We had a great time in Kyoto and would happily visit again. It's quite
a big city, with nearly 1.5 million people, but has good transport and
feels a comprehendable size. And it has an amazing range of temples,
shrines, parks, and so forth, of which we saw only a handful.
Kyoto is a
great destination for toddlers and probably older children,
because the major attractions are outdoors or at least partly so, leaving
plenty of opportunity for running around.
(Much of this travelogue is concerned
with managing a two and a bit year old and may not be of general interest.)
our room's vestibule
Arrival and Logistics
We stayed in a ryokan (Japanese hotel) right next to Kyoto Station,
just across from the bus terminal, largely because we were arriving very
late at night. It was simple but clean and comfortable. Only the
tatami matting and the floor mattress were really different from a Western
hotel and if we went again we'd try to find somewhere more atmospheric.
Our flight arrived at Osaka Kansai at 8.55pm, but the airport
was efficient and we got
through immigration, picked up our train tickets from the JR West shop
(where there was a fifteeen minute queue), and made the last 10.15pm express
train to Kyoto with time to spare. That got us to Kyoto at 11.30pm and
after a quick visit to a little supermarket we got to our ryokan
just before midnight.
Day One (Sunday)
We had a good first day in Kyoto.
The girls slept in, so I went for a wander by myself:
I found the temple just to the north,
but didn't go in, and explored the food court under the bus station,
eventually finding coffee in a Starbucks. (Not much was open,
and that turned out not to be a Sunday thing, with surprisingly few
shops open before 10 even on weekdays.)
Once we got away we worked out how the bus ticketing worked, then
took a bus out to southern Higayashima,
where we ate an early lunch before visiting the
waiting for our first proper meal
Kiyomizu-dera: Helen was very excited by all the steps
the main temple sits on a huge wooden platform rising out of a sea of trees
a very placid terrapin
Then we looked around the little shops lining the Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka
The highlight was finding the Studio Ghibli shop, where we acquired assorted Totoro and Kiki paraphernalia.
We fitted in an afternoon tea and some snacks, along
with a nap.
We had a stroller with us, but used it only for the trips to and from
the airport. This meant that Helen either moved under her own steam or
was carried (mostly by me). Naps were managed by heading into the
nearest eatery, where she could lie down on a bench with her head on
a giant Totoro in the Studio Ghibli shop
We kept walking and had dinner in the Gion district.
Day Two (Monday)
Our second day in Kyoto didn't start so well.
It was raining, and we almost went to Osaka to visit the aquarium, but
we didn't get away till 10 so we visited the Nishiki Market in central
Kyoto instead. This proved a bit stressful, as Helen was cranky and tired
(she had, as on most nights in Kyoto, gone to sleep after me,
but woken up only just after me) and a badly timed nap resulted in us
having to carry her for a long stretch.
Neither the markets nor the streets in downtown Kyoto are places one
can let a toddler run around freely, which contributed to the stress.
This was in contrast to the previous day, where
minding Helen while Camilla shopped had been easy
in the pedestrianised streets around Ninnen-zaka.
We escaped the city centre by getting a taxi to the Nanzen-ji temple. This
was really atmospheric in the light rain, with a lovely location,
great moss and trees and mountains, and some lovely buildings and Zen
gardens. And it was not at all crowded, and Helen ran around happily
till she started to wane, when we walked to the metro.
Nanzen-ji Zen garden (detail)
Helen fell asleep on the subway and slept through an early dinner in
the food court right near our hotel. Of course then she was hungry,
so we had to go out for a second dinner later...
We didn't eat anywhere fancy — we never tried kaiseki
but the almost random places we ate in (food courts, little eateries,
chains, and so forth) were all pretty good: clean and comfortable, with
good service and tasty food.
Eating in Kyoto also seemed cheap, at least by UK or Australian
standards: most of our meals were around ¥1,000.
One nice thing was that in most eating places Helen's presence immediately
elicited the arrival of a child-sized plastic bowel (typically with
Mickey Mouse or suchlike on it) and matching cutlery. On the downsize,
none of the places we ate in had baby change facilities.
(Only the department stores and train stations seemed to.)
the river gorge from the Sagano Scenic Railway
Day Three (Tuesday)
Our last day in Kyoto was the best. We had a quick breakfast in a
coffee/sandwich shop in the food court, then took the train to Saga
Arashiyama, which got in just in time for a trip on the Sagano Scenic
Railway. This is about 45 minutes return, and goes up a dramatic gorge,
following and crossing the river.
Helen had a brief nap, then we visited
the Okochi-Sanso villa, the bamboo grove, and the Tenryu-ji Temple.
We had lunch and did a bit of shopping, before crossing the bridge and
climbing up to the Iwatayama monkey park. I carried Helen all the way up,
as she was getting tired and I didn't want her to fall asleep and miss
Soon after the monkeys, which were a big hit, Helen fell asleep, so I had to
carry her across the bridge and all the way back to the station. We took
trains back across the city to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shinto shrine.
Fushimi Inari-taisha torii
small shrines everywhere
sunset over Kyoto
There we kept climbing, with Helen walking almost all the way, till
the sun went down and I could convince Camilla (normally not so keen on
mountains) that getting to the top of Mt Inari wasn't really practical.
It's an amazing site, with the paths bedecked with orange torii, and
very atmospheric at dusk.
Japan is not nearly as expensive as it once was: decades of
deflation have had an effect. The largest expense was our hotel,
which was ¥77,000 for four nights. Our total transport costs (for two) were
only ¥10,000, including the airport express return (bought as part of the JR West Haruka and ICOCA bundle, which also covered subway trips),
daily bus tickets on the first day, and the Sagano Scenic Railway. Entry
to attractions was a bit, but most of the rest would have been food, maybe
We fitted in a trip to the big department store at the station, where
there was a tiny play area for Helen, along with a nice selection of toys.
(Almost all German-made so there didn't seem much point buying anything
to lug home.)
Camilla bought a lot of fun stuff in Kyoto, souvenirs
and suchlike. There are a lot of little shops with unusual items, and
while Australia isn't really so different to the UK, Japan has genuinely
I didn't make it to the big BIC Camera store next to the station, where I had thought about
buying a new DSLR.
leaving our hotel at 5.30am
We had to get up early. We missed the first express train, but the second
one got us to the airport in good time, for the short flight to Seoul Incheon
and then the longer one back to London Heathrow.
We had an extra suitcase, but managed to get Helen into the stroller,
which meant we were managing that, one backpack each, and three suitcases