Entertaining babies and young children in a city as big as Tokyo can sometimes seem daunting. But if you know where to look, there are countless opportunities to enjoy the metropolis with your little ones in tow. First stop on our Tokyo tour? Department stores! With all the amenities needed for baby care and playtime for the under-three crowd, as well as a luxe environment for Mama to relax in, Japan’s department stores should make it into your weekly rotation.
When I first came to Japan as a starry-eyed girl in her early twenties, one of the first things that struck me were department stores. In Canada, where I am from, downtown department stores are shadows of what they once were, replaced by sprawling suburban malls, and now, during Covid, perhaps ultimately by Amazon. But, entering Tokyo’s department stores was (and still is!) like entering a world of fantasy consumption: the tasteful jazz playing in the background, the elevator minders, the quiet coffee shops on most floors serving siphon coffee and cakes on fine china, the orderly merchandise and the fine irasshaimase welcoming. Even then, what struck me most was how such a pristine-seeming space could be so very open to those most unpredictable of beings: babies and young children.
Indeed, as I returned to Japan with my still-breastfeeding daughter days after her first birthday, the first places that I beelined to for peace of mind were department stores. Equipped with the very best set-ups for feeding and changing your baby, always quiet enough to put a little one down to nap, and with ample baby chairs for when you need a bite to eat, department stores are one of the very best baby-friendly places in Japan.
Here I introduce four, each with a different vibe and unique features for mamas and kids, that you should check out in Tokyo.
I have read before that Shinjuku is not particularly child-friendly and, if you consider the sheer size of the station itself, it can seem rather daunting. But, before you write it off, please head over to Takashimaya Times Square. The huge Shinjuku Takashimaya houses a packed and wonderful kids’ floor — the 9th floor — with everything you need for a great day with the little ones: a baby rest area for breastfeeding, changing, and naps, many toy stores with sample wares laid out to play with (although the future of this is uncertain with Covid-19), a kids’ hair salon, and a cafe made for moms and young children with kid-sized meals and a big window for distractions. If you’re around Takashimaya for lunch or supper too, do not be intimidated by the stylish restaurant floors: many of the shops have elaborate kids’ plates and most are equipped with baby chairs.
Getting there: A few minutes’ walk from Shinjuku Station, south exit
Having spent most of two summers in the Shinjuku area with a little girl, I spent a lot of time scouting out department store potential. Odakyu is a winner on all accounts! First up is its bookstore “Story Story” on the 10th floor which has a large carpeted area for children to read, play, and look out the large windows.
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Next to “Story Story” is a lovely cafe of the same name as well which has baby chairs and a kid’s menu. A floor below, on the 9th floor, is Odakyu’s children’s floor which mostly has lots of high-end clothing but also has a Miki House with sound books for your small one to play with. Perhaps the best thing about this department store is its 9th-floor rooftop park — an actual children’s jungle gym area in the middle of Shinjuku! In the heat of summer, they even have water misters to keep the kids from getting too hot while playing.
Getting there: Direct access from Shinjuku Station, West Exit
If you’re not in the mood for museums and it is too hot for the park, Ueno can be a tough station for mamas. But, I became more convinced of the feasibility of the Ueno-Okachimachi area for my daughter when I discovered Matsuzakaya. One of the oldest department stores in Tokyo with a 400-year lineage, the Ueno Matsuzakaya — a western department store from 1910 on — was renovated in 2014. On the top floor of the main building is the kids’ floor. Here you will find a big Miki House with a little “kid’s space” (play square) for babies and young toddlers as well as the sound books which occupied my toddler for 45 minutes while my husband shopped the nearby stationery. Outside the door on this same floor is a small rooftop play area with toy cars for kids to steer and a shaded area with chairs and tables and vending machines — great to let off a bit of steam!
Getting there: Two-minute walk from JR Okachimachi Station or direct access from Ueno-Hirokoji Station on the Ginza Line
Perhaps my favorite Tokyo department store for little ones is the flagship Seibu in Ikebukuro. On the 6th floor, the main building is the kid’s clothing area with as many brands as you could hope for.
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The 9th floor, which houses the first of four floors of Loft and a MOMA design store, gives access to the large rooftop. This rooftop is phenomenal for young children, with ample space for running around. There are also several postmodern-looking play structures for them to climb and slide down on.
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If you’re looking for a snack or some refreshments (of the adult-kind and for kids), there are also stands set up that sell food and drink. You can enjoy these at one of the many tables and chairs. The rooftop also includes plant and marine life for children to explore: the little ones will love staring into big open buckets filled with different kinds of fish! If you’re not tired by this point, head on over to the Sanseido bookstore in the connecting “Book Building.” The 1st floor has a big play and reading area for children with a TV streaming shows based on kids’ books, a large selection of Japanese children’s literature, and many little chairs and tables for reading and quiet play.
Getting there: Just outside Ikebukuro Station, East Exit
What’s your favorite place in Tokyo to go with little kids? Share with us in the comments!