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Tokyo with 5-year-old

Japan With Kids - Forums: Traveling to/from and in Japan: Tokyo with 5-year-old
By Bruce Burger on Wednesday, March 12, 2003 - 2:51 pm:

I live in Seattle and will visit Japan with my 5-year-old daughter from April 6-15, 2003. I'm looking for some specific advice, not general advice on Japan (I've been there) or travel with kids (our family has done a lot). But this is a special daddy/daughter trip because she's never been to Asia, and we both love sushi, and because ... well, because I know it will be great fun for both of us.

I am thinking of sticking to the Tokyo and Nikko areas. Kyoto is an obvious option but I've been there and frankly, I think its unique attractions aren't worth the extra travel time for a 5-year-old. (And selfishly, I've been to Kyoto as well as Matsumoto and lots of Hokkaido, but not Nikko. I also want to leave lots of time for slow exploring and hanging out rather than lots of shrines, museums, etc. For example, she is excited about the idea of just walking into a train station and picking out a bento box for lunch.

Here are some specific questions, all posed in the context of travel with a 5-year-old American girl.

TOKYO

1) What is the best toy store for uniquely Japanese toys ĀEboth for shopping fun and for what they offer? Hakuhinkan Toy Park? Kiddyland?

2) What zoo do you recommend? Ueno?

3) What's the best department store to taste lots of free delicacies? Seibu?

4) What's the best store to buy kids' clothes and bento boxes that we can use at home? Osaki New City? Hankyu? Isetan?

5) What's a fun amusement park with rides for 5-year-olds (but more fun than baby rides ĀEshe loves scary rides)? Disneyland is NOT an option! Seibu-en? Korakuen? Wild Blue? Pony Land? (I realize these are all quite different.)

6) Can you suggest a museum that would be especially interesting to a 5-year-old? I've been to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and might go back. Small, unusual museums might be even better. Science museums are fun but we've been to enough of those in other cities.

7) Can you suggest great parks? Some that look good are Senzoku Koen,, Koganei Koen, and Gyosen. Of course, any park that's near our hotel or wherever else we go will be

8) Can you suggest other activities ĀEnot necessarily conventional tourist attractions? I'm already familiar with the Tsukiji fish market and Kappabashi-dori and considering both of those. She really wanted to go to the SSAWS ski dome outside Tokyo, having heard about it from me, but alas, it has closed.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

9) Are there any day trips or multi-day trips out of Tokyo that would be better than Nikko? Kamakura? Hakone?

10) Around Nikko, what do you think of visiting Chuzenji-ko (the lake) and walking to the waterfalls? The Chichibu-Tama National Park with a visit (and perhaps even overnight) to Mitake-san? Other, better outdoor experiences within an hour of Nikko or Tokyo?

11) Do you know any onsen (indoor or outdoor) that allow mixed bathing and (this is critical) will allow my daughter to dress, etc. in the same room as me? These should be in or within 1 hour of Tokyo or Nikko.

12) Can you suggest any hotels in Tokyo or Nikko? We don't want luxury, just pleasant clean rooms, preferably Japanese-style, very close to a train station and other interesting stuff, under 10,000 yen per night (or more if dinner is included, which could be fun, especially at places that serve in your room). In Tokyo I'm thinking of Homeikan.

13) We would love to meet a Japanese (or expat) family that has a child in around the 4-8 age range. We don't speak Japanese, so we need at least one English speaker. We are open to anything ĀEperhaps lunch in a park.

14) Will the cherry blossoms be out in Tokyo or Nikko during April 6-15? I am getting contradictory info on this. Are we likely to encounter crowds and difficulty reserving trains and hotels because of this?

15) Any websites I should know about?

16) What else should I know?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions. (Don't feel you have to answer *all* of these questions!)

Bruce Burger
Seattle, WA, USA


By Melissa Mcnulty on Wednesday, March 12, 2003 - 4:58 pm:

Hi Bruce,

I know you want specifics, so perhaps more later. However, I reccommend the book "Kids Trips in Tokyo" by Ivy Maeda et al. It has been an invaluable resource for me during my time here. It includes maps, lists facilities at each place, and has an interesting, diverse range of "trips" sorted according to type of thing you are interested in (eg cultural. historical, scientific, nature etc)and geographical area withing the Tokyo region.

