Kyoto, Japan

Most people don't think of Japan as a first choice destination with a baby or young child, but in fact it can be a terrific choice. Locals are especially welcoming to young children (and tolerant of childlike behavior), and having a kid in tow may just help you connect with locals in this relatively closed society. As you would expect from a culture that values their children so highly, there are some terrific kids activities in and around Kyoto.

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Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama

Address Iwatayama, Japan Map, Tel (075) 861 1616 Call, Underground 10min walk from Keifuku Arashiyama Station, Keifuku Arashiyama line (steep walk), Admission 520 Yen. Website

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. more

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Address Inari Station, Japan Map, Tel 075-641-7331 Call, Location Just outside JR Inari Station (the second station from Kyoto on the JR Nara Line) or 5 minutes from Fushimiinari Station on Keihan Railway, Distance 5 minutes from Kyoto, Cost Shrine is free; Train is 140 Yen, Hours 24 hours; 7 days Website

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. more

Heian Shrine

Address Higashiyama Station, Japan Map, Tel 075-761-0221 Call, Transit Bus 5 or 100 from Kyoto Station. or subway to Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line (requires a transfer at Karasuma Oike Station from the Karasuma Line) followed by a 10 minute walk to the shrine., Cost Shrine is free, but there is a 600Yen fee to visit the gardens, Hours Vary ask at your hotel for details Website

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. more

Iga-Ryu Ninja Museum

Address Ueno, Japan Map, Tel 0595 (23) 0311 Call, Museum Adults 700 Yen; Children 400 Yen, Show 200 Yen, Hours 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. daily; closed Dec 29-Jan 1 Website

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. more

Sansen-in Shrine in Ohara

Address Ohara, Japan Map, Tel 075-744-2531 Call, Transit From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kokusaikaikan Station (20 minutes, 260 Yen) (end of the line) Next take Kyoto Bus number 19 (towards Ohara or Kodeishi) to Ohara (20 minutes, 340 Yen, two buses per hour), Cost 700 yen Website

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. more

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