Colourful locals in Harajuku, Tokyo (photo: Imagebroker/Alamy)

Tokyo for Kids: A Family Travel Checklist

By Micah Donovan

The Japanese do many things well. The best of which is childhood—making Tokyo an amazing place for kids of any age. That’s why we journeyed to the neon-soaked Shangri-La with our 10-year-old.

The culture of kawaii (cute) isn’t just for kids, and you’ll find it around every corner in Tokyo—from cats to cakes to cartoons. Our daughter, Lila, and her cousin companion, five-year-old Xavi, are in heaven!

We attempt to kick our jetlag by stretching our legs in tree-lined Yoyogi Park. We spot a wedding party in traditional kimono costume in Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine located in the park. We respectfully do not take photographs, but we soak in the beauty of what feels like another time.

Exiting the park, we arrive in the famed Harajuku area. Crowds flock to stalls selling kitsch on pedestrian-friendly streets. Souvenir shops hawk inexplicable and inexpensive trinkets that the kids love, from rockabilly gear to giant foam ice-cream cones.

Around the corner is the surreal Kawaii Monster Café, plastered with unicorns, enormous gummy bears and huge mushrooms. Lila’s impressed. But it’s soon dethroned as her fave when we get to feed cuddly cute creatures at the nearby Hedgehog Café.

While the hedgehogs are a hit, our karaoke experience really rocks. In a basement joint in the Yoyogi district, Lila and Xavi guzzle fruit juice and give their best performances, while us grownups wear fry costumes and get lost in the ’80s.

Weird and wonderful experiences in Tokyo

Another fun romp awaits at the Mori Art Museum. Situated on the 52nd and 53rd floors of a skyscraper, the modern art house features soaring views and otherworldly exhibitions, from space-creature sculptures to trick photography.

When it’s time to refuel, Tokyo offers some of the best sushi, ramen and tempura, but kids will inevitably gravitate to food on a stick. So we head to Teppen Onnadojo, a women-run izakaya (pub). A chef enthusiastically greets us as she grills skewered chicken and bacon-wrapped asparagus over a fire. When we mention it’s Lila’s birthday, the staff breaks out into a choreographed dance number, complete with chiming bells.

Happily, our spring visit also coincides with the time-sensitive viewing of the sakura (cherry blossoms). We grab bento boxes from the Takashimaya Basement Food Floor. Sitting on our blanket, munching sushi, we soak in all the natural beauty and hope for a pink petal to fall in our sake and juice cups.

AMA member Susan Williams recently took her kids to Japan for an immersive cultural adventure. Here are her family-friendly tips.

Fun food: There are loads of inexpensive, kid-friendly spots to eat. Try a ramen house or, for something more quirky, a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant.

A beginner’s guide to shopping in Tokyo’s Ginza district

Traveller’s aid: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Wherever you go, locals are extremely helpful and will go out of their way to ensure you are happy.

Super subways: Get transit day passes in Tokyo and Osaka. And consider a Japan Rail Pass, so you can maximize high-speed train trips during a set period.

How to save: The Japanese love families and you can often find discounts for students and children. Check online for deals at museums and attractions.

Japan Family Holiday (Intrepid)

Discover Tokyo, Hakone, Hiroshima and Kyoto on this 12-day adventure. The small-group tour includes seven nights in hotels, four overnights in traditional ryokans, transportation, sightseeing, most breakfasts and some lunches and dinners. Throughout the tour, a guide will point out local sights sure to delight travellers of all ages.

From $5,300/adult, $4,770/child 5-17 years (tour only)
Contact a travel specialist online or at 1-866-667-4777