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Family Time in Tokyo

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Family Time in Tokyo
Tokyo offers just the right combination of culture and entertainment for families, with its theme parks, interactive museums, diverse shopping selections, and historical temples and shrines.
By Erin Bogar, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Roam Free in Tokyo’s Parks
    Tokyo’s parks offer outdoor entertainment and a break from the bustle of the city. Tokyo’s oldest park, Ueno Koen, boasts many attractions, including Ueno Zoo, the National Museum of Nature and Science, and paddleboats in Shinobazu Pond. If Tokyo had a backyard, it would be Yoyogi Koen. Yoyogi is Tokyo’s liveliest park, with dancing Elvises and a dog park filled with pups dressed as fashionably as the Harajuku youth. Less crowded than Ueno and Yoyogi Koen, the Institute for Nature Study—once a daimyo’s estate—is now a dense jungle of plant life native to Tokyo.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Interactive History Lessons at Tokyo’s Museums
    Japan’s capital city has survived destruction many times and evolved into a colossal, modern metropolis. Discover how Tokyo transformed from the small fishing village of Edo into the largest city in the world at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The exhibits include a small-scale model of Edo and a life-size Kabuki theater. Art lovers will enjoy the Tokyo National Museum, Japan’s oldest and largest museum, featuring the world’s greatest collection of Japanese art. In Odaiba, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, also known as Miraikan, explores the future of science and technology with exhibits focused on the universe, Earth, and robotics.
    Photo by Jon Sheer
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    From Hanayashiki to KidZania: Tokyo's Theme Parks
    Tokyo has a diverse collection of theme parks, large and small, from the educational to the purely entertaining. Crammed with charm and carnival rides, Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park, was built in 1853 as a public flower garden. Despite its small size, Hanayashiki offers great rides in a fairground-style setting. KidZania Tokyo is an educational, kid-size city where children can experience over 90 distinct occupations and earn “kidZos,” special KidZania cash. KidZania gives children the opportunity to practice jobs like photographer, police officer, and tour guide. Families willing to travel further afield can visit Cosmo World in the stunning Yokohama Minato Mirai 21 business district, home to a 100-meter-tall Ferris wheel.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Kid-Friendly Japanese Food
    Whether the kids are up for adventurous eating or only want simple food, Tokyo has it all. For the noodle lovers, Tokyo Station’s Ramen Street has eight of Tokyo’s beloved ramen shops; shoyu ramen is a favorite. It's easy to find other kid-friendly dishes, including yakisoba (stir-fried noodles), yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), and taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste). For something more familiar, soft-serve ice cream and hamburgers are easy to come by; Freshness Burger is one of Tokyo’s most popular burger chains. For snacks while in transit, vending machines are ubiquitous and offer a variety of hot or cold beverages, candy, and ice cream cones.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Family Day Trips
    Adventure outside Tokyo to Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city. At the CupNoodles Museum learn about Momofuku Ando, the creator of instant ramen, and make your own ramen. Grab a bite in Yokohama’s Chinatown and explore the souvenir shops of Red Brick Warehouse, originally Yokohama’s customs building. Hakone is an idyllic mountainous region with spectacular views of Mount Fuji. The Hakone Open-Air Museum has kid-friendly installations like Woods of Net, a giant yarn playground, and the Symphonic Sculpture, a stained glass tower with views of Hakone. Cruise the Hakone Ropeway, an aerial gondola which offers stunning views of sights such as Mount Fuji, the sulfur mines of Owakudani, and Lake Ashi.
    Photo by Jon Sheer
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    Anime and Manga Fever
    The world home of anime and manga is Akihabara, or Akiba, as the locals call it. Giant Japanese animation billboards, jumbo Sega arcades, and Japanese comics rule the streets and shops here. Otaku (anime and manga geeks) will love Akihabara’s overwhelming mix of giant electronic superstores and towering arcades. For fans of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, creator of the fantasy animated features My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, a visit to the Ghibli Museum is a must. The museum showcases the history and process of animation. Walking into this fanciful museum is like stepping into a Ghibli film, with its spiral staircases, stained glass ceilings, and Ghibli characters. Tickets should be reserved in advance.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Cruise to Odaiba Island
    Tokyo is a city that easily ignites the imagination. Riding the boat to Odaiba is like entering a James Bond space vessel en route to an island of the future. Catch the boat from Asakusa and take the 50-minute cruise along the Sumida River into Tokyo Bay. Odaiba is a man-made island situated in Tokyo Bay with views of the Rainbow Bridge, a miniature Statue of Liberty, and the geometric Fuji TV Building. Video game lovers will enjoy Odaiba’s Sega Joypolis, a three-story arcade on steroids featuring virtual reality games and interactive roller coasters.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Shop until the Kids Drop
    Harajuku, Tokyo Dome, and Odaiba are Tokyo’s kid-friendly shopping hubs. The winding, narrow streets of Harajuku hide a multitude of cutesy shops, including Kiddy Land Harajuku, which sells heaps of Hello Kitty goodies. Tokyo Dome City surrounds Tokyo’s baseball stadium and has over 70 shops, an amusement park, a large indoor playground, and a bowling alley. Odaiba has a variety of shopping complexes, too, including Decks, which has indoor theme parks. It also features Aquacity, with Fuji Television’s kids' café, and Venus Fort, which has an interior inspired by medieval Europe.
    Photo by Kristen Fortier