Family-Friendly Restaurants – Dining with Kids in Japan
Japan is a fantastic place to travel with your family. With unbeatable facilities for parents–especially in tourist-friendly department stores, upscale malls and chain restaurants–you and your children can enjoy many culinary adventures in Japan.
Kaiten Sushi [回転寿司]
Why: Known under several names in English–conveyor-belt sushi, sushi train, or sushi-go-round as a few examples–kaiten sushi refers to casual sushi restaurants where the fish flies by you on a conveyor belt. You can either grab what comes along or place an order using a menu at smaller places or electronically at larger chains, such as Sushiro [which also has an English interface] or Kappa Sushi. Kaiten is wonderful for children firstly because it’s fun: if you place an order, the food will whizz along the conveyor, stopping automatically at your table at the sound of a jingle. Also, the chains are invariably equipped with baby chairs, booths, and children’s plates and utensils which make eating out with your young kids a breeze. A bonus is that they can have their first experience eating fish–raw or otherwise–in a relaxed and friendly environment. And if they aren’t in an adventurous mood, there is always fried chicken, French fries, egg sushi, and desserts to fill them up.
Family Restaurants [ファミリーレストラン]
Why: As the name implies, family restaurants (like Gusto, Royal Host, and Joyfull) are a great and affordable way to feed your young ones. Always full of kids, with a noticeable din, and never running out of baby chairs, even the fussiest baby can feel at home in a Fami-Resu. Family restaurants will have several options for their "Kids’ Plates" – usually some sort of mild Japanese curry with white rice, a noodle soup dish (ramen or udon), and a "Western" style plate with a small hamburger, fries and forkfuls of pasta. Often, the restaurant staff will bring free toys or games over to entertain your child. They also have all-you-can-drink soft drink bars, salad bars, and soup bars that you can add onto your meal for under 500 yen which can be a lifesaver when your toddler decides that the sweet corn soup is the only thing they’ll be eating for supper.
All-You-Can-Eat Buffets [バイキング料理]
Why: Buffets are restaurants easy for parents to enjoy: there are so many different options that both parents and children are likely to leave satisfied. In Japan, I also think buffets are a great option for people who want to have a fancier brunch or lunch out, but still want a space and a menu that cater to little ones–baby chairs, kids table-wear, and stroller-friendly open floor plans. For buffets, always choose breakfast or lunch over dinner because the crowd (and prices!) can differ a lot in just a few hours. If you are in the Tokyo area, one of the most famous buffets for fashionable moms is Garden Restaurant All Day Dining in the Landmark Square Tokyo (1 minute from JR Shinagawa Station) which has a wide variety of freshly prepared foods and a view of their lovely gardens and ponds. Be sure to reserve in advance, however, because they get busy!
Department Store Restaurant Floors
Why: Department stores are appealing to parents for many reasons: stroller rentals, kids’ floors with clothes and toys, kids’ spaces for babies and toddlers to crawl around. But, the restaurant floors, usually at the top of the building, are still one of their biggest draws for families. In one place, you can choose to have a variety of cuisines at a range of price points which means a better chance of finding the one restaurant that will please everyone in your family! Department store restaurants are also often set up with the kid basics: table-wear, water glasses with straws, baby chairs, and stroller room. You can also see from the outside displays whether or not they have a kids’ menu/plate (a defining point for my daughter). The two types of restaurants often found in department stores that I would recommend are tonkatsu [fried pork cutlet] restaurants which often have great kids’ plates and Italian restaurants which usually have a simple margarita pizza to share with the kids.
And a few words of caution. With your young ones, I would avoid:
- Izakayas [pubs] – Japanese bars and pubs often allow smoking and tend to be filled with rowdy salarymen.
- Kissaten [coffee houses] – Different from common café chains in Japan, kissaten have dark interiors, serve more expensive drinks, like specialty/single-origin coffees and alcoholic beverages, and can allow smoking inside.
- Teppan/Yakitori/Yakiniku Places – I brought my daughter to these places from a young age and drilled her on safety procedures, but if your toddler isn’t used to being faced with flames and/or a searing hot grill in front of them, I would avoid these restaurants if you want a less stressful meal.