Cloudy
54°
Cloudy
Hi 65° | Lo 40°

For Kyoto with kids, mix fun with antiquities

  • This August 2012 photo shows an oarsman piloting an excursion boat down the Hozu River, just outside Kyoto, Japan, as he points out sights to his passengers. The two-hour ride down the river offers the chance to spot wildlife while threading rocks and rapids, and is an especially appealing outing for a trip with children. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

    This August 2012 photo shows an oarsman piloting an excursion boat down the Hozu River, just outside Kyoto, Japan, as he points out sights to his passengers. The two-hour ride down the river offers the chance to spot wildlife while threading rocks and rapids, and is an especially appealing outing for a trip with children. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

  • In this August 2012 photo, a vendor mans a stand selling a wide variety of pickled vegetables in the Nishiki-koji market arcade in Kyoto, Japan. Many of the market’s merchants offer free samples to entice customers. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

    In this August 2012 photo, a vendor mans a stand selling a wide variety of pickled vegetables in the Nishiki-koji market arcade in Kyoto, Japan. Many of the market’s merchants offer free samples to entice customers. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

  • In this August 2012 photo, a visitor to the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, Japan, climbs steps through the shrine's gates. The shrine's main building sits within a minute of a train station, but a visitor could spend hours exploring the ancillary shrines situated along its pathways, with refreshment stops along the way. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

    In this August 2012 photo, a visitor to the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, Japan, climbs steps through the shrine's gates. The shrine's main building sits within a minute of a train station, but a visitor could spend hours exploring the ancillary shrines situated along its pathways, with refreshment stops along the way. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

  • In this August 2012 photo, visitors scoop water from a fountain near the entrance to Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Such fountains are common at Japanese temples, used to wash hands and cleanse the mouth in a brief purification ritual. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

    In this August 2012 photo, visitors scoop water from a fountain near the entrance to Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Such fountains are common at Japanese temples, used to wash hands and cleanse the mouth in a brief purification ritual. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

  • In this August 2012 photo, a man pulls a rickshaw-for-hire down a narrow street in Kyoto, Japan, near the city’s Kiyomizu Temple. The temple and surrounding neighborhood are a great place to explore for families with children, who’ll find shops along the way giving away sample sweets. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

    In this August 2012 photo, a man pulls a rickshaw-for-hire down a narrow street in Kyoto, Japan, near the city’s Kiyomizu Temple. The temple and surrounding neighborhood are a great place to explore for families with children, who’ll find shops along the way giving away sample sweets. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

  • In this August 2012 photo, customers choose from a selection of fresh-baked rice crackers at a shop in the Nishiki-koji market arcade in Kyoto, Japan. The market, filled with vendors selling all sorts of snackable delicacies, is a fascinating place to explore. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

    In this August 2012 photo, customers choose from a selection of fresh-baked rice crackers at a shop in the Nishiki-koji market arcade in Kyoto, Japan. The market, filled with vendors selling all sorts of snackable delicacies, is a fascinating place to explore. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

  • This August 2012 photo shows an oarsman piloting an excursion boat down the Hozu River, just outside Kyoto, Japan, as he points out sights to his passengers. The two-hour ride down the river offers the chance to spot wildlife while threading rocks and rapids, and is an especially appealing outing for a trip with children. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

    This August 2012 photo shows an oarsman piloting an excursion boat down the Hozu River, just outside Kyoto, Japan, as he points out sights to his passengers. The two-hour ride down the river offers the chance to spot wildlife while threading rocks and rapids, and is an especially appealing outing for a trip with children. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

