If You Have One Trip To Tokyo, This Is Your Strategy
A trip to Tokyo is an investment — a worthy one, if you choose one of these neighborhoods and get cozy.
No matter where you are in the United States, a trip to Tokyo — a family trip — is daunting. We’re talking a 15-hour flight from New York or 11 hours from San Francisco (if you go direct); jet lag across a 10- to 13-hour time difference; and a serious investment that will take some saving ($10,000+ for flights for a family of four; at least $3,000 more for everything else in a week). But if you’re still reading — hang in there! — you already know that it’s worth it.
But Tokyo — at nearly triple the geographical size of New York, with an extra 5 million people to boot — is not a place to be tackled in its totality, even if you only envision making one big family trip there. (That’s part of the beauty, of course — a city so big and dynamic and rich in culture, history, and food, old and new, that it can never be tackled in this way.) If you attempt to check off a bunch of so-called bucket-list destinations, you will certainly get to know the subway system, but in the ambitious breadth of that scope, you risk missing so much. The best bet is to find a neighborhood that you want to stick to, explore, and get to know.
Here, we recommend three especially family-friendly neighborhoods that we know from experience. This is a big trip, so take the below recommendations as launching points to help feel the vibe of the places. Then, do more research. This is one of those times where the planning is actually part of the fun (once you’ve booked flights... get that one out of the way well ahead of time). Yoki kokai wo!
One of Tokyo’s most famous entertainment districts, Ikebukuro is linked on the Yamanote line (a loop service line that’s the most important one in the city), just a few stations north of trendier (and busier) Shinjuku.
The area is perfect for families looking for entertainment on every corner. That might include visiting one of Japan’s trademark animal cafes where kids can meet and mingle with everything from owls and hedgehogs to meerkats, hitting up the official Pokémon Center, or popping into an aquarium or indoor theme park. For more traditional cultural pursuits, like visiting Tokyo’s most important temples and parks, it’s super easy to connect throughout the city from Ikebukuro, too.
MIMARU Tokyo Ikebukuro: You’re just a five-minute walk (10 if you’re walking slowly with the kids) to Ikebukuro station when you stay at this Tokyo newcomer with apartment-style accommodations and loft beds the kids will love. All rooms have kitchens and dining rooms, making it easy to settle in and feel at home right in the heart of the neighborhood.
Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro: This massive 800-room hotel has a corporate feel but spacious rooms for spreading out and a location that can’t be beat, just a few minutes from Ikebukuro station. There are seven onsite restaurants but it’s way more fun to head out into the surrounding neighborhood to dine at the hole-in-the-wall local spots.
Sanrio Café: Hello Kitty-branded buns on your burgers await at this Sanrio-themed restaurant on the ground floor of Sunshine City serving colorful drinks, sandwiches and desserts that kids will (hopefully) love.
NAMJA Gyoza Stadium: In Sunshine City’s lively game center, Namjatown, this food court-style restaurant offers a dizzying variety of dumplings from some of Japan’s most famous gyoza shops with a backdrop of retro decor.
Chano-Ma: Parents let their babies crawl around on the comfortable bed-like seating at this trendy spot inside the tax-free shopping mall, Lumine Ikebukuro. The menu offers set lunches during the day as well as tempura dishes, Japanese stews and steaks for dinner.
Sunshine City: With an aquarium tunnel you can stroll through while admiring swimming penguins, a planetarium and a dizzying observation deck with an indoor garden, this massive complex with more than 220 shops is also the place to shop for Studio Ghibli-themed items and browse the Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo, home to Japan’s largest selection of Pokémon goods. Sunshine City is pure Japanese sensory overload. There’s even an indoor theme park here, Namjatown, complete with a VR arcade.
Ikebus: In a city that moves as fast as Tokyo, take a time out from the hectic pace with a ride on the Ikebus, an eco-friendly bus with two sight-seeing routes around Ikebukuro. Designed by a famous Japanese industrial designer, the bright red bus has room for just 22 passengers and cruises along at a leisurely 12 miles per hour.
