Top 3 must-visit kid-friendly places in Tokyo, Japan

Last year, an old friend invited me to stay with her and her family in Tokyo for a couple of weeks. The opportunity was too good to pass up (I’d be getting free accommodation!), and I’ve always wanted to visit Japan. So with only a backpack, a laptop, a DSLR, and a few camera lenses in tow, I flew to the city and explored the many sights it offers. Sometimes, I went alone; other times, I tagged along with my host and her family.

Shibuya crossing, Meiji shrine, and Tokyo Skytree—these are some of the places in Tokyo that almost always comes on top of a must-see list. While they show the unique charm of the city, these aren’t always the type that your kids can appreciate if you’re traveling with family.  After our time in Thailand checking out 1001 temples, I can tell you kids do tire of that type of spot...sometimes even husbands do.

Drawing from my experience of going around Tokyo with my host’s family, I have compiled a list of where to take your kids should you decide to visit. Every kid and kid-at- heart will enjoy these places in Tokyo.

Explore the Ports of Wonder at Tokyo DisneySea
Whimsical, like a page out of a storybook or a scene from a Disney movie, Tokyo DisneySea is every child’s dream come true. I even saw a Japanese child drop the lunch box he was carrying the moment he entered the theme park with his father, in awe of how big and beautiful the theme park is.

Instead of the typical Mickey Mouse-themed landscape in the entrance of Disneyland theme parks around the world, you’ll be welcomed by a globe (called the DisneySea Aquasphere, if I remember it correctly) with water springing out of it as it rotates. Behind it are Italian-inspired buildings or what they call Mediterranean Harbor. In this area, you’ll see a replica of the Venetian river and its cruise where you can take a short gondola ride across it. The park is divided into seven themed ports or sections, so you and your children can pick your own adventure.

Mermaid Lagoon
Go “under the sea” at the Mermaid Lagoon where you can try various Little Mermaid-inspired rides and attractions. Bring your kids to Ariel’s Playground where they can tinker with the telescope and navigator aboard a sunken ship. Kids will also enjoy ducking to avoid getting sprayed with water by cute turtle fountains with water coming out of their mouths at random times.

Once in a while, there are Little Mermaid skits by live performers complete with costume, singing, dancing, effects, and the works. If they’re performing at the day of your visit, make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to watch.

Arabian Coast
If your kids like Aladdin more than Little Mermaid, hop on over to the Arabian Coast. Pop on those 3D glasses and watch a short movie about the characters of 1001 Arabian Nights (focused on the characters of Aladdin) at The Magic Lamp Theater. During our time, the movie shown was about Shaban, “the greatest magician in the world” who had to do his performance without the help of his constant companion, Genie.

Always wanted to ride the magic carpet? Well now you can with Jasmine’s magic carpet ride. The seats are spacious and comfortable enough to fit adults while being snug enough to keep your children safe while it’s moving.

You can also explore the following ports with your family: American Waterfront, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery, and Mysterious Island. There are 27 attractions and nine shows in DisneySea,
so you’ll never run out of things to do. I suggest you go there early, as the lines get too long as mid-morning approaches.

Get your Gundam fix at Diver City, Odaiba

Catering to older children, Odaiba is a mecca for every Gundam lover. Have your picture taken with the towering life-size Gundam action figure right in front of Divercity Tokyo Plaza. If you want to immerse yourself in more things Gundam, go to Gundam Front Tokyo at the 7th floor of the plaza mall. Have a photo-op with your favorite Gundam characters from Mobile Suit Gundam to Mobile Suit Gundam AGE at the Character Photo Spot.

You can also have your photo taken with a scale model of the 1/1 core fighter jet from the finale of Mobile Suit Gundam illuminated by blue lights surrounding its stand for a more surreal effect. If you and your kids are interested in how things work, the Gunpla Factory showcases the pellets used for making gunpla. For a more hands-on experience and if you have extra cash, you can assemble part of a gunpla kit at the Gunpla Labo section of the museum. Merchandise items are also available for sale in the museum, so you and your kids can have souvenirs to take home. I bought a few cool shirts there.

Inside the mall itself, there are boutiques that carry non-Gundam related items like shoes, bags, and clothes, so you can shop there after sightseeing the Gundam museum with your children. Outside the mall, there is also a replica of the Statue of Liberty by the bridge where you might want to have your picture taken.

Be spirited away at the Studio Ghibli Museum
Hayao Mizayaki fan or not, you’ll love the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka. It’s a one-of- a-kind experience that will leave you smiling once you step out the museum grounds. I know I did! The
storybook-like part of the museum felt so magical, it took a couple of hours before I got over the soaring feeling that exploring the museum halls gave me.

Sadly, taking photos inside the museum is prohibited, so I have no photos of my own to share (even cellphones are supposed to be turned off). The people behind Studio Ghibli museum want a complete sensory experience for their guests, and they feel that using a camera will hinder their guests’ full appreciation of every attraction in store for them. As a photographer, this rule bothered me a lot at first. I mean, how can I not take photos of this majestic place? Even the ceiling adorned with art featuring several characters from Mizayaki’s stories is snap-worthy. But going hands-free for a couple of hours proved to be quite liberating. It felt good to be completely present in each attraction and use my eyes instead of the viewfinder to look at every sight.

If you have small children, they will also feel empowered in the Studio Ghibli museum because children are addressed separately from their parents and are even given a chance to hand in
their own tickets. It’s a good way to subtly introduce the concept of independence to them.
I’ve always been a firm believer that there is something for everybody in whatever city. 

Both you and your children can have a good time in whichever city you choose to travel in. All it takes is just a bit of research and thinking beyond the usual recommended destinations.

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