Gaming, Robots and Kitty: Tokyo with Teens
If you are planning a family holiday to Japan or hoping to attend the Tokyo 2020 Olympic or Paralympic Games, you may be wondering what to do in Tokyo? More than any other city we’ve ever visited, Tokyo delivers on quirky, educational and exciting family attractions and activities. It’s not all cherry blossom and temples you know! On our month long visit to Japan we discovered the capital of Japan is particularly good for teens, with its electronic and gaming districts and manga art. Based on our adventures, here are some of the best things to do in Tokyo with teens…..
Why visit Tokyo?
Why visit the Japanese city of Tokyo with kids? In a word, it’s exciting. High tech Tokyo will appeal to any gadget obsessed teenager and probably the parents too as the glitzy neon lights and glittering towers wink at everyone from afar and beckon you to explore. There are plenty of things to do in Tokyo during winter too as many of the best places in Tokyo are indoors including imaginative museums, malls, gaming centres and sky towers, while in the spring and summer there are plenty of nature activities. Driving in Toyko is easier than many capital cities and the transport system is good. We particularly enjoyed the neat driverless train. Check out our popular post on driving in Japan to find out how you get your head around the road and the satnav!
Tokyo feels comfortable to wander without fear of being robbed or ripped off and it’s unlikely anyone will hassle you if you are a woman walking alone. In fact it is the opposite of hassle; everyone is exceedingly polite – so much that you occasionally wish they would be a bit less reserved. Traffic is civilized and rule abiding, although street crossings can be very busy so keep together in the rush and crush of pedestrians. While it can get hot in summer and cold in winter, the climate isn’t uncomfortable; we went in August and coped with the humidity.
28 of the best things to do in Tokyo with teens
1 Hang out with droids and telenoids at Miraikan
Want to meet some bots? Miraikan is the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It is based in the district of Odaiba and it is fabulous. Allow a full day to enjoy it and take a break for lunch. But get there early to sign up to meet the robots; there are several opportunities to get to know them during the day. We watched the dancing antics of ASIMO, a cute robot created by Honda, and met a creepy hotel receptionist and a very strange baby. There are also science workshops, playtime opportunities and you can download a free app to make it all more fun.
2 Go Mickey at Tokyo Disney
No Tokyo itinerary for kids is complete without a bit of Mickey. Tokyo Disney was the first outside the USA and has the usual staples like the parades and rides. Tokyo’s version of Disney can be ridiculously busy. Get there at 8am when it opens and you will still find ticket queues; it’s better to buy your tickets in one of the shopping malls in the city centre. As soon as you enter sort out two fast passes for the rides you want as they can sell out by mid morning. You must also try the famous popcorn which comes in flavours as diverse as soy and curry. It will probably come as no surprise that the Japanese dress up to visit the parks. Expect to feel boring if you don’t have a costume.
3 Make yourselves cute with Purikura booths
Purikura is a must for the Instagram lovers in the family and also one of the fun things you can do in Tokyo with toddler. Take a family portrait at one of the purikura hubs like Joypolis. Or try Purikura no Mecca in Shibuya. Choose your favorite booth, take photos, add filters and then wait to collect your photo stickers. You can all look ten years younger, which obviously worked for me. Or you can look like cats or dogs or whatever you select. Here’s our very kawaii (cute) family pic. Purikura is a very cheap way of killing an afternoon in Tokyo, but be warned, if you visit late afternoon you’ll spend most of your time queuing behind school kids!
