Is Roppongi the best place to stay in Tokyo with young children? This dad thinks so.
Roppongi’s Dubious Past
Search “Roppongi” on Google and you will find an endless supply of articles describing the area as having a vibrant nightlife. Add to that the Smart Traveller warning specifically about the dangers to tourists in the Roppongi area, and you would be forgiven for thinking that it is the last place in Japan that you would want to bring small children.
There’s no doubt that one needs to be cautious when looking to stay in Roppongi. I can’t imagine it would be too pleasant to say next door to a Yakuza-run strip club or bar, for example. But, find the right accommodation in the right part of Roppongi and you have the perfect base for a family vacation in the heart of Japan’s Capital.
Parks and Playgrounds
At the top of our list for accommodation was proximity to playgrounds. They didn’t have to be fancy, just a space with some age-appropriate equipment for Hannah to enjoy and burn it some energy in the mornings and afternoons.
Traveling overseas with a toddler is a fine balance between fitting in all the touristy things that you want to do (i.e., mind-numbingly boring for a toddler), and giving her the opportunity to run around and be a kid. For this reason, a good playground close by is vital. A solid play first thing in the morning can be enough to convince a toddler to spend the next few hours resting comfortably inside her stroller while the adults explore yet another temple.
Roppongi offers playgrounds in abundance. This is extremely rare in a city like Tokyo. During our week in the area, we found four outdoor playgrounds, an indoor playroom and several parklands with ponds and grass. No other part of Tokyo that I could find offered such diversity of choice for places to play. Stay tuned for the detailed review of the parks of Roppongi.
If you are like us, then a supermarket will be high on your list of easy to access amenities when traveling with a toddler. This is especially the case if you have decided to brave Airbnb and found accommodation with kitchen facilities.
Staples like fresh milk, bread, fruit and veg and easy-to-prepare meals are must-haves when traveling for any length of time. If they can be found within a kilometre of your accommodation, even better!
Roppongi has an abundance of supermarkets. Just be aware, not all supermarkets are created equal. Parts of Roppongi have an extremely wealthy clientele, and the prices in some supermarkets reflect this.
Granted, they carry some of the most perfect-looking fruit and vegetables that men has ever gazed upon, but consider whether you really need to have each of your grapes individually wrapped if it means spending the same as you would on a small car to acquire them.
Our most excellent Airbnb host was kind enough to point us in the direction of a small supermarket tucked away in the back streets – the kind of supermarket that the locals use to do their regular for shopping. The difference in price for some items was significant.
One small note on supermarkets – be aware that they are not at all like the Coles-type supermarkets that we have in Australia. They are much closer to the all-but-extinct corner stores that we used to have. Still, they carry all the essentials. Like beer. And coffee in a can.
You remember the last time you were out late in the city, and you’d had a few too many drinks? Remember going into that convenience store and thinking that the sausage roll in the warmer “didn’t look so bad”. Remember the regret and self-loathing that followed the next day?
Japanese convenience stores are nothing like that. They carry a huge range of entirely edible (tasty, even) hot and cold foods. Feeling a bit peckish late at night after you’ve put the kids to bed? No worries, head down to the corner store and pick up a karaage chicken on a stick for the equivalent of $1.50 AUD (I actually genuinely stopped writing that mid-sentence to run down and buy some. I was back in exactly four minutes).
Roppongi is similar to much of urban Tokyo, in that you are never more than about 200 metres away from a convenience store. They are usually a cheap way to buy a snack or even a full meal. They also sell alcoholic beverages.
As I mentioned in my Day 1 post, Roppongi is very easy to travel to via subway from Haneda airport. It is also has great access to the rest of Tokyo. Roppongi station covers two underground lines. There are plenty of entrances to the station, but most of them have steps. Elevator access is available, but you do have to go looking for it. There are some large, helpful maps on street level to make the task easier.
The main Tokyo Station (from which you can catch a Shinkansen) is about 20 minutes away, with one change. Tourist places like Ginza, Yoyogi and Shinjuku are on the same line as Roppongi, and Shibuya is about 15 minutes away (with 1 change). Basically, you can access most of the places you would want to go from Roppongi.
We had a fantastic time staying in Roppongi. The location was ideal for us, with a little toddler. As always, it’s worth doing your research when you book something, but if I were to return tomorrow, Roppongi would be the first place I would start looking.