I got my copy at Borders in Cleveland Ohio, so no doubt there should bea copy floating around Seattle somewhere, otherwise the ubiquitous Amamzon.com....


By Michael on Thursday, March 13, 2003 - 8:11 pm:

Dear Bruce:

Exactly one year ago, I took a one-week father/daughter trip with my 4 year-old from Tokyo to Hiroshima/Miyajima by bullet train that included stops at three amusement parks, a coastal aquarium, a ride on one of the largest Ferris wheels in the world, and walks through three historical Japanese cities. So ... with that said, let me see if I can provide you with a little assistance:

1) What is the best toy store for uniquely Japanese toys - both for shopping fun and for what they offer? Hakuhinkan Toy Park? Kiddyland?

The last time that I visited Hakuhinkan or Kiddy Land (which admittedly was years ago), they seemed to have a lot of toys from the West. The "Japanese toys" that they had mostly included video games and monster/robot type creatures. I am assuming that you are looking for something quite different.

While in Kurashiki last March, we stopped by the "Japanese Rural Toy Museum," which is also a store that sells a variety of traditional, hand-made items. My daughter particularly liked the small wooden puzzle structures (we purchased one that assembles into a bank). Such toys MAY possibly be found at the Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku.

Additionally, the most popular doll here in Japan is Licca-chan, which can be purchased in the toy section of virtually any department store. Licca is available in a variety of hair colors, and kimono outfits/accessories can give her a more "Japanese" presence.

(According to the Hakuhinkan website, they have "Japanese Dolls and Traditional Goods" on the second floor)

2) What zoo do you recommend? Ueno?

I have yet to find a zoo anywhere in Japan that can even come close to comparing to the quality of zoos that I have visited in the US. The best here in the metro-Tokyo are probably Ueno Zoo (which has pandas & gorillas) and Tama Zoo (which has koalas). Please note, however, that the hilly Tama Zoo may quickly tire out a 5 year-old.

5) What's a fun amusement park with rides for 5-year-olds (but more fun than baby rides - she loves scary rides)? Disneyland is NOT an option! Seibu-en? Korakuen? Wild Blue? Pony Land? (I realize these are all quite different.)

First of all, your dates for visiting - April 6 to 15 - are perfect because the weather should be pleasant, and the children will have just started back to school (many after visiting such parks over Spring Break), so theme/amusement parks should be less crowded. These dates are also a bit early for any school-sponsored trips.

The answer to your question above is ... Tokyo Disneyland. We have visited three of the four Magic Kingdom parks around the world, and the one here in Tokyo is by far the best. You may find Mickey and Minnie in a yukata/kimono in addition to a few different food items (possibly at Restaurant Hokusai), but other than that, the park is not very "Japanese." However, children LOVE the place. Additionally, I find the ride restrictions a bit less stringent at Disneyland. On our last visit, my daughter was 4 years-old, and she really enjoyed riding Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, StarJets, you name it! The newer DisneySea is considered a more adult park, but we have never run out of things to do there with our children on our visits. Another thing to note is that the Tokyo Disney Parks are filled with many more live shows than their overseas counterparts. A guest could easily forget the attractions and just take in the shows.

Sanrio Puroland is also popular with young girls, and is completely indoors (good for rainy days). Korakuen has only a few attractions for a 5 year old girl, many of which are a bit unkempt. Wild Blue Yokohama closed their doors at the end of last August. I have heard that Toshimaen (will be closed on April 8, 9, & 15) has undergone a "renewal," but for the money, Disney is a much better "buy."

6) Can you suggest a museum that would be especially interesting to a 5 year-old? I've been to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and might go back. Small, unusual museums might be even better. Science museums are fun but we've been to enough of those in other cities.

The Edo Tokyo Museum has a lot, but some would probably feel that it would be a bit overwhelming for a 5 year-old. The large photos of the sumo wrestlers along the way (at Ryugoku Station) will most definitely impress though.

7) Can you suggest great parks? Some that look good are Senzoku Koen, Koganei Koen, and Gyosen.

