As wintry weather hovers over Japan, parents are constantly on the lookout for indoor places for their kids to play. I’m not a fan of cold weather, so I prefer outings in January and February to be in the comfy confines of climate-controlled museums and movie theaters. That’s good enough for me, but my kids need fresh air and activity, so an ideal winter play space involves a warm interior with the potential for some outdoor fun nearby.
My first Child’s Play column in 2013 described our neighborhood favorite in this category: the Tokyo Gas Museum. Spacious and toasty indoors, the Tokyo Gas Museum is only a few steps from a playground, an open field, a shopping center and the monorail out to Odaiba. When cold or otherwise inclement weather descends, but my kids still need to get out of the house, that was our plan A.
Today, let me tell you about plan B: Tokyo Dome City. Most people naturally associate Tokyo Dome City with its stadium centerpiece, but the surrounding complex has a lot more to offer. Whether you’re wrangling toddlers or teenagers, there is enough to do at Tokyo Dome City to keep you and your brood busy all day.
After the stadium itself, the most prominent feature of Tokyo Dome City is the amusement park. Don’t expect cutting-edge rides here, but rather classics: a carousel, a log flume, a Ferris wheel and half-a-dozen rides usually relegated to traveling carnivals. You can buy individual tickets for each ride or get an all-day pass. You’ll also find Hero Action Shows of the Power Rangers variety, as well as Magiquest, a role-playing game seemingly inspired by the Harry Potter films, as each participant uses an IC-chip-embedded wand to clear the game’s various levels.
For our family, however, we head straight to the bowling alley, where the lanes have gutter bumpers to keep the ball in the lane for the youngest bowlers. But the place can fill up fast, so if you’re planning a day in the area, try calling ahead or simply showing up there first to see when (or if) a lane will be open for you.
If we have time after a few games, we may head downstairs to the roller rink. The website claims that this is “one of the largest roller-skate rinks in Tokyo,” and that may very well be true, but don’t expect something massive. Still, my daughter and I have puttered around this rink more than a few times and — occasionally bruised hindquarters aside — have enjoyed every minute of it.
If you’re looking for something more strenuous for older kids, then head into Spo-Dori, a sporting center offering batting cages, golf-swing simulators and a rock-climbing wall. For those with kids under 6, then the AsoBono area is for you. This indoor playground is packed with slides, ball pits and all things to slide and bounce upon. A favorite for many young parents on rainy days, Asobono is an excellent spot to while away a dark and drizzling afternoon. There is a baby-specific playroom, as well as play areas fully stocked with toy train sets and other playthings.
You can find snacks and drinks near most of these facilities, but if you’re looking for something more substantial, try the restaurants near the amusement park rides — or you could head into the LaQua shopping center and peruse its many restaurants. The supermarket on the basement level also has a nice array of snacks and pre-made meals, and we’ve been known to just grab something there and sit near the carousel for a little al fresco dining.
Our usual choice, however, is to head over to the Tokyo Dome Hotel and grab a table at Sizzler. Yes, I’m talking about the American chain of steakhouses, which may seem like an unusual choice, but we go for the salad bar, which is one of the best (and most affordable) options in the city for all-you-can-eat fruit and vegetables.
If all this eating and exercise sounds exhausting to you, there is another option: the LaQua spa. Here you’ll find saunas and onsen (spa) tubs with water extracted from 1,700 meters below. This is a great place to forget unpleasant weather with a nice soak. Keep in mind, though, that this is designed to be a relaxing place for adults, so act accordingly, and make sure to be out by 6 p.m., as children are not allowed from then on.
You can have a full day at Tokyo Dome City. Several full days, really, as squeezing all these activities into one afternoon would involve far more time, effort and money than most parents are willing to spend. And now that Space Museum TenQ has opened in the area (a place I have yet to visit), it seems that the Dome will remain a favorite spot on our rainy-day to-do list.