by Aimee Weinstein

With the holidays fast approaching, many families are planning extensive trips for the time that their children are not in school. The long winter break, however, can be the perfect time to stay in the city and participate in activities close to home. The recent economic situation has caused people to coin a new phrase: the “staycation”, a time when people have time off from work and school but stay in town. Here are some suggestions to make any vacation-at-home special:

Camps for kids

I recommend two camps, both of which fill up fast, so hurry and sign up today. The first is I Can Gymnastics, Dec. 20-24 at the gym at the Nishimachi International School, where kids from ages six to 12 can stay all day from 10 am to 3 pm (children between three and five can attend from 10 am to 1 pm). Kids of all ages receive gymnastic instruction on the trampoline, bar, balance beam, mini-trampoline and tumbling mats. As a bonus, kids staying through the afternoon get to play dodge ball during the lunch break. For more information about this excellent program, visit or call program administrator Mika Wakabayashi at (03) 3440-0384.

The second camp I recommend is Mr. Green’s Winter Ski/Board Camp for Students. Aimed at upper elementary and middle school students, the camp runs Dec. 18-21. David Green, a former Nishimachi teacher, has been running these trips for upwards of 25 years, and he is set to take students into Nagano Prefecture for four days of skiing adventures.

The kids have supervised lessons much of the day and can only go off for a run by themselves with the instructors’ permission. The trip rents out a place at the New Yakote lodge in Shiga Kogen, and the kids have plenty of adults around to see that they eat, sleep and have fun evening activities. There’s even a planned stop to see the famous onsen monkeys at Jigokudani.

For more information, contact Discover Japan at [email protected]

Activities in Tokyo

Bowling is always popular with the kids on a cold day, and there’s nowhere better than the Shinegawa Prince Hotel.

The hotel has 80 lanes available, so there’s almost never a wait. Your bowling score is displayed on huge, 40-inch plasma screens (which can be good or bad, depending), so there’s no guess-work on scoring. The great thing about bowling at the Shinegawa Prince is all of the other activities that come along with the day. There are restaurants, a cinema, a bit of shopping and even an aquarium in the hotel annex,so families can easily spend a whole day there.

Ice skating is another great family activity in the winter. The best place is Meiji Jingu Gaien, not far from the Meiji Shrine. The price is right — ¥900 for children and a ¥500 for rental skates. During the weekend, the rink is open 10 am-6 pm with last entry at 5 pm (the rink doesn’t open until 12 noon during the week). It tends to get very crowded on weekends, but the earlier you go, the less crowded it is — weekdays when school is not in session are the perfect time. The rink is part of a greater complex of activities that includes a tiered golf driving range, batting cages and a futsal park. Entry to each section is separate, but not too costly. This area is another great place for a family to spend the day. See the website for complete details at

A different sort of museum experience

The Mori Art Center Gallery on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills plays host to a very special event this winter: a walk-through planetarium. The exhibition “Journey 1000 Light Years Through the Universe” by artist Takayuki Ohira opens this Thursday and shows through Jan. 13. Tickets, which cost ¥1,800, also include entrance to the Tokyo City View observation tower, which provides a 360 degree tour of Tokyo from the sky. If you haven’t been up there before, then now is definitely the time to go.

Meiji Jingu Gaien, ice skating

The movies

When I was growing up, no winter holiday break was complete without at least one or two jaunts to the movies. The studios in the United States plan big blockbuster openings for this time of year so that parents can plan time to take their kids. There are a few movies that are appropriate for kids that will come out during the holiday break, including “Amelia”, “Tron” and “Shrek Forever After”. The requisite “Harry Potter” movie will, no doubt, still be playing at holiday time, but of course most people will probably have been to see it well before then.

Between holiday meals, play-dates with friends, and a few well-planned days out, spending the holidays at home can be great fun. Take time to enjoy the city and have a great holiday season!

In the cinemas for Xmas

“Amelia” — This biopic of the mistress of flight, Amelia Earhart, was released in the United States last winter but is just coming to Japan, starting Nov. 27. Earhart could be considered as a role model for preteen girls, as she strives to set flight records despite the fact that her gender should have held her back at that time. The movie, however, portrays her as a flawed heroine, which is probably more realistic. “Amelia” features underwear-clad people, an affair, and has a fair bit of smoking and some social drinking according to Common Sense Media, which advises that the film is appropriate for children over age 11.

“Tron: Legacy” — The much-hyped sequel to the 1980s movie “Tron” and is being released in Japan at the same time as in the US. At press time, the film had not yet been rated, but the previews depict it as a sci-fi thriller with plenty of computer-graphics and computer-generated action scenes. Opens Dec. 17.

“Shrek Forever After” — Rated PG, the final chapter of the Shrek series shows the ogre as a busy yet bored father who, of course, falls for a spell that might cure his ennui. The only way to break the spell is to share true love’s kiss. The movie is in 3D, so some scenes can be intense, but the violence is typically cartoonish and not too scary. Common Sense media says that the film is appropriate for children over the age of 6. Opens in Japan on Dec. 18.