Pssst … let me clue you in to my favorite “parent trick”. Bookstores and toy stores in Japan always have free things out for kids to play with. Maybe it’s the same case in the States and other countries as well. I’m not sure – my daughter was born and is being raised here, so I’ve only really parented here. All I know is that when I need someone (or something) else to provide an hour or two of mindless entertainment, off we trundle to our local book and toy outlets.
Such establishments aren’t usually on the bucket list for travelers but if you’re touring Tokyo with your toddlers, I wholeheartedly recommend the Crayon House. It’s brilliantly located near the Omotesando metro, meaning Mom can go have tea at the Aoyama Flower Market Cafe or Dad can grab a coffee at the weekend farmers’ market (both within a 5 minute walk) while the other parent plays chaperone at the toy store.
As far as entertainment goes, the first floor of Crayon House is devoted to books. Most of the selection is in Japanese only, but there is a small bookshelf allotted for foreign materials. Picture books and pop-up books are always good for kids who don’t care what language their “reading” in and there are a few areas where you can sit down and share a few stories with your child.
Upstairs, however is where my daughter went nuts. Imagine a floor filled with every single hand-carved, beautifully illustrated educational toy you can imagine. Now imagine that half of them are just lying there on tables, out of their packaging and free for anyone to pick up and use. THAT is exactly how Crayon House is. My daughter moved from hand carved puzzles to stacking toys to cooking her own meals at wooden kitchen sets. There are rocking horses and a play tool bench and plenty of animal puppets. We must have spent a good hour moving from display to display and just when I thought she had tired of it all, back we went again to the rocking horse at the beginning.
There are plenty of fantastic eateries in the Omotesando/Aoyama neighborhoods, but there is always the option to simply head down to the basement of Crayon House and eat at Hiroba, the on site restaurant. At lunch and dinner, you’re limited to choosing the buffet (though there are tons of dishes and they all looked delicious). Come at “tea time” (order before 5pm) and you have can pick from a few dishes and one set meal. We chose the set and were served a huge tray consisting of rice with salmon, pickles, soba noodles and a basket of steamed vegetables accompanied by an addictive soy sesame sauce. Thanks to this dip, I got my toddler to eat plain cucumber, sweet potato, mushrooms and pumpkin. Always a good day in this mom’s book. 🙂