Family Fun: National Children’s Castle (Tokyo)

UPDATE: Sadly, National Children’s Castle closed its doors permanently in early 2015 and it remains to be seen if it will reopen elsewhere. 

It’s a steamy August here in Japan. I’m in Tokyo again for a few days, part of our longer in-between-the-move trip we have planned (which includes a few welcome weeks stateside so I can lounge in an English bookstore!). It’s too hot for outdoor fun but I’m not content to sit around a hotel and attempt to entertain my 18 month old. So off we went this week (in the blessedly air-conditioned JR trains) to the National Children’s Castle in Shibuya. National Children’s Castle (or Kodomo no Shiro in Japanese) is a combination arts center, indoor playground, and kid’s museum, all rolled into one. It takes up several floors of a nondescript building just across the street from the Aoyama Gakuin University. The best key to finding it is to look for the octopus-like sculpture of painted faces and the NCC is in the building behind.

The sculpture just outside the National Children’s Castle

My little one being only a year and a half, there were plenty of places we didn’t get to explore – for example, the very inspiring kids’ craft center on the 3rd floor or the hands-on music exhibit somewhere on floor 4 or 5. Instead, we spent the bulk of our time in the play yard, which for her provided more than enough fun things to do. An indoor jungle gym dominates the room, though this fills up quicker than anything else. If your kids are ok with getting bumped into quite a bit, they’ll love to have the run of this exhibit. Otherwise, there are several areas set aside for quieter activities – a puzzle section, a play kitchen, a wooden block building area and a padded play area for babies with softer toys.

The jungle gym at the National Children’s Castle

A friend of mine took her kids here a few years ago and remembers the place feeling a bit dated. I won’t claim that the jungle gym area is brand spanking new but the whole place was incredibly clean and the facilities were excellent. There were baby changing stations, lockers for valuables, cubbies next to all the play areas in the larger room and a really helpful “front desk” staff downstairs at the entrance. If your kids have had their fill of sightseeing and just need a place to blow off some steam, this is a great – albeit often crowded – place to come. For full details, including directions and a calendar of the ever-changing hours, you can check out the National Children’s Castle English website. Need a kid-friendly itinerary for a trip to Tokyo? I have first-hand knowledge of the sites your kids will love. Check out the Uncover Japan homepage for more details on my personalized travel services.

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