Monday, March 25, 2013

with kids in mind

A friend planning a trip to Japan had asked me how she might best entertain her children, 2 girls in middle school, while in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. (Osaka was also on her list, but I've never been.) She's on my mind today because she is probably in Japan right now... Here were my recommendations, in no particular order:

Take a day trip from Tokyo to Kamakura, and doing the trail walk to the Big Buddha (Daibutsu).

If you like aquariums, visit the Tokyo Sea Life Park in Kasai Rinkai Koen (don't know the one in Osaka);

Spend a day at Tokyo DisneySea. Nobody does Disney like the Japanese. The Tokyo Disney Resort has two big parks: Disneyland and DisneySea. Go to Sea. Less crowded, just as good, if not better. Do not try to go on a weekend though. Resort is in Urayasu, Chiba, just outside Tokyo - an easy day trip. Take the train to Maihama, then ride the Disney monorail to the DisneySea park. (A helpful map can be found here.) Don't miss the Indiana Jones ride. Enjoy the people watching.

If you're a fan of Miyazaki films (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, etc.) you'll love the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, next to Inokashira park in Kichijoji, a suburb west of Tokyo, I think it's 20 min west of Shibuya station on Inokashira line. You'll have to get tickets to Ghibli ahead of time, and choose an arrival time on a specific day; maybe ask your friend to get the tickets for you, at a kiosk inside any Lawson's convenient store in Tokyo. Sounds complicated but it's really not!

While in Tokyo you could do a spa day with the girls in Odaiba, at Oedo Onsen Monogatari, an indoor/outdoor hot springs spa, featuring "doctor fish" for your feet. You can have lunch there and load up on kitschy souvenirs in between spa treatments. Campy, fun. Also in Odaiba: the Sony ExploraScience Museum 

Do you and your girls like cats? Go to a neko cafe! There are quite a few, but I enjoyed two in particular, JaLaLa in Akihabara and Cha Ma Mo cat room on Meiji-dori near Omotesando-dori.

Also in Tokyo: KidZania. It's, um, different. Shy uncertain kids will be overwhelmed. Lots going on. Not a lot of English being spoken. But kids who are motivated and adventurous seem to get a lot of out it. You, however, might get a headache.

Showa Kinen park - a great big amazing place just outside Tokyo, west of Shinjuku. Enter at Nishi Tachikawa gate for easier access to the best parts: Rainbow Hammocks, Bouncing domes, Dragon Dunes, Misty Forest, Bonsai garden. Grab an English map when you get there. This one doesn't point out everything.

Need a zoo? the Ueno park zoo has pandas again, but Japanese zoos in general are depressing - big animals in tiny spaces, etc. The Tama zoo west of the city is an exception, I think. If you go, be sure to ride the Lion Bus.

While in Kyoto, don't miss the Fushimi Inari shrine, on Mt. Inari, just outside the city. A nice trek through some 10,000 torii gates, lots of statues of foxes (representing Inari, a fox deity, Shinto god of rice, I think). One of the local train lines takes you right to it. View this slideshow of pics or read the rave reviews posted on Tripadvisor.

Also from Kyoto, you could spend a day in Arashiyama (bamboo forest, monkey park) and/or a day in Nara, where at the famous temple Toda-ji, the kids can crawl through Buddha's nose for enlightenment.

While in Hiroshima, take a commuter ferry out to Miyajima island, if the weather is good. There's a famous big red torii - try to be there to see it during both high and low tide.

Almost forgot - the Hakone Open-Air Museum! It's terrific. One big sprawling sculpture garden. Climbing ropes for the kids inside the "castle of nets." A foot bath at the end, to soak your tired feet. This is a day or overnight trip from Tokyo. A few other things to do in Hakone (there's lots) mentioned in the Tokyo city guide side trips piece I wrote awhile back.


jake first said...

i would imagine that japan is an ideal place to take the kids are they have so many attractions around cartoons. My kid is a huge fan of pokemon and I hear they have a whole store devoted to the game/cartoon

Maryanne said...

Yes Jake, the Pokemon Center, a short walk from the Hamamatsucho JR train station (the Daimon metro station is also reasonably close) has all the Pokemon merchandise you could ever ask for! It can get very crowded on weekends - the day they introduced a sleeping version of Pikachu, there was a line outside the door to get in. Crazy. I used to take my kids there to reward them for good behavior in church. (Setting a 500-yen spending limit was never easy but it can be done.) If you are going to go, I recommend that you also visit the Kyu Shiba Rikyu gardens, as long as you're in the neighborhood. It's a lovely place that I think often gets overlooked in favor of the bigger, more famous Hama-Rikyu gardens up the road. Pokemon Center address is 1-2-3 Kaigan, Minato-ku. Enjoy.