I’m asked all the time if folks should take their kids to Japan. Heck, yeah! Japan and specifically Tokyo have so much to offer travelers of any age. And as I firmly believe, “traveling makes world citizens” and oh, do we need more people now than ever with this perspective! I also bet at the end of your trip you’ll start to hear – – “do you know when we can come back?”
When friends ask what they should do in Tokyo, I start by giving them a copy of “Colorful Tokyo – Explore & Color” as the illustrations (visuals are best for kids… and adults too!) hone in on interesting aspects of Japanese culture that is sure to spark questions which can be the basis of your itinerary. “Why are those girls sleeping on the floor?” “Why are they both wearing the same robe to bed?”. Great insights which can form the building blocks of your trip. A traditional Japanese Inn (or Ryokan) has tatami mats as the flooring in the bedrooms. Sleeping on the floor? Huh? Why yes! That’s how many people sleep in Japan and other parts of Asia. A futon is a thick mattress that is used for sleeping and is so functional that they can be put away every morning to provide more space in the room. While staying in an inn typically a cotton yukata is provided for guests to lounge or sleep in, hence why they usually have the same pattern. What a treat you have in store with the traditional breakfast that is served every morning. Japanese-wabi-sabi-moto-delicious-culinary-heaven! Just this one illustration alone of girls enjoying a night stay in a ryokan can spark a lively and curious conversation which can begin the planning process.
Now you know that a ryokan is on your ‘must experience’ list. What’s next for your Tokyo list? Kids love castles and playgrounds, right? Well, no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Imperial Palace. You are not able to enter the Palace, but can wander around the vast grounds to view the stone walls, moats and gas lamp lined bridges. What makes this so idyllic is that Tokyo can be a little over stimulating – with flashing neon lights that never seem to turn off and throngs of people bustling hither and back. The vast expanse of the palace grounds allows your mind to come to a peaceful rest. And then, once the rest ends abruptly when your kids ask “what’s next?”…head across the street to Hibiya Park for a good ol’ fashion jungle-gym and swing filled park. With enough green space to also, yes, play football which got us a few interesting looks. Castle + Park = happy kids!
Eating in Japan in absolutely an adventure and the best part is no matter what or where – – the health standards are so high that you don’t have to worry about getting sick as you do in other parts of Asia. Be sure to try tofu prepared a million different ways, ramen at street stalls (great on the wallet too), okunamiyaki (a savory pancake of sorts with a million flavor options), squid on a stick (at the very least for the novelty photo opp), oyako donburi (mother and child + rice OR chicken and egg + rice), kai-ten sushi (conveyer belt) because, it’s kitsch anywhere, but this is Japan; then of course a treat of Tsukiji Market fresh sushi. This is the ultimate “sea to table” eating. If it was winter, I would also add all the great communal sharing of sukiyaki, shabu shabu or nabe. Big cauldrons of hot meat and vegetables, all cooked by the eaters. When you or the kids are looking for a snack be sure to pop into shichi-ju-ichi or 7-11 for a wild ride assortment of snacks, mostly Japanese or twists on American fare. Green tea flavored Kit Kat, anyone? So much to try, so little time.
Trains and subways make for a fantastic exploring experience for kids and you are going to needs these at least once a day if you are in Tokyo. Fortunately, in Tokyo and the rest of Japan, they are super accurate so the only part of the mystery to figure out is which platform. If time and budget allow, be sure to secure a bullet train ticket for at least one leg of your journey. Very cool and very fast. I’ve seen them a million times and am still impressed as any 4-year-old would be. Within Tokyo’s stations train maps are either readily available or clearly marked which allows kids to take the planning lead – and make them awfully darn proud of their logistical abilities. A trip from Shinjuku to Ueno Station via the JR (Japanese Railway) line can be the best educational treat. Riding trains, planning the routes, paying for tickets – all accomplishments that make for proud kids, parents too. Don’t forget Colorful Tokyo also begins with a simplified train map alongside the site’s index!
Many, many options for a visit to Tokyo. We suggest looking at the book to see what is of interest to both kids and parents alike and make that the starting point from which you build your itinerary.
Gombatte and Happy Exploring!