Kate Neath, Founder of Tokyo Urban Baby and author of The Tokyo Guide – Essential Guide to the Top 10 Baby-Friendly Locations in Tokyo, is the mother of two kids Ethan (3) and Chloe (7 months). She has been blogging about things to do in Tokyo with kids for the last 3 years and gives suitcases&strollers the insider’s guide as to why Japan’s capital makes for an awesome, busy but very child-friendly family holiday destination.
Why should parents plan a family holiday in Tokyo?
Tokyo is such a big bustling city, so you might be surprised when I say it is actually very child-friendly and perfect for a family holiday. In amongst all the fashion stores and buildings are an abundance of beautiful parks, playgrounds and baby rooms so children of all ages can have fun and enjoy themselves in between shopping and sightseeing. I think what is truly unique and special for children is the experience of Japanese culture and customs – the shrines, temples, sushi restaurants, shinkansens [high speed trains], sumo tournaments, summer Matsuri festivals [local festivals or holidays] and much, much more – all of these places welcome children and offer a very unique experience that you cannot get anywhere else in the world.
[Which do kids like better: Tokyo culture versus Tokyo Disney? 11-year-old Alex Pizel gives suitcases&strollers his verdict.]
Where is your favourite place to take kids in Tokyo?
I love going on the weekend with my husband and children to Tokyo Station. The renovations of Tokyo Station on the Marunouchi side have just recently been completed (it had been covered in scaffolding for the last 10 years!) and it is really beautiful to see. There are three main department stores on this side of the station – Marunouchi Building, Shin-Marunouchi Building and Kitte – and all three offer an amazing view of the restorations. For lunch we often grab sandwiches at Dean and Deluca and have a picnic in the Imperial Palace Gardens or dine indoors at the Japanese restaurant Suju on the fifth floor of Shin-Marunouchi Building. All of the department stores have baby rooms and diaper changing facilities, so it is super convenient if you are in Tokyo with babies or toddlers in tow.
[For more travel tips on holidays with toddlers, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Where are your kids’ favourite place in Tokyo to hang out?
This is really determined by my 3-year-old at the moment and my daughter just follows! He loves going to parks and playgrounds. He also loves anything to do with trains. I think if you were to ask him where is favourite place is, it would have to be Muji Shibuya play room for indoor playing, Robot Park [6-16-46 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan] at Roppongi Hills for outdoor play and Kitte rooftop in Marunouchi to watch the shinkansens going by.
What is the best free activity to do in Tokyo with kids?
The best free activity is to visit the shrines and temples. They are all surrounded by a Japanese garden or at least a big open space – perfect for toddlers to run around. My favourites are Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Zozo-ji Temple [also know as Jodo Shu] next to Tokyo Tower and Senso-ji in Asakusa.
[For more travel tips on free things to do with kids in most cities, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Where is the best place to take kids in Tokyo when the weather is bad?
Futako-Tamagawa. This station is located just 15 minutes from Shibuya and is perfect for a wet weather day with kids. There are a huge variety of shops, cafes and restaurants in the three main shopping malls – Rise Shopping Center, Dogwood Plaza and Takashimaya Department Store. The best part is these are all connected by undercover walkways so you never have to go outside in the rain. If you have toddlers in Tokyo or young kids that need to let off some energy take them to the fifth floor of Takashimaya – there is a kids floor with toys, carpeted play area and even a kids hair salon if your child is due for a haircut. My son has been going to this hair salon since he was 1 year old and he loves it as he can sit in the car seat and watch the Japanese cartoon Anpanman on repeat. Perfect way to keep him still while cutting his hair!
What are some of the city secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Tokyo with kids?
There are so many secret places for parents and kids to enjoy. One of my favourites is Daikanyama. Not many visitors know about Daikanyama but it is actually one of the coolest places to hang out with your children in Tokyo. It has a maze of little streets, hip cafes and boutique children’s wear shops. Make sure you include these spots in your day trip: Daikanyama T-site (there is a kids lounge on the second floor of Building #1), BorneLund toy shop, Ivy Place child-friendly cafe, Kodomo Beams children’s fashion store for a beautiful selection of Japanese and imported brands. If you need to change nappies, head to shopping centres La Fuente or Dixsept baby rooms. There are also two baby rooms in Daikanyama T-site. Keen for some sightseeing? Don’t miss the beautiful traditional Japanese house called Kyu Asakura which is open to the public and only costs about a dollar.
Where are your top 3 places for family-friendly meals in Tokyo with kids?