For Children: 1) Inokashira Park (Small zoo attached where children can play with hamsters, guinea pigs), but the park area may be a bit "worn" in April as a result of all of the cherry blossom festivities(I guess we could say that about all the parks); 2) Kasai Rinkai Park (Ferris Wheel, Waterfront).

Koganei Park is large and includes the wonderful Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum (closed on Mondays). What makes this place nice is that you can actually walk through old thatched-roof homes from the Edo period, sit in (without water) 70 year-old public baths (sentos), walk through the first western-style home know to be built in Japan, etc.

9) Are there any day trips or multi-day trips out of Tokyo that would be better than Nikko? Kamakura? Hakone?

If you do this, I would suggest Hakone. A popular "course" is to take the train (Odakyu) from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto, then the switchback train to Gora, the cable car up the mountain further, the ropeway to Owakudani ... and then down to the river, and then one of the "British ships" across Lake Ashi to either Hakone or Moto-Hakone (where I would suggest you stay for the evening). On the trip back, I would suggest that you go to Odawara Station and get a cheap ticket to allow you onto the platform, where the
two of you can get the THRILL of your trip watching the bullet trains blaze through at lightening speeds! (Try taking a photo. It will take at least five attempts!)

11) Do you know any onsen (indoor or outdoor) that allow mixed bathing and (this is critical) will allow my daughter to dress, etc. in the same room as me? These should be in or within 1 hour of Tokyo or Nikko.

Let's put it this way. I do not know of any that would not allow your daughter to bathe with you.

14) Will the cherry blossoms be out in Tokyo or Nikko during April 6-15? I am getting contradictory info on this. Are we likely to encounter crowds and difficulty reserving trains and hotels because of this?

At present (here in Tokyo), the cherry blossoms are scheduled to arrive around the end of March and continue until early April (reports presently say April 3rd - 6th). Oddly, cherry blossoms at Inokashira and Koganei Parks will last for about three days more than those at Ueno and Shinjuku Gyoen Parks. However, it is still a bit chilly, so this forecast may be revised a bit (in your favor).

Up in Tochigi Prefecture (Nikko), the cherry blossoms will appear a bit later and remain out until mid-April.

Here in Tokyo, you could encounter crowds in parks on the 5th and 6th, but nothing of concern after that. The trains should be fine.

16) What else should I know?

Other ideas - 1) Having a yakiniku rice burger at Mos Burger; 2) Seeing a Taiko performance (but I, unfortunately, do not know of any at that time).


By Admin on Thursday, March 13, 2003 - 9:38 pm:

Great conversation. I've moved it from the main subject heading of "Playgroups" to this more appropriate (IMO) heading.

Yes, definitely young kids of either sex can go with either parent (or caretaker such as grandparent) into an onsen or a sento until they are personally aware that they might rather not. I have seen this and experienced it many times. Unfortunately it is not possible for whole families to be together unless they get a private bathing room. I've seen a couple of these "private bathing rooms" and only once did I consider it worthwhile. Generally the tub is too small for everyone to fit.

Sanrio Puroland is pretty good, except my daughter did not want to sit through so many live shows. And the amplifier volume is about on the level of a rock concert. Still my 4 year old adored it (in honor of her 4th birthday). The only ride is a boat ride reminicent of "It's a Small World After All" at Disney.

I agree with Michael that in terms of bang for your buck, Disney is tops. They also have a 6 pm passport which is Y2900 per person until closing (Monday through Friday except holidays?). We've done that twice now. Lines are negligible, so we got to do just about as much as we did one time on an all-day ticket BECAUSE we ate before going in and then waited until after we had left to go eat again. And yes, the ride restrictions at some of the Japanese parks for little kids are just short of utterly ludicrous. (So in my opinion they more or less deserve to go out of business). The majority of the 5-6 rides available at the amusement park near Sakuragicho station in Yokohama are expensive, extremely short and very disappointing. The haunted house there was so bad I couldn't even laugh at it (except for maybe one gag).

Korakuen has been more than 60% demolished and rebuilt. They are getting ready to open up their new section which includes a very wild roller coaster not for the 5 year old crowd.

