For fam­ily fun, di­vide Tokyo into a hand­ful of ac­ces­si­ble dis­tricts, says Si­mon Rowe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

WHERE else in Asia do traf­fic lights talk, dogs wear rain­coats and ice creams come in seafood flavours? Where else but the Big Sushi; Tokyo, that is. A fam­ily so­journ in the city Asi­aweek mag­a­zine has called the re­gion’s most liv­able can be a stim­u­lat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, packed with sights and sounds that baf­fle and be­muse, and flavours to keep the taste­buds guess­ing. But for par­ents it can also be a chal­lenge; we are the ones who must ford the hu­man rivers at peak hour, make ed­u­cated guesses at restau­rant win­dow dis­plays and ad­vise which touch-panel but­ton flushes the ho­tel toi­let.

Six hun­dred years ago, Tokyo, then called Edo­juku, was a thatched-roof fish­ing vil­lage on the muddy banks of the Hi­rakawa River.

Th­ese days it is a place of light-speed liv­ing, in­hab­ited by 13 mil­lion tech­hun­gry, fash­ion­able worka­holics who en­joy more lifestyle choices than any other of Asia’s city dwellers.

With chil­dren in tow, the sheer num­ber of things to see and do may seem over­whelm­ing. Tokyo Dis­ney­land is an ob­vi­ous in­clu­sion but the city can be tack­led one dis­trict, or ku, at a time. There are 23 in all, but to make life sim­ple one could con­sider th­ese: Chiyoda-ku for the Im­pe­rial Palace, Chuo-ku for bustling seafood mar­kets, Taito-ku for his­toric spots, Mi­nato-ku for sea­side fun and Shibuya-ku for its colour­ful streetscape. All dis­tricts are con­nected by a fast and ef­fi­cient sub­way sys­tem and can be eas­ily en­joyed in a half day; many of their sight­see­ing ac­tiv­i­ties are free. Chiyoda-ku: Start cy­cling Start your grand tour at the Im­pe­rial Palace in the heart of the city. This was the site of a ma­jes­tic cas­tle and the seat of power for most of Ja­pan dur­ing the Edo pe­riod (1600-1868). Only the watch­tow­ers re­main but it is easy to imag­ine when im­pe­rial samu­rai pa­trolled the high walls and deep moats, ready to sac­ri­fice their lives to re­pel in­vaders.

Rent a trusty two-wheeler for free next to the Im­pe­rial Plaza and head for the East Gar­den (Hi­gashi Gy­oen) to en­joy the Ni­no­maru or­na­men­tal gar­den. Tor­pedo-sized carp cruise its tea­coloured ponds and the groves of weep­ing wil­lows and cherry trees are a shady pit-stop in sum­mer.

North of the East Gar­den lies the Science Mu­seum and Ki­tanomaru Park, where young­sters can tin­ker away an af­ter­noon with hands-on ex­hibits that don’t re­quire Ja­panese lan­guage skills, be it test­ing their driv­ing prow­ess in a sim­u­la­tor, us­ing an X-ray ma­chine or con­trol­ling a tower crane. Chuo-ku: Fishy busi­ness Early ris­ers will love Tsuk­iji, the world’s busiest fish mar­ket. Seafood ar­rives from more than 75 coun­tries daily and no less than $150 mil­lion worth of fish changes hands be­fore lunch. It is a lively place, full of yelling and scream­ing, bar­ter­ing and bid­ding, and the va­ri­eties of fish on dis­play will keep your kids guess­ing.

For break­fast, drop into one of the cosy cafes serv­ing tea and toast that sur­round the mar­ket un­less you feel up to the Tsuk­iji stan­dard, a bowl of fresh tuna sashimi on warm rice, ac­com­pa­nied by green tea, at a street counter.

