TOKYO WITH KIDS

Adventures abound in city’s toy towns

by Chris Bamforth

It may be all Halloween pumpkins in the shops right now, but just around the corner is Christmas — the season of peace, goodwill and bank accounts plundered for presents, both for your own progeny and for all those nieces and nephews you’ve somehow acquired. In the runup to the festive season, here is a rundown of some of the top toy stores in Tokyo where you can offload all those yen.

Of all the big stores in the Tokyo area, the one most familiar to foreign residents is mega Toys “R” Us. The American chain operates 46 stores in the Kanto region, and they are really no bad places to shop — in a warehouse sort of way. The broad aisles offer kids plenty of space to run around and happily get lost in. For standard toys, the sheer range of merchandise, both Japanese and foreign, is outstanding. Small kids can drive around in toy cars all day and nobody seems to mind. With its proximity to Toshimaen amusement park, a good store if you’re within range is the Toshimaen branch in Nerima Ward.

Before that upstart Toys “R” Us came along, Kiddyland in Harajuku was arguably the best known among Tokyo toy stores. Its prime location on Omotesando ensures that the place is always packed to the gills, especially at weekends. Proximity to foreigner haunts has made Kiddyland more gaijin-friendly than most shops, and staff blanch less at requests in English. The range of goods tends to be safe and standard with few surprises.

Those seeking a bigger, more unusual variety may find better options elsewhere. On Meiji-dori, just around the corner from Kiddyland, is Bornelund. It’s tiny by comparison, but it stocks a bright, attractive range of European-style wares — lots of rag dolls and sturdy, wooden toys in primary colors.

Where Bornelund is all bubbly bright, the Disney Store down the road in Shibuya has, with its rocket-shaped building looking like something off the set of “Alien,” an oddly ominous air. Not until you step inside do you find the cuddly world of Pooh, Peter Pan et al. Disney characters are, of course, immensely popular, and here they are at full strength. Considering that the store takes up three floors, though, the range of goods is not quite as extensive as you might expect. But if it is a “Toy Story” pillow or Mickey Mouse senbei you seek, look no further. Here, you can also buy passports for Disneyland.

Disney may have the name, but Ginza’s Hakuhinkan Toy Park really does have the class. You know from the moment you see a couple of purpose-built tables out in the street packed with Lego pieces for kids to play with that this is worth checking out. The staff are patient, friendly and happy to spend hours battling their robot stag beetle against that of a 5-year-old. In terms of all-around diversity of wares and things for keeping the kids occupied while you shop, this is arguably the best toy store in town. It has points of interest for all children, from toddlers to the sophisticated set who make sure that the store’s extensive selection of Sega video-games never goes unused.

Where Hakuhinkan is reasonably spacious, Yamashiroya in Ueno is about a tight a squeeze as you can get, but the range of merchandise it manages to shoehorn into its seven floors is astounding. Yamashiroya covers the bases very well with standard diversions such as games and jigsaw puzzles, and it has a very good section on models and figures, but where Yamashiroya really excels is in its range of offbeat items. This is the place in Tokyo to buy a skull-topped lava lamp, a Darth Vader light saber, a “talking action” figure of President George W. Bush (naturally, there is no such “thinking action” model).

Yamashiroya has a good section for hands-on model-making, but a place that takes the constructive side of things a stage further is Yuzawaya. This small chain, which has five stores around Tokyo, is an interesting craft and hobby supply store that houses an excellent toy section. At the Kichijoji branch, toys occupy three of its eight floors. Yuzawaya is useful if you have a store reasonably close by, though would probably not be worth traipsing halfway across town to check out. As well as the usual range of cuddly toys, Bob the Builder and Gundam gear, Yuzawaya is a place for model-railway fans, especially those who can splash out 300,000 yen on a toy locomotive.

Like most of the other places, Yuzawaya aims broadly at kids from toddlers up, but a store that aims solely at the very youngest market sector is Akachan Honpo. If you have a babe in arms — or one on the way — here is where you will find almost everything. And, as you might expect from an Osaka-based chain, you will find it low in price. The largest and probably most central of the outlets in Tokyo is the Gotanda branch, which on any given day is top contender for having the biggest concentration of mums-to-be anywhere in the city.

Skip this way to toy central

Toys “R” Us

Daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; 1-1-1 Kasuga-cho, Nerima-ku; Toshimaen Station. Tel. (03) 3998-0114; English Web site: www.toysrus.co.jp/truj/english/stores/index.html

Kiddyland

Daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; 6-1-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; Jingumae, Harajuku stations. Tel. (03) 3409-3431; Japanese Web site: www.kiddyland.co.jp/index2.html

Bornelund

Daily, 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; 6-10-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; Jingumae, Harajuku stations. Toll-free tel. 0120-358-518; Japanese Web site: www.bornelund.co.jp/

The Disney Store

Daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; 20-15 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku; Shibuya Station. Tel. (03) 3461-3932. Japanese Web site: www.disney.co.jp/store/list/list.html#kantou

Hakuhinkan

Daily, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; 8-8-11 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Shinbashi Station. Tel. (03) 3571-8008; English Web site: www.hakuhinkan.co.jp/eng/info.htm

Yamashiroya

Daily, 10 a.m-9:30 p.m.; 6-14-6 Ueno, Taito-ku; Ueno Station. Tel. (03) 3831-2320; Japanese Web site: www.e-yamashiroya.com

Yuzawaya

Daily, 10 a.m-9 p.m.; 2-1-25 Kichijoji-minami-cho, Musashino. Kichijoji Station. Tel. (0422) 79-4141; Japanese Web site: www.yuzawaya.co.jp/information/mise_ki.html

Akachan Honpo

Daily, 10 a.m-6 p.m. (till 7:30 on weekends) 7-22-17 Nishi Gotanda, Shinagawa-ku; Gotanda Station. Tel. (03) 3779-0365; Japanese Web site: www.akachan.co.jp