How-tos | TOKYO WITH KIDS

When your kids are cooperating, but the weather isn’t

by Chris Bamforth

Special to The Japan Times You’re ready to spend some quality time with the kids. It’s raining cats and dogs. Here are 10 places to drag the little ones to when the weather isn’t cooperating:

Children’s Castle (Kodomo no Shiro)

An old standby, and a popular one — at times you’d swear that half the parents in town have traipsed the kids there that day. But it’s good, it’s fun and there’s lots to do — from computers, music, arts, games and videos to general play areas, climbing equipment, a playhouse, gym, pool and health development room.

Accessible via Omotesando Station or Shibuya Station; open 12:30-5:30 p.m. (10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekends, closed Monday). Admission 500 yen adults, 400 yen children. Tel. (03) 3797-5666; English Web site: www.kodomono-shiro.or.jp/english/index.html

Museum of Maritime Science (Fune no Kagakukan)

Shaped like an ocean liner, this museum in the Odaiba area is one of Tokyo’s best. Its four floors have excellent displays covering all aspects of ships and shipping. There are hands-on exhibits aplenty, allowing kids to play captain (in the periscope room of a submarine, for example). For another 100 yen they can pilot remote-controlled boats and submarines in a pool on the museum’s roof. Models trace the development of boats and ships from ancient times to an imaginary future.

Fune no Kagakukan Station (Yurikamome Line); open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (till 6 p.m. weekends). Admission 700 yen adults, 400 yen children. Tel. (03) 5500-1111; Japanese Web site: www.funenokagakukan.or.jp/

Science Foundation Museum (Kagaku Gijutsukan)

If it’s serious science you’re after, you should head for the National Science Museum in Ueno Park. But for kids to have the full-on, button-pushing, climbing-in, riding-on, interactive approach to science, this museum in Kitanomaru Park is the place to go. The five floors of well-lit, attractive displays cover such areas as sensory perception, communications, energy, machines, optics and space exploration.

Takebashi Station (Tozai Line); open 9:30 a.m.-4:50 p.m. Admission: 500 yen adults, 200-300 yen children. Tel. (03) 3212-2440; English Web site: www.jsf.or.jp/index_e.html

Sanrio Puroland

You may think the various Sanrio outlets stock a lot of Hello Kitty gear, but they are nothing compared with this indoor theme park dedicated to the world’s most famous mouthless feline. Here, you have Kitty House, where the self-obsessed Kitty has all objects created in her own image: on the Kitty-shaped TV, Kitty-chan appears reading the news about herself. Kids will love the chance to meet Kitty and boyfriend Daniel in the furry flesh. Dads may grind their teeth.

Tama Center Station (Odakyu Tama Line); open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (till 8 p.m. weekends). Admission 3,000 yen adults, 2,700 yen age 12-17; 2,000 yen age 4-11. Tel. (042) 339-1111; English Web site: www.sanrio.co.jp/english/spl/spl.html

Shitamachi Museum (Shitamachi Fuzoku Shiryokan)

Located beside Ueno Park, this small, charming museum re-creates the Tokyo of around a century ago. Kids can play around in life-size displays, such as those of a candy store and merchant’s house. The place is interactive: You open drawers and cabinets and find old objects of daily life within. Kids can also play with the toys that used to delight children in a less sophisticated era.

Ueno Station; open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (closed Mondays). Admission 300 yen adults, 100 yen children. Tel. (03) 3823-7451; Japanese Web site: www.taitocity.net/taito/shitamachi/index.html

Sunshine International Aquarium (Sanshain Kokusai Suizokukan)

Located on the 10th floor of a building next to Sunshine City, this aquarium calls itself the highest in the world. On display here are some 20,000 water-loving critters. Different displays present the denizens of various marine environments around the world — popular are the sea otters, pelicans, penguins and sea lions. Nearby is the Sunshine Planetarium, though all shows are in Japanese.

Ikebukuro Station; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (till 6:30 p.m. weekends). Admission 1,600 yen adults, 800 yen children. Tel. (03) 3989-3466; Japanese Web site: www.sun shinecity.co.jp/aquarium/index.html

TEPCO Electric Energy Museum (Denryokukan)

A free option in Shibuya, this museum covers eight floors and has a good variety of exhibits and games related to electricity. English explanations are sparse, but even if you can’t read Japanese it’s possible to get the hang of most things. Very interactive and child-friendly, here you find everything from a model of the inside of a nuclear reactor to a plucky attempt at explaining Ohm’s Law to kids. The place has been put together with some imagination and deep pockets. Little wonder Tokyo electricity bills are high.

Shibuya Station; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (closed Wednesdays). Admission free. Tel. (03) 3477-1191; Japanese Web site: www5.mediagalaxy.co.jp/Denryokukan/

Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Hall (Tokyo-to Jidokan)

Not far from Children’s Castle in Shibuya, this is probably the best all-round free option in town and is great for children of all ages. Straddling seven floors, the hall offers loads of activities from playing musical instruments, to paper crafts and science experiments, to computers and woodwork. There are extensive play areas, wooden climbing frames, the “human body maze” playing structure and no lack of fun toys and picture books.

Shibuya Station; open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month). Tel. (03) 3409-6361; Admission free. English Web site: http:www.jidokaikan.metro.tokyo.jp/English/index.html

Toys’ Kingdom (Omocha no Okoku)

An excellent possibility for younger children is this newish area that is part of Tokyo Dome. Divided into 10 activity areas, Toys’ Kingdom includes general play areas, various wooden toys, Dia building blocks, Pico kids’ computers, as well as general games like football, bowling and even . . . pachinko.

Suidobashi Station (JR Chuo Line); open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends). Admission: 1,000 yen adults, 700 yen children (for 3 hours; each additional hour 400 yen and 300 yen). Tel. (03) 3817-6112; some English information at www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/

Toys ‘R’ Us

Admittedly, if you’re not careful, you can end up eyeing a sum at the check-out counter equivalent to a month’s utility bills, but this huge store is a great place to bring young kids. There are no end of toys for them to play with, such as a variety of huge toy cars you don’t have the space for at home, puzzles, train sets and musical instruments. Nearby is the Toshimaen amusement park with its excellent Toshimaen Hydropolis, featuring a wave pool and water slides.

Toshimaen Station (Oedo, Seibu Toshima lines); open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tel. (03) 3998-0114; Japanese Web site: www.toysrus.co.jp/truj/store_j/kanto/ st_toshimaen.html.

Transportation Museum (Kotsu Hakubutsukan)

The biggest and most enjoyable part of this museum is devoted to trains. Most popular are the train simulators, where you get to drive the Yamanote and other trains, and the wonderful 15-meter-long intricate model railway that most kids would kill to operate. The museum has endless buttons to press to make contraptions move, though unless you read Japanese you may not be sure what exactly is being demonstrated. The museum also covers cars and planes and has an excellent collection of model ships from around the world.

Akihabara Station; open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission 310 yen adults, 150 yen children. Tel. (03) 3251-8481; English Web site: www.kouhaku.or.jp/english/index.html