Touring museums can be tiring when you have kids in tow, but Tokyo houses a large variety of family-friendly museums where the little ones will have as much fun as their parents. These museums are good with kids, as they feature lots of hands-on experiences and games, offer easy-to-understand captions under each exhibit and hand out children-friendly pamphlets. As such, a visit to these museums will make for a fun yet educational day out for the young and old alike. From railway heritage and police cars to historic fire trucks, ancient animal skeletons plus a walk-in model of the International Space Station, there is definitely something for everyone to enjoy.
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Tokyo's best museums for families
Located about 45 minutes away from Tokyo, The Railway Museum offers a day’s worth of railway-themed fun. The museum features 36 real-life train cars–most of which you can walk intoand take a seat. The collection spans over 140 years of railway history, starting with trains dating back to the early Meiji years (1868-1912).
Little ones will have a field day at the park next to the Kids Plaza, where they can test-drive several miniature trains along a 300m long track. Those aged six and above, including adults, can go for the more immersive experience by taking on the various train simulators on the museum’s second floor, including the chance to ‘drive’ the famous Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa. The simulator pods are perfect replicas of the respective trains’ original cockpits, plus the curved screen in front gives the ride an almost 3D feel...
Taking over the former Shinjuku Kuritsu Yotsuya Primary School building, the Tokyo Toy Museum exhibits not just Japanese toys but those from across the world. Infants up to the age of two can explore the first floor, which boasts curved cedar wood structures, a crawl tunnel and a range of wooden toys. The second floor is home to the Wood Toy Forest, where kids can frolic inside a pit filled with 20,000 wooden balls while taking in the calming aroma of cypress.
The third floor displays toys related to science, as well as a large number of traditional Japanese toys, including spinning tops, beanbags and kendama. Children over three can also participate in the daily workshops at the toy factory. Don’t forget to pick up some original made-in-Japan toys at the on-site souvenir shop before you leave.
Echoing the long arm of the law, the Police Museum stretches across six floors, informing visitors about the history and the work of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Kids will find this an adventurous place to visit as they get to change into (mini) police uniforms upon arrival and pose beside a real patrol car, sit on an authentic Honda police motorcycle with flashing lights, or in the cockpit of a Harukaze helicopter.
On the second and third floors, kids can learn about traffic safety in a cycling simulator and tips on crime prevention through a diorama. Through the many interactive exhibits, children and parents alike are able to understand a police officer’s work, particularly by taking a look inside the replica of a small neighbourhood police station. Most of the exhibits have English captions, and audio guides in a number of languages (English, Korean, Mandarin) are available as well.
It’s easy to spend an entire day at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno Park. The two large permanent exhibitions spread out over two buildings are equally enjoyable for both children and adults due to their engaging, hands-on exhibits. Start your adventure at the ‘Japan Gallery’ which focuses on the country’s formation, its indigenous flora and fauna and the island’s first inhabitants.
The ‘Global Gallery’, meanwhile, concerns itself with everything from science and astronomy to the evolution of life dating back more than four billion years–expect to ogle at fossils of extinct species and life-size dinosaur skeletons, which were partially assembled from actual bones. You can also trace the progress of modern technology by studying the many Japanese inventions developed since the Edoperiod (1603-1868). The large souvenir shop offers everything from cookies to dinosaur books and stuffed animals.
Run by the Tokyo Fire Department, this free museum is dedicated to firefighting and disaster prevention throughout the centuries in Japan. While the basement houses some of the most stunning vintage fire trucks in Japan’s history, kids will likely prefer exploring the third floor. Here they can dress up as little firefighters, explore the cockpit of a fire truck equipped with working sirens and participate in a virtual rescue mission while being seated in a helicopter.
After exploring a large diorama outfitted with lights, sounds and videos showing an emergency fire demonstration, children can practice their skills in extinguishing a fire in the simulation corner. You can also head up to the tenth floor, which provides great views of Tokyo Sky Tree, the skyline of Shinjuku and even Mt Fuji on a clear day.
This family-friendly museum in Tokyo’s amusement district, Odaiba, examines our daily livesthrough a scientific lens. It has one of the best entrances of all Tokyo museums; the impressive 6.5-metre Geo-Cosmos globe hanging from the atrium is fitted with 10,362 OLED panels on its surface, alternating between showing global weather patterns, cities and their populations, human migration movements and more.
Many people come here for the interactive robots and AI: to watch the performance of Honda’s famous humanoid robot ASIMO (from 11am,1pm, 2pm, 4pm) or talk to the lifelike android Otonaroid. In the space and astronomy corner, you can step inside International Space Station living quarters. There is even a hands-on mechanical model using black and white balls to explain the operating principle of the Internet...
The interactive Tokyo Metro Museum is located directly under the Tozai line’s railway tracks. Here you can learn about the history of Tokyo’s subway system and latest rail technology. As well as the exhibits of actual trains, including a wagon from the Ginza line’s 1,000 series and the Marunouchi line’s historic 300 series, the train simulators provide an immersive experience by transforming you into a train conductor traveling along Tokyo’s railways. Don’t forget to drop in to the museum shop, which boasts an array of subway-themed souvenirs...
Hayao Miyazaki’s studio has produced some of Japan’s most popular and complex animation classics, from My Neighbour Totoro to Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. If you want to learn more about the studio’s work, be warned that gaining access to this museum is tougher than getting into the Kremlin.
You need to purchase tickets in advance (which can be done from overseas; check the website), then show up at the prescribed day and time with your ticket and some ID. You will be escorted into another world: you can view original prints, play in rooms with painted ceilings and walls, and watch short animations in the cinema. The gift shop sells original animation cells, while the Cat Bus can now be ridden by adults as well as children...
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