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Your Children May Love Kyoto Even More Than You Do

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My family of three took off to explore Kyoto just months after the tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan. Despite the recent catastrophe, we found this Japanese city to be an incredibly family-friendly vacation destination. Our 20-month-old son, Dek, thrived in this city of over a million inhabitants. We barely knew a disaster had happened. His young eyes were opening up to the world and he was soaking in every experience we laid before him. We quickly became infatuated with this quiet city filled with ancient temples, delectable food and a hint of mystery.

Toddler fun in Kyoto

Toddler fun at a shrine in Kyoto, Japan (Photo credit: Keryn Means)

Food that even a toddler can love

No trip for our family is complete without a little food exploration. We are lucky to have a child who wants to eat anything his parents are having. Okinomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake, soon became the family favorite as we explored. Salmon roe was our son’s idea of a mid-day snack. What toddler wouldn’t love little salty balls of goodness that explode in your mouth? It’s almost better than candy.


Okinomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake (Photo credit: Keryn Means)

I couldn’t get enough of the department store basement food courts that housed some of the most amazing pastries you have ever seen. Sure I had my fill of soba noodles, tempura, hibachi steak and some of the freshest fish I have ever tasted, but those pastries are what really won me over. I was so glad we were walking for hours each day. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have gained at least 10 pounds in a week.

Gates of Fushimi

Gates of Fushimi (Photo credit: Keryn Means)

No playgrounds necessary with so much to explore

The only thing that could outshine our food euphoria were the ancient temples, castles and shrines scattered throughout the city. Most were just a walk or short bus ride away from our rental house. I didn’t need a playground to let our toddler run free. So many of the areas we were exploring had large parks or trails incorporated into them already.

The grounds of Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, were a gardener’s paradise. The pavilion reflected across the waters of this meticulously designed landscape, surrounded by skillfully pruned trees, bushes and flowers. Rock pathways were the perfect distraction for a toddler who wanted to pick up every pebble as we explored. Walking the back streets of Gion gave us a glimpse of this once thriving pleasure district that is still home to geisha. Large portions were car-free, which allowed our toddler to roam about and check out the sights at his level.

The family highlight was the gates of Fushimi. Just outside of the city, this temple had miles of brightly painted orange gates to walk along. The gates were spaced so closely together that we could let Dek get a little ahead of us without worrying he would wander off into the woods.

Kyoto restaurant display

Plastic food on display to entice hungry diners (Photo credit: Keryn Means)

Just say “Arigato gozaimasu”

One thing I didn’t expect when we first landed in Kyoto was the lack of English speakers. Luckily my husband had been studying a little Japanese over the years on his morning commutes. He knew enough to get us to where we wanted to go. Every night he would teach me another polite phrase. Please, thank you, and excuse me were the top three I found I needed to know. Even with a little Japanese in our tool belt we struggled, but the locals appreciated our efforts. They tried to help us with miming and hand gestures.

Many restaurants made our lives easier by having replicas of the food they served in their front windows. Unlike European restaurants, these were not tourist traps. We found tiny food shops all over the city, nowhere near a tourist attraction, that had displays to tempt you inside and help non-native speakers order. It was as if the city knew we were coming and just wanted to lend a helping hand.

Keryn Means and family at Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan

The Means family at the Golden Pavilion (Photo credit: Keryn Means)

By the end of our trip I’m not sure who was more in love with Kyoto, my husband, our son or me. Each of us had experienced something we loved. I’d had my fill of food, Dek had been outside more during our short stay than he had been in weeks, and my husband fulfilled his dream of seeing ancient temples where samurais would have passed. There was something for each of us to enjoy separately, yet together.

Do you think your family would love Kyoto too? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

Mom and active blogger, Keryn Means left the publishing world in 2011 to take care of her growing family and follow her passion for travel. A native of Philadelphia, she spends her days exploring her new home in Seattle with her toddler son and anxiously awaits the arrival of her second born due in late April. When her son is asleep you can find her editing photos and writing away on Walkingon Travels. Keryn follows the mantra that just because you have kids doesn’t mean you have to put your travel dreams aside, if anything they just get bigger and more exciting. Follow her adventures on Facebook or Twitter.

About Keryn Means, Travel Mamas Guest Blogger
  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Thank you for this guest post, Keryn! I didn’t know Kyoto was so child-friendly and full of natural beauty. Although, my son is a very picky eater and I don’t think I’d have much luck convincing him to try Okinomiyaki. I certainly would like to, though. Looks delicious!

  2. walkingon travels says

    Thank you for hosting our story. We can’t wait to get back there and explore some more! I’m still shocked by what we can get our son to eat. Your son might be interested in all the tempura they have. Tempura chicken is very similar to chicken nuggets. Even the grocery store stuff was great! He’ll definitely be curious to see the baby octopus on a stick. Even I wasn’t brave enough to try it but it sure looked cool.

  3. Jess @UsedYorkCity says

    Fantastic post! I visited Kyoto last summer, and even though I didn’t have a kid to bring, I sure had a blast! It really is the perfect blend of nature and culture, and you may even be lucky enough to spot a real live geisha! Kyoto is truly a gem of a city.

  4. Thanks for this! We’re planning a stop in Kyoto as part of our Japan trip later this year, hope we enjoy it as much as you guys did!

  5. your post is terrific – such an inspiration to let go of travel fears w a bub and just go! May I ask – where did you stay w your toddler in Kyoto?

    • Keryn @ walking on travels says

      Hi Emma, We rented a little machiya off the main drag through It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath traditional house with a washing machine, kitchen, wi-fi, etc. It was MUCH cheaper, and roomier than if we had gotten a hotel room of similar size, not that we would have found one that big. Here is more information on the place we stayed- Thanks! Keryn

  6. Could you please provide the info on your machiya? We are looking for Kyoto accommodations with our 22 month old. Thank you!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Julie – Here’s Keryn’s response about the machiya: We rented a little machiya off the main drag through It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath traditional house with a washing machine, kitchen, wi-fi, etc. It was MUCH cheaper, and roomier than if we had gotten a hotel room of similar size, not that we would have found one that big. Here is more information on the place we stayed- Thanks! Keryn

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