9 Tips for Visiting Tokyo With Kids

The thought of visiting Tokyo with kids can be intimidating to some people. Its reputation for being expensive and the language barrier can be daunting. But we found Tokyo to be family-friendly with extremely helpful and polite locals. It’s a city worth visiting, and when you do, here are some Tokyo travel tips that can hopefully help your family save time and money.

1. Tokyo Airports: Narita vs. Haneda
Most international flights land at Narita Airport, which is about an hour train or bus ride into central Tokyo. Haneda Airport is smaller and only a 15-minute monorail ride into the city. With fewer international flights, immigration and baggage claim was the fastest we’ve ever experienced. Compare prices and flight schedules and if there’s not much of a difference, Haneda would be a better option for ease, convenience and getting into Tokyo faster and cheaper.

2. Tokyo Restaurants
We found the food halls at department store basements to have the best variety and some of the best prices. Prices were discounted later in the day. My kids were big fans of chicken yakitori sticks and bento boxes, which were complete meals in subdivided food packages. Seating is usually not available so take your food back to your room or a nearby park. Train stations also had some great food stalls.

Eating at restaurants in Tokyo without an English menu is easy. Many restaurants displayed plastic food replicas or sampuru to make it easy to decide on what to order.

Tokyo travel tips for visiting Tokyo with kids - Tokyo restaurants
Examples of sampuru, a bento box and a Japanese meal.

Save money by staying at hotels with free breakfast. We stayed at Hilton Tokyo, and their extensive breakfast buffet remains a favorite.

Read More >> Picky Eaters? Tips to Help Kids Eat Foreign Food

3. Tokyo Transportation
Tokyo has several subway and train lines, which can be overwhelming. Although their transportation system is efficient, timely and the easiest way to get around, avoid the weekday rush hours between 7:30 and 9 am and after 5 pm. Trains are so notoriously crowded that they have white gloved people pushing passengers in to close doors.

We highly recommend using the Métro app for smartphones. It provides the fewest route transfers or shortest routes and ensures you’re going in the right direction. It’s free and works offline. We never got lost using it.

Get prepaid, rechargeable IC cards used for public transportation and payment at some vending machines, restaurants and shops by touching them to a reader. They can be purchased at railway stations with a refundable deposit of 500 yen ($5) plus whatever amount added to the card.

IC cards are good for almost all trains, buses and subways throughout Japan and are very convenient because you don’t have to buy individual tickets each time and can be used as “e-money.” Passengers must have their own cards including children. Kids (ages 6-11) usually pay half of adult transportation fares.

If you’re going to be traveling by train around Japan extensively, get the Japan Rail Pass. It can only be purchased outside Japan and offers unlimited use of JR trains for a set time for considerable savings.

Read More >> Tips for Navigating Public Transportation with Kids

4. Practice Japanese Etiquette
Be aware of the proper etiquette when visiting the temples and shrines. Shoes must be removed when entering most temples. There are no strict dress codes. Look for signs, but photography is usually not allowed inside the halls. While not mandatory, it is customary to participate in rituals like washing hands at purification fountains by the shrines’ entrances or lighting candles or incense. It’s a great way to educate kids about religious culture.

Tokyo travel tips for visiting Tokyo with kids - Temple cleansing station
Practicing the temple cleansing ritual in Tokyo, Japan.

5. Communicating in English and Japanese
English signs can be found throughout Tokyo including trains, subways and buses. It’s also not hard to find someone who speaks or understands English. However, learning a few simple Japanese phrases shows respect and goes a long way when communicating with a local. You will repeatedly be greeted with “Irasshaimase” (Welcome) as you enter stores for courtesy. You can either not respond (like many do) or slightly nod.

Read More >> 7 Tips for Learning the Basics of a Foreign Language

6. Souvenir shopping
Tokyo has many shopping neighborhoods like Ginza, Shibuya, Akihabara, Harajuku and Omotesando, where the six-story Kiddyland toy store is located. But, I found the cheapest souvenirs at Nakamise, a narrow street in Asakusa, by Sensoji temple. We loved the 100-yen shops, like Daiso Harajuku, which were equivalent to our American dollar stores.

Some of the best souvenirs to take home are Tokyo Bananas, which are banana-shaped sponge cake filled with banana-flavored cream and the various unique Kit Kat flavors only found in Japan. Check out the KitKat “Chocolatory” in Ikebukuro.

7. Take Care of Your Trash
It was surprisingly hard to find trash cans around Tokyo’s streets, but the city was still litter free. Tokyo removed trash bins in response to the sarin gas attacks in 1995. Carry disposable bags with you.

8. Finding the Best View of the City
For the best places to see the city skyline, go to Tokyo Tower, Sky Tree or the Municipal Government Building (free).

Tokyo travel tips for visiting Tokyo with kids - view from Tokyo Municipal Government Building
Tokyo view from the Tokyo Municipal Government Building observation deck.

9. Tokyo Day Trips
While there are plenty of attractions in Tokyo, we highly recommend doing a day trip to nearby cities like Hakone, Kamakura, Nara, Nikko and even Kyoto. They are easily reachable through trains. Know that seeing Mt. Fuji is best visible during the winter months.

Read More >> 5 Memorable Things to do in Kyoto with Kids

Do you have any Tokyo travel tips to add?
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This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Mary S. Are you interested in traveling to Tokyo? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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