Akihabara Street Art (Shutterstock: see main credit below)
Blog Words : Family Travel | 13 July

Tokyo for teenagers

'Otaku' is the Japanese term for people with obsessive interest, usually in anime and manga. Sound like your teenagers? They'll love this guide to Tokyo

Akihabara streetscape (Shutterstock.com)Akihabara streetscape (Shutterstock)

1. Akihabara – a mecca for manga

This district in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo is the mecca for all things otaku, with stores catering to every imaginable 'obsession'. The new Akihabara Cultural Zone is a good place to start with seven levels of stores catering to very particular tastes – there's a store that specializes in yo-yos.

The otaku scene can get a little risqué – a lot of the stores think nothing of festooning their stores with life-sized scantily clad manga characters – so if you're looking for something a bit more family-friendly head to the 7th floor of the Yodobashi Camera superstore. They've got a great selection of items, usually at discounted prices.

Also, make sure you drop by Gachapon Kaikan, where 450 gachapon vending machines offer detailed anime and manga characters from as little as ¥100. ('Gacha' is the noise the machine makes when you crank the dial, 'pon' when the item drops.)

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Laputa robot (Shutterstock.com)Laputa Robot statue at the Ghibli Museum (Shutterstock)

2. Ghibli Museum – a shrine to animation

The Ghibli Museum showcases the work of Japan's legendary animation company, Studio Ghibli, best know for its movies Spirited Away and Ponyo. The museum celebrates both the technological and fine arts aspects of animation and has been described as a "portal to a storybook world”.

The museum is in Mitaka, west of Tokyo, and easily reached by public transport. It is closed on Tuesdays, and tickets need to be booked in advance, but if your teen has an interest in the processes behind animation, a visit is an absolute must.

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Harajuku girls (Shutterstock.com)Girls dressed as anime characters in Harajuku (Shutterstock)

3. Meet the Harajuku girls (and boys)

Cosplay is short for 'costume play', where people dress up as their favourite characters from anime and video games – and as you'd expect, the Japanese have taken it to the next level. The attention to detail, the quality of the costumes and make-up all transform Japanese cosplayers into 3D realisations of the characters they are portraying.

While Akihabara caters to cosplay fans with restaurants where the waitresses dress up as characters, the hardcore cosplayers are to be found on a Sunday on Jingūbashi, a bridge and in front of the Meiji Shrine just south of the Harajuku train station. Jostle with celebrities and fashion designers for inspiration. Don't be surprised if your teen wants to dress up as Link or Princess Zelda.

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Sumo wrestlers (Shutterstock.com)Grand Sumo tournament, Tokyo (Shutterstock)

4. Wrestle with sumo

What teen would miss the opportunity to watch a traditional sumo match? The season is short – just a couple of weeks in May and September – but the atmosphere in the kokugikan (sumo amphitheatre) in Royogoku is electric.

Should you be in Tokyo out of season, the Sumo Museum is still worth a visit, with sumo-related items from the Edo period to the present. Or take a tour of one of the famous sumo 'stables' to watch wrestlers train, then join them for chanko nabe, sumo wrestler’s stew.

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Kitty latte (Shutterstock.com)
Cat latte, Tokyo (Shutterstock)

5. Say hello to a kitty

Forget Starbucks. Join the locals and visit to one of the city's famous cat cafés where customers get the chance to stroke a cat  while drinking an overpriced cup of tea.

Many Japanese apartments are too small to have a pet so the cafés sprung as a kind of supervised 'pet rental', offering all the best bits of owning a cat without the worry of feeding or cleaning up after them.

Your teens aren't cat people? Not to worry. Tokyo boats a number of bunny cafés as well.

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Main image: Akihabara street art (Shutterstock)