Japan is not a top destination for families, but it should be. There are a lot of unique and quirky activities children and adults can enjoy together, unique to this island nation. Our kids were having a blast from day one, the country is safe and convenient, and not nearly as expensive anymore as you might think. Three weeks here (of which almost two in Tokyo) may not be enough!
Here are the favorites from our first week in Tokyo:
1. High-tech sushi
Revolving sushi bars have evolved in Japan, and now feature iPad screens to place your order and fully automated trollies that will stop right in front of you to custom deliver your sushi. Our kids ate a lot and tried some new things. Our favorite sushi haunt is the Shibuya branch of Genki sushi, where a plate for 2 sushi starts at just 130 yen (about $1.25).
2. Arcades (and Joypolis)
Japan still has a very active arcade scene and many games only exist here, including games that appeal to women and girls. The arcades also feature Print Club photo booths. Chains include Club Sega and Taito Station. On Odaiba island there is a souped up called arcade called Joypolis, which is almost a theme park. We went in the evening with a discounted all-you-can-ride-pass.
Karaoke is, and has always been, big in Japan. Karaoke has gone high-tech too and after each song you receive a score for various dimensions of your performance. The kids can go gaga in a private room, where you can order food too. We visited Big Echo in Shibuya (opposite the Genki sushi restaurant).
4. Restaurant city
Kappabashi has a street devoted to supplies for restaurants. Our kids were especially be impressed with the displays of plastic food samples. One of the stores even showed how the plastic food samples are made and also had some remarkable pieces on display. Seven made a long wish list of kitchen gear he wants to get for his next birthday.
5. Odaiba technology museum
You can visit the artificial island Odaiba by mono-rail. There is a technology museum and Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba have there own showcases too. See details in this roundup of Geek Things to Do in Tokyo. We visited The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan), where you can see a robot run and jump on one foot. Japan is investing so much in robot technology, in part because it has a rapidly aging population and will need robots to augment the workforce. The kids had fun talking with, and pretending to be, humanoids.
6. Cat Cafes (and pet shops)
Katy Perry, in her movie, visits a cat cafe in Tokyo. Eleven had done the research to navigate us to several cat cafes: one was truly a coffee shop with some cats roaming about, whereas another was more of a private apartment where we paid $10/hour to hang out with 18 cats. In addition, too many street corners have pet shops with kittens or puppies and too often our kids want to spend ten minutes with the cuties.
Even a visit to the restroom is an experience in Japan, thanks to heated seats and a host of options to wash yourself. One of our kids (undisclosed) even put a Japanese toilet on top of his/her birthday wish list (above the kitchen gear). This child would go in just to ‘wash up’ and come out with an euphoric smile.
On October 25 there was a Halloween parade and trick-or-treat event in Omotesando. It took us quite a while to figure out how it worked: We had to first spent 1,000 Yen in the neighborhood, exchange our receipt for a map, which then told the kids which stores to visit to ‘trick or treat’. They all ended up with a big bag of candies and Eleven even won a doll-house, which we ended up giving away to some strangers in the park.
We had already experienced the fast train in China, but still going on the Japanese shinkansen is a treat for everybody. Even mom and dad enjoy it as it means a couple of hours of calm and quiet, just reading a book or enjoying a fabulous Japanese bento lunch box. Sometimes the train ride just isn’t long enough.
BONUS: Not so fun
The kids have been complaining about staying in AirBnB apartments. They are begging us to consider hostels instead, where they can interact with the staff and other visitors, much like we did in Yangshuo, Beijing and Guilin. We honored their request and changed our reservation in Hiroshima for a youth hostel. They’re really taking ‘people, not places’ to heart!
We are still coming back to Tokyo for another couple of days so more fun to follow! We will visit the Tokyo Motor Show, the Tsukiji Fish Market and the Edo Museum amongst other things.