A review of the Tobacco and Salt Museum near Tokyo Skytree

We stumbled upon the new Tobacco and Salt Museum in Sumida Ward by accident while walking from Kinshicho to Tokyo Skytree, and I’m glad we did because I’d now put it down as one of our favourite museums in Tokyo.

We completely avoided the floor about tobacco but just the salt floor was well worth 100 yen (for an adult, 50 yen for kids, free for under 7s). It’s much more interactive than the old museum in Shibuya was, and in fact more interactive than the science museums in Tokyo, including great use of technology, lots of exhibits that you can touch, and some genuinely impressive exhibits such as a Madonna carved entirely from salt. All the exhibits have reasonable English translations (though the videos only have subtitles, not English audio). The souvenir shop also has helpful staff and some interesting and reasonably-priced souvenirs such as old-fashioned matchboxes and genuine rocksalt. And after you finish there you are just minutes from Tokyo Skytree or you can walk for about 20 minutes along the nice long park it is in all the way to Kinshicho for more convenient transport connections or slightly longer to Ryogoku for the Edo Tokyo Museum and sumo stadium.

About the only negative thing I can say about the museum is that someone needed to edit out some of the geekier information about salt factories which frankly only a salt trainspotter could possibly find interesting, but there was little enough of that not to make it offputting, and anyway I certainly can’t complain, as I often do in Japan, that I actually learnt very little. Before or after going it is well worth buying a copy of The Story of Salt on Amazon to make it all the more interesting and memorable (available only in Japanese in the souvenir shop), but it is certainly possible to spend a fascinating 20 minutes to an hour even without that. Not sure if the staff speak English, but as I said more than enough written translation. Closed on Mondays.

Overall, five stars for location, interactivity, exhibits, being educational, use of English, manageable size, use of technology, the souvenir shop, lack of crowds, the building, and lovely clean toilets. It’s certainly 100 times better than the totally pointless planetarium in Tokyo Skytree, which is kind of the opposite – no English, learn no useful information at all (even in Japanese), overpriced, etc etc…

Top 20 attractions for teenagers in Tokyo/ Kanto

In approximate order:

1. Odaiba, especially:

Joypolis amusement arcade

DiverCity, especially the huge Gundam statue but also the souvenir-tastic shops inside and maybe the food floor for lunch, plus there are also often extra temporary attractions nearby, and there’s the Gundam shop if they are really into it

Miraikan Science Museum

Toyota Megaweb car showroom and museum

– Taking the Yurikamome monorail there from Shimbashi station

– Ferry out

Sony Science Centre also worth a look.

2. Tokyo Disneyland and/ or Disney Sea

3. Day trip to Fuji Q Highland theme park

4. Harajuku shopping area, including Yoyogi Park at the weekend to see people dressed up and the toy shop opposite the station

5. Conveyor belt sushi

6. Don Quijote buy absolutely everything shops (wherever)

7. Korean BBQ restaurant

8. Okonomiyaki, savoury pancakes cooked in front of you

9. Tokyu Hands variety store (a big one such as Shibuya)

10. Hakuhinkan toy shop (with a good selection of anime related stuff as well as toys)

11. Ghibli Museum (if they are already into the characters such as Totoro)

12. Two-day one night trip to Nikko, especially to go to Edo Mura samurai theme park

13. Edo Tokyo history museum, with chanko nabe (see below) if you didn’t combine that with sumo

14. Sumo match (if the timing is right, because it’s only in Tokyo for three weeks or so a year – or possibly just the museum at other times if they are really into it), with chanko nabe sumo wrestler’s stew for lunch or dinner

15. Shibuya, especially Tower Records for music, manga and other Japan-related books

16. Two or three day trip on the shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka, visiting the castle, aquarium, science museums, Universal Studios Japan, etc

17. Train museum in Omiya north of Tokyo

18. Day trip to Minato Mirai, starting at Yokohama Station, especially the Nissan showroom and the Mitsubishi Industrial Museum

19. Nakano (if they are really into manga)

20. Museums in Ueno

Wouldn’t bother with:

– Zoos

– Planetariums

– Bus tour (not many actual sights to see)

– Sony Building, unless you happen to be nearby in Ginza, as it’s more like a shop nowadays than any kind of  museum

– Seeking out particular temples or shrines (there will be interesting ones almost everywhere you go)

– Akihabara (unless you really plan carefully where you will go)

– Roppongi

– Sanrio Puroland (even if they really really love Kitty Chan, they’d be better off just going shopping)

– Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Sky Tree (unless it’s at the end of a long trip so they’ll actually recognise what they are looking down at)

– Taking a boat (as you can see very little from the water)

– Onsen (hot springs), unless your teens are unusually open-minded about getting naked in front of their family and strangers

The best value play areas for young children in Kanto

Will expand this and add links soon.

