Planning a trip to Tokyo with kids? Get ready for a one-of-a-kind, extraordinary, and at times overwhelming experience! The world’s largest metropolis, known for its unique blend of ultra-modern and traditional, offers so much to do the hardest task (aside from getting over the jet-leg) will be deciding where to begin. To help plan a trip, here are seven experiences that are kid friendly, fun, unique to Tokyo, and will give you a taste of Japanese culture.
Top 7 Things Not to Miss in Tokyo with Kids
1. Visit an animal café
Tokyo’s animal cafés are world famous and one of Tokyo’s special experiences. The original craze started with cats, but if felines aren’t your thing (or if you happen to be allergic), there are many other options. Tokyo offers cafés with dogs, rabbits, birds, goats, snakes and the latest craze: owls and hedgehogs. These probably started because the city has strict pet rules and they quickly became wildly popular with residents. The cafés are now a big tourist attraction, so make a reservation weeks ahead of your visit. It’s important to plan!
2. Explore the world’s largest fish market
Fish is one of the staples of the Japanese diet and each year Japan consumes about one-third of the global tuna catch. Even if your kids aren’t big fish eaters, a visit to Tsukiji, Tokyo’s famous fish market, is an incredible experience. A whopping five million pounds of seafood are sold here every day, from tiny baby fish to giant tuna the size of a whale. But it is not just fish in every size, shape, and color: some of the most interesting items on display in ice counters, tanks, or hanging from the hooks are other sea creatures. After visiting, you will understand the meaning of “If it lives in the sea, you will find it at Tsukiji!”
It is possible to take a tour of the market, but it also works to do it on your own. Know that the market does not open to public until 10 am (as not to disturb the intense wholesale trade that takes place each morning). To witness the famous tuna auction, be prepared to get up in the middle of the night as lines start forming at 3:00 am! Also know that tickets are not guaranteed for this coveted 5:00 am event since only 120 people are let in each morning.
3. Make a wish at a temple or a shrine
Despite its modern pulse, Tokyo displays plenty of tradition, some of which can be experienced by visiting one of its temples or shrines. They are a big part of life in Japan in there are hundreds of them in Tokyo. Two of the most famous and most visited ones are the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park and Sensoi Temple in Asakusa. It might be necessary to battle the crowds, but admiring the splendor of the structures, observing the traditional rituals, and catching a glimpse of a Japanese wedding (which is supposed to be lucky), is worth it. For an extra memorable experience, purchase an ema, a small wooden plaque and write down your family’s wishes or prayers and then hang it among thousands of other wishes.
4. Take a sushi class
A great way to learn a bit about the Japanese culture and history along the way is to take a sushi class. Our family loved the experience we had at Chagohan Tokyo in Asakusa! After learning how to make sushi rice and dashi broth, there was a Japanese omelet making competition with judges and all. We prepared rolled sushi and sashimi, which were enjoyed at the end of the class. Highly recommend!
5. Play traditional Japanese games with a Geisha
Geishas, the traditional female entertainers and hostesses, are most often associate with Kyoto, but Tokyo has several geisha districts. For a fun, kid-friendly geisha experience, head to Omotenashi Nihonbashi Information Center, which offers a range of tours and activities. Their Time to Geisha program showcases dance and singing performances and also a lovely Japanese tea with a traditional sweet. The best part, however, are the traditional geisha games which include active audience participation.
6. Visit the island of Odaiba and ride in a driverless train
For all kinds of modern fun and entertainment, head to Odaiba, Tokyo’s man-made island in Tokyo Bay. The island is home to several amusement parks, LEGOLAND, museums, shopping areas, restaurants, and more. Odaiba is accessible by water bus, but try Yurikamome, a fully automated train traveling from the city over the famous Rainbow Bridge to the island. TIP: Try to score front seats in the first car by boarding at the Shimbashi station, the beginning of the line. Odaiba is also a place to find some of the best views of Tokyo. It is especially striking at night when the city and bridge are lit up with millions of colorful lights.
7. Buy the most peculiar flavor of Kit Kats available
For a fun and tasty souvenir to extend the memories of a Tokyo vacation, go shopping for Kit Kats. This chocolate brand is a bit of an obsession in Japan. There are more than 200 different flavors including cheesecake, ginger ale, purple potato, sake, and green tea. Why so popular? The name closely resembles a popular Japanese phrase Kitto Katsu, which can be translated as “win surely” and essentially meaning “good luck.” As such, Kit Kats are often used for gifts, especially among the younger generation.
There’s usually a great selection of Kit Kats in 24-hour convenience stores. There are also upscale, boutique-like Kit Kat dedicated counters in large department stores such as Takashimaya near the Shinjuku Station.
Have you been to Tokyo with kids?
Vera Holroyd is travel blogger for Hilton Mom Voyage, a blog about real families and their travels. She also writes about travel for other publications and media. Vera lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family of four and loves being the family travel director. The family likes to wander off the beaten path, seeking unique sights and experiences to make their travels especially memorable. They also enjoy sharing their travel discoveries, tips and wisdom with others.