Near the end of 2022, we finally started planning our first actual vacation abroad with our 1y9m toddler-to-be. We traveled to Tokyo twice in recent years, but there were a lot more logistics and planning for the trip with our daughter. This time, we spent 6 full days in Tokyo including 4 days around the city and 2 days in Disney Sea & Disneyland.
After a bunch of searching, we decided to stay at an apartment hotel chain Mimaru in Ueno. Since we still prepared food for our 1-year-old daughter separately with minimal seasoning, having a kitchenette was a huge plus. Every room came with a dining table, a microwave, and a small kitchen area with all the essential utensils and cookware. In Ueno, they had three locations near the Ueno JR station and we picked the closest one at Ueno East. Some downsides were mostly for families with a small child: if not booking their “baby package” which added some cost, the crib might not be available (it was difficult for us as our daughter had never slept without a crib before) and the dining table was still a bit high for our daughter.
Note: the price had gone up a lot for all the Mimaru locations since our stay. For our upcoming trip, we considered a new apartment hotel chain Koko hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi.
1 day in Ueno/Asakusa
We spent half a day in Ueno visiting the Ueno zoo, and strolling around the neighborhood and Ameyoko (阿美橫丁) a few times on different days.
The zoo was located in Ueno park, and we felt like seeing most of it within half a day. We went on a Friday morning right after the opening time and were surprised by the crowd with lots of students. The giant panda had the longest line about 1-hour wait since they were returning to China in February 2023. We didn’t wait to see the giant panda but lined up for the smaller panda area at the west park. To go from the east to west park, we were in time for a shuttle but walking didn’t seem too bad either. The petting zoo was closed probably due to COVID at the time.
Lunch at Oto-Oto Ueno Bamboo Garden
Our original plan was to have lunch at the Park Side cafe near the Ueno Zoo entrance, but the outdoor patio was under construction at the time. We went to a backup plan at an Izakaya restaurant near Ueno Park, and it turned out to be our favorite meal of this trip. The restaurant was very family friendly at least at lunch hours with high chairs and kids’ meals, there were several families with younger and older kids around us. The ambiance was calm and cozy, we each had a set meal that was very tasty. We got a kids’ meal for our daughter and they brought a basket of toys for her to choose from. The toy from the restaurant became the best entertainment at the hotel on this trip.
Afternoon in the oldest amusement park Asakusa Hanayashiki
After lunch, we walked for about 30 minutes for our daughter to nap in the stroller and toward a historic theme park right in Asakusa. The park was first opened in 1853, and went through a few changes over time. There was an entrance fee, the rides were paid per ride. For kids under 2 (1 and younger), the rides were all free with an accompanying adult while the options were more limited. We went on all the rides she could go on, some multiple times. The pirate ship ride had a nice view of the park, and the haunted house was a bit intense for our daughter. The rides were a bit short though, especially when compared to Disney rides.
There were many shops and vendors in the Ameyoko area near the Ueno station. People came here just for shopping, I liked browsing some old-school snack stores. It was mostly stroller friendly, the fun items at different storefronts and the trains that went by the train track kept our daughter busy. We got takoyaki with self-served toppings, they were warm and tasty.
1 day in Shinjuku
When we were in Shinjuku from previous travels, we used to spend a bunch of time window and stationary shopping. With our daughter, we started our day at Blue Bottle Coffee with their warm and fresh Belgium waffle and a cup of mocha. Then we spent most of the afternoon at the toy museum and a short stop at the fire museum in the same area.
Lunch at Isetan Dining
Originally we were trying to go to another baby-friendly restaurant in the Isetan department store, latte chano-mama. However, we weren’t able to get a table and only floor seating was available. It wasn’t easy to find a restaurant with a high chair, luckily we found one before it got too crowded. There were quite a few toddlers at the restaurant, and having a restroom near the entrance was convenient. We got a children’s meal for our daughter, and also gave her some soba noodles as she liked noodles a lot. The diaper changing room at the department store was quite high-end, and there was an outdoor space on the rooftop with some small slides.
The toy museum was located at a former elementary school in a residential neighborhood. Each floor has different activities, including exhibitions, play areas in multiple former classrooms, and an area for babies under 2. The classrooms were the most popular, and there was one area where all the toys were made of wood. With the advance of technology, lots of modern toys were full of digital effects and I forgot how much fun these simple wooden toys could be.
We only stopped by the fire museum on a whim because it was near the metro station after visiting the toy museum. The building had multiple floors about the history and evolution of firefighting over the centuries and in Tokyo. On the fifth floor, there was a retired firefighting helicopter to hop onto and play with the control panel. From the deck, the view of the city was also stunning.
