The Botanical Gardens are enclosed in a huge glass dome and specialize in tropical plants from the Amazon, S.E. Asia, and the Congo River. So how on earth can Tokyo afford to keep such a huge facility constantly heated year round and only charge 250 yen for entry (children under 12 are free!). Yes, this is yet another example of Tokyo’s scale and it’s hidden efficiency. A byproduct of Tokyo’s rubbish as it is burnt in the nearby New-Koto Incinerator (新江東清掃工場, Shin-koto seiso kojo) is an extremely hot (125 degrees) supply of water. After cooling this water to 70 degrees they circulate it around the green house to recreate a tropical environment. So regardless of how cold or wet it is outside, you can go for a pleasant walk in a warm tropical environment with your kids.
* If this sort of thing really fascinates you then you can also sign up for a free tour of the Incinerator!
Just like you’d expect in a tropical environment, you walk down paths surrounded by huge trees – the palms that are as high as the roof are amongst the most spectacular. Many of the trees are pretty easy to recognize fruit bearing trees so your kids will enjoy looking out for bananas, mangos, pineapples, guavas, durian, etc.
I can also guarantee that it will probably be the first and last time you see a waterfall in Tokyo – especially one that you can walk behind (picture below). If you have a boy with a bit of courage then you might like to take him into the Carnivorous plants house. When I was there it was mainly filled with Nepenthes and had quite an eerie feel about the place. (We were in an out in less than a minute!)
But the Gardens are more than just looking at trees. They make an effort to put on regular events that are enjoyable for children. When we were there at the end of October they had an extensive fancy dress wardrobe available for use (free!) and about 20 huge pumpkins (50~100kg!) for kids to push around, sit on and play with. However perhaps the biggest highlight for us (sorry plants!) was the Kapla room. The room which is officially called the “dream room” (Yumenoheya, ゆめのへや) is well placed at the end of your tour and has a whopping 5,000 pieces of Kapla. If you’ve never played with it before, Kapla is a simple wooden Dutch toy (like Jenga) designed to extend your imagination through thinking in three dimensions. While you can buy Kapla easily in Japan. It would cost you a few hundred thousands of yen to put together a collection that big. We spent at least an hour building and then demolishing several towers.
If the weather isn’t that bad when you go, there are also lots of other great facilities to keep your kids running around and entertained. Right in front of the Gardens is a large bed of grass in the shape of a colosseum which is perfect for kicking around a soccer ball or flying a large radio controlled helicopter. If there aren’t any events on there is an Olympic size running track which is often used for athletic meets. (* Request from author: I am always looking for a running track like this in a convenient place – let me know in the comments section below if you can recommend one. They are few and far between in Tokyo.) If the weather is really good, then definitely go for a walk around the marina behind the gardens (Yes! There is a marina in Tokyo!) and tell me what the restaurant there is like.
If it is pretty cold but you are still looking for something to do to kill a few minutes on the way back to the station then you can go visit the Fukuryu-Maru Museum (第五福竜丸展示館, daigo fukuryumaru tenjikan) for free. Here they have preserved a Tuna Fishing boat that was hit by the US hydrogen bomb dropped on Bikini Atoll in 1954. They claim that it is no longer radioactive.I didn’t have time to check it out, but the island also has a rather unfortunately named sporting facility called BumB. It has a Youth Hostel (about 3,500~7,500 yen per night, a heated pool, a futsal court, music studios and even an archery field!
Finally, for the bean knowledge buffs out there – here is the story of the island. The first plans to reclaim land here were late in WWII when the government planned to build a huge runway here. The plans were quickly cancelled as Japan faced a huge shortage of raw materials and weren’t rekindled until the 1950s when Tokyo was forced to look for a new way of storing its ever growing rubbish heap. The island was filled in a mere 10 years and a decade later in 1978 the rubbish island was officially turned into a park. It got the nick-name Yumenoshima (“dream island”) because the original grand plan of the government was to build a huge amusement park there. Ironically, the dream never came true but the name stuck.
I don’t know if it was because of the really low expections I had before I arrived but I thoroughly enjoyed our day out at Yumenoshima. It’s definitely worth a visit, especially at the end of the month when the budget is a little tighter than normal.If you have any other recommendations of interesting places to take the kids – especially when the weather is bad, please leave them in the comments area below!
The easiest way to get there is to walk (15 leisurely stroll through the park) from Shin-Kiba Station (JR Keiyo Line, Rinkai Line, Subway Yurakucho Line). There is a car park which is reasonably cheap but is still a 5 min walk from the Gardens. You can also catch a bus directly to Yumenoshima from any of Kinshicho, Kameido, Kiba and Toyocho stations.
Place: Yumenoshima Tropical Botanical Gardens
Hours: Open daily (except Mondays) from 9:30AM~5PM
If you can understand Japanese then it is definitely worth asking for one of the free tours as the guides are very knowledgeable and will tell you a few interesting stories behind the plants that you wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Here is an overview in English, to help you explain this place to your kids!