It’s the coldest part of the year in Japan. Combine frigid weather with cramped apartments, rambunctious kids and a dose of cabin fever and you have a parent’s recipe for frustration. However, in Tokyo there are countless options for indoor family fun, and with the season in mind, I’ve created a list of some great options for inside playing and learning. Moving west to east, I hope that these suggestions help you find entertaining spaces to learn and play away from the house and out of the cold. The list is far from complete, and was chosen with minimum outdoor walking times in mind.
Out of all the indoor locations that my family likes to spend leisure time, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka is among the best. It’s a long walk from most major stations, but it makes this list because it’s worth every step. It only takes advance bookings, though, so make sure to buy your tickets via the museum website or a Lawson convenience-store ticket machine before heading out.
Venture into central Tokyo to Shinjuku and you have several great options for indoor fun. The Fire Museum is free, fascinating and has direct access from Yotsuya Sanchome subway station. Only a few blocks from there is the Tokyo Toy Museum, which can entertain any child from toddler to tween. Want to venture further in the frosty air? The massive (and warm) greenhouse facility in Shinjuku Gyoen is less than a 10-minute walk from either of these museums.
Venture further west and you’ll find plenty of culture and fun for kids in Roppongi. The paths between the Mori Museum, Tokyo Midtown and the National Art Center are convenient in the daytime, and all three establishments provide days of interesting indoor experiences. Our top pick for the area is almost always 21_21 Design Sight, one of our kids’ favorite museums in the country, and there are plenty of warm buildings and underground pathways nearby.
Head north of the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda Ward and you’ll discover climate-controlled fun in Tokyo Dome City Sitting next to the famous stadium you’ll find plenty to keep you and the kids indoors and engaged. The TenQ Museum will wow them with its exhibitions about space exploration, while next door you can hurl your own celestial spheres at one of our family’s favorite bowling alleys. Tokyo Dome City also has a roller rink, batting cages, climbing walls, and the indoor playspace Asobono for the younger set. If you’re looking for more climbing walls for kids, then head to Pekids in Shibuya.
The northeast side of the city has just as many indoor opportunities for kids — possibly more. In the Ueno area, kids can spend an entire day inside the National Museum of Nature and Science, but if you’re looking for something edgier, head south to the 3331 Chiyoda Arts for contemporary art and the occasional kids creativity class.
On the east side of the Sumida River, there is the Edo Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku, where kids can explore the history of this dynamic capital city. Want a more hands-on experience? Take the Oedo line south and you can be inside the Fukagawa Edo Museum in Koto Ward in 20 minutes. While much smaller than the city’s main museum in Ryogoku, many kids find the reconstructed village setting of the Fukagawa Edo Museum more engaging.
Finally, let me sum up with Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. No other area of the metropolis offers so much indoor and outdoor open space to run, learn, play and shop. The fun starts with just getting there. If your kids are anything like mine, then they’ll find the Yurikamome monorail ride to Odaiba just as entertaining as any museum. Make sure to get seats on the first car for the best views. Miss a train or two and wait if you have to.
If you get off at Odaiba Kaihinkoen Station, head toward the Decks building. Inside, The Trick Art Museum provides plenty of laughs and family selfie opportunities, while the Legoland Discovery Center will satisfy the builders in your family. If you think you’ll go back to Legoland more than once or twice, consider annual passes. The passes work out to less than three visits and get you discounts at the gift shop and concession stand. More importantly, they allow you to skip the line and, this being Tokyo, there are often lines.
In the Aqua City building next door, the beeps, bright lights and general buzz surrounding the Sony ExploraScience center will keep the kids occupied for half an afternoon. Want to see the future? Then take the monorail to Fune no Kagakukan Station and step inside the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Prefer to go back in time? A few stations further is Leisureland, a massive arcade filled with old-school games and home to our second-favorite bowling alley in the city.
If all the above is too much stimulation, and you would rather switch off and relax for a few hours, why not sit in an onsen for a while? The Odaiba Tokyo O0edo-Onsen Monogatari may not be the most authentic hot spring in the country, but it’s fun, revitalizing and easy to navigate with kids.
Take the monorail to the )nd of line at Toyosu and near the exit is the Tokyo Gas Museum. The subject of my first Child’s Play column back in 2013, this place is still fun, still free and always warm inside.