Tokyo lights up from Halloween until mid-February. Despite calling this "christmas illumination" it is really a way for the cities and shopping centers to scare away the winter blues. Daylight in Tokyo start around 7 AM and it starts to get dark at 1630, but stores are regularly open until at least 20:00.
Every shopping center has its own illumination, and they are definitely worth watching if you happen to be there. But there are five places in Tokyo which are easily accessible with a stroller, and where the illuminations really are something special. So where should you take your kids if you are in Tokyo for the 2017 Christmas and New Year season?
The Maronouchi area used to be the most boring area in Tokyo. Thanks to the proximity to the Imperial Palace, it is home to the headquarters of banks and industrial corporations.
But in the past 20 years, it has taken on a new life as an exclusive shopping center, and the streets leading towards Hibuya and Yurakcho are illuminated in the most spectacular way, with plenty of art and pop-up stands selling mulled wine and champagne.
This is a great area to take your kids, not because it is particularly kid-friendly (there are no playgrounds and no toy stores), but because there are lots of restaurants and cafes, and every building has a clean and well-maintained toilet with baby changing facilities. You do not have to stay out in the cold. In addition, it is easily accessible thanks to every building having elevators into the basement, which connects both to Tokyo Station for the JR trains, and to several subway stations.
The Shinjuku train station sees more people than the population of Norway passing through every day. But the station has seen a huge change in the last 20 years, as the commercial area has expanded across the tracks of the southern side of the station, extending it almost to Yoyogi.
It is the deck to the southwest of the station that is the focus of the illumination, and it is eminently stroller-accessible. It can be a bit hard to cross the road in front of the station, but go down the hill a little and cross at the first traffic light. This is because the illuminations on the west square in front of the station. Last year, the Odakyu department stores that surround the station were colored pink, together with the central bus plaza.
Around the south terrace there are plenty of stores, but the most child-friendly option is to cross the footbridge to the Takashimaya department store and go to the childrens floor (9 floor) where there not only is a special childrens restaurant, there is also a "baby room" to change your babies, lots of clothing stores, and a toy store with a play corner that is likely to absorb your toddlers so much they do not want to go home.
The west square is not quite as well served, but there is a restaurant and shopping floor in the basement. And there are toilets. It can be a hassle to go down there, you may have to go into the department store to take the elevator.
Roppongi Hills is a fancy office with an art museum at the top. Unless there happens to be a child-friendly exhibition ongoing, it is still worth going up to the top for the view. But the Christmas illuminations is on the plaza where the Christmas markets are also held, and in the parks surrounding the building.
There are excellent elevators in the building and a baby room with play space on the first floor. There are plenty of restaurants throughout the building as well.
In witer, the stone garden in front of the Caretta building in the Shiodome skyscraper district turns into a magical illuminated sea fllor, thanks to thousands of blue LED. It is a magical experience and well worth the visit.
The Shiodome area (which is one of the great places you can spend a rainy day) is not kid-friendly in itself, despite the presence of the Nippon Television building. But there is no playground as such.
There are however plenty of elevators to take you from the street level to the concourse, or from the subway or railway stations to the concourse level. Both the station and the surrounding buildings have excellent toilet facilities and there are plenty of restaurants. Many of them have kids menues - some without fried shrimp.
Tokyo has plenty of amusement parks - some world leaders, with the steepest roller coaster in the world in the Fuji Q Highlands park. But there are three parks in the center of Tokyo: Hanayashiki in Asakusa, Tokyo Dome amusement park, and the Toshimaen amusement park west of Ikebukuro.
Entry to Toshimaen will cost you 1000 yen per adult, 500 yen for childen 3 to 6, and free for children under 3 - but if you are a fan of Christmas illuminations, it will feel cheap. The park is only open until 1600 on weekdays, though, and the illuminations are only switched on during weekends, at least in November and early December, although from December 23 the illuminations are switched on every day until December 31, and the park open until 1930.
Toshimaen is unfortunately not built for the Japanese winter, and while the quite nice park is eminently stroller-friendly, the restaurants are not well designed for cold winter days, and neither are the restrooms (although there are plenty of them). But the illumination will be worth it. On the plus side, there is no shortage of childrens activities - in particular if you are prepared to pay for the rides.
more information at the Toshimaen illumination site (only in Japanese).
Remember that Christmas is not a holiday in Japan, nor is it celebrated in any special way, although anyone could be fooled by the fervor which the Japanese embrace it. The big holiday is New Year when even the busiest salaryman takes a few days off to be with their families. I have written about what this means before, since there are no huge public new year celebrations in Japan. Trains may be more crowded than usual, especially as families go to see the Christmas illuminations over the weekends.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.