Split bam­boo and hand­made pa­per, called washi , mean one thing to Ja­panese kids: kite-mak­ing. If you have avid kite-fly­ers in your crew, the Kite Mu­seum, lo­cated in nearby Ni­hon­bashi, will give them plenty of ideas for their next cre­ation. Three thou­sand kites are on dis­play, rang­ing from postage stamp-sized spec­i­mens to those dat­ing back 100 years to the Taisho pe­riod that fea­ture painted kabuki-ac­tor and samu­rai faces. Taito-ku: Tem­ple town The Taito dis­trict brims with lively tem­ples, teashops and tra­di­tional sou­venir shops, but head to Asakusa precinct for the most at­mo­spheric neigh­bour­hoods. To ex­pe­ri­ence Tokyo be­fore vend­ing ma­chines and hy­brid cars over­ran its streets, go to Shi­ta­machi Mu­seum, where daily life in the Low City — the area that lay on the flat­lands to the city’s east — has been repli­cated in all its work­ing-class glory. There are his­tory lessons aplenty inside the Edo-era homes of ar­ti­sans, mer­chants and shop­keep­ers, dis­played as they were be­fore the Great Kanto earth­quake and fires of 1923.

Fancy a plas­tic pizza or a rub­berised red bean ice cream? Repli­cat­ing is a Ja­panese art form and on Askusa’s restau­rant sup­plies street, Kap­pabashidori, you can pe­ruse the fa­mous fake food used to ad­ver­tise shop menus across the city. (But as sou­venirs they are not cheap.) Mi­nato-ku: Hit the beach This dis­trict is best known for its man­made is­land, Odaiba. It is a won­der the place hasn’t sunk, con­sid­er­ing all the restau­rants, bou­tiques, mu­se­ums and amuse­ment parks crammed on it. From May to Au­gust, cool­ing off at the Odaiba Sea­side Park (swim­ming beach and sand­cas­tle com­pe­ti­tions) or hit­ting Pal­ette Town (an amuse­ment park fea­tur­ing the Gi­ant Sky Wheel) are pop­u­lar pas­times for Tokyo fam­i­lies. If the weather is mis­be­hav­ing, then Mega Web, Toy­ota’s interactive mu­seum with self-drive ex­hibits, is a good place to wait out the rain clouds.

There is also the Mu­seum of Mar­itime Science, which rates as one of the Ja­panese cap­i­tal’s best hands-on at­trac­tions for chil­dren.

Let them clam­ber over sea­planes, ex­plore fish­ing boats and try their hand at ra­dio-con­trolled minia­ture ships on a pur­pose-built course. The mu­seum also has a wa­ter theme park that opens in sum­mer. Shibuya-ku: Liv­ing colour It takes only 15 min­utes to cross Shibuya on foot, but if you were to pe­ruse ev­ery bou­tique, ride ev­ery de­part­ment store es­ca­la­tor, sip in ev­ery hole-in-the-wall cafe or dine at ev­ery ta­ble on the way, it would prob­a­bly take more than 10 years to con­quer.

Tokyo’s fash­ion­able young­sters like to meet in Hachiko Plaza, out­side the JR Shibuya train sta­tion, where the bronze statue of an akita dog stands. This is Hachiko, the dog that waited for its mas­ter to come home from work ev­ery day dur­ing the 1920s. When the man died, the dog con­tin­ued to wait. When Hachiko died, city of­fi­cials erected a statue to hon­our its loy­alty.

Yoyogi Park, in nearby Hara­juku precinct, may pro­vide some much­needed fresh air af­ter your shop­ping for­ays. Its spa­cious green ar­eas, pub­lic pool and bird sanc­tu­ary are a hit with Ja­panese fam­i­lies on Sun­days and there’s the added at­trac­tion of Hokoten (lit­er­ally: walk­ing around heaven), where teenagers put on bizarre fash­ion shows on week­ends. www.toky­owith­kids.com www.trav­el­with­y­ourkids.com www.jnto.go.jp/eng

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