku, Tokyo.
How much: Tower admission: (main observatory) ¥820 per adult and ¥310/¥460 for children 4 and over.
Aquarium: ¥1000 per adult
How to get there: Take the Oedo line to Akabanebashi station, the Hibiya Line to Kamiyacho Station (Exit 1) or the Mita line to Onarimon Station (Exit A1). All are around a 5-minute walk away from the tower.
5. Tokyo Baby Café
Finally if, after all that traipsing around entertaining your little one, you’re in need of some refreshment, head to the Tokyo Baby Café for a little family-friendly coffee break. This weird and wonderful establishment is fully stocked with toys and book, but the real draw is the quirky design. The interior plays around with perspective, using spaces in different ways for adults and children, e.g. tables become houses for kids, while a giant sofa becomes an entire play area.
Exclusively for the under-7’s (and parents) and pregnant women, this place will buy you plenty of time to enjoy your latte and kids are well catered for too, with scrummy, healthy meal options.
Where: B1F, 4-5-12 Jingumae, ?Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
How much: ¥500 per 30 minutes.
How to get there: Take the to metro Omotesando station, exit A2 (Chiyoda, Ginza and Hanzomon lines). The café is a 2-minute walk away.