The heat is most definitely on. And with the mercury so high, so are the expectations among the wee ones that you haul them off somewhere that little bit different. Here are a few ideas for Tokyo places where you and they might find some respite during the dog days.
Water, preferably lots of it, works a treat at this time of year. There are plenty of pools around town where the kids can get down to some serious frolicking, though many are indoors and don’t allow you to enjoy both the sunshine and the water.
A good outdoor option for those within range of Setagaya Ward is located in Komazawa Olympic Park. Here, the open-air 50-meter swimming pool with a surrounding area for stretching out under the sun is an agreeable spot for a lazy summer day with the kids. Not that this pool especially goes out of its way to be child-friendly: The automatic showers you have to walk through are remarkably effective at scaring the wits out of tiny children.
As with anything else in this huge, rambling park, finding the swimming pool is no cinch. Even harder to find, though definitely worth the effort, is the more relaxed, paddling area. It’s spread out over a large 50-meter-long section of the park and consists of fountains, shallow pools, streams and a little waterfall. A kiosk offering refreshments is nearby, and on a hot day the place is perfect for kids to splash around in for hours on end.
If you fancy seeing little creatures other than children jumping about in the water, there are a number of good aquariums in town. Shinagawa Aquarium, reasonable from central Tokyo, is very popular with kids. The dolphin and sea lion shows held several times a day offer superb entertainment, though if you want a seat do get there early (call in advance or get the times from the Web site). Watery critters from around the world, including piranhas, seals, awesome moray eels, sea horses, jellyfish and nautilus, are here aplenty. Highlights for the kids are the small tank of orange anemone fish (aka “Nemo”); the amazing shark tank; the “touching pool,” where they can pick up things like hermit crabs; the penguin tank; and a long underwater tunnel, which offers a crab’s-eye view of the underwater world.
For a rather different animal experience, a number of places allow kids to ride ponies. A good all-round activity option is Himonya Park in Meguro Ward. For 150 yen, children get to ride a very docile beast, with the pony being led by trained park staff. For those wanting to tackle serious horse-riding, lessons can be arranged on the nearby riding course. Other attractions in this pleasant, shady park include a playground, a good sandbox and the rental rowboats on Benten Pond, which must be the best boating deal in town.
Also at this compact park is the small petting zoo, which has rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks, small turtles and three — usually sleeping — dogs. Bring refreshments with you as facilities are limited.
If you are within striking distance of Zenpukuji Park in the center of Suginami Ward, a rather attractive place is the Children Traffic Park, which is all the more attractive for being absolutely free. Here you have pedal go-karts, bikes and toy cars, which the kids can pedal around on a completely safe track that is 1.1 km long, plus an extra 1.3 km in the adjacent Zenpukuji Park. There’s also a sand pit, a playground, jungle gym and a real steam locomotive for them to lark around in.
As well as being fun, there is an educational element: The park is set up so that you can instill a fair bit of traffic sense into the littles ones in a safe environment. Bring along your own refreshments. The park is not the easiest place to find, though it is marked on Shobunsha’s Tokyo Metropolitan Atlas.
Transport of a more spectacular kind can be had in the form of a helicopter trip above the city. As you might expect, such trips do not come cheap, but for a special birthday treat, they are hard to beat. A good company with English-speaking staff is Excel Air Service, which offers an extensive menu of different courses at different prices. Excel offers both day and night flights, and the experience for both children and adults is astounding. You fly at a height of around 600 meters (almost twice the height of Tokyo Tower), sailing high above the skyscrapers — and for once you get to see a Tokyo that actually manages to look rather beautiful.
Your tickets to summertime fun
Komazawa Olympic Park
Komazawa-Daigaku Station (Denentoshi Line)
Swimming pool open daily (except Monday), July 1-Sept. 15; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (in September until 5 p.m.); adults 300 yen, children 140 yen. Paddling pool (jabu-jabu ike) open July 1-Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Admission free.
Shinagawa Aquarium (Shinagawa Suizokukan)
Omori Kaigan Station (Keihin Kyuko Line)
Open daily (except Tuesday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; admission 1,000 yen for adults, 600 yen for elementary and junior high school students, 300 yen for children age 4-7.
(03) 3762-3431; Japanese Web site: www.aquarium.gr.jp/home.html
Gakugei-Daigaku (Tokyu Toyoko Line)
Zoo (free) and pony rides (150 yen); open daily (except Monday) 1:30 p.m.-3 p.m.; boats 100 yen/30 min., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
(03) 5721-1774; zoo and pony rides: (03) 3714-1548; English map to the park: www.meguro.tokyo.jp/english/livingguide/lg19.htm
Children Traffic Park (Suginami Jido Kotsu-koen)
12-minute walk from Hamadayama Station (Inokashira Line)
Open daily, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; free. (03) 3315-4564.
Excel Air Service
Urayasu Heliport, Maihama Station (JR Keiyo Line)
Depending on the course and day you fly, prices range from 3,900 yen for adults and 1,950 yen for children to 18,000 yen for adults and 9,000 yen for children. Children under the age of 3 travel free, though they are not covered by insurance.
English Web site: www.excelair.com/english/cruising/index.html