Here comes the judge – and he's only six years old

A theme park where kids can try out jobs – it's a Mexican idea that's going down a storm in Japan. Michael Booth reports

My eldest son, aged six and dressed in a Japanese police uniform, is examining a crime scene with his new colleagues. A stolen wallet has been found, and they must trace the owner. He has reached that pitch of excitement that experience tells me can result in a puddle, so I am watching closely.

My youngest, aged three and a half, is busy at work on a construction site, signalling with flags to his workmates on scaffolding above as he winches up a bucket. He is bursting with can-do pride, but trying to look as though he does this kind of thing every day.

Both have been in the independent state of Kidzania for just half an hour and neither speaks Japanese, but from a two-month visit to Japan that saw them wrestle with genuine sumos, shake hands with a Ninja, and see a dead turtle on a beach, they would later cite this new, state-of-the-art educational theme park as the highlight of the trip.

Kidzania opened in Tokyo's docklands in 2006. It is a vast indoor town, with fake sky, streets and buildings housing 70 different shops, restaurants and businesses – from pizza parlours and police stations to a petrol station; there's even part of a 737 for budding cabin crew to patrol – all two-thirds scale and staffed by the thousands of children aged two to 15 who visit each day. The idea is that children will experience the world of work via role play with "Zupervisors" – learning lessons about responsibility, decision -making and team-work.

On entering, they are given a security bracelet so they can't leave without an alarm going off, and 50 Kidzos – Kidzania currency. This they can deposit in the Kidzania bank, staffed by children and offering 10 per cent interest, to retrieve later using bank cards and ATMs. Or they can spend it on souvenirs, drinks and junk food. They can then earn more – between five and eight Kidzos, depending on the job.

"In Kidzania you will notice it is always dusk," a spokesman explained to me, "because dusk is when kids have to go home, so it adds an exciting air. Our staff wishes them 'Good evening' through the day! ... there is no baby-talk here."

As he tells me this a fire engine blares past on its way to a fake fire. Predictably, fireman is one of the most popular professions in Kidzania, along with cabin crew and police officers. The fully equipped TV studio always has big queues too, as, more perplexingly, does the car-rental office.

I admit I was sceptical when I heard about Kidzania. It sounded like another way for the Japanese to turn out the next generation of worker bees. The first Kidzania, in Mexico City, is apparently more relaxed. But the queues creating waiting times of up to an hour testify to the enthusiasm of Kidzania's citizens, if nothing else.

"And there is a Kidzania newspaper. Would you like to be a journalist like Daddy?" the spokesman asks my eldest. "Yes," I say. "What about trying Daddy's job for a bit, see how tough it really is?" My son pulls a face. "Hmm," says the spokesman. "I have to say we have found that to be one of the least popular jobs..."

How to get there

Kidzania (kidzania.jp). Michael Booth flew with British Airways (0870 850 9850; ba.com) which offers return flights to Tokyo from £756 per adult and £635 per child this summer. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel (00800 2828 3838; mandarinoriental.com) offers double rooms from £262 per night, Oakwood (020-7749 4471; oakwood.com) offers apartments from £70 per night.

Further information

Japan National Tourist Board ( seejapan.co.uk).

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