The awesomeness which is Tokyo awaited us and we weren’t going to let a little thing like limited sleep and braving the morning rush hour, stop us.
Today’s number one attraction was Kidzania – a theme park just for kids from 3 years old to junior high. It’s based on the model of an adult world and kids get the opportunity to work in real jobs. (There are 90 on offer). They get paid for each task and either save the money or use it to buy things. Forget global mega-companies brainwashing your children with their brand, think kids playing grown up in the most authentic way possible. They simply love it.
We had booked Thomas in to the first shift of the day (9-3pm) on ‘English Speaking Wednesday’ – a day more for Japanese kids to practise their English, rather than a day aimed at tourists. There were only a smattering of Westerners and bar a few notable exceptions, the ‘English’ was heavily Japanese.
Most jobs are suitable for age 3 (although some are from 5 years old or have a height restriction). There are so many jobs on offer it was actually quite overwhelming. Luckily we had looked at the map and discussed options before we came so Thomas had some idea what he could do. His ‘must do’ job was firefighter and it was important to book into this first because we had read the waits can be notoriously long. We were lucky to be there on a pretty quiet day and Thomas started his firefighter training in less than 20 minutes.
Firefighter was a roaring success. They did some initial training (in pretty good English), got dressed in uniform and helmet, listened for the alarm and then jumped into a miniature fire truck and headed off around the Kidzania town to the building on ‘fire’. There was smoke and lights in the windows indicating the flames. Each fighter manned their own hose and got to spray water at the building for a good couple of minutes. On return to the station, Thomas got to sit in the front of the truck and announce over the loud speaker “Fire truck coming. Move away please.”
His next choice of job was construction worker and he got to man a crane which helped build a miniature version of the new Tokyo Sky Tree tower (currently the world’s tallest tower). He was dressed in uniform and helmet and moved up to crane cabin on the 2nd floor. Working with other workers below who coupled the tower to the crane, he controlled the arm and lifted the parts up a whole floor and over to the base of the tower where they were then attached.
His next choice was one which didn’t have much of a queue; a barber. Here he learnt how to do a cut throat shave on a mannequin. I’m not sure anyone should trust him with a switchblade just yet, but I didn’t hear any complains from the dummy.
After lunch, he got the chance to be a pilot, taking off and landing a plane in a simulation cockpit while other children distributed airplane meals down the centre aisle. To get to the plane, he had to pass through airport security, staffed by kids. And finally, as his last activity, dressed in overalls, he also got to be a mechanic and change a tyre using a proper tyre iron.
Each of his jobs paid him 8 Kidzos which he could either bank in a bank (staffed by kids with kid security guards of course) or spend. The department store was for kids only so they had to work out their own money and find something they wanted to spend it on all by themselves. He decided to spend 3 Kidzos on a bus tour of the city and the rest on an inflatable ball.
The whole experience was incredible. What Thomas got out of the day was immeasurable. It took him out of his comfort zone, improved his self-confidence, his ability to listen and engage with others, follow instructions, make connections and be patient. Parents are not allowed in any of the jobs. They must watch from afar. Sometimes this is just outside the job or in others, it’s via a CCTV camera. From a parent’s perspective, it was wonderful to be forced to take a back seat. I don’t think of myself as a helicopter parent but even for me, it was difficult initially to not repeat instructions or check for understanding. We were able to see just what amazing things our son was capable of all by himself.
I guess you’re wondering what we did with John during the 6 hours. Unfortunately, this was the one downside to the park. It’s really not designed for under 3s. There is a toddler room but it was sorely lacking. Luckily, John was mesmerised by the whole experience and just enjoyed wandering around the city and watching everything going on. And believe me there was always something: paramedics piling out of ambulances and resuscitating a dummy on the street corner, a wedding parade, hourly children’s performance, mascots wandering the streets, lots of miniature vehicles doing laps of the city, kid photographers using real Sony SLRs to take your photo. Heck, even Stephen and I were mesmerised.
We all loved Kidzania and we’d love to go back. We really only scraped the surface of what was on offer here. There are a number of them around the world, mostly in Asia and the USA but there are plans to open one in London (although I’m not sure quite how well the concept will work with British kids. I’ve seen them at theme parks and it’s not pretty!)