1 day in Akihabara
We’ve always loved coming to Akiba for the random fun stuff, and video games for my husband. On Sunday afternoons, the main street was closed to cars as the “pedestrian paradise.” My husband went to a few shops to find an older model from second-hand offerings and found one at Softmap. Second-hand items were usually kept in very good condition in Japan, I also got a few books and manga at different Book Off locations. For shopping during our daughter’s nap, we went to our favorite chain electronics store Yodobashi to find a limited Tomica train set on sale and some cosmetics.
When our daughter woke up, she found herself in the middle of the pedestrian-only road with trains going by every so often. She found it so exciting and ran around, watching all the people walking by and trains across the road right above her. The ginkgo trees along the road also added so much vibrant color to the already lively scene.
Lunch at Denny’s
We went to a few Denny’s in the US and wanted to try the Japanese menu. As a chain family restaurant, they had high chairs and a diaper-changing table in the restroom. I got a curry doria (gratin rice) that I liked a lot, and my husband had a sandwich. We ordered an udon kids’ meal for our daughter that I diluted with water a bit, and she ate most of it. The restaurant was already full at 11 AM on a Sunday, and most were not family.
1 day in Odaiba
Odaiba is very kids friendly, the area is spacious with a few malls within walking distance. There are places to go indoors and outdoors for kids and adults, and many restaurant options.
Children under 3 are free, we got two adult tickets beforehand (at least 24 hours before) as onsite tickets are higher. We spent the whole morning there on a Tuesday, it was pretty calm with a few other families. Our daughter liked the Duplo area, playing with a pool of Duplo pieces, blocks, and a slide. There were also at least two other indoor rides that weren’t specific to Lego, one suitable for little kids. We also spent some time at the race track, where we could build a car and test its performance at the tracks there. It was certainly not easy to not see them fly out and break apart.
Lunch at Bills
Originally we planned to walk 10 minutes over to the Divercity mall, but decided to stay in the DECKS mall to save time. Bills was more of a trendy brunch place known for their pancakes, but also had high chairs and a family-friendly restroom inside. The interior was bright and clean, with a few tables with family. All the high chairs were in use, we got a higher normal chair and used a chair strap that we bought at a Japanese baby store Akachan Honpo in Taiwan.
Food choices with a 1-year-old
Cooking at hotel
Since our daughter still ate food with no or low seasoning, we cooked pasta with cheese twice and made hard-boiled eggs at the apartment hotel. Before leaving for the day, I microwaved the food from the refrigerator and stored them in a vacuum-insulated food jar so that the food stayed hot for the next meal. There was a decent size supermarket Maruetsu near the hotel, we went there a few days and got a bunch of groceries, milk from Hokkaido, onigiri for breakfast, and bento boxes for dinner takeout.
After having our daughter, it was more challenging to find restaurants as high chairs were not very common. There were quite a few family restaurants (fami-resu in Japanese), like Ootoya/Royal Host/Yayoi/Denny’s/Jonathan’s/Saizeriya usually with a kids menu. But because we had many of the chains in Taiwan and wanted to try local restaurants, I browsed the photos in Googe Maps for numerous restaurants to see if they had a high chair. Later I found a website Smiley-Mom to find restaurants with high chairs, though many places were permanently closed probably due to COIVD. We ended up having a very nice dining experience at the ones we picked, ordering a kids’ meal or side dishes to go with the baby food we brought. Having a backup plan was also critical, as things could change (unexpected construction or busy times) and the original plan might not work out.
In Tokyo, finding a diaper changing room was easy in most department stores and train stations. Some were embedded in a restroom (I was glad to see them usually not assumed to be the female restroom), and some were in the standalone accessible restroom. On the family-friendly floors of department stores, there could also be diaper-changing stations with nursing facilities like at Isetan in Shinjuku.
One of the benefits of staying in Ueno was the direct airport train Skyliner. It only took 41 minutes between the Keisei Ueno station and Narita airport. The train wasn’t full when we took it both ways. The Ueno station could be a bit disorienting with the JR station nearby, we almost got lost on our way back.
Mostly stroller friendly
The streets of Tokyo were very stroller friendly, the drivers were patient and rarely aggressive and most roads had a sidewalk that was continuous and flat (the opposite of Taiwan for all of the above). Even some small alleyways had a sidewalk, walking with our daughter in a stroller was easy and enjoyable. The only challenge was vertical movement, where the elevator might be too far or in maintenance. In these cases, we took the stairs with one of us taking the umbrella stroller and the other person carrying our daughter.
It’s possible that she wouldn’t remember much when she grows up, but her laughs and excitement going to places and seeing different things kept us going. From this trip, I’d say Tokyo was baby and stroller friendly with more sights than we could fit into our schedule. We would visit again in a heartbeat when the time is right.