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Whether it's searching for the nearest restroom with a changing table or trying to find affordable activities that the whole family can enjoy, traveling with kids in Japan can be a challenge. Fortunately, while traveling throughout the country it's common to find amenities that make family trips a pleasant experience, if you know where to look. There are also plenty of things to do that are geared specifically for children. In this blog series I'll be sharing what I've learned while taking trips with my family in Japan. Shinjuku, a ward of Tokyo, is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan and for that reason, I decided to plan a day trip there with my family.
We arrived in Shinjuku Station, the world's busiest train station, and as expected, it was packed with commuters. The nearest women's restroom had a line out the hallway which is not a welcome sight when you're with a child who really needs to use the facilities. There are however many multipurpose restrooms throughout the station that are equipped with changing tables and usually have a much shorter wait time. These are a good option, but if it's not an emergency you'll find even better facilities for infants in the department stores neighboring the station. More on that later. Fortunately for us, my son could wait for his diaper change so we headed directly to our first destination, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Just about a 10 minute walk from the west exit of Shinjuku Station is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which offers visitors excellent views of the city for free from its observation decks located on the 45th floor of each tower. To access the decks, ride the elevator up from the first floor, but be prepared for a bag check beforehand. We were there right as they opened and I noticed plenty of other families enjoying this budget-friendly attraction. Besides the great views there's also a cafe, souvenir shop and - yes - restrooms with changing tables! After taking in the sights, the elevator brought us down to the 2nd floor where occasionally special events are held.
Keio Department Store
We made our way back towards Shinjuku Station, stopping at the Keio Department Store. My research of the station area taught me that the 7th floor, which sells children's clothes and goods, has a nursing space called "Baby's Room" and I was not disappointed. The space provided very comfortable and curtain-separated private seats for nursing in the back. Besides that there was a small play area for infants and toddlers, changing tables, strollers for use in the department store, vending machines with healthy drinks and crackers for kids, high chairs and even a hot water dispenser and microwave for parents who may need to prepare a bottle. After using that free facility, we headed to the semi basement floor of the building where a vast variety of pre-prepared food is sold. With much deliberation we bought a couple of delicious looking lunchbox bento and a few other snacks for a picnic lunch at Shinjuku Gyoen.
We rode the Marunouchi Subway Line from Shinjuku Station towards the park. On most train lines, this one included, certain cars of the train have priority seating that are reserved for the elderly, sick or injured, pregnant women and parents traveling with infants or toddlers. If you are getting on the train with a stroller, keep an eye out for the stroller symbol which usually accompanies the handicap symbol because in these train cars there's room to stand without having to collapse the stroller. After arriving at Shinjukugyoenmae Station we walked about five minutes to the park entrance and purchased our tickets. Happily for our budget, as of the writing of this article, there is no admission fee for children 0 to 15 years old, which meant that our son entered for free.
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest parks in Tokyo and features three different garden styles: a traditional Japanese garden, French garden and English lawn garden. While all are beautiful and worth exploring, the English lawn garden is the true gem for families with young children. There you can sit on the expansive lawns under the shade of one of the many trees while your kids run and play within sight. If they happen to cry or fuss the sound will dissipate into the open grounds. Our son is too young for running around but he enjoyed lying down on our picnic mat, soaking up the sounds of nature while a pleasant breeze kept us all comfortable. It turned out to be a relaxing lunch and break from the city bustle. Next we took a walk through the Japanese garden and stopped at the restroom next to Eco House Restaurant Yurinoki. This is one of two restrooms within the park with a nursing space as well as a changing table. The other is located in the park's greenhouse. While both are modest in nature, I still appreciated the space being provided. Most of the other restrooms throughout the park also have changing tables and the free park maps you can grab as you enter the park make it clear where they are all located.
Tokyo Toy Museum
Our next destination was the Tokyo Toy Museum, located just a ten minute walk from Shinjuku Gyoen. The museum is housed within three floors of what was once an elementary school. The old classrooms now function to create different themed spaces such as a wooden toy room, a room with award winning toys, Japanese traditional toys, science toys, analogue games and many others. The vast majority of toys in the museum can be played with and not just admired. The staff are very engaging and helpful in explaining how to use the toys if you're not sure and also in making age appropriate toy suggestions. Most of the children visiting when we were there appeared to be lower elementary school age or younger. Even as an adult though, I found the museum to be a fun experience with some nostalgic moments seeing toys I enjoyed in my childhood. Older kids and adults may also enjoy participating in the daily toy making workshops or browsing in the gift shop. Our son's best experience came in the "Wooden Baby Room" where only children ages 0 to 2 and their parents are allowed to play. All of the toys in this room are safe from choking hazards and the wooden floor was built specifically for sitting and crawling. Within the baby room is a nursing space and next door is a changing room as well.
After a full day of activities, our last stop was to check out a baby-friendly cafe called Latte Chano-mama located on the 6th floor of the Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku. We rode the Marunouchi Subway Line just two stops in the direction of Shinjuku Station to get there. The 6th floor of Isetan sells high-end baby and children's goods, and the cafe is slightly on the pricey side as well. I wanted to give it a try though because of the unique baby-centric features. There are two types of seating: tables with booths and chairs that can accommodate 6 month olds and up, or special raised mat seating where babies can be laid down next to you as you eat. In addition, the food is prepared with a focus on nutrition and there's even a menu with organic baby food besides the more standard children's menu. Although there is a nursing station on the 6th floor, mothers are also welcome to breastfeed in the cafe if they feel comfortable to do so.
It seemed to be a popular place and even though we arrived well before the dinner hour, there was still about a 20 minute wait to be seated. However, I would say it was well worth it for the experience. The food was delicious, the mat seating was comfortable but most of all it was nice to be eating out in an atmosphere that was so welcoming to babies. With a tasty meal in our bellies we made our way back to Shinjuku Station to catch our train home.
I'm sure there are many other family-friendly things to do in Shinjuku, but hopefully this gives you an itinerary idea if you are traveling in the area with children.
By Lori Marston, japan-guide.com