4 Make fake food
Fake news we all know about, but fake food? Japan excels in it. It goes back to a time before restaurant menus were common but it’s a big help to tourists who can’t begin to read one! Japan’s extremely realistic food replicas sit outside restaurants and can be tailor made to what the establishment is offering. But did you know that you and the kids can also make one? It will undoubtedly be your most memorable souvenir in a country where souvenirs are nothing if not memorable. At the Ganso Shokuhin’s Kappabashi store in Tokyo’s Asakusa district you can try your handmaking a lettuce and shrimp tempura. Call the store in advance to book your visit. We came away from our food making session in another part of Japan with five lettuces. Clearly we must have been on a diet that day. Here’s how our session went with our two youngest if you are nervous about getting your fingers burnt:
5 Manufacture a career at Kidzania
Kidzania Tokyo is like a giant career warehouse for the under 14’s. And the great thing for them is they get to enjoy it without you. We watched from a distance at our visit to the Dubai franchise as they had a go at being car mechanics, pizza makers and more. Like real life some careers are oversubscribed and there’s a bit too much commercial branding for my liking but unlike real life if the kids don’t like their job they can easily quit and get another. The Japanese version, unsurprisingly, has a robot R and D centre, a car design studio where you can make your own clay version model and an abundance of food shops. It’s not all about hamburgers of course; kids can learn how to make a sweet potato salad at a workshop in the salad bar.
6 Climb the Tokyo Tower
You can’t miss the Toyko Tower, especially at night when it is all lit up. For a small fee this exciting red structure offers ‘climbing stairs’ to the Main Deck on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 11m-4pm. There are around 600 stairs and even young children can do it in less than half an hour. You get quiz questions and calorie burning charts as you go and a ‘Noppon Official Stair Climber Certificate’ afterwards. Or take a Top Deck tour of the observations deck, with geometric mirrors and more than a few lights, plus a voice guide system in 13 languages pointing out landmarks and the history of the tower.
7 Have a magical sleep
No one is too old for magic. If you are visiting Tokyo with kids you should know the Disney hotel at Tokyo Disney has Tinkerbell and Alice in Wonderland suites and a new Toy Story hotel is in development at the theme park. Keio Plaza hotel has an awesome Hello Kitty! room called Kitty Town which comes with free wifi for posting all your Instagram selfies. Some of them do book up a year ahead though so think about getting your shrine to cute cats secured in advance.
There are hundreds of super cool hotels in Japan. One of the most quirky is the hotel in Nagasaki where a dinosaur robot will help you check in. Or there’s the Gracery where you can sleep in a Godzilla themed room. Talking of theme rooms, at Book and Bed Tokyo you get to sleep in a library. There’s not much space but bookworms will love it. One of our favourite hotels was a stylish ryokan complete with its own onsen baths. All teens should try an onsen while in the city, teach them to lose their inhibitions about bathing naked. Accommodation is not cheap so you’ll need to save up or book early, especially if you are planning to attend the 2020 Olympic Games. Even the tiny capsule hotels come at a fairly hefty rate for a big family.
8 Pet kitty at a cat cafe
Staying with kitties, cat cafe’s are hugely popular in Japan but I have to admit I didn’t like our visit much. We grabbed an hour with furry friends in a suburb of Tokyo. It’s a bit of a weird experience, being herded into a room, with a bunch of cats herded in after you; to be honest I wasn’t sure whether to feel more sympathy for the cats or ourselves. The animals had clearly been over-petted and kept trying to escape. The refreshments were a bit rubbish too, and served in polystyrene cups. If your kids are mad on cats and you don’t have one at home then maybe it’s one for you. Otherwise, you’d be better off spending your money on Hello Kitty souvenirs. I was astonished to find them for sale in some of the temples.
9 Pray for life and love at the temples and shrines
You cannot do Japan without visiting a temple. They are fascinating places, with all manner of interesting customs. And as long as you are respectful of these customs everyone is happy for you to join in. And if you ask them what to do they will often be delighted to show you. Our kids loved all the clapping, ringing of bells, lighting candles, buying souvenirs, writing prayers and doing unusual rituals. There’s quite a bit of water action too which everyone in our family loved. The boys drew the line at walking a line of love though.