1. Pintokona Sushi [6-4-1 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 5771 1133], Roppongi Hills – you cannot visit Tokyo without dining with your children at a sushi bar. And don’t worry – they don’t need to eat raw fish to enjoy! Popular sushi for kids are the tamago (egg omelet on rice), kappa makki (cucumber nori roll) and the avocado roll.
2. Daylight Kitchen, Shibuya – this is one of the most child-friendly cafes in Shibuya with organic baby food, high chairs and a private play room for larger groups.
3. Minoru Diner, Ginza – this restaurant on the rooftop of Mitsukoshi Department Store in Ginza is easy to find as it always has a line of strollers parked out the front at the entrance. It is super child-friendly with a big terrace opening out on to the rooftop garden.
What are your tips for kids' shops in Tokyo?
Kids fashion stores can be found in all major department stores in Tokyo. If you are looking for something different, try the boutiques in Daikanyama or Jiyugaoka which are lovely local villages perfect for a stroll with the kids. In terms of Japanese brands, I love Kagure which has organic cotton clothing and accessories for babies and kids.
Which is the best place to find family friendly accommodation if you are on family vacation in Tokyo with kids?
1. Grand Hyatt Tokyo. This hotel is connected to Roppongi Hills which is one of the most child-friendly shopping malls in Tokyo. Trust me – your child will never get bored here! There is LEGO Click Brick play center and a kids play room on level B2 of Roppongi Hills as well as Robot Park outdoor playground – great place to hang out with the locals.
2. Sheraton Miyako. This is a huge hotel with Japanese garden and free shuttle to Meguro Station and Shinagawa Station. Perfect if you want to stay somewhere central with easy access to Shinagawa Station for the bullet trains and Narita Express to the airport.
3. The Westin Tokyo. I like this hotel as it is not only child-friendly, but it is located in Ebisu which can give you a different Japanese experience when visiting Tokyo. Enjoy lunch or dinner at the Yebisu Beer Garden and relax at the kids play area in Ebisu Mitsukoshi.
What is the best way to move around Tokyo with kids?
Train! I love catching the trains in Tokyo – they always run on time and are “barrier free”, which means they have elevators and wide ticket gates for strollers. Some stations still don’t have elevators, but you can call the intercom and the train staff will come and help you carry your stroller up the stairs.
What is the ideal time frame for a holiday to Tokyo with kids?
I would recommend 3 to 5 days in Tokyo to see some of the main sightseeing spots, while allowing time for your children (and you!) to rest. If you can stay longer for a week or so, you could combine a few days in Kyoto or a day trip to Nikko. The beauty of Tokyo (and Japan) is that you can easily travel outside the city for short trips or an overnight stay. Travelling by shinkansen (bullet train) is actually a lot of fun and stress-free, even if you have infants, as they have private nursing rooms called “multipurpose rooms” where you can relax with your baby, feed your baby or change diapers.
When is the best time of year to visit Tokyo with kids?
Japanese culture celebrates all seasons and nearly every month there is a special ceremony or festival, so I think anytime is fun to visit Tokyo.
My favourite would have to be spring though – I LOVE the cherry blossom season and when all the parks turn green. It is so beautiful and there is a real buzz in the air as it is the start of school/financial year.
What are your top 3 tips for families travelling to Tokyo with kids?
1. Plan in advance. Tokyo has so many exciting things happening every day such as festivals and exhibitions, so it is a good idea to research on the internet and plan your day trips in advance. Once you’ve decided which sightseeing spots you’d like to visit, check where the child-friendly cafes and diaper-changing facilities are. These can be hard to find, so a little planning ahead can make a huge difference to your day.
2. Bring your stroller or baby-carrier. I think this really depends on your preference, but either a stroller and/or a baby carrier is an essential item when traveling in Tokyo with baby as there is so much walking. If you only bring your baby carrier, there are free stroller rentals in all major department stores which are perfect if your baby wants to sleep lying down or if you need a break.
[For travel tips on some of the most popular baby carriers, see the suitcase&strollers story Traveller’s Wishlist: Baby Carriers.]
3. Bring your own diapers and baby food. If you are in Tokyo for a short stay, I would recommend bringing all your diapers and baby food with you. It can be hard to find diapers in Tokyo (they are not available at supermarkets, only in some shops such as drug stores/pharmacies). Also, the majority of the baby food brands are Japanese, so the ingredients are written in Japanese. [This is particularly important if you need to see the ingredients list if your child has allergies. For more travel tips on traveling with allergies (and dietary requirements) see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
For more travel tips on Japan with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Kyushu Insider.