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Give the kids a dose of culture and fun at Tokyo Midtown

by Jason Jenkins

Since the 1950s, the Roppongi entertainment district has been synonymous with drink, debauchery and the like … or so people tell me. That began to change when Roppongi Hills opened a decade ago, and a push was launched to transform the area’s seedy image into something more cosmopolitan. Mission accomplished in my opinion, and one of the best examples of this transformation is the Tokyo Midtown complex.

Opened in 2007, this is — like the nearby Roppongi Hills — a mixed-use urban center that combines businesses, shopping, the arts and swanky high-end apartments. I recommend Midtown over Roppongi Hills and similar locations because families seemed to have been factored into the planning. Despite being in the middle of such a happening area, it is easily navigable with strollers and offers (relatively) open spaces where kids can run ahead without parents worrying about them slamming into taxis or old ladies.

Another advantage is that Roppongi is on the Oedo Line, which as every baby-buggy pusher knows is one of the only subway lines in Tokyo that has elevator access from platform to ground level at all stations — and considering how deep that line can get (surprised they didn’t strike oil) it’s downright crucial. The station exit is also in the basement level of Midtown for very easy access.

Once out of the station, follow the signage to 21_21 Design Space and you’ll exit into a wide outdoor footpath that’s perfect for sprinting and long-jump competitions. Look to small fountains here for a place to cool off in the summertime (bring extra clothes).

21_21 Design Site itself is a fantastic museum with exhibits that are usually fun for both toddlers, teens and adults. And that goes double right now during the “Design Ah” exhibit (highly recommended), which explains the role of design in society in ways that everyone can appreciate. Past exhibits have been based around bones, water and chocolate, and each event has stimulating content using a wide range of mediums such as video, audio, sculpture and photography. Park your stroller right at the entrance.

After 21_21, follow the path around to the outdoor event area. This has, at various times, been an ice rink, a holiday lights display and a contemporary art space, so who knows what it will be next. Move past this area and pass under a pedestrian walkway where you’ll find Hinokicho Park, which, I’ll confess, I’d been near a dozen times before I noticed it. That’s possibly because there isn’t anything particularly special about it — a few swings here, a slide there — but just beyond this lies a small man-made pond and sitting area. My kids loved playing chase along the stone paths that dot the edges, and last time we inspected the leaves lining the water’s edge, we found some truly massive frogs waiting for spring.

By now you and the kids may want something to snack on. Walk back over to the nearby entrance to the Midtown Building, and enter on the B1 floor. I usually head directly into the Dean & Deluca or the bakery on the right for a cookie, coffee or something more substantial, but when I want to go cheaper, I head to the supermarket in the back of the building. If you’d rather sit down at a restaurant, there are a handful of reasonably priced places on this floor that also offer bento (boxed lunches). Simply follow the signs to the Plaza area. Along the way are restrooms and a diaper-changing area, but at the time of writing, they were not well marked. Look for a sign next to the Sake Shop Fukumitsuya on the left, and follow the narrow hallway all the way back. If in need of a place to rest or breastfeed, head to the second floor, where they also have a small nursery set up for a baby’s older siblings to play or watch videos on a flat-screen TV in the room.

There is a lot of art throughout the building, too, but not the type that little ones usually enjoy. You might see some ikebana, and the Suntory Museum exhibits, while impressive, usually deal with antiques, but you’re welcome to visit if your brood is particularly sophisticated (“OK, kids! Who’s ready to view Edo Period lacquerware?”). As for my two, we sometimes stop to look at the oily kinetic sculpture in front of the Harry Winston store (1F), then exit the building from there and take a left towards the Fujifilm Square. Here you’ll often see large-scale photographs of landscapes, portraits or travel scenes. Beautiful stuff, just don’t walk in with a drink: I was kicked out once for carrying my coffee around.

Once finished, we usually head back to the same elevator we arrived from, or possibly grab a drink in the grocery store on B1 before heading back to the Oedo Line. All this culture can make a kid thirsty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stacy.k.cooke Stacy Kurokawa Cooke

    If we came to Tokyo with our four year old son to enjoy the two things you have recently written about, the Gas Museum and Midtown, where would the most convenient area be for us to spend a night?

    • http://twitter.com/jason_a_jenkins Jason Jenkins

      Hi Stacy! Hmmm. I live here so don’t know hotels very well. The easiest subway transfer between the two would be Tsukishima, I believe, but kids LOVE riding the Monorail that goes thru Odaiba and ends in Toyosu, where the Gas Museum is. It’s best to get on where it begins (front car) in Shinbashi, and there are quite a few hotels there, I believe. Midtown isn’t far from there either. Hope this helps!

      • http://www.facebook.com/stacy.k.cooke Stacy Kurokawa Cooke

        Thank you!!! This helps a lot.