10 Bike like an Olympian Royal
Get teens into the outdoors by hiring a bike on a Sunday and visit the Imperial Palace; the primary residence of the emperor of Japan. This large park area in the Chivoda ward opens up the 3 km course that cyclists will ride in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In the past you could rent bikes and tandems from the vicinity of the palace; I understand this has for now been discontinued. A bike tour is a great way to see the wider city too. You can book onto a guided tour exploring the Edogawa district near Tokyo Bay; the route goes around Gyson Park, Tokyo Sea Life Park and Kasai Rinkai Park, and includes commentary from a local guide. Or you can simply rent a bike. Its easy to do; we rented bikes for the family several times in Japan, cycling in cities you might perceive to be too busy. This is a useful post for finding bike ports in the city.
11 Taxi the bay
A water taxi is fun in itself and it’ll take you somewhere new too. You can stop off at landmark places including Asakusa, Tokyo Big Sight, and Odaiba.
12 Enjoy the robot wars
This is possibly the best fun you can have in Tokyo at night with kids. Don’t let the steep price put you off; we paid for the whole family to go and it was worth it. It’s almost impossible to describe, but imagine a giant warehouse filled with oversized trons, then chuck in a load of weird creatures including Kung Fu Panda and some loud music. Don’t bother ordering food; you won’t want to eat it; you’ll be too busy shaking a flashing stick at the bad guys. See our review of the robot restaurant here.
13 Show girl-power at AKB48
AKB48 are a popular girl band and if you head down to Akihabara you can have coffee in their namesake AKB48 cafe. You can also watch them on screens and eat their favourite food. How do chefs know what their favourite food is? They see it on social media of course. There’s nothing about this place that isn’t cute or social media friendly, and the coffee is extra frothy! You’ll find food in the shape of rabbits and other fluffy characters, and hen we went everyone was given a souvenir place mat. A great place for a rest stop, particularly if you like girl bands.
14 GoGo for a CoCo
CoCo Ichibanya is a chain restaurant that you’ll find all over the Japanese cities. It specializes in fast food curry (the kind we know as Katsu curry) and you can choose the portions as well as how hot you like your sauce. Kids get badges for a leaving present. There’s an English menu too. We ate there a lot!
15 Worship the phone god
Here’s a quirky one. A shrine to technology; outside a shopping centre in Aqua City Tokyo. We had to make an offering. If you are really anxious about your tech you could try a visit Kanda Myojin shrine which began offering ceremonies to bless the computers of local businesses until word got around and whole IT departments allegedly descended. Many people buy an IT charm as a double back-up; this features a gold card to keep in your wallet, a sticker for your mobile and a strip for your laptop. They do not guarantee you will be virus free but it’s worth a few yen to have hope?
16 Sing your karaoke hearts out
We have never forgotten our Asian karaoke session. And not for all the right reasons; we enjoyed the food and the singing until a cockroach fell on my head and Stuart murdered ‘Firework.’ But it is a cheap, fun way of enjoying yourself and something all the family can join in with. if they can stomach Dad having a go. There are lots of bars in Tokyo, check out this Guardian list of top 10 karaoke bars, including one location featured in the movie Lost in Translation.
17 Get animated
Family things to do in Tokyo include consuming or purchasing Japanese Art. We headed over to the Tokyo Anime Centre where exhibitions introduce the latest and best in the art. However it is little more than a glorified shop and PR exercise. For more of an immersion visit the Suginami Museum to learn about the whole process of animating your art as well as the history of anime in Japan. Admission is free. Gundum Front Tokyo is a centre for fans of the Gundum series. (There is a small free area if you prefer not to pay, or just go check out the rather tall robot outside the centre.)
18 Get LockedUp
This one is a must as Tokyo attractions for kids go. The food is freaky for a start; think disembodied fingers or stuff in test tubes. It’s also good fast food and a night out doesn’t break the bank. It’s weird enough when you are locked in your cell, or greeted by a dead body on arrival, but be terribly afraid if you go to the toilet mid evening and the alarms go off. You’ll want to run back to your cell and lock yourself in immediately- it’s called The LockUp for a reason! Find it a few minutes walk from Shinjuku Station East.