The Iitabashi ward Children's zoo and pony ride has always been a hit with my daughter (and it is all free, even has a small aquarium where you are allowed to handle the turtles). In fact aquariums in general have been a big hit, including the dolphin and seal shows in particular. There is a page on aquariums under the entertainment section.

Leave some time for just wandering. There are thousands of details that entertain while walking around looking for swingsets! And if you miss the tail end of the cherry blossoms, there are very close after the odd ornamental crabapple blossoms. And if possible try arrange a couple of dates with other kids. Kids at 5 love other kids, even with a language barrier.


By Ashley Cook on Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - 7:29 pm:

A site that includes fun activities for kids in Tokyo is http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~ja8i-brtl/outings.html#fune

From that page the things I especially suggest are Kinuta Koen and the Transportation Museum. Also you can probably meet children (both foreign and Japanese) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall (free) or the National Children's Castle. Your daughter will enjoy both of those places. I have a 3 year old daughter and would be willing to meet for an outing.

I think the Tama Zoo is the best zoo.

Odaiba with a big Ferris Wheel ride and the Toyota Megaweb might be fun. http://www.megaweb.gr.jp/English/index.html


By Bruce Burger on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 2:29 pm:

Thanks to everyone who posted or emailed with suggestions for my trip to Japan with my 5-year-old daughter. Here is a summary of our trip, with the emphasis on what my daughter enjoyed, since there are plenty of other guides for adults.

The background is that my daughter is a great traveler and loves sushi, and I loved my previous trip to Japan, so I decided to take her there without my wife and younger, considerably less easy, son. Our goal was mainly to soak up atmosphere, not aggressively sightsee, but we did always have a destination in mind to keep things interesting.

We spent 6 days in Tokyo with the middle 3 days in Nikko. I wouldnít recommend that for a first-time visitor, but Iíd been to other parts of Japan before, there is plenty to do in and around Tokyo, and I wanted to minimize travel time. Nonetheless I perhaps should have looked for additional places to stay in the direction of Nikko. While we had lots of fun in Tokyo, the many subway rides got a bit old.

TOKYO

One clear highlight was our ryokan, Homeikan (http://www1.odn.ne.jp/homeikan/info_e.html). I found it on www.frommers.com. Very friendly and authentic, conveniently located in a pleasant residential neighborhood near the Kasuga train station. The optional breakfast and dinner at were superb, there is a beautiful garden that you can walk or sit in, and there is a nice private family bath as well as shared menís and womenís baths. There are several small restaurants are near the station, and, most exciting for my daughter, there are about 15 beverage vending machines during the 5-minute walk. We also enjoyed several random walks in the neighborhood. While I normally avoid the expensive Japanese taxis, we took several taxis between Homeikan and Ueno when we had our bags or when she got tired at night, since there is no good train route; the fare averaged under 1000 yen.

We did Tsukiji Fish Market the first morning, and while my daughter was intimidated by the frenzy (especially the motorized frenzy we walked through to get there), she still had some fun and I consider this an essential part of Japan for foodies. Her highlight was shopping for snacks in the outer market. Since we each had only one pair of shoes on the trip, I brought plastic bags and rubber bands to double-wrap each of our feet; this kept our shoes clean.

The toy store I chose was Hakuhinkan Toy Park. While most of the items arenít especially Japanese, the place is enormous and we did buy yukatas (also found for the same price at Narita airport) and jigsaw puzzles with interesting Japanese scenes. Lots of Hello Kitty stuff, too. Decent lunch choices. We also visited Bingoya, a lovely Japanese folk-craft shop, but they didnít have many toys of interest to a kid.

We took the monorail to Odaiba (which leaves from right near Hakuhinkan, by the way) and rode the giant ferris wheel; it was fun and the views were nice. There were a few other rides there ĀEa dumb car ride and a free-fall ride that she was too small for. Good snacks.

Sanrio Puroland, the Hello Kitty park, was a mixed bag. There was only one real ride (a tame but scenic indoor boat ride) and the shows we saw werenít interesting since we donít speak Japanese. Nonetheless there were many opportunities to interact with Kitty & friends, and while she was a little disappointed while we were there, she was excited to go and speaks fondly of it now ĀEand sheís smiling broadly in all the pictures. The cafeteria was atrocious; try to eat at one of the places just outside.

