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Asia with kids

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Samurais and Superheroes: Prepare the brood for crazy cartoon capers in Japan

Cartoon-loving families will be in for the adventure of a lifetime in Japan. The land of Pokemon, Manga and Studio Ghibli, Japan is all about the anime, and there’s a cartoonish slant to everything from the food (pretty much everything, from cupcakes to dumplings, can be found fashioned into cartoon character form) and the style of dress – Japan is home to some of the craziest and most colorful street fashion in the world. And going comic book crazy is a genuine cultural pursuit in Japan – while there are two Disney theme parks and the odd nod to Minions and Marvel Superheroes, this is a nation with such a rich tradition of animation that it would be a shame (and indeed near-impossible) not to take the opportunity to admire the local version. With all manner of superhero shenanigans to be enjoyed in Japan, here’s our roundup of some of the best.

Theme Parks Galore

Japan takes its theme parks seriously, as befits a nation enamored with all things anime, many have a superhero or comic book theme. Top notch theme parks can be found the length and breadth of the country, with one of the best being Toei Studios in Kyoto. This working studio created classic cartoon series such as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, and visitors can visit an extensive cartoon gallery in between samurai shows and white-knuckle rides. Other top theme parks for superhero-loving visitors to Japan include two Disney parks in the capital Tokyo, and   Universal Studios Japan, which is located in the country’s ‘second city’, Osaka, and whose super hero-themed attractions and shows are themed around Western favorites such as SpiderMan, Minions and Superman – if the kids are getting tired of Manga and want to race around in superhero capes, you’ll be in for a whole load of kudos by taking them here. At the other end of the scale, Hello Kitty fans will in there element at Sanrio Puroland, around half an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo in the suburb of Tama. Probably best suited to younger children, the Hello Kitty-themed fun includes an opportunity to visit the famous feline’s house and enjoy some less-than-terrifying Hello Kitty rides.

Hello Kitty Hotel

Hello Kitty Fans can check into a ‘Princess Kitty’ or ‘Kitty Town’ room at Tokyo’s Keio Plaza Hotel, where everything from the wallpaper to the bedspreads and amenities are Kitty-themed. This super-kitsch decor comes at a price – expect to pay around 35,000 yen (roughly $340) for a family room, before taxes.

Tip: Sleeping at Manga Cafes/Kissas

Across Japan’s big cities, Manga tea houses, or Kissas, have evolved from a simple places to flip through Manga magazines and browse the internet, to become a budget-friendly alternative to hostels and hotels. Cafe users can rent private rooms whose large lounge chairs offer the possibility of getting some shut eye, and can be rented in six-hour stints or more. There’s not a lot of room, so this is more for single travelers than for families, but it’s a handy way to while away a wait for an early train, bus or plane.

Visit Kid-pleasing museums

If the word ‘museum’ has your older kids or teens rolling their eyes in anticipation of a tedious cultural pursuit, they’ve probably never been to a Japanese animation museum. Aside from the famous Ghibli Museum in Tokyo (more of which later), there are a whole host of other enticing options such as Kyoto’s International Manga Museum. Fans of the distinctive animation style will be in their element here, and kids can pick a Manga magazine (there are lots in English) and flick through it in the children’s reading room. For something more hands on, the Niigata Animation Museum, an easy trip from the capital, celebrates the surprisingly high number of anime artists to have emerged from the city (notable names include Ghibli animator Yoshifumi Kond; and Takeshi Obata,  creator of Death Note and Bakuman.

Tip: Niigata Animation Museum is a good bet for families with kids that like to get hands on. There are kid-pleasing games involving various manga characters, such as an opportunity to take a run with Lum, hero of the the legendary 1970s comic Urusei Yatsura.  

Tokyo

Japan’s modern capital is packed with an incredible number of attractions to keep those superhero-loving kids happy. Leaving aside the ubiquitous Manga Cafés (some of which double as cheap places to sleep for travelers on super tight budgets) there are museums, galleries and theme parks galore.

The Japanese Capital is home to two big ticket Dey attractions: Tokyo Disney (the first Disney theme park outside the United States, fact fans…) and DisneySea, which has a fun ToyStory ride that’s likely to thrill fans of the films about Woody and hls pals.

Tip: Fans of Studio Ghibli (creators of dreamy works such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away) shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the superb Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, don’t expect to just rock up with the family – tickets must be bought in advance and are only made available at certain days in the month, and with specific ticket agencies. Full information can be found here.

Eat at Anime Cafes

Tokyo is chockablock with cute anime-themed cafes that are sure to be a big hit with the kids. At the Pokemon Cafe in Chuo, kids and grownups can chow down on Pikachu-shaped donuts and dumplings; fans of masked superheroes the Kamen Riders can check out a whole load of memorabilia and Rider-themed food at Kamen Rider the Diner in Toshima, while Gundam Cafe attracts as many grown up comic fans as kids, with its statues, decor and food themed around robots, known as Gundam – arguably Japan’s most enduringly popular anime series.  It’s located in Akihabara, famously a Mecca for anime fans with its many comic book stores and manga cafes.  There’s even affordable Anime accommodation at Anime Station Hostel, which has private rooms, games consoles, and a whole lot of Manga magazines to flick through, with rooms starting at around US$50 (5,400 yen)