19 Big spend at the vend
The vending machines are good fun. selling everything from a hot drink you can see being made to an umbrella. There are whole rooms full of them at service stations.
20 Go pirate at Tokyo Disney Sea
The Disney Sea theme park, as the name suggests, is about the sea, port and maritime life. It’s also about Disney of course and although it has a different twist you’ll find the rides and the parades and the shows are of a similar standard. For a break you can have a ride in a gondola in Venice or eat pizza in a Venetian restaurant. Like Tokyo Disney, if you are hangry, you can snack on popcorn; hang your popcorn bucket around your neck like the Japanese do and trough away.
21 Find the best fest
Japanese Festivals are many and varied; we attended one with towering lanterns and another where people were invited to dance all night in a kind of Japanese version of line dancing. Both were as exhausting as they were fun. Most shrines in Tokyo have a festival day so check out in advance where the party and parade is happening.
22 Game on in Akihbara
The most famous location for gaming and tech is Akihabara – Electric Town. This is where you go to buy, or browse the electronics, or pick up second hand games. You can play games too in the huge arcades (some floors also dabble in more adult themes so you may want to accompany them around the bigger shops.) If you find it all a bit touristy and expensive try Nakano Broadway mall, a few stops from Shinjuku. If they like shopping, your kids will be really impressed by the Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo store in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City with a gaming room where fans can learn more about cards. We had fun in Sega World Joypolis although we didn’t pay to go on any of the rides.
23 Pick a winning ticket
We won the lottery in Akihabara. We won a doll. You’d think we won a house judging by people’s reaction, as you can see in this video:
24 Board the science ship
Did you know you can visit Japan’s first Antarctic research ship, Soya? In its hey-day it sailed to the poles and it is now welcoming all visitors at the Museum of Maritime Science near Odaiba. The museum also runs some great education activities including making fans with seaweed and an Antarctica Experience Class.
25 Follow the sport
The Samadhi Golf School Shinjuku-ku offers trial lessons at the largest outdoor practice range in Tokyo. Baseball is another popular sport; you can catch some of action at the Jingu Baseball Stadium near Gaienmae station. Built in 1926, it is the oldest stadium in the city and it does traditional American BBQ food.
26 Know your sumo
You can’t beat sumo for an authentic Japanese experience. But there is a season for it so you will need to do our homework. The official Sumo website can gave you the best information about the Grand Tournaments and sell you tickets online. Your visit will entitle you to a whole day but I’m reliably informed.the best action happens after 4pm. If there are no tournaments on (in Tokyo they tend to be held in January, May and September) you can visit one of the sumo wrestling stables. The athletes make their morning practice a spectator sport. You might have to tip the teens out of their beds a bit earlier though; the keiko starts around 7am and there is limited space.
27 Get creepy with a crawlie
If you fancy getting out of town on the train yo can view the world’s longest tapeworm at the Meguru Parasitological Museum. It’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays; perhaps even dead tapeworms need a break? It all sounds creepy doesn’t it, but the Japanese have been known to take people there on dates so it can’t be that bad?
28 Cross at Shibuya; the most exciting road junction ever
Join the crowds at Shibuya Crossing, the busiest, craziest intersection in Japan suggests Trish Burgess, a family travel blogger who offers 10 reasons you’ve got to love Japan. “At peak times, hundreds of pedestrians cross from all directions when the traffic lights change. It’s a mad ballet of people. For a good view of the mayhem, head upstairs to Starbucks on one corner of the crossing. There’s also a decent viewpoint from the upper floors of the station where you’ll find a haunting mural by Okamoto Taro, depicting the atomic bomb exploding over Hiroshima. Before you explore the bright lights of Shibuya, see if you can spot the statue of Tokyo’s much-loved doggie, Hachikō. Like Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Bobby, this Akita dog came to Shibuya station every day to meet his master returning from work. When his master died, he continued his daily visit for another ten years until his own death.”