Seeking a more exciting amusement park but unwilling to confuse Japanese culture with Disneyland, we went to Toshimaen, the oldest amusement park in Tokyo. Several new rides were quite good and since it was an off-season weekday, there was nothing close to a line. The play structure, while a bit dilapidated, was great fun for her. The food was even worse than at Sanrio Puroland.

She liked the Fukagawa Edo Museum more than I expected. Itís an authentic recreation of a 19th-century Japanese village. Itís small and indoors, unlike such exhibits in some countries, but she still enjoyed it a lot.

We had a great time in 2 gardens, one by Korakuen and the other by Kiyosumi-Shirakawa train station (near Fukagawa Edo Museum). We wished weíd brought a nice picnic. Ueno Park was fun, too. We enjoyed watching and buying from the dozens of street food vendors at the south end of the lake. Great people-watching too.

National Childrenís Castle sounded very promising but was a bit of a disappointment. The pool is great but has only limited hours which I donít recall finding on their website; you might call in advance if thatís important. There is a wonderful, large indoor play structure. There are lots of organized crafts projects that looked interesting, but she wasnít in the mood.


NIKKO

A couple of comments on the train to and from Nikko. While the Tobu Nikko line from Asakusa is more convenient if you have your choice of where in Tokyo to start from, JR (without the expensive shinkansen option) is more flexible since you can start in several places in Tokyo. We started near Ueno and ended near Shibuya, so it ended up being easier to take JR both ways. Also, the regular JR trains donít require reservations, and kids under 6 are free.

We stayed at the Turtle Inn, well-documented in any guidebook. Very friendly and fairly modern, but not completely authentic; the toilets were all western (she liked the mix at Homeikan), you can wear street shoes in the halls, and breakfasts are western style. On the other hand, we appreciated amenities like the washer/dryer and internet service, the price is right, and Iíd happily stay there again.

Tosho-gu (Shrine) was great, of course. Plenty to interest my daughter. There was a nice, extremely friendly restaurant just before the entrance. But the highlight of Nikko was a 3 km hike from the Turtle Inn to a rotenburo (outdoor hot spring) on the edge of town. I donít know the name of the place but it was quite elaborate. They have very nice baths indoors and outdoors, locker facilities, and an excellent restaurant. I had no problem taking her into the menís baths. Since itís out of the way, we sprung for a pricey taxi ride back.

We took a day trip to (Lake) Chuzenji-ko. The lake and waterfall were beautiful. We couldnít hike much at the top (in early April) because there was still too much snow; indeed, there was some snow in town. But we enjoyed walking around town, shopping at a crafts shop, pedaling a duck-boat on the lake. The highlight for my daughter was seeing monkeys playing in the fields and on the buildings in town.


Thatís most of what we did. I would be happy to answer questions about any of this. Thanks again to all of you who helped with advice before we went.

Bruce Burger bruce@burgerdeletethesefourwords.net
Seattle, WA, USA

By Bruce Burger on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 01:38 pm:
One more thing about my trip: I never did figure out if my 5.5-year-old daughter needed a ticket on the Tokyo subways.

Some guidebooks said kids under 6 are free (the same rule seems to apply to long-distance trains without reserved seats). However, one guidebook (I forget which) said kids are free until April of the year that they turn 6. If that is true, my daughter, who will turn 6 in October, might have needed a ticket (when in April does this take effect? -- we were there till the 15th).

Our trip is over now, but I'm curious if anyone knows the answer to this!


By Pato on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 8:28 pm:

Children ride free up to the end of the first March after they have turned 6. (The Japanese fiscal year starts April 1, which is when school starts, when people move house, when people leave jobs and go to start new jobs, etc., etc.). So the if you calculate your child's turning six on the basis of an April to March year, then the your daughter can continue riding free until 1 April 2004.

(My son is still riding free a month after he should have started paying for a ticket... because he is small, and because the height sensor on the ticket gate does not know his age... on the lines for which I have a pass. If I have to buy a ticket for myself anyway, then I get one for him. This is not something only foreigners are guilty of, btw. Everybody knows there comes a point where you can't get away with it anymore.)


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