Full Day Kyoto Tour

Ready for some serious tourism? This day is for those who like walking, can walk up stairs and can walk without the need for strollers and excessive baby gear. Potty breaks are not regularly available, so you may what to skip this portion and detour to McDonald's in Kyoto instead.

Shijo-Kawaramachi

Start out at Shijo-Kawaramachi, near the Hankyu train station. There are two huge Japanese department stores there, Hankyu and Takashimaya. Both have plenty of clean toilets and expensive clothing, and Takashimaya has a huge grocery with stuff you ain't ‘et yet on display. Both also sell expensive kimonos and pottery that some might enjoy glazing, er, gazing at.

Yasaka Shrine

Move up the street toward the river. Walk briskly past the lame pachiko parlors and chain stores, and slow down a bit at the places selling Kyoto-like items, such as special slippers for wearing with kimono, or combs worm by geisha. Keep heading up the street, stopping at the Starbucks if you must (also has a toilet).

In front of you is Yasaka Shrine, all very orange. Enter and note the last public toilet for awhile is on your right. On weekends there are toy and sweet vendors here, which may be a good thing to bribe cranky young ones or an evil you have to Power Parent past. The shrine itself is ahead, and so used to visitors that one wonders if it has any religious or spiritual component left. Short of starting fires or displaying your Speedo, it is doubtful that you could do anything culturally insensitive here that hasn't been done before. There is some open space the kids can move around in, and often pigeons that like to be fed.

Ne Ne Street

Drift off to the right-ish, looking for a main road that heads away from the shrine and into a narrow warren of streets (if you want to ask, you are aiming for “Ne Ne Street”). Even if you get lost, the area is a mess of small inns, tea houses and restaurants. This is generally expensive territory, and most places are unwelcoming to people with children and those who do not speak Japanese. Do peak in or over, however, as many of the places have exquisite gardens and entryways.

There are a few bustling tea houses where you can manage a cup without taking out a loan or learning Japanese but otherwise this is mostly an area to look at and enjoy. If you are up to it, wander down some side streets and enjoy the feeling that you stepped back in time. Towards the end of Ne Ne Street there are a few souvenir shops that have lower-priced things for sale, many made in China.

Sannen-zaka

Your goal is to reach either a set of steep stone stairs or a major shopping street running uphill; both will lead you to the same place, Sannen-zaka. This is a blend of commercial Kyoto tourism and old Kyoto for Beginners that usually works. Lining the narrow street are tiny shops selling souvenirs, Buddhist religious goods, sweets, boiled tofu meals and occasionally plastic junk toys.

Some shops are quite old, some quite tacky, but they all make for interesting browsing and good fun. There are lots of things to buy for a few hundred yen, so this makes a decent location for the kids to spend some of their allowance.

Head uphill. The road is cobblestone, and steep in places, and crowded and narrow, so don't think about a stroller or a heavy child who needs to be carried unless you are really, really into weight.

Yastsuhashi

At the top of the hill are several shops selling a Kyoto favorite treat, yastsuhashi. This is a little triangular pastry thing made of very thin, sweet, chewy dough folded over a lump of flavoring. Traditionally this flavoring is made of sweet red beans (still the best to the hard core), but nowadays you can get flavors from chestnut to green tea to chocolate-banana and beyond. Most shops offer free samples, so you can eat well. Prices are reasonable, Y530 for a box of ten, and the food travels well and makes a great gift. It even comes pre-wrapped.

Kiyomizu Temple

This is one of the premier big name temples of Kyoto, and a “must see” kinda place. You can skip all the walking described above if your family shape is not able for it and take an expensive taxi ride up to this temple. Admission is charged, about Y400, and toilets are available inside.

There are two main attractions here. The most obvious and obvious one is the massive balcony that offers the best view of Kyoto available. Even on a cloudy day you can look out over beautiful trees toward the mountains, and experience a taste of what it must have been like a thousand years ago when all of Kyoto was temple grounds and light forested patches of Imperial land. Peak underneath the balcony as well, at the massive timber holding the whole thing up. Have one member of your party cross around the “L” of the balcony and photograph the rest of you with the temple and the city in the background. The word awesome, before it was swiped by Sk8ters, must have started right here.

The other important part of the temple is below the balcony, the spring that the temple is named after (the name “Kiyomizu” means “pure water” in Japanese).

Descend the long steps, slippery in the rain, and join the line to take a sip of the spring water. It supposedly brings good health, or makes you smarter, or is good luck, and people come from all over Japan to do this so you should to.

A sign nearby states that this is one of the nine most famous water sites in Japan, which I do not doubt is true.

A sad note. You will see small statues decorated with red aprons here and there in Kyoto, and especially at Kiyomizu. Each of these represents the soul of a dead child, often placed by a mother who aborted a baby. The apron is meant to keep the child warm in the afterlife, to atone for the death.

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