Top floor of Yamada Denki near Oimachi Station in South Tokyo (small and noisy because of being inside an electronics shop but 500 for as long as you like on weekdays, with carers free)

Bornelund in Minato Mirai, Yokohama (especially if you get there early and get an all day ticket)

Asobono near Tokyo Dome in Suidobashi, West Tokyo (but only good value if you get there early and get an all-day ticket)

Open on Monday in Tokyo/ Kanto

Updated 10 August 2015

90% of Japanese museums are closed on Mondays so here is a list of ones which aren’t. In approximate order of how much I’d recommend them:

Miraikan Musem of Emerging Science and Innovation in Odaiba, East Tokyo (closed Tuesdays)

Zoorasia zoo, bus from Nakayama Station, about 25 minutes from Shinagawa or Yokohama (closed Tuesdays)

Mitsubishi Minatomirai Museum (closed Tuesdays) – NEW LINK

Tokyo Sea Life Park in Kasai Rinkai Koen, near Disneyland (closed Wednesdays)

Shinagawa Aquarium, bus from Omori and Oimachi stations (closed Tuesdays)

Sumida Aquarium, in the Tokyo Skytree complex (open every day)

Sunshine City Aquarium, Ikebukuro (open every day)

Joypolis amusement centre in Odaiba

Disneyland Tokyo

Tokyo Disney Sea

Tama Zoo (closed Wednesdays)

Kagakugijutsukan Science Museum in Kitanomaru Park (closed Wednesdays)

Tokyo Toy Museum – Yotsuya Sanchome

Asobono play centre in Suidobashi near Tokyo Dome (but need to get there early in the morning to queue to get all day ticket)

Toyota car showroom and classic car gallery in Odaiba

Nissan showroom in  Yokohama

Fuji Q Highlands amusement park (seems to be open every day)

Tsukiji fish market

National Art Centre Tokyo in Roppongi, West Tokyo

Yokohama Museum of Art (closed Thursdays)

Mori Art Museum in Roppongi (but exhibitions rarely suitable for small kids)

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (but often exhibitions of art societies of minimal interest or incredibly crowded temporary exhibitions)

Tokyo Kite Museum in Nihonbashi

TenQ Space Centre in Suidobashi near Tokyo Dome

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Skytree

Hamarikyu Gardens near Shimbashi

Attractions in Tokyo and Kanto closed on Mondays (unless Monday is a public holiday)

– everything else, including:

Toshiba Museum, Kawasaki

Nogeyama Zoo near Sakuragicho station in Yokohama

Tokyo Figherfighters Museum in Yotsuya Sanchome

Edo Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku

National Museum in Ueno

National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno

Ueno Zoo

East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (also closed on Fridays)

Meguro Parasitological Museum

Inokashira Park Zoo

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

The best museums for young children in Kanto

Will expand this list and add links, but here are the first places that come to mind, in approximate order of how much my daughter enjoyed them when she was three:

Fire Service Museum in Yotsuyasanchome, West Tokyo

Mitsui museum in Minato Mirai, Yokohama

Transport museum in Saitama

Miraikan in Odaiba, East Tokyo

National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno, North Tokyo

A day out in Kawasaki, Kanagawa with young kids

We spent most of the day (11 am to 3:30 pm) in Kawasaki La Zona, a shopping centre which is connected directly to JR Kawasaki Station, is about ten minutes from Keikyu Kawasaki Station (through the underground shopping centre and past the JR station) or near where most Kawasaki-bound buses stop.

First we went to the kids’ megastore Akachan Honpo on the 3rd floor, which doesn’t have the paid play area it had a couple of years ago but does have a small free play area in the middle and lots of toys you can try out.

We then went up to Shimamura Music shop on the 4th floor to play with the bongos and keyboards.

Also on the 4th floor, we went into the large and toy strewn indoor sandpit area in the Namco amusement arcade. Because of its location it was incredibly noisy and there was no natural light, and it was a bit pricy at 160 yen per ten minutes, plus the same for adults (but adults are free after 30 minutes, making for 1440 yen for the first hour for one adult and one child). The very soft sand also makes it very difficult to actually dig holes and build castles. On a very hot or rainy day it’s worth trying once, though, for the fun protective clothes, many sand toys, and strange air shower to get rid of the sand afterwards.

We finished up in Maruzen bookshop in the basement, which has a good selection of English language kids’ books and a fair few which can be read right there in typical Japanese tachiyomi style.

With very young kids, there are lots of safe places to run around (the whole of La Zone is sealed off from the roads).

There’s also an IMAX cinema on the top floor, but with only one screen and so only one movie at a time. That was Man of Steel when we were there, but Despicable Me 2 is coming up this month.

There are loads of fairly kid-friendly restaurants in La Zona, including a food court in the basement. We went to Choco Cro cafe, which is next to Akachan Honpo and so less painfully quiet than this chain often is.

From Maruzen you can cross the street to La Musa Kawasaki, where there is often free music at weekends and an incredibly long escalator, plus some okay restaurants and cafes and a big sports shop.

Mores Kawasaki at the other end of the underground shopping centre (on the opposite, East Exit, side of the JR Station) has a big Book Off secondhand shop with a reasonable selection of English-language books and Solid Square towards the river has an interesting big pond in the middle of the building. The Tama River itself is rather far from Kawasaki station and difficult to cross to the more interesting Tokyo side, but it is worth it twice a year for the fireworks.