Places to Take Kids in Central Japan

When shrines and temples start looking the same, it might mean that they actually do look pretty similar. I’d like to think that I was just getting a little tired of them, though. Thus, going to the JR Railway Museum last Monday, in the less-than-famous Saitama City, seemed to be a good respite. I ended up enjoying it so much that I spent the entire day there. The highlights for me were standing at the controls of a Series 0 Shinkansen, the first ones in service, and then watching several Shinkansen pass right next to the museum from an indoor viewing room. I only wish I had put my backpack in a locker sooner – I walked around with it for two hours before a friendly docent pointed out the set of lockers right by entrance that I had somehow missed. 

I had originally planned to stay in Nagoya a just single night, but upon seeing how nice my hostel was compared to the one I had stayed in in Tokyo, and considering the fact that it was less than $20 a night, I extended my stay almost immediately. The places I wanted to see were Nagoya Castle (an impressive recreation), the Toyota Commemorative Museum (an absolute gem, more on this later), and the SC Maglev and Railway Museum (closed Tuesdays, as I learned after I took a train all the way there last Tuesday). Don’t go out of your way to visit Osu Kannon though – while the architecture is intricate and interesting to look at, you can find much more impressive temples, not to mention better covered shopping arcades, in other cities. 

Spending time in Nagoya finally made it clear that the some of the most highly recommended places from the guidebooks, places that I had enjoyed like Asakusa in Tokyo and the town of Nikko, are awful places to take children – lots of walking (I’m thankful I’m not here in August), lots of enforced silence, and not a lot of action. Nagoya is an industrial city, not a place you normally would make a destination of, but I found so much more that I would have appreciated there as a little boy. Climbing Nagoya Castle and seeing samurai armor would have set my imagination on fire. The Toyota Commemorative Museum was full of demonstrations of everything from spinning cotton into yarn (the company produced looms for decades before producing a single car) to forging auto parts. I really enjoyed how they rigged buttons to a lot of machines so that you could actually start a demonstration and see them in action. If all else fails though, as I learned by walking around the area by the SC Maglev and Railway Museum, at least Nagoya has Legoland. 

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