For some people traveling to Japan, the main attractions are Mount Fuji, sushi and tradition-rich shrines and temples, while for others it’s shopping for the latest home electronics or fashions. But if you visit Japan with your family, you’ll miss out if that’s all you do, because there are plenty of attractions and amusements that are enjoyable for adults and children alike. Here’s a brief sampling.
Strange! Fascinating! Cutting-edge Science Made Accessible
National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan)
Headed by former Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri, this museum opened in July 2001.
The standing exhibits are devoted to four subjects that make cutting-edge science easy to understand and fun: the earth’s environment, how life works, informsation science, and robots and robot technology. A big hit with kids is the robot exhibit at the “Robot World” on the third floor where they can see a 10-minute demonstration by ASIMO, the humanoid robot developed to live with humans, who explains the features of his body, kicks a ball and so on. Other robots on display include Paro, modeled after a harp seal and used for therapy, a robot that can catch a ball thrown at high speed, and others. These examples of robot technology make visitors feel that the day when robots coexist with humans can’t be far off.
In the semi-spherical GAIA Dome Theater on the sixth floor, a variety of contents are screened using three projection systems: the Atmos all-sky super high precision 3D image system; the Megastar-II Cosmos planetarium projector, which can project five million stars; and the all-sky movie projector. This is the only projection system of its kind in Japan. It is used to show Birthday—What Links the Universe and Me on a huge screen. This movie, created through the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Four-dimensional Digital Universe Project (4D2U), is projected in thrilling 3D and depicts outer space realistically. Dome Theater reservations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis from 10 a.m., so it’s probably a good idea to get a ticket the minute you arrive at the museum.
Adress & Access
Address: 2-3-6 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 min. on foot from Fune-no-kagakukan Station or 4 min. on foot from Telecom Center Station, both on the Yurikamome Line
RiSuPia is a museum where adults and children can have fun learning about science and arithmetic through hands-on experience.
On the Quest Floor, the first floor where visitors are admitted free of charge, exhibits explain in simple terms the principles behind the pendulum, hot air currents and other phenomena. The third floor main zone is the Discovery Floor (admission fee required for visitors 16 and over; free for anyone 15 and under). Here, visitors are encouraged to rent a portable Discovery Scope audio guide (in Japanese or English) that explains the exhibits and the principles behind what they’re seeing. Learning about the world of arithmetic and science becomes a game-like experience.
For example, Prime Numbers Hockey is a game where players can score points if they can get a number that can only be divided by one and by itself into the goal. At the science corner, drawing on the Light Canvas with light makes the user understand that all colors are composed of the three primary colors, red, blue and yellow.
Adress & Access
Address: Located within the Panasonic Center Tokyo premises. 3-5-1 Ariake, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Access: 2 min. on foot from Kokusai-tenjijo Station, Rinkai Line or 3 min. on foot from Ariake Station, Yurikamome Line
Back in Time to the Days of the Ninja!
EDO WONDERLAND Nikko Edomura (Tochigi Prefecture)
This attraction takes you instantly back to the Edo period (1603–1868), with ninja and samurai around every corner.
Following the Edo-period theme, visitors can try their hand at Japanese archery or experience ninja-craft. If you want to know about ninja, visit the Ninja Museum to see numerous examples of their weapons; the Ninja Kai Kai Tei House of Mystery offers a taste of the ninja experience too. This strange structure literally turns your world topsy-turvy. And to see “real” ninja in action, catch the action show at the Grand Ninja Theater, a sound and light production highlighting the ninja arts and spirit. This show is the real thing, featuring actors who performed as ninja in the movie Last Samurai.
And if you want to strut around in Edo style, take your pick of costumes—lord, princess or townsman—and get dressed up at the very popular Edo-style Kimono and Costumes studio (additional charge required). Kids aged five to 12 can also have hands-on experience working at an Edo-period job and race around this “Edo town” as ninja or samurai.
Ready for a time-travel experience? Visit EDO WONDERLAND Nikko Edomura.
Adress & Access
Address: 470-2 Karakura, Nikko, Tochigi Access: 15–22 min. by scheduled bus or 10 min. by taxi from Kinugawa-onsen Station, Tobu Kinugawa Line
Asakusa Hanayashiki (Tokyo)
Asakusa Hanayashiki, an amusement park that opened over 150 years ago, is now a symbol of Tokyo’s shitamachi district. This park’s attractions include Japan’s oldest existing roller coaster, which is also its most popular, the ride careering just inches from the walls of neighboring homes. There’s also an old-fashioned Ferris wheel, a market day fair corner and other nostalgic amusements. The “Fantasy and Dreams” area, with its six-meter-tall kiddy Ferris wheel, and a helicopter and a taxi running on rails, is just the ticket for young children.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the Oedo Stage erected on Hanayashiki Street features a five- to 10-minute-long ninja show once every hour. Another ninja show, this one 30 minutes long, is performed twice daily at the Hanayashi-za Theater on the grounds.
