What to do in Kyoto With Kids

Ever since I reviewed the Little Travelers Japan DVD I've been a little bit obsessed with the idea of taking the kids to Japan. I loved the creative and fun looking activities Angelina (the mom behind the The Little Travelers Video Series found, so I asked her if she'd share her top recommendations with me (and my readers). Lucky us... here they are.

I hope you'll agree that these all sound like tons of fun. Now if we can just work on the exchange rate...

Fushimi Inari Shrine Located on the Keihan Train Line, Exit Fushimi Inari station. This is the shrine with hundreds of red tori gates. The kids can wander through seemingly endless tunnels of winding gates. There are so many here that you can easily find very lightly populated areas and let the kids run through them for a bit.

Heian Shrine on the East side of Kyoto This is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto and has the much photographed stepping stones through the koi pond. This is really fun for most kids I know. My three year old wanted to hold my hand but the 5 year old was very happy to go it alone. This does require some trust on the parents part and is a good exercise in embracing another culture. Japanese kids cross these kinds of stepping stones all the time.

Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama, where the monkeys roam free and the people can huddle into a cage at the top of the mountain. A must with children. It can be a bit intimidating and if you have children under two I would recommend a backpack or good sling to carry your child as the monkeys can be a bit aggressive.

Sansen-in Shrine located in Ohara. They have the most adorable little statues that my girls just loved. The nice thing about this shrine is that they give children little papers to put stamps on that are located throughout the shrine. It's a bit like a scavenger hunt looking for the stamps throughout the compound. It's gorgeous here. It's more towards the outskirts of town and rather countryside around. Near the shrine are some really great rice fields for wandering and tadpole hunting.

Ueno City's Ninja house and castle. Ueno is in Mie Prefecture, about a two hour train ride from Kyoto, but definitely doable for a daytrip if you're staying in Kyoto. The Ninja house has a guided tour that is in Japanese but you definitely don't need to understand the language to understand what's going on. On most weekdays you'll find lots of students here on school trips. Ditto for the castle, which is great fun for the kids to burn off some energy climbing stairs up to the top.

Lastly, make sure to stop into a kaiten sushi shop for the sushi that goes around the restaurant on conveyor belts. This is still the thing that the girls miss the most about Japan. "I wish we could go to round and round sushi for dinner" is something that I hear a lot- even though it's been over two years since our return.

If you want to see a great video of kids enjoying all of these places (and more), check out The Little Travelers - Japan DVD or read Angelina's blog at The Little Travelers

Related Links:
Review: The Little Travelers Japan DVD
The Little Travelers - Japan DVD
Kyoto With Kids

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  1. jyl on October 22, 2008 at 8:20 a.m.

    I am dying to go to Kyoto. Been to Tokyo, but never Kyoto.

    Great post about traveling there with kids.

    If you haven't already, go sign up on Mr. Linky at http://mommygossip-gno.blogspot.com where we are posting about travel this week.

    Also, thanks for participating in #gno last night. So fun to have you as one of the gossiping gals! Hope to "see" you there next week as well :).

  2. jamie on October 22, 2008 at 8:27 a.m.

    Posts like this are so useful. Thanks Debbie! Thanks Angelina! I too would like to wind up in Japan someday. Took the kids out to Japanese food last weekend, which is all part of my evil plan to ready them...

  3. CanCan (MomMostTraveled) on October 22, 2008 at 8:37 a.m.

    This is so timely! I am planning a trip to Japan this summer with my two boys, who will be ALMOST 2 and 4 1/2. I debated on doing the Ninja village or not, but I wasn't sure if it would be exciting enough for them. Now I think I'm going to go for it!

    I have been to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Thailand, too, so maybe your girls will come across another one some day!

  4. Debbie on October 22, 2008 at 10:21 a.m.

    @jyl GNO was great last night! I've been to both Tokyo and Kyoto, but Kyoto holds a very special place in my heart. I could easily spend a few weeks there, and lately I've been dreaming about going back with the kids... I just wish the exchange rate was working in my favor. The yen is one of the few currencies that's not dropping against the dollar

    @jamie isn't Angelina great! Want to know something funny? My kids have been eating Japanese food since they were babies (our neighborhood restaurant is Japanese). That might sound very fancy, but it's sort of a pain. My son inhales soba noodles, but wont touch mac & cheese. Devours tempura, but turns up his nose at chicken fingers. He wouldn't touch a corn dog to save his life. Talk about inconvenient ;) We ended up feeding him asian food in Madrid in a moment of true desperation.

