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Lifestyle

April 7, 2013

For Kyoto with kids, mix fun with tradition

KYOTO, Japan — 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 on to 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, a short bus ride from downtown, where Kyotoites stocks their refrigerators and kitchen cupboards. Nishiki is a long, narrow street, covered by an arcade and lined with shops selling all sorts of snackable delicacies, like just-baked rice crackers, sashimi on skewers, and croquettes filled with chocolate, as well as wares like chopsticks and gourmet cutlery. It’s as interesting to browse here as to eat, and many places give out samples of their edible wares.

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