This amusement park is also a place of strange legends: the “Bridge of Happiness,” which promises that a person’s wish will come true if he or she can cross the bridge without looking back, and the elusive soft-shelled turtle that promises longevity to whoever manages to glimpse it.
Adress & Access
Address: 2-28-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 3 min. on foot from Asakusa Station, Tsukuba Express or 5 min. on foot from Asakusa Station, Subway Ginza/Subway Asakusa/Tobu Isesaki lines
All about Railways and Cars: Fun for Children and Adults
The Railway Museum (Saitama Prefecture)
This museum displays materials related to railways in Japan and abroad. It includes many enjoyable attractions designed to teach visitors about how railways work and the principles behind them.
One recommended attraction is the mini self-drive train, a miniature carriage 2.4 meters long and 1.3 meters wide, taking three passengers, that runs along a circuit 300 meters long. Drive this train while looking at the operating system on the monitor, and you’ll feel like a real train driver.
The driving simulator which visitors can operate while sitting in the driver’s cabin of a real train is very popular too, providing a realistic train-driving experience as live-action scenery unfolds in front of the train. And the star of the show is the diorama featuring a 1/80th scale model of a conventional line train and a 1/87th scale model of a Shinkansen bullet train. The total length of the rails in the diorama is 1,400 meters, and it can run a maximum of 20 train sets simultaneously. Dotted with station buildings, power generating stations, bridges, tunnels and other typical scenes from Japan’s railways, it also includes loop lines, switchbacks and other rail facilities that are increasingly rare nowadays.
Several train collections are also on display, something that probably speaks more strongly to older train buffs than younger visitors.
Adress & Access
Address: 3-47 Onaricho, Omiya-ku, Saitama, Saitama Prefecture
Access: From JR Omiya Station, transfer to the New Shuttle (Saitama New Urban Transit Ina Line) for a 3 min. ride to Tetsudo-hakubutsukan (Onari) Station. 1 min. on foot from Tetsudo-hakubutsukan (Onari) Station
Mega Web (Tokyo)
This auto theme park displays 140 of Toyota’s current models, a must-visit destination for car lovers. Adults can test drive vehicles, and for kids, there are all kinds of attractions that put them in a virtual driver’s seat.
For children, the most popular attraction is Kids Hybrid Ride One, a 150-meter long indoor track where children can pedal carts. The Motorsports Simulator allows them to get the feel of driving a motor vehicle. It’s a real simulator where kids playing a car racing game set at the Fuji International Speedway can experience the complex load shifting during the ride.
And by the way, race car drivers need to be in top physical shape. That’s where the Driver’s Workout attraction, which tests eye-hand coordination skill, comes in.It can also measure the driver’s concentration and instant decision-making ability. Those looking for more thrills are invited to the Mega Theater, where they can vicariously experience climbing into the cockpit of a GT car and feel just like a professional racing driver while watching the Fuji International Speedway Motion Theater.
Adress & Access
Address: 1-3-12 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Access: immediate access from Aomi Station, Yurikamome Line or 3 min. on foot from Tokyo Teleport Station, Rinkai Line
Other theme parks and fun spots for family entertainment
(Chiba Prefecture): One of Japan’s best-known resorts, featuring the Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea theme parks.
(Tokyo): An indoor entertainment park focusing on Hello Kitty and other popular Sanrio characters. Sanrio characters entertain in lavish stage shows.
(Osaka Prefecture): Nine differently-themed areas feature rides and shows based on this film studio’s movies and books.
(Kanagawa Prefecture): Among its many attractions, this theme park features three different aquariums. Popular draws are the roller coaster ride, part of which is over water, and Japan’s largest aquarium.
(Kanagawa Prefecture): A theme park devoted to ramen noodles, the Japanese snack popular throughout the world. Nine of Japan’s most popular ramen shops from around the country serve their specialties here. The décor is done in early Showa (1926–1989) style.
A popular amusement park with many thrilling rides. Try them for yourself!
(Nagasaki Prefecture): This theme park features a townscape modeled after a Dutch town and nearly 300,000 flowers in bloom. Visitors to Huis Ten Bosch can enjoy the City of Light illuminated display, the finest in Asia, until February 28, 2011.
(Kumamoto Prefecture): The world’s largest “health and nature” theme park. Nestled in the unspoiled nature of Aso, a volcanic caldera formed by an ancient eruption, Aso Farm Land offers hot springs, hands-on experience attending to farm crops, a petting zoo, a field athletics course and more. The dome-shaped accommodations at Aso Farm Land are also popular with visitors.