Tokyo with Kids: 3 Days, 2 Tweens, 1 Amazing Time
On a whirlwind family trip to Asia (we hit Singapore, Cambodia and Vietnam too), Tokyo was our first stop after a long flight from the West Coast. Having visited many places around the world, we asked our girls to name a place they always wanted to visit, and the resounding answer was “Tokyo!” Was it their love of sushi? A growing obsession with the stylish Harajuku girls? A nod to their earlier years, watching hours of Totoro cartoons? Yes, yes and yes. And Tokyo with kids was an amazing adventure.
We planned our trip carefully, choosing sights in advance that we knew both parents and kids would enjoy. Starting with our home base at Hilton Tokyo, we maximized our time by getting an early start. The Hilton is very well situated in a vibrant neighborhood near all public transportation.
Along with our intrepid tour guide Naomi, we braved the famed Tokyo subway system and lived to tell the tale! Actually, it was very easy to understand buying tickets, navigating the labyrinth of stairways (like something from Hogwarts) and crossing the endless sea of commuters making their way to work. It was mayhem, but organized mayhem where we just joined the stream and never looked back.
We fit a great many things into just three days. Here are a few of our favorites.
Top Tokyo Attractions for Kids and Teens
Shopping in Harajuku District
Made famous by Gwen Stefani and a host of fashionistas who copied the unique style of these Japanese schoolgirls, the Harajuku District is a shopping maze of clothing stores, collectibles, toys, neon lights, food crazes and (most importantly) people watching.
A few blocks long, Harajuku is a must see. Every image of Japan you’ve seen of girls dressed like crazed cheerleaders with over-the-top hair and kitty ears has started here. We wandered in and out of stores for hours, discovering new and bizarre examples of extreme trends. We had to literally pull the girls out of there when our grumbling tummies called for a lunch break.
The crazy anime-inspired color of the Harajuku was a true counterpoint to the peace and serenity of the nearby Yoyogi Park, gardens and Meiji Shrine. Just a short walking distance away, it was worlds apart. We marveled at the authentic beauty of Japanese zen, walking under leafy tree-lined paths towards the gorgeous shrine.
Naomi shared that washing your hands in the special blessed waters was a sign of respect, and we did as the locals to prepare for our visit to the shrine’s interior. Lucky for us, we happened upon a special “ring entering” ceremony featuring Japan’s current sumo wrestling champion who performed a ritual dance to honor the spirits of the shrine. The incense, drums and sense of history threw us back in time by hundreds of years. It was truly special.
Sushi on a Conveyor Belt
You can find this in the U.S. now, but nothing compares to pulling a serving of fresh sushi off a conveyor belt of choices in downtown Tokyo. Also within walking distance of the Harajuku District, we enjoyed an authentic lunch at Heiroku Sushi.
As it traveled by us on the moving belt, we took plates of sushi that looked and tasted delicious. We chose carefully, as there were many dishes an American palate may not recognize. (We were the only non-locals in the place.) It was an adventure and fun for the kids to see their favorites coming toward them automatically.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Not for the faint of heart, this fish market is the largest in the world, and we felt small making our way through the narrow aisles stocked with every kind of fish you could imagine. Fish on ice. Fish hanging from hooks. Fish being sliced into sashimi. Fish being gutted and cleaned. Large and small. Round and pointy. Rare and common. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time, and the experience was like nothing we’d ever seen.
Dodging forklifts and fishermen, we wound through a tiny percentage of the massive building, ogling and making faces of disgust and delight. Go very early (jet lag will help you wake up) to see the hustle and bustle, which is pretty much over by 10 am.
Hama-rikyu Gardens & Teahouse
After the crazy market, it felt right to walk a few blocks over to the tranquil Hama-rikyu Gardens nearby for some fresh air and beauty. Originally built as a private park for 17th century Shoguns, the gardens are now open to the public to meander and enjoy.
Fields of wildflowers in bloom greeted us, along with centuries-old bonsai trees and manicured gardens famous the world over. On the lake, we visited the traditional tea house, seated on tatami mats as we were served Japanese green tea and beautiful (but odd tasting) bean paste “cookies.”
Boat Ride on the Sumida River
Within the Hama-rikyu Gardens, we bought tickets for the boat ride up the Sumida River. It was amazing to see the wonderful architecture of Tokyo from the riverboat, which traveled under 17 bridges to our final destination. Each bridge is different in style and design, and each painted a different color or hue. The kids had a great time choosing their favorites, and we marveled at the construction of each: some arched, some flat, some with cables, some looking a liiiiittle rickety.
The 45-minute ride landed us near Sensoji, Tokyo’s largest and most impressive Buddhist temple with its famous gigantic lanterns. Amid the wafting incense, our girls paid a small fee to find their fortune at the front gates, which promised them lifetimes of good luck and prosperity. The shrine was everything we imagined of old-world Japan, and did not disappoint.
Our family can’t wait to go back to Japan, explore more of Tokyo and venture beyond into other cities and areas to see Kyoto, Osaka, Niseko and other cool spots. What are some of your favorite Tokyo attractions? Please share in the comment section so we can plan our next trip to Japan with your help!
You may also enjoy:
- 9 Tips for Visiting Tokyo With Kids
- Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo With Kids
- 5 Top Sights in Hanoi, Vietnam with Kids
- 5 Fun Things to do in Singapore With Kids
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A Cali boy his entire life, Jon prefers to be near the water at all times. He grew up in San Francisco and now lives in San…