    @CanCan I think the Ninja village looks great. The little travelers video has some great footage of it. There's a conveyor belt sushi place here in Seattle & it's one of my favorite places when I'm dining out alone w/the two kids... when you're a toddler, there's nothing like immediate service & the opportunity to choose exactly what you want!

  5. wandermom on October 22, 2008 at 11:02 a.m.

    This is great info! Bookmarking it to refer to when we plan the Japan section of our RTW trip.

    And yes, the conveyor belt approach is a great way to get a little kid to try sushi.

  6. Mara on October 22, 2008 at 5:36 p.m.

    My oldest's favorite food is sushi, but that's about the only interest shown in Japan around my house. Clearly I need to get to work, because this looks great. Thanks for all the tips - definitely goes into my file.

  7. jessiev on October 22, 2008 at 6:07 p.m.

    i loved living in japan. and, we also reviewed the little travelers dvds - we LOVE them!! i can't wait to take our daughter to japan. onsen, here we come!

  8. GBK Gwyneth on October 22, 2008 at 7:43 p.m.

    We spent a few days in Kyoto this summer. My kids, then 5 and 9, loved the stray cats at Fushimi Inari....

    They also enjoyed visiting Sanjusangendo, Kiyomizu-dera and the Kyoto Tower.

    Other notes:
    A JR rail pass bought outside Japan is a must. Hakone is so much fun for kids. Black eggs, pirate ships, cable cars, wow! Miyajima was also worth the side trip.

  9. Gudrun at Uptake on October 23, 2008 at 3:24 p.m.

    I am dying to take my kids to Japan - I visited once back in 1993 and really enjoyed my trip. It felt easy to travel, there was so much to do and my son is now at the age where he loves Pokemon, and having a hook built into a trip is always successful for us. What do you think about staying at Ryokans with kids?

  10. Debbie on October 23, 2008 at 11:01 p.m.

    Thanks everyone for the tips!

    @Gudrun Your kids are older, so a Ryokan might work. Here are the two concerns I'd have with young kids 1) the walls are (literally) paper thin, so your kids would have to be very quiet in the room. 2) many Ryokan include one or more meals as part of the experience. The meals feature local dishes, which are often different than the more mainstream Japanese dishes we're used to. For us, that's part of the charm, but it might be difficult for kids unless they're willing to give some unfamiliar foods a try. Before booking a room in any Ryokan with kids, I would call ahead and ask if kids are welcomed.

    An easier option for families with young kids might be to find a home swap, and then eat a meal in a traditional Japanese restaurant...

  11. angelina hart on October 24, 2008 at 11:24 a.m.

    Hey there!
    Thanks for all the lovely comments!
    I agree with Debbie about the ryokan. We LOVE them and prefer staying in them but if your children are a bit wild it may work better to have more solid walls. That being said, Japanese boys are usually allowed to be quite wild and I've been with Japanese families where the boys knocked down the walls on 3 separate occasions. The parents did stay and help repair them and of coarse offered to pay for the damage.

    My little one is allergic to soy so when we ate at a nice restaurant (there is no such thing as 'soy-free' Japanese food!) I had to get out really quickly after eating due to pretty dramatic mood swings. When we were invited by others I told them this ahead of time since it's not all that polite to eat and run. Three-forths through the meal they could see the change in her and were as eager as I was to get on out! As long as you know your kids and know their limits it usually can work out.

    Also, keep in mind Ryokan prices are per person, not per room. Ask about a children's price. Some places gave us half off. A ryokan stay is shown on our Japan dvd if you want to see how the whole thing works- wearing yukata, bath, dinner in the room, sleeping on the floor. good fun!

  12. Grace @ Sandier Pastures on November 24, 2008 at 5:55 a.m.

    I've lived in Japan for 10 years and love, love, love Kyoto! We have travelled in Japan with our daughter but not been to Kyoto with her yet. Maybe on your next vacation!

    Great list.