Big and Little in JAPAN: Why Tokyo is Good for Kids

From cute hedgehog cafes and the giant Tokyo Pokémon headquarters to the city’s most urban shrine, Kristina Foster takes her little ones to some curious places that are big in Japan.

Shibuya, Tokyo

Shibuya ward, Tokyo | Photo: Alex Davies

I’ve searched it solo as a singleton, ‘Lost in Translation’ style, but never dared to bring the tykes to the fast-paced, eccentricity of Tokyo – until now. Taking children to Japan’s cool capital takes a carefully curated itinerary to achieve the perfect ‘G-rated’ balance of weird and wonderful.

We started with a preparatory spoonful of kawaii. In Tokyo kawaii, ‘the quality of being cute’, is a meticulous art form. Kawaii Monster Café lives up to the name and is overwhelmingly cutesy with oversized macarons, a bubble tea large enough to bathe in and unicorns everywhere you look.

Hanging with Harajuku girls at the kooky Kawaii Monster Cafe | Photo: Kristina Foster

Our trippy rainbow pasta strings with blue, yellow, green, and pink sauces were brought to the table by Dolly, a tiny ‘monster girl’ with a boxy white wig underneath a big red bow. Despite my sensory overload, the littles declared the freaky spaghetti “totally scrumptious”.

Tiny and cute unfortunately also describes most of the dollhouse sized hotel rooms in Tokyo. Rollaway beds are laid over luggage, making a midnight bathroom visit a precarious game of Twister. If you are in the mood for a splurge, book room 1301 at The Peninsula Tokyo. As we walked into the spacious cabin, after a day crammed into subway carriages, the kids were silenced to one word, “wow”.

The Peninsula Tokyo

Room 1301 at The Peninsula Tokyo impresses with majestic views over the Imperial Palace | Photo: The Peninsula Tokyo

On the second day of our summer vacation, we woke to a gravel-grey sky and sheets of monsoon rain drumming against the window. Yataaa (hooray) for the Peninsula Academy, a five-star kids club. We packed a bento box and hopped in the chauffeured mini cooper to a furin making class. A furin is a delicate, glass blown wind chime hung on porches to welcome a breeze in the sticky summer months.

Shinihara Furin Honpo, Tokyo

Shinihara Furin Honpo is a father and son glass studio, making wind chimes for over 100 years | Photo: Kristina Foster

After the tinkle of culture, we succumbed to my 7-year old son’s Pokemania. The Pokémon company designed an exclusive experience for The Peninsula Tokyo. We each donned a pikachu hat, slung a poké ball around our necks and set forth as investigators on a mission to seek out Pokémon characters using the trail of digital displays located around the hotel.

The hunt culminates in the hotel basement where a magic mirror reveals missing Pokémon | Photo: Kristina Foster

Japan is the birthplace of Pokémon and no quest is really complete without a visit to the original ‘pokestop’, the Mega Tokyo Pokémon Center in Ikebukuro. Pikachu golf balls, pikachu ramen, pikachu cookies and more characters than you could ever know, reside at this monster mansion. We emerged lugging a mammoth, fluffy yellow friend that needed his own assigned seat on the flight home.

Pokémon Center, Tokyo | Photo: PC

The next day summer re-emerged and it was Mickey’s time in the sun. In Tokyo, Disney extends from land to sea. DisneySea is unique to Japan where all attractions relate to life aquatic. The Jules Verne inspired 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride was a family favourite. Encased in a deep-sea diving bell, we were genuinely startled by the giant squid attack amid a peaceful journey through Atlantis.

Tokyo Disney Resort

On 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea riders use a light-controlling joystick to illuminate the mysteries of the deep | Photo: Tokyo Disney Resort

The rides are riveting but the most memorable part of the visit was admiring the costumed Tokyoites. Forget schlepping about in comfortable shoes and dodgy tracksuits. At Tokyo Disneyland cliques of princess obsessed teens don matching Snow White evening gowns. Grown men clip clop about in Mickey ears, samurai robes and geta clogs, coordinating with their kimono-clad girlfriends.

Ogling the charming outfits worn to Disneyland is as entertaining as watching the shows | Photo: Kristina Foster

Back in the city a prickly encounter awaited. At Harry, a hedgehog café, we booked in for an hour of cuddle time, ordered cold ice teas and picked out our spiny companions. After being jabbed a few times my daughter finally perfected the technique, lulling her snoozy critter to sleep in the palm of her hand.

Harry hedgehog cafe, tokyo

Book in some time for a bristly rendezvous at the popular Harry hedgehog cafe | Photo: Kristina Foster

Wrapping up the vacation on a heavenly note, we climbed up a staircase through a tunnel of hallowed gateways to Hie Shrine, Tokyo’s most urban temple. Sandwiched between upscale business high-rises, this spiritual sanctum was established in the 14th century to enshrine the guardian deity of Edo (todays Tokyo).

Hie Shrine, Toky

Torii gateways mark the transition from the ordinary to the sacred | Photo: Kristina Foster

As my children scribbled kind, worldly thoughts onto Japanese wishing plaques I knew emotionally and literally this colorful vacation of assorted fascinations pushed us beyond our vanilla comfort zone to a really good place.

Hie Shrine, Tokyo

Visitors write their wishes on wooden plaques then hang them at the shrine in the hope that their wishes come true | Photo: Kristina Foster


Publishers Note: Wandermelon urges readers to be mindful of the welfare of all animals when visiting zoos, animal cafés and other animal attractions when traveling and consider if such places are worthy of their support by engaging in ethical and humane business practices when it comes to animal welfare.

Kristina Foster

Kristina Foster

Born in Sydney and seasoned in Asia, Kristina Foster has lived and worked as a travel writer for over a decade in Australia, Thailand, Singapore and the US. She specializes in seeking out luxe hideaways and urban havens that welcome little and big guests alike.
Kristina Foster

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