The Mom’s Guide to Tokyo

Falling in love with Tokyo is immediate and inevitable. The busy modern city is an ideal entry point to Japan and offers endless options for family-friendly entertainment and dining. It’s home to two popular Disney theme parks as well as Hello Kitty-themed eateries and a Hello Kitty museum and loads of toy stores (and toy vending machines). The city is also very welcoming to kids, both because everything in Japan is cute and because the country seems to have really figured out how to cater to small visitors. While you can’t go wrong with literally anything in Tokyo, there are a few things you should keep in mind when selecting your hotel, restaurants and activities.

Where to stay

Bunk up at the Hilton Tokyo Bay if you’re planning a few days at Tokyo Disney. The large property, located outside the city’s center, has an indoor and outdoor swimming pool as well as five restaurants. Kids under 6 stay free, and families can book the themed Happy Magic Room or Happy Magic Suite to take advantage of kid-friendly amenities like bunk beds, whimsical decor and child-size pajamas. The hotel often offers deals that include a room, breakfast and theme park tickets, so do some research before booking.

If your priority is proximity to the city rather than Disney, select something near Ginza, a popular shopping and dining area that has easy access to the subway and trains. The Conrad Tokyo, a 10-minute walk from Ginza, offers amazing views and high-end service (and they pay extra attention to young guests), making it a good pick for comfort. The breakfast buffet is ideal for kids, and the rooms are big enough to accommodate a crib.

Where to eat

You can’t go wrong with conveyer belt sushi, especially when it’s perfectly prepared in Tokyo. Nemuro Hanamaru, which overlooks Ginza from the 10th floor of a department store, is an ideal spot to enjoy dozens of plates of nigiri, karaage and sushi rolls. Kids can help select the best dishes off the moving belt, or you can order from the chefs. There can be a line, especially at night, so plan ahead and arrive right when it opens for lunch. And if raw fish is an issue in your household, don’t worry; there are plenty of cooked options as well.

Ramen is a favorite in Japan since it’s cheap, quick and delicious. There are dozens of ramen spots to pick from around Tokyo, but one of the best is Afuri, which has a few locations. Try one in Ebisu, which has an extensive countertop with stools, and order the yuzu shio ramen.

For weekend brunch, head to Bills, the Japanese offshoot of Australian chain Bills. This version, located throughout Tokyo, features Western dishes as well as Japanese-inspired options like a wagyu burger. It’s popular with moms, especially on the weekends, and kids will feel welcomed by the efficient staff.

Dig in to some delicious fried pork at Katsukura, a low-key eatery that serves glistening tenderloin cutlets as well as fried shrimp and croquettes. Like many Japanese restaurants, it’s an easy order and every dish is served with rice, miso soup and salad. It welcomes families and bigger groups (and you can tell picky eaters they’re basically ordering really high-end chicken nuggets).

Fans of Alice In Wonderland should book a table at Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant, which takes you down the rabbit hole into a fantasy-themed restaurant that is highly photogenic. The food is equally whimsical, although you’re really here for the spectacle.

For dessert, head to Shiro Hige, which serves up animal-shaped cream puffs that are equally cute and delicious. It’s inspired by the classic animated film My Neighbor Totoro, which you’ll want to watch (or re-watch) before your trip.

Where to play

One of the main draws to Tokyo for families is Tokyo Disney Resort, which features Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, a nautical-themed park with rides and entertainment based on ocean legends. Booking tickets or passes in advance is highly recommended, especially when traveling during busy times like spring or summer. The resort also features four hotels in case you want to get really immersive. It’s committing a few days to the parks, but be sure to schedule time to see other parts of Tokyo during your vacation, particularly if you’re first-time visitors.

The Ueno Zoo is open every day except Mondays, inviting visitors to get close-up glimpses of over 3,000 animals, like pandas, elephants and penguins. Situated in Ueno Park, the zoo is vast and has existed since 1882, making it Tokyo’s oldest zoo. Children under 12 get in free. Be sure to stop by the petting zoo, and arrive early in the morning if you want to avoid the long lines to see the pandas.

For more animal fun, head to Hedgehog Home & Cafe, which welcomes you in to hold, feed and (sort of) pet real hedgehogs. The tiny creatures can be found in Shibuya, a great area for exploring and shopping. Children of all ages are permitted, but parents should be careful with kids under 6 since hedgehogs’ spines are surprisingly sharp.

It’s hard to describe teamLab, which currently operates two locations in Tokyo, but suffice it to say, it’s a must-do for anyone who visits. Book a ticket in advance to teamLab Borderless or teamLab Planets, immersive installations of light, sound and water that you explore via darkened hallways. Kids will be amazed by the creations in the rooms, especially one where you stand in water as fish made of light swim across your feet. Be sure to wear pants that roll up above the knee (although there are loaner shorts for you to borrow if you dare).

Where to shop

One of Tokyo’s most mind-bending experiences can be found in massive discount store Don Quijote (known to locals as “Donki”). The location in Shibuya is several stories high and packed full of everything you can imagine — and several things you can’t. It’s a great place to stock up on flavored Kit-Kats, Hello Kitty toys, beauty products and even clothes, all for impressively low prices. Pro shoppers can even purchase an extra suitcase to haul it all home.

Harajuku is home to Kiddy Land, an iconic Japanese toy store that features an incredible selection of toys. It’s known for its massive collection of Snoopy products, but there is also tons of merch with Japanese characters as well as Disney, Star Wars and Pokémon stuff. If you can get out of here without buying something, you are some kind of miracle parent. The area around the store in Harajuku is also a feast for the eyes, with dozens and dozens of discount shops, sweet emporiums and pet cafés.

Hakuhinkan Toy Park, located in Ginza, is another favorite toy store in Tokyo, perfect for kids (and adults) of all ages. It spans five floors, and many of the toys are Japanese, rather than Western, so you’ll find items you can’t get back home. Don’t miss the candy selection, which is filled with Japanese treats.

When to visit

An obvious time to visit Tokyo is in the spring, when the iconic cherry blossoms bloom all over the city. However, April can be hugely busy, with crowds of tourists everywhere in search of the best blossoms. Instead, consider visiting in March before it gets too busy or in the late fall, when the weather is especially temperate. Summers can be extremely hot and humid in Japan, which is something to consider if you’re planning to spend a few days outside at Disney Resort.


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