ODAIBA AND TOYOSU
On a man-made island in Tokyo Bay, the Odaiba district occupies an island originally built by the Edo shogunate in the 1850s to help protect the city from the threat of maritime attacks. Together with neighboring Toyosu, it’s a bustling seaside entertainment hub with entertainment everywhere in the form of shopping, parks, playgrounds, family barbecue areas and more. Staying here puts you within easy striking distance of Tokyo Disney Resort, too.
Hilton Tokyo Odaiba: Free shuttle service to and from Tokyo Disney Resort (just 20 minutes away) and rooftop whirlpools make this waterfront hotel with views of Tokyo Bay a family favorite. The beachfront park, Odaiba Marine Park, where you can picnic with views of Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge, is right next to the hotel.
Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba: Another centrally located spot in Odaiba with towering views of the waterfront and spacious rooms, this hotel is easily connected to Tokyo Disney Resort via rail. It’s known for having one of Japan’s biggest atriums, themed after Provence in France, and a rooftop pool opens during the summer months.
Mitsui Garden Hotel Toyosu PREMIER: With indoor and outdoor onsens and panoramic views of the city and bay, this luxury hotel in Toyosu is directly connected to Toyosu Station and has a good restaurant serving pizza and views on the 36th floor.
Tokyo Ramen Kokugikan Mai: Have everyone try something different at this “ramen park” with variations of the noodle soup from six popular Japanese restaurants that’s located on the fifth floor of the Aqua City shopping complex.
KollaBo: Korean-style barbecue makes for a fun family dinner out at this Aqua City restaurant with bay views and lots of meat on the menu, including bone-in ribs and yakiniku (grilled bite size pieces of meat and vegetables) as well as Korean classics like the rice bowl called bibimbap.
Bills Japan: Imported from Australia, this Sydney chain has grilled cheese sandwiches and spaghetti carbonara on the kids menu as well as mini pavlovas and chocolate rocky road sundaes for dessert. It’s famous for pancakes, too.
Teamlab Planets: Blow-your-mind digital technology lets you wade through water and commune with flowers at this large-scale gallery in Toyosu that you explore barefoot. Nature and technology blend in incredible ways in a garden blooming with more than 13,000 real flowers as the boundaries between yourself and the art around you get blurred. Come for multi-sensory wonders the whole family will enjoy.
Kidzania: This indoor Toyosu amusement park for kids between 3 and 15 years old lets them role-play in an incredible miniature town where they can see what it’s like to investigate crimes as part of the police force, whip up real pizza in a restaurant and even earn money in the attraction’s local currency (there are roughly 100 roles for them to play during Kidzania’s two play shifts daily). Adults aren’t allowed into the playzone but can watch the fun through CCTV and windows. Simply incredible learning and fun.
More traditional Tokyo vibes await families who visit this vibrant part of Tokyo that puts you close to Sumida Park, the Sensoji Temple and the Nakamise shopping street. There are snack stalls and souvenirs selling traditional crafts everywhere in Asakusa, where low-rise buildings prevail. Stay here for a total visual feast and very human scale in the city.
OMO3 Asakusa: Part of the storied Hoshino Resorts, this gorgeous property has rooms with tatami mats and bathtubs and was designed for families traveling with young kids. Your stay includes the company of one of the hotel’s OMO rangers, who can take you on one or two-hour tours of Asakusa and point out kid-friendly attractions and restaurants.
Misojyu: For a relaxed and traditional meal in a spot beloved by locals, this Japanese-modern hideaway specializes in the classic comfort food dish of rice balls in miso soup.
Asakusa Hanayashiki: Visit Japan’s oldest theme park (it opened in 1853 as a botanical garden) for everything from ninja-themed playrooms and a haunted house attraction to merry-go-rounds and a rollercoaster. Kids under four get free admission.
OK, THESE TWO ARE WORTH A DAY EXCURSION OUTSIDE OF YOUR CHOSEN HOOD
Tokyo Disney Resort: From unique attractions like the over-water parade at DisneySea and Disneyland Tokyo’s Harmony in Color parade to the incredible Kawaii fashions that park-goers don on pilgrimages here, the Disney just hits different in Tokyo.
Ghibli Museum: Follow bridges and spiral staircases through this maze-like museum near Inokashira Park. A theater showing short films created just for the museum, kids play area and life-size robot from Castle in the Sky bring Japan’s most famous animation studio to life.