Tokyo with Kids: Tips for Parents

  • Visitors are welcome at most temples and shrines. Be sure your kids remove their shoes in the right places (you'll know you've reached the magic shoeless line when you see a pile of shoes on the ground left by travelers who got up earlier than you). Acceptable noise levels vary, so watch what others are doing in regards to how loud its OK to be.
  • In major urban centers, such as Shibuya and Shinjuku in Tokyo, look for “Y100 Stores.” Like the name says, everything in the store costs Y100, about 80 U.S. cents. It's just like the dollar stores you see everywhere in the U.S., but about 20 cents cheaper. Brilliant! If you need a tupperware-like container, some plastic forks, some travel-related odds and ends, you can't go wrong. You can also find the same kind of stuff at most supermarkets and department stores, albeit at a bit higher cost.
  • Despite what you've heard, violent slurping at meals is not universally condoned but can be acceptable in part at noodle-only places.
  • Lookout for stores called “Tokyu Hands” in major cities (there are several in Tokyo; we like the Shibuya branch best). They are all over Japan and combine what in the U.S. would be found at K-Mart, a hardware store, a hobby shop, an auto parts place and three other stores of your choice. Kids will go nuts at the variety, and the orderly chaos of choices, even if you don't buy anything (but you likely will. On my last trip I ended up with a replacement zipper, a plastic bottle that I have no idea why I own it now, a bicycle inner tube, two corks and some masking tape.)
  • Parents in parks and at playgrounds may be reluctant to initiate a conversation in English because of fear of embarrassment. Instead, feel free to say hello and initiate a simple chat. You'll know soon enough if the other Mom wants to continue talking. Since you started the conversation, her graceful exit will be that much easier.
  • As friendly as people are, sometimes your kids may be the object of some innocent but unwanted attention, especially in rural areas. For many Japanese, raised in a homogenous nation with few “outsiders” (the Japanese word for “foreigner” is gaikokujin, with the character for “gai” meaning “outside”), the arrival of a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid is worth noting. You'll see that a lot of advertisements feature foreign kids as well. If you find yourself attracting a crowd cooing at your kids in a way that is hampering your site-seeing, a polite “excuse me” coupled with a smile and a nod is all you'll need to move on without offending anyone.
  • Pachinko is a very Japanese, um, thing. It involves sitting in a smoky, overlit, noisy room and mindlessly thumbing a little trigger thing to send a stream of silver balls a bit bigger than a BB into a machine. If you do this long enough, the machine pays off by giving you more balls to play with. The cycle continues unto your death.
  • These pachinko places are all over the place and will appear attractive to older kids, looking like a video arcade on crystal meth. They are reported to be run by local organized crime, and have a counter off to the side where large quantities of the silver balls can be exchanged for some small prize, like hands towels (go figure) or cigarettes. Often later on you can surreptitiously re-exchange the towels or smokes for money, which you can use to buy more silver balls. Decide early on if it is for your kids.

User Feedback

I don't know of any 100 yen shops in Shibuya. If you are looking for a shop in Shinjuku you have to look hard. It's best to look around Zara's. If you really want a great 100 yen shop and you don't have to go far to find it go to Harajuku. Take the Takeshita Dori exit. Takeshita Street) Cross the street, keep straight. You will pass a Lotteria hamburger shop on your left. On your right will be a Wolfgang Puck. Keep straight and you will walk into Daiso on your left. It's about 4 floors of cheap shopping heaven.


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