  • This August 2012 photo shows an oarsman piloting an excursion boat down the Hozu River, just outside Kyoto, Japan, as he points out sights to his passengers. The two-hour ride down the river offers the chance to spot wildlife while threading rocks and rapids, and is an especially appealing outing for a trip with children. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)
  • In this August 2012 photo, a vendor mans a stand selling a wide variety of pickled vegetables in the Nishiki-koji market arcade in Kyoto, Japan. Many of the market’s merchants offer free samples to entice customers. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)
  • In this August 2012 photo, a visitor to the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, Japan, climbs steps through the shrine's gates. The shrine's main building sits within a minute of a train station, but a visitor could spend hours exploring the ancillary shrines situated along its pathways, with refreshment stops along the way. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)
  • In this August 2012 photo, visitors scoop water from a fountain near the entrance to Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Such fountains are common at Japanese temples, used to wash hands and cleanse the mouth in a brief purification ritual. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)
  • In this August 2012 photo, a man pulls a rickshaw-for-hire down a narrow street in Kyoto, Japan, near the city’s Kiyomizu Temple. The temple and surrounding neighborhood are a great place to explore for families with children, who’ll find shops along the way giving away sample sweets. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)
  • In this August 2012 photo, customers choose from a selection of fresh-baked rice crackers at a shop in the Nishiki-koji market arcade in Kyoto, Japan. The market, filled with vendors selling all sorts of snackable delicacies, is a fascinating place to explore. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)
  • This August 2012 photo shows an oarsman piloting an excursion boat down the Hozu River, just outside Kyoto, Japan, as he points out sights to his passengers. The two-hour ride down the river offers the chance to spot wildlife while threading rocks and rapids, and is an especially appealing outing for a trip with children. (AP Photo/Adam Geller)

Rocks to the left of us, rocks to the right. With the Hozu River rushing in between, our oarsman swung the boat hard, threading the boulders as water splashed overboard – and onto my 10-year-old daughter’s lap.

You never know how kids will react to new experiences, but not to worry. “Daddy,” my daughter said, beaming as we headed for more rapids, “this must be the best summer ever!”

Any parent who has charted a family vacation hopes for that kind of reaction. But when my wife and I made plans to take our son and daughter to Kyoto, I had a few doubts. Kyoto is one of the highlights of any trip to Japan, an ancient and fascinating city packed with temples and shrines, a place to savor refined culture.

But can it be kid and family friendly? Most definitely, especially if you take advantage of the variety Kyoto has to offer, hop on the city’s easy-to-use bus system and keep your eyes open for some of its surprising travel bargains. With that in mind, here’s a checklist for enjoying Japan’s ancient capital in ways that you and your kids will enjoy.

TOUR OF TASTES: You could spend months visiting temples and shrines in Kyoto. But to kids, they can start to blur. So put some space in between them. Kyoto is best explored on foot, leaving lots of opportunities for stopping off at interesting destinations along the way to antiquity.

One of our favorite stops was the Nishiki-koji market, where shops sel all sorts of snackable delicacies and wares.

MEET A SAMURAI: Visit the Toei Uzumasa Eigamura (movie village) and you may well see crews filming a Samurai flick or television drama. But even if the cameras aren’t rolling, the “village” designed to look like the Japan of yore is fun to wander, offering the chance to meet actors in period costume.

RIDE THE RAPIDS: We built a day around the 10-mile ride down the Hozu, starting with a short train ride just outside the city and ending in the lovely neighborhood of Arashiyama. Guides pole fiberglass boats seating about 20 people through a deep gorge, where my 8-year-old son spotted turtles, snakes and other animals.

SOAK UP CULTURE: Bathing is almost a religious ritual in Japan and can be the centerpiece of a memorable vacation experience. Kyoto is not known for the hot springs that dot much of Japan, but it has a few. We stopped at Sagano Onsen – Tenzan no Yu, a hot spring spa. A cheaper and more plentiful destination is one of the city’s “super sentos,” public baths with multiple tubs.

GET FESTIVE: Kyoto hosts many festivals throughout the year. When we visited Kyoto in August, the city was celebrating the weeks around the Tanabata festival with lights, including computer-animated projections on the wall of the city’s castle and the launching of thousands of lighted blue plastic balls down the Horigawa River.

MAKE A PILGRIMAGE: When you’re ready to visit temples and shrines, the challenge is choosing which ones. Kiyomizu temple should be on any itinerary. Yes, it’s choked with tourists, but worth the trip. The walk uphill to the temple is lined with shops, many giving out samples of the local sweet called “nama yatsuhashi.”

WHAT TO EAT: Japan is one of the world’s greatest food countries. But while Kyoto is known for ultra-expensive and delicate kaiseki cuisine, there’s lots more that kids will love and that you can afford. So try a restaurant specializing in okonomiyaki, sort of a dinner pancake, usually cooked on a grill at your table and filled with meat, vegetables or seafood of your choice. Chances are your kids will also like yakitori, a selection of chicken and vegetables grilled on bamboo skewers. And don’t forget ramen or Kaki kori, a shaved ice treat.

WHEN TO GO: Kyoto has stifling heat and humidity in the summer. Spring and fall offer moderate temperatures for sight-seeing.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.